Something I enjoy to do in my scarce free time is cycling. I’ve mentioned my love of cycling in an earlier post Childhood Fun. I try to get in roughly 100 to 150 miles a week mostly in the pre-dawn hours before the city fully awakes and my work day begins. (This means a 4am wake up for every ride). It’s tough to be able to get out every morning with having a child who doesn’t always want to go to sleep at a decent hour and hoping to get back in time to shower and eat breakfast before heading out the door to work, but I still try.
I use my time on the saddle to rid myself of worries and stress and to try and stay in shape. I let my mind wander through the struggles of my day and to take a different look at stories I’ve been working. I use the time riding along the shores of Lake Michigan to try to understand what it means and what it takes to be a good husband and father. I love being out alone on my bike watching the city awake and listening to the sounds you don’t hear when the city is full of the hustling and bustling crowds.
This past Saturday I awoke at 4am, got myself and my bike ready and headed out into the dark morning for what I was planning to be a 5o mile ride. The morning was a bit cooler than the last few mornings due to the late evening storms that had rolled through the area and it was a welcomed coolness.
I went out at a slightly slower pace than usual, not feeling quite awake enough to go as hard as I wanted to. My legs felt sluggish and my body ached, but shortening my ride was not an option. Five miles in, my body began loosening up. The sun was just beginning to peek through the clouds out over the lake and a slight breeze brushed a cool air across my face. I was finally starting to feel good.
Eight miles in and I noticed lightening off in the western sky pushing against the tall buildings. I had watched the weather reports the night before, as well as in the morning, and there was no mention of rain until later in the day. I don’t enjoy cycling in the rain because the roads become slick and I’m not a fan of falling. I didn’t let the storm clouds deter my quest of completing my ride so I pushed on. The formation didn’t look large so I figured if anything it would be a quick rainfall. I continued with my ride along the trail and at mile 9 the rain began to fall.
For close to 15 minutes it rained heavily. My shoes filled with water and my shirt became soaked as the rain beat against my face and I tried to dodge puddles. I made sure to not take corners too fast and allowed myself more braking distance than usual because I didn’t want to crash, but I told myself to keep going. I figured as the sun began to rise the roads would dry and my worries of slick spots would be no more.
By mile 14 I had passed Navy Pier as I headed south and the trail began drying. I was feeling more confident on my bike and less worried about slick spots. I went past Buckingham Fountain and began winding my way around Shedd Aquarium when I was passing a couple enjoying the sunrise over the lake and my bike started slipping out from underneath me.
My front tire had got caught in the groove of the sidewalk and thrown off my balance as my back tire started sliding out to the left. I unclipped my right foot trying to balance myself, dragging it along beside me. I unclipped my left foot hoping that having both feet down would keep my upright. My bike started coming back around and I relaxed a bit but before it had straightened out completely I hit a dry patch of concrete and this began my decent.
I crashed into the ground elbow first with my head slamming down shortly after. I felt my head bounce a couple of times as I slid across the rough concrete leaving chunks of my skin behind and my bike scratching beneath me. My bike and I came to a scraping halt close to 15 feet from where I began my tumble. I laid for a moment trying to assess what had just happened and hoping when I went to move nothing would be broken, both on me and my bike.
I heard the couple coming over to me and asking if I was okay and noticed the woman picking up items that had fallen off of me and my bike that were scattered across the trail as I started picking myself up. I could feel the aches already starting as I straightened my legs, but didn’t want them to think they needed to help. I leaned my bike along the retaining wall, took the water bottle and sunglasses from the woman and let them know I was okay. The woman didn’t seem convinced but I explained to her that if anything was wrong I would call my wife for a ride and that she needed to get back to watching the sunrise with her friend. She asked a couple more times if I needed help before I walked away.
I walked off with blood dripping from my elbow and knee, a helmet disheveled and my head hanging from embarrassment. I wanted to be back in bed at that moment. Just waking up to the sounds of my son playing in his crib. I wanted to be back at my house enjoying the first sip of coffee. I wanted to be anywhere else other than along Lake Michigan bleeding and defeated.
I called my wife and woke her up. I could tell she knew something wasn’t right because I never call her when I go out for rides. I explained what had happened and that I thought I would need a ride. I was wandering along the trail pushing my bike and bleeding with people looking at me strangely. It was uncomfortable. After her initial concern she said she’d be down as soon as possible to pick me up. I told her I would find an easy spot for her to get me and call her when I got there.
After I hung up I finally took a look at my bike as well as myself. I was able to walk and move without much pain so I figured I had no broken bones. Just a few cuts and bruises. After looking at my bike the only thing that looked out of place was the chain hanging on the pedal. I placed it back on the teeth of the sprocket, cranked the pedal a couple rotations with my hand and it popped back on. I swung my bleeding leg over the saddle, clipped my shoes back into the pedals and pushed off. The bike was rideable but I wasn’t sure if I could ride it home. I had gone 15 miles before the accident and had almost ten to get back home.
After riding a short distance through Grant Park I called my wife back up and told her not to head out. I was going to try and ride home rather than giving up on my ride. After convincing her that it was what I wanted to do I slipped my phone back into my pocket and began pedaling. It was a long, slow ride north through the city. I could feel my joints tightening and my legs tiring but I wanted to push on. After another 9 miles along the streets of Chicago I pulled up outside my house as another cloud began dropping rain and climbed the stairs to our apartment.
I put in 24 miles, half of what I wanted to do, and felt good for completing the ride, but disappointed in what had happened. Maybe I should have just headed back home when the rain began to fall. Maybe I should have stopped riding when my legs didn’t feel like they wanted to pedal as I began my ride. Maybe I should have waited for my wife to come pick me up while I sat in the park soaking wet and bloody. But for some reason I wanted to push myself after every obstacle showed itself that morning. I wanted to prove I had the ability to push past the aches and pains the obstacles and my frustrations.
Recently I had been giving up too easily when something proved to be difficult. At work, with my writing and with being a husband and father. I would just passively sit back and let my troubles overwhelm me rather than taking them on and finding a way to overcome. So maybe the accident was supposed to happen. Maybe I was supposed to push through the early morning dead legs. Maybe I was supposed to let the rain challenge me as I made my way through the city and maybe I was supposed to fall and scrape my body across the pavement to prove to myself I can stand up to challenges and adversity and that all I need to do is trust my strength and believe in my drive to do better.
Maybe, or I really just need to buy some training wheels.