I recently rediscovered a book I got a couple of years ago and as is my want to do with so many books, never finished it. The book is The Lost Cyclist by David V. Herlihy. It’s the tale of Frank Lenz, a
yinzer Pittsburgher, high wheeled bike racer and long distance cyclist who in the 1890s set out on his bike to travel around the world. Well, Franky went and got himself vanished during that tour and the The Lost Cyclist is the story his early high wheeled adventures, the dawn of the “safety bicycle” (a bike with inflatable tires), his attempt at riding around the world, mysterious disappearance and the subsequent search for him that ensued, lead by fellow cyclist and adventurer William Sachtleben.
I picked the book up again last night and nearly an hour later found myself super, mega, re-sucked in to it as Sachtleben tried to track down clues as to Lenz’s disappearance. I won’t go further into it in case yinz (my Pittsburgh is showing, sorry) want to read it, but I saw the above pic of Lenz just sittin’ and chillin’ during one of his rides and just loved the photo. It also ended up stirring up a few more thoughts…
This photo could seriously be me, you or any of our friends who have ever sat their cheeks on a bike and set out into the woods or mountains to go exploring. Seeing Frank Lenz sitting there, pondering his life– that unbeknownst to him, would soon be coming to an end–got me thinking of my own times on the bike out exploring, reflecting and not knowing what lies ahead.
The photo below of my old Salsa Dos Niner is from a ride I did in the mountains of western Pennsylvania back in September of 2008. At the time I was pretty heavy into racing and on that day I was scheduled to do the Big Bear Ultra down in West Virginia. Not feeling 100%, I opted instead to revisit the mountains where I started mountain biking several years earlier. I didn’t feel all that great during the ride, but I had a great time in the warm and humid mountain air. As I bombed down the paved road on my way back down the mountain to my car, I pulled off to my right and sat in the ice-cold waters of Linn Run. I sat there reflecting on the past season, the day’s ride, and my life as the cold brook gurgled and babbled around me, chilling my chamois bits to their now shriveled and shrunken core
I concluded that despite a season of solid training and racing, that day on the mountain was probably the most fun I had on my bike all year. THAT ride [first posted and ill-written here] was the ride that would spawn countless trips back to the mountains over the next couple years to “train,” explore and fuck off in the woods on my bike.
Just as Frank Lenz didn’t know what cruel fates awaited him on the adventure he was about to set out on, I didn’t know the health issues that awaited me in the coming days and weeks to come.
The very next day I went for what I thought was going to be my normal 40 mile road ride out in my old hometown of Scottdale, PA where my father still lives. I hadn’t been feeling good for days and had some off and on again muscle pain in my leg, but decided to ride through it and tough it out. Well, I made it 17 miles before I took a short cut home and called it a day.
Over the next few weeks my fitness yo-yoed up and down with each ride. One ride I felt great, the next I felt like shit. I kept thinking I had a virus, that my leg pain was from a saddle adjustment or that I was still recovering from a crap 100+ mile effort at the 24 Hour Champion Challenge earlier in the month.
Even when my right leg proceeded to swell nearly twice the size of my left [photo right], I chalked it up to poor recovery and still hadn’t thought about going to a doctor. Well, at least not until Wifey got a good look at my leg and said in that cute, bosomy, red-headed way of hers “YOU’RE GOING TO THE FUCKING DOCTOR TOMORROW, YOU IDIOT!”
After that things happened quickly: I was at the doctor, then I was getting a doppler of my leg, then I was in the emergency room being told I had a blood clot in my leg known as a DVT and that how I could have died from a pulmonary embolism at any time. Then just like that I was giving myself daily shots of Lovenox in my belly before I was put on a blood thinner which I would take over the months to come.
After those months, things got better for me: I did LOTS more racing the next season (including several marathons and hundies) as well as countless trips back to the mountains to ride.
Sadly, not only would I move from living on the edge of those mountains a couple of years later and find myself in mountainless Mount Pleasant, Michigan (a cruel joke of a name), I would also get two more DVTs for unknown reasons in the years that followed. Having said that, I now enjoy miles of dirt and gravel roads (there’s just no mountains), I still ride my bike in the woods, race on occasion and even though it seems I’ll need to take a blood thinner for the rest of my life, I am now on a medicine that requires very little blood monitoring and no dietary restrictions. Yeah, I have to be very careful about crashing and you know “bleeding to death,” but I still get to ride and be active.
I have to apologize, this post was simply to be a blurb about a cool book I’m reading, with a cool pic that made me think about how awesome it is to ride bikes and goof off in the woods. It still sort of still is all that, but I guess after staring at the photo of Lenz, coupled with talking to an old friend of mine today and learning that he is seriously ill, it turned into more. It turned into continuing to accept, no matter how hard it can be sometimes, that not every ride can or has to be an epic ride in the mountains, not every race can be 100 miles or more and that I probably won’t ever be that 170 pound racer type guy again. Every year I learn that just having my health and enough fitness to ride, race here and there and still be “thin” by Joe Six Pack’s standards (not mine) can be enough.
So ride, hike, walk, ski, prance, run, do whatever it is that gets you outside (or inside) moving, just don’t forget to take the time to ponder now and then. Especially if you have yourself a nice warm day and a mountain stream to do that pondering in.