Wow, it’s August already. Does that make anyone else’s stomach clench in panic? Wasn’t it just last week that I started riding my bike without long pants on? Where has the summer gone? When we can’t go anywhere, how does the time whiz by even faster? Shouldn’t it be dragging along like a long wait on a paper-covered table at the doctor’s office? Summer has barely started, how can it be half over?
This feels like a sci-fi show. Of course I have to bring up a cult-hit example that few people have seen—I think of the crew of Firefly, as they reminisce about Earth-That-Was. They live on the space ship Serenity, and that’s their new normal, traveling between terraformed planets, reluctant citizens of the Planetary Federation. Their universe, like ours, is making it up as they go along. Because they are human, they keep on going and doing the best they can to survive.
The thing is, this hasn’t just been 6 months for me. My confinement began in September 2017 and I was up for “parole” this summer. The high point of every summer for me, ever since I got hit, is my big annual bike trip. I also take many smaller trips, 3 to 5 days long. The summer of 2017 was amazing for me. I took the ferry to Nanaimo, then rode north to visit friends in Qualicum Beach and Comox. I took a side trip up to Campbell River, snapping a selfie on the 50th Parallel. I had planned to ride the bus back to Renee’s from Oyster Creek, halfway back from Campbell River, but I misread the schedule and missed the bus I’d planned to take. I felt so strong, I rode all the way back to her house, for a record day of 53 miles. (My precrash record was 131, but most uninjured people I know can’t ride 53 miles.)
A week after I got home, I was back at my temporary job delivering take-out food for a local competitor of Uber Eats. I was walking up to a rental house near the University when I noticed a heaved slab of concrete sticking up about 4 inches from the walkway. “Don’t trip on that,” I told myself, and held my eyes on it to keep from missing it. The front door opened and my customer stepped out—a young man in an electric-blue paisley shirt, his hair dyed to match. I was distracted for a moment by this bright person—next thing I knew, my face hit the pavement. There was blood everywhere. I hadn’t been able to use my hands to break my fall because one held my phone (with the delivery app on it for my customer to sign on the screen) and the other held the bag with his burrito in it, now splattered across the lawn. Do you know how hard you have to fall to break polycarbonate eyeglass lenses?
Later, after my concussed head quit throbbing, I became aware of pain in my knee, which had swelled grotesquely. That began a winter of convalescence followed by a summer in physical therapy. I missed my summer touring season, but at least I got to visit my friends in the car. I had resisted taking a car onto Vancouver Island up until then, partly because of the $200 round-trip ferry cost, and partly because driving to Free Spirit Spheres in 3 hours would destroy the magic of the 3-day trip to get there. But that’s what I did, and I went back again in August to visit another friend. That was the visit that started my attempt to buy a tiny house in Canada, which led to crushing disappointment when I was denied residency (even though my home would be paid for on arrival—it made no sense at all). That disappointment led me to rashly say yes when another opportunity came along in December, and by March 1 I was settled into a more expensive tiny house here on my side of the border.
Last summer I managed to do one 5-day bike trip to visit my friends at Free Spirit Spheres. As I sped down Horne Lake Road from Highway 19, I shouted into the wind, “I’m back, baby!” I even did well on the hilly ride back to the Duke Point Ferry Terminal.
This summer I was supposed to get back in my “real” body—the one I struggled so hard to build after I was hit, before I fell and set myself back so far. By March I was already doing 25-mile rides, ramping up for my 43-mile hill training loops up Galbraith Mountain and around Lake Samish.
On March 6, I attended my last group activity, a community service award luncheon put on by my local Humane Society. My friend’s dog had just died—the dog I had introduced her to a few years ago—so I hugged her. This was no French air-hug with a perfunctory cheek kiss, this was a squeeze-the-daylights-out-of-your-bereaved-friend hug. Several days later, my friend was seriously ill with COVID 19. Somehow, despite prolonged indoor exposure and physical contact, I did not get it.
A week later, we were on lockdown. I continued riding my bike—what else was there to do, after all? But the long summer rides weren’t happening. June was cold and rainy, a typical western Washington “Juneuary.” I was busier at work than I’ve been in years, and I couldn’t afford to say no to the extra hours. I didn’t want to ride too far away because I didn’t want to stop to use the few public bathrooms that were even available. Riding multiple loops with stops at home made it too easy not get back on and do that last 10 miles.
I’m still in my winter size jeans—I’ve done just as much stress eating as everyone else. I had planned to take a week off work and do a series of long day rides to simulate a bike tour. That could still happen in September, but I’m just not feeling it now while work keeps rolling in.
At least the demands of country life have raised my physical fitness baseline. Condo life made me soft; if I wasn’t on my bike, I wasn’t moving. Here I have chores from morning until night. The garden harvest is coming in, and with it, the tasks of cooking, freezing, or donating the surplus. As well as continued weeding, watering, and other garden-tending chores. Inside my house, I’m constantly going up and down steps or the ladder to the storage loft. My left knee has toughened to this expectation and rarely complains about it. Every night by bedtime, I’m bone tired.
I was talking with my friend and disability advocate Heather Thompson a while ago, and we agreed that country life is healing for us. We may overdo it once in a while, but it raises our baseline condition and forces us to keep trying and stay engaged with our surroundings.
I lost a lot of ground during the 3 months I was completely without medical care at the beginning of the pandemic. I was in so much pain by the time I went back to massage, I wept on the table. It took 2 sessions to get the relief I needed. Then my chiropractor recovered from a severe case of COVID 19 and went back to work. My acupuncturist just reopened a few weeks ago, much to my relief—acupuncture helps control my hot flashes and the withdrawal symptoms from ramping down my pain medicine (which I ramped back up during the lockdown).
And now there’s lake swimming! My upper body needs that exercise so badly. I hurt myself the first 2 times I went, then my body began to limber back up. I sneak out early in the morning while it’s still chilly out, to get to the beach and back before the families descend on it. I swim out into the deep water and greet the rowing crews as they glide by.
This isn’t a normal summer, but it’s hard to adjust to not having normal expectations of it. Especially since I’ve already been out of the action for 2 years and I was supposed to get sprung this year. It’s been a good summer, full of joyful moments, and it’s by no means over, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m missing it. I have to stay in the moment and enjoy the summer that is, rather than wishing for the one I’d planned.
What about you? What setbacks have you had because of the lockdowns, and what are you having trouble adjusting to? Are you still emotionally living on Earth-That-Was?