The temperature at my house this morning was 19 degrees F (-7 C) when I rolled out the door for the bike ride at 8 a.m. We met up with the posse half an hour later at the Kwik-E-Mart up on Indian School and Tramway in the foothills, and I pulled out a little chunk of a Clif bar to eat. It was hard as a rock.
The normal chewy goodness of the Clif bar was hard as a rock.
The rest of the ride, my Clif chunks became a crude but useful gauge of temperature.
Cold aside, it actually was a special ride.
Two hundred and ninety days ago, April 7 of last year, Jaime and I were doing an early morning ride in the foothills, doing what the locals call “the fingers.” The fingers are little climbs, short steep things anywhere from 300 to 500 feet (100 to 150 meters) in elevation gain. I love the fingers. I have not ridden the fingers in 290 days.
One of the longer and steeper fingers is the road up to the base of the Sandia tram. Back in April, my knee had been hurting, but I’d been in denial. Jaime and I had done the La Luz road, which is the longest and best finger, a lovely ride into the mountains. On the way back, we decided to pick up one more finger and headed up the tram road. As we rounded a bend on a steep section near the top, I just stopped. It hurt too much, and it just felt wrong. Jaime looped around to see if I was OK. I got back in the saddle and one-legged the rest of the way up. But it just hurt. It was the moment the denial ended, a clear demarcation point.
After my June surgery, my physical therapist Peter – a cyclist himself – had me on a no-fingers training plan. Lots of biking, and long gentle climbs were fine. But I’m better now, eh? It was too cold for riding very fast this morning (think wind chill), but climbing fingers seemed a reasonable alternative. You stay warm on the uphill and freeze on the downill, but it doesn’t take very long to get back down the finger. So we started doing fingers, and I suggested we go climb the tram road.
Jaime and the rest of the posse had dropped me as we approached The Spot, but Jaime peeled off and looped around to join me. It was a thoughtful gesture. He was with me the last time, and he wanted to be with me this time, he said. He’s been the best sort of friend I could have asked for during the last nine months – carpooling me when I couldn’t walk, riding slowly with me when I couldn’t ride fast, waiting for me at the tops of hills, always encouraging and cajoling and helping me through it.
I’m not much of a climber, but I love the hills. Past The Spot, it took me a minute to catch my breath – I was pretty emotional. Even in the cold there was sweat dripping down my nose, and I put my head down and stood and attacked the final, steepest part of the climb up through the tram parking lot.
Words cannot do justice to how good it felt to crest that hill.