5 lessons from a year of cycling

It’s been a little over a year that I purchased my road bike. It’s been quite a year…okay, for reasons also off the bike, but what a year it’s been thanks to my new bike. A journey, possibly even an awakening, something I’ve been waiting for. Maybe that sounds silly and doesn’t make sense, or maybe you’re nodding, thinking ‘yeah, I know that feeling.’

My bone cancer diagnosis was devastating for many reasons, but a big one was the heartbreaking reality that I could no longer ride horses (I rode horses, primarily hunter/jumpers for many years). Of course, I tried post-chemo (because heaven forbid I believed my surgeon back then when he said I couldn’t do something), but a fall on ice the following winter required my rod to be replaced, complete with wire wrapped around my remaining piece of femur to ensure it didn’t shatter. It became too risky. My love for horses will never be replaced, yet a restless space sat in my heart waiting to find an activity that excited, relaxed and pushed me. I love to be outdoors so hiking and backpacking are among my favorite activities. I tried a lot of other activities, including rock climbing, golf, kayaking, yoga and others. I enjoyed most of these but something was still missing. And then I bought my road bike.

I’m fortunate that I’ve always had a bike. I biked a lot as a child, in high school and in college. For some reason, not so much post-cancer. I guess I was distracted or busy with other activities. And while I own a hybrid mountain bike (even though I can’t ride technical trails), I didn’t get the fulfillment I sought.

And then I bought my road bike (related blog). A lightweight, sleek black and red bike that I kind of love for many reasons. The freedom I feel, the physical confidence, the simple pleasure of finding an activity that makes me smile every time I push off for a new journey. What an amazing, fun journey it’s been since I bought this bike at the end of last year. From bundling up to ride on New Year’s Day (thankful for a mild winter!) to biking across Iowa to shedding tears as I rode on the anniversary of my dad’s death to the numerous times I headed out alone to clear my head to biking with so many wonderful people while pavement rolled by, I am fortunate for this time, for the simple ability to ride my bike with my own two legs. I’ve learned a lot this year. Here are some of those lessons:

  1. Good cycling shorts and chamois cream are a must. Best advice I ever received was recommendations for a good chamois short and cream. Male or female, you need shorts (capris, tights) that are well padded in all the right places. It makes sitting on that small bike saddle so much more enjoyable. And go commando, my lady friends (no chafing). Don’t be afraid to ask for advice! Trust me, I ask a LOT of questions about a lot of things (people can vouch for this), but you can’t learn without asking. I’m appreciative of my female friends who provided suggestions on chamois cream and exactly how to apply (lol). Ladies, if you need advice, you’re welcome to contact me and I’ll share the tips.
  2. Shop around for the best bike for you. I received awesome input from several friends and bike shops, including women suggesting their female-friendly bikes. Great information to be armed with when I went to bike shops. But actually getting on the bike and riding outside helped me find Ruby (my bike of course!). I tested several brands and styles of bikes, but something felt off with each. I admit I grew frustrated wondering if I just didn’t know what to feel. Then I rode my bike and everything clicked. I’m so glad I didn’t get too impatient, instead waiting for what was right (kind of another life lesson, eh?).
  3. Hard work pays off. When I bought Ruby, I simply hoped to find an activity to enjoy, never imagining the emotions that would fill my heart, the confidence gained and physical and mental strength I’d achieve this year. I’ve logged almost 1,500 miles in 2017 – while it may not be a lot to some of you, consider I rode approximately 300 miles last year and even less the previous year! I biked across most of Iowa with Team LIVESTRONG, riding the most miles in a day I had ever completed. When I came home, I signed up for a 50-mile bike ride that honestly felt pretty easy….and that felt awesome! An even better bonus? I got in better shape without thinking about it. I lost weight, toned my butt and legs, lowered my blood pressure and heart rate even more so, and improved my overall health (enough that my oncologist and primary care physician commented on the changes!). I admit that I’m really proud of myself.
  4. Ride at your own pace. I like biking at times with other people for the good conversations and company, but also for the extra push that I find myself taking to increase speed and endurance. The more I ride, the easier it is to ride further and faster, but the reality is that I will never be the fastest nor ride the furthest. I simply can’t without risking my leg, and it’s not worth it. It’s okay to not be able to keep up with some people – we all have our journeys and some things I excel at, they may not. Life is supposed to be fun, not a competition (I have no problem telling my ego to take a seat). While I still get frustrated at times that I can’t be as fast or thrill-seeking or need extra caution because of my leg, I can acknowledge my accomplishments.
  5. Being open to trying new activities can lead to happiness. There is so much freedom, joy, courage, motivation and simple fun in discovering an untapped interest in an activity. You never know what you’ll enjoy until you at least try it once, maybe twice. Embracing this activity has led to many new, fun adventures and meeting so many kind people.

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