Pain is a relative thing. It’s also a part of cycling that all serious riders accept to some degree. Now, I’m in good enough shape that I can do my commute with no pain at all, although it took me considerable suffering over the last dozen years to reach that point. When I want a painless ride, I go a little slower, particularly on the climbs, maybe adding 5 minutes to the commute. Normally though, it takes me an hour and ten minutes to ride home. That time requires me to push a little on the climbs, feel some lactic acid burn my thighs, and maybe approach my anaerobic limit cresting one or two ascents. On my carbon fiber road bike, pushing my lactate threshold so my thighs burn all the way and hammering the hills to the point of nausea, I can do the ride in an hour that leaves me spent and wheezing.
Last night, it took me an hour and 33 minutes to ride home, 15 minutes longer than my slowest times. It was also the most painful ride I’ve ever done. I rode it with a migraine. I could have called for a ride home, but Pat had emailed me telling me she’d had a bad back spasm and could barely move. I’ve had plenty of them, and know how much they hurt. Worse the migraines maybe, although in a different way. I didn’t want to ask her to come pick me up. Now, migraines also detract from your thinking abilities, and it never occurred to me that Kevin could have picked me up. Or that any one of a dozen friends would have happily given me a ride home. Or that maybe riding home with my thinking abilities fucked up was a bad idea. That right there is some irony. In any event, combined with being a stubborn Yankee, those factors all pointed me to riding home.
It wasn’t bad at first. The cool air felt refreshing, and I had hopes that the sumatriptan tablet I took half an hour before leaving work would kick in. If it did, the exertion of riding overcame most of the benefits. At one point, I can decide to stay on paved roads or to veer off onto dirt. Lately I’ve been taking the dirt roads. They’re prettier and see very little traffic, but they’re a little harder; usually things I like. That’s the route I took last night, figuring that I could always ride the hills more slowly or even, God forbid, walk the bike. But if I went the other way, there was nothing I could do to avoid the two or three diesel trucks that always passed. A couple of lungs full of diesel exhaust combined with a migraine would have had me puking by the side of the road. Plus, there’s a great descent on the dirt roads and I figured that I could salvage some fun from the ride. But not even that proved out. While that descent is a little rough, the jouncing never bothered me before. Last night, the slightest bump shot lightning bolts through my head, and I rode the brakes all the way down.
The dirt route and the paved route re-converge three miles from home. Two climbs remain, neither one more than a football field in length, but both steep. I geared all the way down, and turned the pedals just enough to get up them. The relative flat of the last mile home felt like a blessing, and I rode down my driveway in a dazed fog. I took a second sumatriptan, maxing out the dosage, and laid down still wearing my riding clothes. Micah sensed something was wrong, came onto the bed and laid down next to me, his soft fur and warmth a comfort against my skin. He’s a great dog. I slept until hunger woke me up 45 minutes later. Hunger is a sure sign that a migraine is waning.
That was hard. But as Tom Hengst’s character in A League of Their Own said, “Of course it’s hard. It’s the hard that makes it good.” The good is that I’m glad to know I can do it. That ride will combine with a day-long, waterless, foodless ride I did 30 years ago, lost in the Sangre de Christos, to define suck. That’s a good perspective to have halfway up a three mile long hill, 80 miles into a dirt-road century ride on a hot August day. Hell, that’s a good perspective to have almost every day.