I went to bed Friday night expecting to go on a long singlespeed road ride on Saturday morning. I woke up on Saturday, though, thinking that I needed something that occupied my mind a little more completely.
Singlespeed mountain bike sounded about right.
I rode up the South side of Hog Hollow, a climb that takes half an hour, when I’m in great shape. I didn’t have a bike computer or watch on this ride, though. I wasn’t riding for time. I’m not going to be riding for time at all this season. I’m just riding for me for a while.
As I rode the mile of pavement from my house to the trailhead, I came across Lee Johnson, heading the opposite direction, clearly finishing the ride I was about to begin. He turned around and rode with me for a few minutes, asking — innocently — how my wife was doing.
I told him, answering as honestly and directly as I could, because I know I’m going to have to get used to answering that question. I was relieved that I had managed to keep it together, by and large, through the conversation.
He, like literally hundreds of others in the past couple of days, offered his support and prayers before he turned around and headed home, leaving me at the trailhead to my climb.
And that’s when I totally lost it.
I cried the whole climb up to the saddle of the Hog. Just bawled.
Weirdly, I thought as I climbed and cried that crying makes it harder to breathe and was robbing me of climbing power. And I thought that if anyone saw me right now, I was glad that they wouldn’t see my eyes (though the streaked face, running nose and mottled skin might have been sufficient clues for the astute).
Then I kept on climbing up Jacob’s Ladder, and kept crying the whole way up. I thought about how Susan and at least one of the kids had remarked on Friday that they had never seen me cry before then, and now I was well into a 45-minute jag.
Finally at the top of Jacob’s Ladder, I began the singletrack descent. It starts out tricky, with granite jutting out of the trail, and lots of sandy gravel that makes it easy to slide out. There are lots of different lines, and half the fun of the trail is picking which you’re going to take.
By the time I got to Ghost Falls, I realized something wonderful. I wasn’t crying.
In fact, I wasn’t thinking at all.
The intensity of the ride had fully occupied my mind. For the first time since Susan and I had been to see the oncologist and learned we were out of options, I felt…not happy, but at least not all knotted up. Clear.
Right now, clear is good enough.
So I dropped down Ghost Falls, attacking it a little more aggressively than usual. Using the brakes a little less often than usual. Chasing another moment of peace.
And I got it, too.
Then, as I climbed back up Clark’s in order to drop back down the South side of the Hog to get to Alpine, I felt selfish. I had added at least 3/4 an hour onto my ride time just to help me feel better. That’s 3/4 an hour that I was away from Susan when I could have been with her.
I know. I know. If someone else were telling me they felt guilty for taking an extra 3/4 an hour for himself under similar circumstances, I would tell him to go easy on himself; that he needs to take care of himself or he won’t be able to take care of his wife or family.
But that kind of rings hollow when your time with your wife has been cut short like this.
I won’t be taking any really long rides for a while. But I am grateful for close rides that give me a little time to get away from my head.