Anniversary Musings

One year ago today I rode a log skinny faster than I should have, came off the side, and panicked at the rapid approach of a tree. Putting my left foot down at speed, the lower leg stopped while the upper leg continued forward. It felt very wrong. I went down. It didn’t hurt, but as I lay on the forest floor, it was clear some damage had been done.

Ben’s voice came back from ahead. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t know.”

With Ben’s help, I got untangled from the bike. Using it as a crutch, I walked out of the woods.

Then we sat in camp chairs in the parking lot and drank a beer. It was a mountain bike ride after all.

About a week later, the orthopedist drained, oh, I don’t know, about a gallon of blood from the knee and diagnosed a torn ACL. An MRI confirmed that as well as identifying some minor tears to the meniscus. Apart from those things though, the doc said the knee looked pretty good for a guy of my years.

Following that came several weeks when I enjoyed the summer weather, as well as our new pup, Owen, sitting on my porch with my knee elevated. I read. I started physical therapy. I went back to work doing estimating instead of carpentry, and began work on a model for a demonstration my boss wanted to give. Within a month I was limping around on the jobsite again, carpentering as well as a cripple could.

Four months after my crash, the doc installed a used ACL. That was followed up by more physical therapy. There are not enough good words to say about PTs and the work they do. I miss Drew, Erin, and Mighty Mouse from PT for Life in Southbury. We talked about beer. And movies. And food. We busted balls. PT was something I looked forward to, and it was key to my recovery.

Within a month of surgery I was on my bike on a trainer. At first, the knee wouldn’t bend enough to complete a pedal stroke. Then it could. Soon, I was beating the shit out of myself on Zwift. By January, I was road riding. Slowly, but riding. Pat worried, but that’s her job. Not long after that, Drew kicked me out of PT, saying he’d done all he could and the rest was up to me.

I paid the bills with freelance writing gigs, many of which have continued now that I’m back to work as a carpenter. I quit my previous carpentry job in February due to a lack of work there. Now I’m partnered up with an old friend and that feels like one of the better moves I’ve ever made.

I kept riding gravel roads, even managing some good Strava times. I started mtbing again about 6 weeks ago. It’s scary, but getting less so, and getting to be fun again.

They say it takes a full year to completely recover from an ACL replacement. I suppose a lot of folks would be angry at themselves for losing an entire year. I feel a bit of that. But more, I feel gratitude. My family and friends came through for me. I could afford the surgery and the PT. Someone who died donated an ACL that’s now in me. My career situation improved, in part due to having to scare up a way to keep the cash flowing. There, I credit my former colleagues from The Taunton Press and beyond for still wanting to work with me.

The knee is mending well, and the anger I do feel with myself has made me more introspective about riding. I understand my limits better, and I’m patient about pushing them. Trail obstacles scare me much like when I started, and when I clean something new, that same joy comes back.

I won’t say I’m glad I tore my ACL. But I don’t regret it either.

About swampyankeecyclist

I'm Andy Engel, just a middle-aged, middle-class guy from Roxbury, Connecticut. I've been married to my best friend since 1988, and we have two grown sons. I like riding bikes, and my biggest accomplishment is the 180K D2R2. I own 5 bikes but my go-to rides are a 2016 GT Grade gravel and commuter bike and a 2016 Specialized 650b hardtail mountain bike. Additionally, I have a 2000-something carbon-fiber Orbea road bike, a 1990-something Specialized Sirrus that's my old dirt and commuter bike and which now serves as a spare and a trainer bike, and a 1985 Ross Mount Hood MTB. All but the 650b have Brooks saddles. I work from home now, but used to commute 32 miles round trip to work by bike year round. I was a carpenter and still love building things, but regular paychecks, insurance, and vacation time lured me into journalism. I've written a couple of books on carpentry, and I've been an editor at Fine Homebuilding, Fine Woodworking, and Professional Deck Builder magazines. Currently, I manage construction events at the JLC Live and Remodeling Show trade shows. Additionally, my wife and I run Transylvania Guest House, an Airbnb. Find us on Instagram. Come stay with us and I'll show you some great cycling.
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