Two weeks ago I sprained my ankle on the Rob Roy Glacier Track near Wanaka. Funny thing is, I didn’t sprain it on the steep and rocky uphills or running fast on the same steep and rocky downhills. I sprained it walking along the gentle bumpy flats on the way to the parking lot. This is not amazing news. It is not even interesting or unfortunate news. What is unfortunate is that it hindered my ability to exercise, teach yoga and basically live the active amazing life I have been living. Now, I have never sprained anything or broken a bone so, after two weeks of icing and taping and heating and doing strengthening and range of motion exercises, I was itching to get to the gym and recover some of the strength and cardiovascular fitness I’d lost in my two weeks of convalescing.
Some things were easy. I can lift weights and do strength training that does not involve twisting, putting torque on, or in any way creating instability in my ankle. Intense cardio circuits were out of the question as I’m sure no doctor would approve of my jumping up and down and standing one-footed on a BOSU. What I was really missing was my cardio and let’s be honest, a person can only be expected to put in so much time on the elliptical machine. Sustainable, enjoyable cardio. That’s what I was looking for. Frustrated and not sure how my still sore and slightly swollen ankle would respond, I took a leap of faith and pulled out my bicycle.
You would think that, being a biker, I would have missed my daily rides more than the gym. To that, I’ll say, some bits of realization come when we least expect them. As someone who regularly rides my bike to work, the gym, the grocery store and to run errands, it becomes less of a means of exercise than part of what you do, how you do it and ultimately who you are. I don’t think of walking up the steps to my house as part of my exercise routine but it could, however loosely, be thrown under the category of physical fitness. And thus it is with my bike. I ride it to the gym, not in lieu of the gym. The fitness aspects are merely a bonus.
I tape up my ankle and head to the garage. My bike was standing proudly but, after 5 weeks of sitting idle, looking a bit like it had been dismissed from duty. I topped up the air in the tyres and gave them a visual once-over. Everything fine there. I made sure the lights were secure and that I had my repair kit. I filled the water bottle and secured my pannier and took her out into the sunlight.
Outside she looks like she’s breathing again and has regained her sense of purpose. She is replete. Well used and well loved. I hop on and as I rode down Marine Parade I felt that feeling. You know, the feeling that you are where you belong. This feeling, which if I may be so sentimental as to call joy, is not strictly limited to when I ride my bike; but (and this was my realization) that I do always feel when I ride my bike. Always.
It encompasses so many things, but if I had to narrow it down for you, I’d say it is the light and pristine sense of freedom. Freedom to move under your own power. Freedom to move at your own pace. Freedom to move along the trajectory of your own choosing. Freedom to get on and get off wherever you choose. I’m back. This I can do.
My ankle is surprisingly happy in this circular motion in its stable cage. I move round Lyall Bay and once I’m through the tunnel I get hit with the full force of the wind and I’m cycling backwards for a moment until I can kick it into low gear and pick up the pedal speed. I imagine my pony tail sticking out behind me like it’s been starched and I assume every driver in every car that passes me thinks I’m insane. I turn the next corner toward Island Bay and I am moving sideways. Seven months into my residency in Wellington and this still hits me with surprise. I’m thinking “Seriously, are you kidding?!?”. I am responding well to the seemingly illogical wind resistance which comes from the front then the left and then the right. I am under no illusions that biking in Wellington is anything like riding in San Francisco. I am adaptable. I am smart enough to remember where I am and I settle into it. It is a beautiful ride. Not exactly the easiest ride but I will tell you this, I smiled all the way home.
The ride was filled with those gentle bumpy flats. Things that take you by surprise and de-stabilize you. Not in any other way than in their ability to inspire simple awe. The smell of the salt in the air; the wind coming from who knows where; how, when I’m going fast downhill, I feel as though I have just taken my very first really deep breath; the ability to set off on a moments notice; the tranquil solitude and the cadence of my feet.