When you keep getting knocked off the proverbial horse, you just have to keep getting back in the saddle. Last June I dislocated my elbow while biking. That took me out of the game for three months. Then in October I took a spill that tore my ACL. I was rounding a corner, started to lean too far to the right, and set my foot down to stop the oncoming fall. Unfortunately, my leg was locked and the force a little too strong, my knee moved in a way it should not have, and I was down. I spent a good seven months not mountain biking after having ACL reconstruction. Aside from a couple of ventures onto easy trails, the Team LUNA Chix ride on June 5 at Poor Farm was the first significant mountain biking I’d done since October.
A large group of women, both team members and new riders, met in the parking lot that evening. I arrived with a doctor-ordered sports brace on my right leg. I had covered it with a sleeve to prevent it from getting filthy in the woods, so the brace looked mammoth and cumbersome. It was a clear and public statement that I was still in recovery mode.
We split into two groups: intermediate riders and beginner riders. Since I was easing my way back into the trails, I rode with the beginners. The group was led by Audrey. Behind her were Clare and two newer riders, Megan and Barbara, followed by Tracy and me. Tracy is a talented rider who had been instrumental in teaching me to mountain bike ride four years ago and worked with me to get back on the bike after my elbow injury. Her presence on this adventure was a bonus.
The typical trail entry route takes riders immediately over a rooty section. As I rolled over the roots, I remembered what it was like when I was a brand new rider and attending rides with Team LUNA Chix. Roots seemed so huge and took all of my attention, seemingly impassible with my slow momentum. On the night of this Team LUNA Chix ride, they seemed almost as large as I settled back into the feel of being on the bike. But as time passed, their size diminished.
The team stopped early on to try a large log pile. My knee wasn’t ready for the knocking vibrations of log piles yet, so I stood beyond the pile, camera ready, as my teammate Clare traveled over the pile. As she was coming down the back side of the logs her front wheel wobbled. She went down and heroically tore a huge hole in her shorts. Clare was fine and popped right back up for another try over the log pile.
Seeing this spill was a reminder that as mountain bikers, we are going to fall and crash. It’s inevitable. Fortunately, not all falls are game changers.
After Clare successfully conquered the log pile, Tracy, who is often at the ready for odd twists of fate, offered Clare some tape to temporarily mend her shorts. Clare’s taped shorts made her look tough. This was another reminder that this sport breeds persistence despite small and large setbacks.
We continued on the trail, encountering various sizes of log piles, whoop-de-doos, and rooty inclines. This beginner group I was with seemed not as new as I had imagined, and they cruised through the trails with relative ease.
A few times, I would encounter tricky uphill ascents, ones littered with gravel or roots, and my right quad simply wasn’t ready to master it. There were other ascents that I succeeded in finishing, and I was thrilled. Some skills were starting to come back after my hiatus. It was a comfort to have such supportive riders with me. Tracy cheered on my every success and reminded me how far I’d come since I started riding four years ago. The group as a whole reminded me to take it easy.
Coming back from an injury is as much mental as it is physical. I learned several things on that ride. One was that my knee was getting stronger, but I still had some recovery ahead. Some technical parts of riding come back easily, some are more challenging. Most importantly, there’s no need to rush the process. Time and practice, just like when we are new riders, will make the difference.
Despite the challenges I faced, it was excellent to feel released from some of the restriction of injury, to feel the speed of my wheels as I navigated twists and turns, and to feel the burn of success of a good ride.