"You never know what you've got until it's gone." So the saying goes, and after more than two decades of serious bike riding – virtually all of which I'd taken for granted – it wasn't until I broke my hand that I truly appreciated the earthbound flying that is rolling along gracefully on two wheels.
All told, things could have been much worse. The fancy cast I'd been fitted with was removable for showers and whatnot, I had full use of my thumb and first two fingers, and I was otherwise fully mobile. As such, my doctor had given me permission to do other activities such as sit on a stationary trainer or run.
I had lofty aspirations for both (Sprint to the top of Sanitas! Top-10 finish at the state 'cross championships upon my return! Hot dog eating champion!) yet I did very little of either, mostly because neither of those activities came remotely close to replicating that feeling of gliding effortlessly along the ground – whether paved or otherwise.
And so I mostly sat around, busied myself with work (thankfully I could still type), got caught up in a few cycling advocacy issues, and enjoyed more than my fair share of pie. Exactly four weeks after that fateful sand pit, I cautiously got back on a road bike and headed out to watch my girlfriend compete in a cyclo-cross race about an hour away.
It was cold, windy and grey, the route was irrefutably flat and boring, there was more vehicular traffic than I'd have usually preferred, and after more than a month of couch surfing, I was embarrassingly slow (surprisingly, my weight hasn't changed much but the volume and density variables in that equation definitely haven't stayed constant).
And yet it was one of the best rides in recent memory, simply because I wasn’t able to do it at all just a few days prior. The next day: a grin-inducing spin downtown on my speed-averse commuter. And then a few days later, 3,000ft of climbing with a local road club – where I was unceremoniously dropped more than once.
Just this morning I had my first follow-up X-ray and thanks to some good healing progress, my doctor has given me the green light to ditch the fancy removable cast I'd been wearing and told me to start rebuilding strength in my atrophied right hand. The bone still isn't near full strength, though, so mountain biking is still out and at this point in the season, there's no sense in jumping into another 'cross race.
But good signs nonetheless, and hopefully the near end of what ended up being a not-so-bad chapter in my cycling life. Lessons learned? Well, 'eyes up' for one. The forced time off has also injected some newfound enthusiasm, not just for a sport I've enjoyed for more than half of my life but also just the simple act of being on a bike, regardless of what kind it is, how up-to-date the components are or how fast (or slow) I'm going.
I enjoy shiny new stuff as much as anyone but chances are if someone on your next group ride is teasing you for still riding your eight-speed down tube shifters, they're probably not having nearly as much fun as you are. Run what you brung, as that other saying goes, and enjoy every second of it because chances are there'll be days when you won't have the luxury. Everything else is just gravy. But damn, do I love gravy.