Friday, July 25, 2008

The Summer of Heat, Humidity, and Horribleness*

It was a chore, getting my heavy pannier and only slightly lighter bicycle down the stairs. I was halfway down the block before I realized that I wasn't wearing a helmet. By the time I retrieved said helmet (purple! with flowers!) and hopped on the bike again, sweat was pooling on my back.

Getting here was half the battle - I had sat on the sofa for twenty minutes preparing myself for the exhausting mental game about to take place. And had laid in bed for two hours before that, pretending I didn't have anyplace to go today. It's getting harder and harder to leave the house on my own and I'm waiting for the day when I just can't do it anymore.

Five blocks down. I pause at a stop sign and grab my water bottle. I guzzle. Great. Half of my water is gone and I have gone about 1/16th of the way. I can feel the sweat sliding down my back.

Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. I had come back from a trip last weekend and Biker Boy said, "I made a small change to your bike." I circled around my bike and saw nothing different, so I just went with it. I see now, as I am riding, that he changed the stem. Stems connect the handlebars to the rest of your bike and I had been bitching for two years about how my shoulders and wrists get sore when I ride. BB thought this might fix it. I can't really tell much of a difference, but hell, I've only gone eight blocks.

It's the scenarios going through my head that make this trip so difficult. What if a bus comes? What if that small child darts in front of me? What if the light is about to change, but hasn't yet? What do I do? I spend most of the trip focused on thinking about what might happen, not thinking about what is happening.

I want to be relaxed. I want to enjoy the moment and the freedom of riding. But eleven blocks in and I feel my shoulders tensing up. My jaw is clenched so tight that my throat hurts.

I turn on the bike path. This should be better - I am on this path for most of the rest of the way and I avoid traffic. No cars, no buses, no trucks.

Sweat is dripping into my eyes. I use my gloves to sop some of it up. Now that the worry over the motorized vehicles has gone, I worry about the pedestrians, if I will be late, if I am prepared for my meeting, what will happen when I have to get off the bike path. The tension continues moving from my shoulders to my lower back.

People going in the opposite direction often smile at me. It is the streamers, I know. BB says that rarely do people smile at him when he rides alone, but when he rides with me, people are very cheerful. I try and smile back. I fear it looks more like a grimace. Sweat drips.

There is a group of a couple of dozen children riding bikes with a few adults along for supervision. It looks like they're part of some summer program. It does my heart good to see all these little bodies working so hard. Their helmets are tiny. Their bikes are bold colors - pink, purple, lime green, and red seem to be popular choices. Their legs pump and pump and pump. I see one little girl struggling to make sure her hair is just right under her helmet. The girls all giggle at me as I pass them (please don't hit a kid, please don't hit a kid, just pass them and continue on). One courageous girl calls out, complimenting my streamers. I try to smile at her.

Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. I'm so eager to have this done, I am going relatively quickly. The only people passing me today are the men with skinny legs.

The scenarios are good for me, they say. I can work out in my head that I am capable of handling any difficult situation. But I spent two hours this morning working through scenarios before I even made it to the sofa. This, they would tell me, putting off the inevitable, is not good for me. Scenarios in moderation.

For a moment, I lose myself, step outside of my body, and enjoy the peace and quiet and exhilaration.

The next moment, my throat has closed up and I can't breathe. I grope for the water bottle. I have been practicing getting my water and putting it back while moving. I hope to impress my husband with my new skill. But not now. Now I pull off to the side of the path and drink deeply.

This is what anxiety feels like. I am stuck here. But I can't stay. I have to either go forward or go back.

Slowly get back on. Count pedal strokes. Counting will focus me. One, two, three...ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred. Breathe. Focus on breathing. Now focus on releasing the tension in your shoulders. The miles pass as I just count. And count.

By the time I get to the path exit, back to dealing with traffic, I am okay. Sweat. This summer is killing me. The heat. The humidity. I hate this. I hate how sweaty and sunscreeny I am when I get to work. I hate not being able to breathe. I hate the allergies. I hate my itchy eyes. But now I am relaxed.

But now is the true test. The last part of the journey has two obstacles. One, an intersection that is practically lawless and two, that building that gives me hives. I want to face both with honesty and bravery, but instead I skirt around both, pretending they are not there. The tension has crept back in. Jaw clenched, I cross the river, wiping the sweat away from my face with my glove. The panic starts now. What if I have forgotten everything and can't do it? What if this person knows I don't know what I'm doing? Will she know I'm a fraud?

As I'm locking up my bike, the sweat is pouring down my face. I have sealegs and can barely walk up the steps. I smile (grimace) and hold open the door for a girl wearing a skirt and sweater. She's wearing a sweater. I look at my arms, glistening, and wonder how she does it.

I take note of the fact that, although my shoulders are sore, my wrists don't hurt. I will tell BB that the new stem is a good choice. I will not be telling him about the rest.

Then I go to work, knowing the whole time that the process will be repeated on the way back home.

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