In a small way and insignificant way for most of the world, today was momentous for me. Over my 20 years of struggling with spinal degeneration, I've learned that the old saying that "can't isn't part of my vocabulary" doesn't apply to me. Now, I have a long list of things that I can't do - and my greatest fear about my surgery was that the list might grow.
I've been an athlete since I was a little girl, yearning to feel the fiery burn of pushing my body to its limits almost every day. Even at age 6, my parents say that I'd skip lunch on weekends so that I could ride my bike all day long. I even started a 'bike gang' in my neighborhood - I was the boss, of course, and we rode the alleys behind our row houses for hours on end.
For a short period, I abandoned biking for other sports, sports that I grew to love including lacrosse and competitive running. But then, the "can't" word entered my life when doctors saw images of my spine when I was in my early 20s. Running was forbidden due to the jarring impact of each footfall. I love watching my dogs run, and often wish that I could break into an easy jog along side them. But, I've accepted that I can't.
In addition to the ban on running, all sports involving twisting were deemed too dangerous because they were likely to accelerate the spinal degeneration. I felt obligated to listen to the doctors. After all, I needed my spine to work for many more decades. So, "can't" became a word that I was forced to accept. By accepting it, I learned how to flow downhill like water, gliding around obstacles rather than fighting them. It's part of why I declared this year as the Year of the Bobcat for me - I wanted to emulate a bobcat's flexibility and tenaciousness. After all, bobcats have flourished despite human cruelty and extreme habitat loss. They've flourished by adapting to their new world, just like I hope that I can continue to do in my life.
So, when all my favorite sports were banned, I needed to find the path that would bring me the joy of nature and hard exercise while observing the new rules laid out by my doctors. I turned to biking and fell in love with it.
I'm not your average mountain biker. I love riding my mountain bike in the most secret and quiet parts of the forest. I stop frequently, dropping my bike to go look at a tree, follow wildlife tracks, explore a boulder outcropping that looks like good bobcat habitat, photograph wildflowers, or just sit in the silence. For me, my mountain bike is a way of covering lots of ground in the forest while exerting myself to my limits. I ride silently and, to the best of my ability, without leaving a trace. I also love riding with a dog by my side, listening to her easy gallop as I struggle up hills and over rocky trails.
So, when I decided that it was time to submit to neck surgery about 10 weeks ago, I feared that more activities would become forbidden. Most of all, I feared for my mountain biking. To combat my fear, I followed every rehabilitation recommendation to the letter. I've been walking 4 miles a day, every single day - but I've loved almost every step of it so I can't complain. I've been doing neck exercises three times a day focusing on range of motion, strength, and 'nerve gliding' (to prevent the nerves that go from my neck to my arms from getting stuck in scar tissue). Moreover, I've ridden indoor bike trainers daily. I started riding a recumbent bike trainer in the first week after surgery, and in recent weeks, I gradually traded that for my regular mountain bike mounted on an indoor training device. In short, I've spent the majority of my waking hours strengthening my beleaguered body to prepare it for today.
Today, after careful consideration by my PT, I rode my mountain bike outdoors!!! Below, I headed out onto our dirt road, full of excitement and the weight of trepidation. I feared a million things... but mostly I feared that my neck would no longer could bend enough to allow me to look ahead while riding. I shouldn't have feared - my neck performed beautifully. I had a joyful and short ride on our dirt road. My only deficit was that I couldn't look over my shoulder... but I've been assured that my loss of twisting motion will undoubtedly pass, as soon as my neck muscles loosen up.
The photo of my momentous event certainly isn't as cute as the photos of the bear cub or my Labraduo, but it means the world to me. I teared up as I arrived home, feeling content in the knowledge that bike riding will become part of my life again. My first ride was supposed to occur in the desert this week, on a vacation that we've postponed because a virus has hit our house. That's why I slogged through snow to get to the road!
Ironically, my young nephew who I hope will be my biking companion some day was learning to ride his first true mountain bike yesterday. His photo is much cuter than mine!
Today, before I rode my mountain bike, I had the honor of both members of the Labraduo joining me for a hike. I tossed aside the snowshoes because they've been torturing the ruptured disc in my low back and decided to tromp through the snow in boots, even if it was thigh-high in places.
After watching her closely today and on other days, I've concluded that K's rock-climbing obsession is partly so that she can keep watch for the huge dog pack that comes through on most mornings. R joined her today.
And, they struck a joint pose at one point.
Although we weren't close to the bear den, I think that the bear scent wafts in the prevailing winds toward this lookout point. The dogs always orient toward it. However, they've both recently demonstrated an extreme fear of bears so I no longer worry about them taking off toward the scent.
As we hiked, R seemed closely connected to me, stopping to look closely at me, as if he'd never really seen me before. The photo at the start of the post was one of those moments, a heart-touching instant of connection, and this one was another.
When we arrived home, K homed in on the sunniest spot in the house next to my exercise ball, her habitual morning snoozing spot. But, unlike most mornings, R wanted to be as close to her as possible, even though no more sun rays were available.
They crossed paws, seemingly a symbol of their growing bond.
It was, indeed, a good day.