Coming back from an injury is an interesting process. You’re at zero, but the tabula isn’t rasa. You know what you used to do. You know what it took to be able to do that. And you know what you have to do to get back to where you were before you did the dumb thing.
I had ACL replacement surgery on October 29 last year. My first ride after that was 10 minutes on a stationary bike 20 days later. Bending the knee to stroke the pedals was the accomplishment. Climbing onto the bike was scary. Not long after, I got out on the road, riding the Niner for its low gearing. Next, I took out the gravel bike and added some climbs on pavement.
It’s all been very tentative. “I think I can ride that hill. If I can’t, there’s no shame in walking it,” while in the back of my head the voice was sounding, “You are not walking this. Just no.” Somehow, I’ve struck a balance between pushing myself to go beyond where I’d been, but not so much that I’ve set myself back. Last week I added some hard dirt climbs. Yesterday, I extended that to Booth Road, whose short and brutal climb I walked for years.
A mile before, I convinced myself not to turn onto Booth. Then I decided to stick with the plan. Turning from the pavement onto Booth’s dirt immediately put me in a section where the town had filled a mud hole with big gravel. This wasn’t auspicious, but I pedaled on. The dirt wasn’t bad, soft in spots, wet in others, and perfect in between.
Not knowing was the hard part. Climbing Booth takes watts. I thought I had the watts. Hell, they had me doing one-legged squats in PT. But those watts needed to travel from the quads through the knee to the pedals, and six months of dealing with an injured knee makes you consider the potential for pain with every new step. I think it’s a kind of PTSD, where one bad experience takes many positive ones to erase.
But with the first few pedal strokes, I knew it was going to be okay, that I was going to make it up with no more than the usual amount of suffering. Looking at my Strava later on, it wasn’t even close to being my slowest time, but I also knew I hadn’t put everything I had into it. The climbs on Moosehorn and Judd’s Bridge still lay ahead. I’m not so sure of myself yet that I don’t think about leaving some gas in the tank, but next time, I’ll leave a little less.