I wrote a note to a friend yesterday and something I said has lingered on my mind. I wrote, and not for the first time, about an incident that triggered a fear that I have not been able to shake. I thought, what a wuss I am.
Upon finding myself alone after the end of my marriage, I looked for anything and everything to occupy myself. I have already wrote about this. My projects. I am still on the lookout for projects. I have a need to keep my brain and body active. Certainly not 24/7, but I like there to be things to do; goals to achieve and accomplishments to strive for. Cycling became part of that. I had already been a runner, but the first time out for a ride on a borrowed bike led me to another sport that I truly loved.
To become better at it, I joined Team In Training (TNT), which benefits the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, with the intent of doing Levi’s Gran Fondo (103 miles) this past October. I had done a previous running event with them and was happy to see a cycling event so close to home. My son survived Lymphoma. He was my honoree with both events. I was raising money for a good cause and also learning to be a better cyclist with coaches and a training schedule.
I rode once a week with the team and on the other days did my best to follow the schedule mapped out by the coach. Mostly, I rode alone. One of my best friends called me fearless. She said, “Who are you? You are not the same person I have known for 15 years.” She thought it great to see me begin to find myself and getting out and enjoying things I wouldn’t have thought of doing in the past. She was right. I know I had previously said that I would be afraid of cycling because of having to share the road with distracted drivers, but I let go of that fear. And then something happened.
I parked my car in Occidental and was planning to do a 31-mile loop that would take me out to Highway 1 and back to Occidental by way of Coleman Valley Road, which is a difficult climb. This climb was part of the Fondo and I wanted to know what I was getting myself into. Was it stupid for me to head out alone on those roads that I had never ridden before? I honestly don’t know. I was on a stretch of Highway 1 without a shoulder and the driver of a semi truck with a tractor-trailer came upon me. He was creating a draft and I was doing my best to hold the white line. When I realized he was pulling a second trailer, and at the same time there was a curve in the road, I ditched my bike into a mass of thorny bushes. He could have waited until it was safer to pass, but he chose to pass me with other cars coming in the opposite direction. It was primal instinct. I just rode my bike off the road and went down. The bike was fine. My leg and arm were scratched up and bleeding, and I had to spend some time pulling thorns out of my limbs, but I got back on the bike and finished the ride.
I didn’t realize the effect it had on me at the time. I was shook up, but I was still in the midst of training with the team. I simply didn’t allow what happened to get in the way. Things like that happen in cycling. Get over it, I thought, but the experience began to fester like an infected wound. I still rode alone at times, but in looking at my training log, it became less, and I can see the change in the roads I chose. I also began asking other cyclists to ride with me.
That driver took something from me. He took my fearless spirit that had been so newly aquired. He gave me nightmares and thoughts like, what if there hadn’t been a place for me to go down? He planted seeds that have continued to sprout and effect my ability to get out and enjoy the time I spent alone on the bike. I have never been a risk taker, but now I question whether that was in good judgment. A few have told me that I should never have ridden those roads for the first time alone. Perhaps that is true, but had that not happened, there would be no discussion on that point.
I know cycling can be risky. There is a clear winner in car vs. bike, but I know the rules of the road and I’m always cautious. I want my peace of mind back. It was taken from me on that day. I’m riding in the Fondo again this year, not with TNT, but with just one friend. My plan is to do a different cycling event with TNT, which will also serve as partial training for the Fondo, but I will have to get out there and ride on my own again. I am determined.