The bike ride was a break, of stepping out of life and focusing on nothing more than moving forward. I didn’t spend the time thinking or planning or missing anything. Instead, I spent it feeling my muscles, my breath, my backache, the way rain tasted when it dripped off my helmet.
Here, I could come and see the trees standing together, day after day. I had memorized dozens of trees. I knew where I was on the trail by the bend of a birch tree or the split trunk of an old pine. I appreciated their sturdiness, their reliability, their sameness. I would come out after every storm with anticipation, to see what nature could dole out, what changes I could find and memorize again.
Today, I was on that mission.
Two days of heavy rains and storms had left their mark. The riverbank was rifled with huge veins of sand carried to the river. North of the lake, straight-line winds had bent over an entire grove of poplars. The entire army lay as one on its side. I found clumps of oak leaves thrashed to the ground and the trail full of acorns.
I rode over deep washouts and through wide mud holes. I slowed but just barely. Like always, I felt at home and safe, to have the trail beneath me. I began picking my way through the forest by instinct, keeping the lake on my left and heading west. I was stitching together 15 miles from Fisher Road to the far side of Mud Lake, trying to take only new trails or two-tracks, turning right where I knew to turn left. I wanted to see what had happened, what I could find new.
Then, just as I was rounding a black, muddy corner on a two-track, I fell.
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I hadn’t fallen the entire season, nor last season, that I could remember. I had gotten strong on my bike but now here I was - downed, skinned up, scrambling to right myself on the wet, slick mud. In disbelief, I jumped up almost before I hit the ground, shook it off and set out again.
Within minutes, I was down again.
This time I was tangled up in my bike. I stayed where I fell, shocked, bleeding. I could see a cut from the gear ring up my leg. A flush of fear ran through me. No one knew where I was, and worse, I couldn’t tell anyone how to find me. I was lost, even though I knew where I “was.” I didn’t have a phone on me or even a watch back then.
I pulled myself free of my bike and rolled to my side and sat up. I felt the pad in my bike shorts sink into the moss at the base of a tree - and I waited for and felt, the wet reach my skin. I leaned against the tree and examined my cut. I pulled my water bottle from its rack and cleaned the cut the best I could. It hurt, but I decided I would live. I drank the rest of my water then, mud and all, and rested my head down on my bent knees.
How, exactly, had life brought me to this moment? Wet, muddy, irritated (how had I fallen again!), nursing a wound, pushing the adrenaline down out of my arms and legs, lost, alone and hurt.
It hit me - like the life that I was rebuilding - the storms had changed everything. But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I had changed nothing. I was riding as if it was yesterday.
The rest of the ride was up to me.
I would have to learn to navigate this new trail, these new challenges and these big ol’ effing mud holes, differently. And that I could.
With that, I stood up and climbed on my bike again. This time with a little limp, a muddy bottom, and - the part that I didn’t see coming just moments ago - joy.
So much like life. Broken and beautiful at the same time.