Ten years ago this month, I gave a neurosurgeon permission to cut into my back. He removed a crippling bone chip from my sciatic nerve and rendered me able to walk again.
I spent the next seven years doing everything I could to encourage nerve regeneration and regrowth. They say that's how long it takes nerve damage to heal, if it's going to heal. No promises.
The emergency surgery also allowed demoralizing arthritis to gain a weed-worthy foothold.
I can't truly blame the surgery for this hardship. Arthritis runs heavily in my family. I probably would have succumbed to the stiffness and pain of everyday life eventually, with or without the surgery.
I have spent the last ten years trying to "stay active," even when it hurts, because my doctor told me that's the best he can offer. Sitting still magnifies the stiffness. Dormancy encourages and stimulates atrophy.
I've tried to do something special, something challenging, each anniversary of my surgery, just to prove to my physical body who is in charge. Mind over muscle. I will not be held back.
This year, I celebrated with a bicycle climb up Deer Creek Canyon. It may not seem noteworthy or even much of a challenge. I've done it probably 30 times, although with decreasing frequency the last couple of years.
Nearly two years ago, my back became an issue again when mischievous teens broke a fence post and unwittingly challenged me to a bicycle-hurdling demonstration. A broken wrist, a dinged camera, hamburger knees and elbows, and a mystery back injury not entirely discovered or diagnosed for ten whole months forced me to start all over again on my training and healthy lifestyle. (That second link reveals one of the best tragedy overcome poems I've ever composed, in my opinion.) Thankfully, my bike was fine.
I wasn't able to scale Deer Creek Canyon again until early this last summer. Forest fires that first summer and the next prevented me from repeating the fete often enough to maintain ability.
Back in September, I reached the top again for the second time since May of 2012. It was a long, grueling climb, and I felt like a collapsed shack near the top by the time I reached the top. Then, thanks to my continual habit of over-committing myself and my inability to say, "No," I didn't get another opportunity until the tin or aluminum anniversary of surgery. And even then, hours and daylight were limited. There would not be enough daylight to tackle the entire climb, so I had to modify my goal.
I decided within the first four miles I would try to beat the best miles-per-hour average I had ever attained on the Deer Creek ride, which includes up AND down. I think my snail's pace going uphill on any trail, road or bike path has been steadily improving since before the bicycle accident, albeit very, very slowly. So just going a little faster up the canyon wouldn't be enough for me. I wanted something I could really call a feather in my cap.
I decided to pedal hard as far as I could and then to keep trying to get back up to intensity as much as I could for the remainder of the ride. I don't think I had ever pushed hard for 27 whole miles on any ride anytime anywhere. If I could bring up my total average by a mile or so, that would be an accomplishment. That would be the peacock's feathers.
As I pedaled, I wondered if I should start celebrating my renewed outlook on life in October of 2012 instead of the back surgery, since the discs damaged in the bicycle wreck have more impact on me now than the bone chip. As I reached the top of the day's climb, about the halfway point because that's all daylight would allow me on this particular day, one of my most cherished motivational songs began to play on my iPod once again, at just the perfect time.
I knew the moment had arrived
For killing the past and coming back to life"
-- Coming Back to Life, Pink Floyd
I don't need to dwell on that bicycle accident anymore. It was awful. It changed my life. It zapped my will. It brought on one of the most devastating bouts of depression I've faced since the deaths of my little brother and my little sister.
By gosh, that day is gone. I'm not letting those silly kids and that stupid fence post have any more of my life. Yes, I have an injury that isn't going to go away and will eventually get worse. But by golly, I'm not giving up. I'm going to enjoy what I have left of life, and I'm not memorializing that fateful day anymore.
I pedaled down the mountain fast. I typically am very conservative when descending. But for this day, weather was perfect, road conditions were good (no gravel, not much traffic), I was feeling strong, and I wanted to prove I could go a little faster and still be cautious and observant.
When I got back to the (mostly) flats, I faced a devilish headwind, and I wasn't about to let it slow me down, either. Although sometimes I couldn't pedal faster than 5 or 7 mph, I kept giving it my all. I tried to pedal as hard as I could.
At the end of the ride, I quickly reached inside my rear jersey pocket to punch in the end of my ride and see if I'd reached my goal of one mile per hour faster than ever before.
If any earthquakes were detected that day, that was me. That was me dancing for joy. That's the way I intend to live the rest of my life.