Why I will bike no more

Bike Helmet

I used to bike a lot. Not professional cyclist or racer, just recreational cyclist. Best Husband and I, once freed of the penury of child rearing, developed our own hobbies and interests and eventually invested in good road bikes. We’d spend hours out of every summer biking together, enjoying the scenery and companionship. I will miss biking, but I will bike no more. And here is why.

Flash backwards about four weeks ago. I’m sitting on the side of the road, a good vacation gone bad, with blood pouring out of my nose. One friend is holding my head steady while another is staunching the blood with tissues. Meanwhile horrified onlookers stand by while I’m sobbing and trying not to sob at the same time, shaking hot and cold and wishing I had never ridden my bike that day.

A fun bike ride with friends had turned into every cyclist’s nightmare:  a face first over handlebars freak accident. Soon  the ambulance arrives, and my husband and I ride to the barely adequate  urgent care clinic. Once there, a third-year resident who acts more like a third-year med student takes over my care. Everyone asks me the same questions incessantly, writes them down, but no one looks at the answers. My jaws are sloshing painfully back and forth and I finally motion for a clipboard. Then, holding my swollen eye open so I can see, I write a pretty coherent med list, allergies, and answers to all their questions, while the medical indifference swells around me. As I sit in the clinic bay, no blanket offered, I realize I’m getting woozy and faint, chilled and hot at the same time, and suggest they might want to think about getting me a blanket and starting an IV.

Later, I endure an ambulance ride across the Mackinac Bridge and farther south to get to the closest real hospital, about 45 minutes away. With my face and body throbbing, I convince myself that moaning softly and keeping my eyes closed will relieve the pain, since no one has offered to give me anything to soothe the awful  throbbing during what is normally a very pleasant drive.

After x-rays and CTs, it is confirmed. My face is broken. All of it. The orbits, the delicate maxillae, and my already somewhat crooked nose – smashed into shards of bone. A week or so later I have grueling surgery to put it all back together. The plastic surgeon using screws and plates, delicately reassembles the puzzle that had become my face. The shards of bone, now held in place with metal, have put my face somewhat back together, though it no longer feels like my face. Places that once were soft are now hard, metallic, crooked, numb. It is not a perfect face, though,it was a pretty ordinary face before. Time will tell if it becomes the face that I had before, or something close enough to it, or if it will remain a hideously skewed semblance of a face that makes polite people look away and rude people stare.

No one told me that I must give up biking. I had biked nearly 5,000 miles, with no hint of a serious accident, and chances are, could bike another 5,000 in my lifetime without incident. But, it somehow feels wrong, to take my patchwork of bones back out onto the road, where anything might happen in the blink of an eye. It seems like an insult to my surgeon, and to myself and my family for all we’ve gone through, to tempt that fate again. I feel grateful to have a face, to still have life, and to not have suffered more serious injury than what I already had. And so, I will bike no more.

© Huffygirl 2013


Night Riders: Cycling Mackinac Island after dark

On our last trip to Mackinac Island, Michigan, my husband and I decided to take our first-ever nighttime bike ride. Mackinac Island is a small island located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, in the Straits of Mackinac. It’s a picturesque vacation spot filled with old-fashioned Victorian homes and hotels, historic sites, natural landmarks , and touristy kitsch. No motor vehicles are allowed and all travel on the island is by foot, bicycle or horses. Since there’s no car traffic to contend with, it’s a great place for a night-time bike ride.

Dave, rechecking our gear.

We ventured out about 9 PM on a Saturday night. The island was alive with night life – music swelled from the entrances of the bars and restaurants. The streets were full of visitors out for a late night stroll or a bite to eat. We donned out bike clothes and checked out lights and bikes for safety. We didn’t want to end up trying to change a tire in darkness or discover that our lights did not work halfway around the island.

Once we left the congested six blocks or so of the downtown area, we were in the wild. The waters of Lake Huron on our right, and the woods and cliffs of the island to our left. Other riders were out  too. Mostly the island residents and summer workers,who ride big old coaster bikes with fat tires and wire baskets on the handlebars. A few were tourists like us. We stood out with our cycling clothes, helmets and lights. The island regulars don’t bother with those niceties. Anyone who spends a summer on Mackinac Island gets to know that eight-mile trip around the Island like the back of their hand and doesn’t need lights to find their way.

Still a little daylight over Lake Huron; ferry-boat in the distance (© Huffygirl 2012)

There was still a little light in the sky when we started out, but by the time we’d ventured a few miles it was pretty dark. We met a couple who told us there would be fireworks in St. Ignace that night. We were taking our time biking, afraid to go too fast with only our little headlights lighting the way, so we figured we’d be to the north side of the island in time to see the fireworks.

Huffygirl, wearing white for safety, and the last glow of the sunset over Lake Michigan (© Huffygirl 2012)

By the time we reached the far side of the island, it was pitch dark. We could barely see the lights of St. Ignace, about five miles away on the coast of the upper peninsula. Soon the fireworks started and we stood arm in arm on the rocky beach, watching the free show. The five-mile distance made for an unusual show. We’d see the sky light up with the colorful explosion in silence, then heard the booms of the fireworks as each display fizzled out.

The lights of St. Ignace, barely visible.

Once the show was done, we headed back to town. Small animals scurried across the road in front of us from time to time, but without mishap. Our headlights made eerie shadows on the trees. When the rocky beach on our right turned to wooded shores, we were plunged into a totally dark path, our headlights almost useless. Maybe that’s why the island regulars don’t bother to use them. If we were riding at night at home we’d have to worry about hitting deer crossing the road, but not a problem here. Deer no longer populate this island. Our biggest worry was running into another rider, as most bikes did not have lights.

Once back in the glow of street lights of the town, we headed up the hill for a nighttime look at the Grand Hotel. The “host” who stands guard during the day to keep the unsightly bikers away from the front of the hotel, had finally retired. The steepish downhill ride back down to the main street seemed more exciting in the dark, but probably safer with the clutch of daytime tourists and horse-drawn cabs gone for the night.

The grandeur of the Grand Hotel in daylight (© Huffygirl 2012)

This summer we plan to be back. We’ll be night riders again, but this time not so wary. This time we’ll venture farther from the safe island perimeter, up the hills into the deeper, more deserted  parts of the island. And we’ll bring a better camera next time to capture more of the adventure.

The night riders. (© Huffygirl 2012)

© Huffygirl 2012

Read more about Mackinac Island from huffygirl.wordpress.com:

A backroads look at Mackinac Island

The Huffys at the Grand Hotel Tea Garden

Best husband and I are just back from beautiful Mackinac (pronounced  Macinaw) Island, located in Lake Huron, between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. This quaint tourist spot is  home to many historic sites, including Fort Mackinac, where Dr. William Beaumont perfected his experimentation on the human stomach. No motor vehicles are allowed on the island, and visitors must get around on foot, by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. Our favorite parts of the island are the upper and back roads, where we take our bikes to get away from the crowds, and explore the less traveled (and harder to get to) areas. Here’s some of our favorite spots.

The Grand Hotel

The world-famous Grand Hotel and surrounding gardens. Red geraniums, made voluptuously vibrant by the endless supply of horse manure fertilizer, are the signature theme of the hotel. The gardens and grounds are pristine and manicured. The hotel is formal, requiring dress clothes after 6 PM, and has guards posted at the east drive to prevent those messy-looking cyclists from cluttering up the view in front of the hotel (although those messy horses pulling carriages are allowed.) Always the rebels, we managed to circumvent this by biking up to the west bluff behind the hotel, then coasting down the steep, steep street that runs right into the Grand Hotel drive. They couldn’t catch us and couldn’t stop us, and we had a great ride down.

Notice the “blue sky” of the porch ceiling, repeated on the underside of the porch balconies.

Great view from the porch. Note the geraniums.

This oft-photographed classic phone booth was moved recently from its spot next to the stone church, to make room for a new house constructed there.

A genuine pay phone, for those who’ve never seen one before.

Coming up: Mackinac Island rocks.

© Huffygirl 2011

Coming up

Coming up this week on Huffygirl’s Blog – a back roads view of  Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Mackinac Island Harbor, viewed from East Bluff (© Huffygirl 2011)


I’m just back from a long weekend at Mackinac Island, Michigan and will be sharing my roads less traveled views later this week.

© Huffygirl 2011

OMG. Muscular Men in Spandex

Yes, it’s that time of year again – time to watch the Tour de France. As usual, there is something for everyone.

Scandal. You didn’t think they’d pull off another Tour without allegations of doping did you? Of course, I for one am shocked, shocked that there could be doping in professional bike racing, but it seems it would not be the Tour de France without allegations, investigations and excuses. Everything from the dog ate my drug test to the latest – Alberto Contador’s positive results from tainted meat? Personally, if I were a Tour contender who did not want to risk doping allegations, I’d only eat food harvested from my own organic farm to avoid such utter nonsense. But where would be the fun in that?

Drama. How about Mark Cavendish head-butting his fellow competitor on the very first day? With a Lance-free race, there’s room for everyone to shine or draw shame. 

Horror. Today, in stage five, there must have been at least ten crashes. Blood on the highway, Tour-ending injuries for some. Determination in the riders who finished despite injury, pedaling away, heads down, trying to catch up as their shredded jerseys fluttered in the crosswind.

Athleticism. These guys are the most athletic competitors, hands down, among any other athletes you’ll ever see on TV. One could even say they’re riding with physicality, except they do it all day, every day, for almost a month, not just for the last few minutes of a one-hour game.

Charm. What would the Tour be without the charming commentary of cycling’s beloved Phil Liggett? Funny, entertaining, always the gentleman. He talks about the cyclists as if they’re his dearest sons – calling them boys or lads. He’s the only person I know who can pull off expressions like “Mercy me” without sounding silly.

Endorsements. With a Lance-free Tour, the commercials are actually interesting this time around. No silly nonsense from Lance and the Radio Shack nerd ad nauseam, as Lance pedals away on his bike in the office. That’s what I do in my office by the way – come to work in bike clothes and pedal all day. No Lance riding behind the Nissan Leaf. I was beginning to think he came with the car. They had to come up with real commercials this year.

And last but not least, for the ladies: muscular hotties in Spandex.

My muscular hottie in Spandex (© Huffygirl 2011)

So, the Tour does have it all. Watch for more drama in the sprints as feisty Mark Cavendish vies for the green jersey over the next few stages. Once in the mountains, expect to see Alberto Contador, last year’s winner, duke it out with Andy Schleck, whom some (okay, me) say he cheated out of winning last year’s Tour. Andy’s brother Frank, who dropped out with an injury last year, may be another yellow jersey contender.

And while you’re at it, dust off your own Huffy, get out and ride, and pretend that you’re part of this year’s Tour de France.

© Huffygirl  2011

Too old to start the training, OR Mr. Toad’s wild ride

I wake up, wondering what day it is, what time it is, and why am I wrapped up in extra blankets while the fan is running full blast? My neck hurts, my knees hurt, my feet hurt, my quads hurt, my shoulders hurt  and I’m pretty sure my hair hurts. What happened? Well, fast-backward twelve hours earlier.

Twelve hours earlier

I’m on my bike, clutching the handlebars as tightly as I can. My hair that is not contained in my helmet is whipping across my face. I’m trying as hard as I can

The demon trainer (© Huffygirl 2011)

to keep up with the biker in front of me.  After all, only a short while earlier I had taunted this demon – “Go faster” I said – “I’m getting too close to you.” Jeez. What was I thinking? My right hand is numb, my left shoulder aching. Was that a pothole back there? I just missed it. I’m going so fast (well fast for me anyway) that I’m not taking in all of my surroundings. Where are we anyway? I’ve done this ride before, the landmarks should be  familiar, but I’ve really got all I can do to keep up with this speed demon, let alone watch the scenery.

Okay, now we’re going up a hill. I gear down, but that’s not enough to keep up with this demon, so soon I’m standing on the pedals, cranking away. I did it! But at the top, he’s off again. Finally, we’re at the flat part of the ride. “This should be a cinch” I think, “I’ll show him I know how to keep up.” But it seems that we’re going into the wind. I struggle to keep up on what is usually the easiest part of the ride, watching my average speed drop and drop and drop, farther from my goal. We stop for water at the corner before the turn.  “Well that was hard going into the wind, but we’re turning now so it should be better,” I say. But the demon trainer points out “Nah, that was just a crosswind, when we turn we’ll be going even MORE into the wind.” I don’t see how we could possibly be going MORE into the wind and scoff at this, until I notice the flag on the corner, spread out wildly, flapping away from the direction we are turning.

And so we continue: flats, uphills, downhills for 25 miles. I’m watching  the pedal rotations of this demon man (and his impressive calf muscles) and notice that most of the time I’m pedaling twice as fast as he is, just to barely keep up. And he’s not riding at his full potential – after all he’s taking it easy on my first training ride. 

By the time we get home, I’m feeling accomplished, but aching. I didn’t ride pretty, but I did it. My bike computer tells me I did this ride exactly six minutes faster than the last time when I was just phoning it in. All this and only six minutes? Still, for me, whose only boast is  being the slowest biker on the road, this is progress. Next time it might be seven minutes, and then eight and then…oh heck, I’m freezing and aching and need a shower.

By the time I’m done showering I’m chilled to the bone, from all that cold wind rushing quickly past me no doubt, and despite the summer heat, wrap up in extra blankets and a heating pad to crawl into bed.

So now flash forward twelve hours again. I untangle myself from the extra blankets and get up to turn off the fan. It turns out I can still walk after all, and isn’t this why Tylenol was invented anyway?  So, will I let my husband be my trainer again? Absolutely!

The Huffys, on an easier ride (© Huffygirl 2011)

© Huffygirl 2011

Related post:

Lake Shore Drive: Open for cycling, one day only

It’s 5:30 AM. I turn onto Lake Shore Drive, which is shrouded in heavy mist. I can’t see even an eighth of a mile ahead of me. Lake Michigan to my right is still, silent, completely hidden in the midst. The cityscape to my left – also veiled. I’m barely aware of my bearings, with the landmark skyline cloaked. 

Half-way done, at Grant Park, before the crowds arrived (© Huffygirl 2011)

I’m hemmed in by fellow travelers on both sides. Like typical voyagers, some are minding the rules, taking their turn to merge, while others skirt in and out of different lanes, cut people off, and pass too fast and close. So how is this different from any other day? My fellow travelers and I are all on bikes. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago’s main freeway-like artery, is completely closed to traffic, but just for now. At 9:30 AM or so, the orange cones will come down, police officers will wave their arms, blow their whistles, and the noisy mass of cars will take back the Drive. But for now, it belongs to us.

The crowd begins to thin as faster cyclists make their way ahead. Best husband Dave and I, always polite riders, are finally able to hit our stride and bike at a faster pace. We’re not beginners – this is the fourth time we’ve done this so we’ve figured out a routine. Biking on Lake Shore Drive among 20,000 others,  can be just as treacherous as driving. I ride to Dave’s right, and he navigates so we can stay together. “Okay, move left” and we’re passing. Then back to the middle lane, so we’re safe from the hammerheads – the élite cyclists who whiz by at 20 mph, shouting “Left, left, left,” expecting everyone on their right to let them by.

Best husband Dave, looking pretty wet (© Huffygirl 2011)

The fog has not lifted at all when we reach the first turn-around. We feel cheated that we missed our favorite landmarks: crossing the river we couldn’t even see the bridge posts, nor the water below, and we slid silently  past the Drake Hotel, unnoticed. Still, we feel like biking warriors. Our other three treks down the Drive were on balmy, sunny days, This one feels like an urban adventure. We congratulate ourselves for surviving the cold and damp thus far. We’re certainly dressed for it. Wearing what our children refer to as “our ridiculous outfits” we’re swathed in Gortex and Spandex. I’m wearing knee warmers too, short Spandex “sleeves” for my legs which work great, but add to the silly appearance of my ensemble, at least to non-cyclists that is. We decide to take off our glasses, useless now that they’re bathed in mist, and move on.

Huffygirl at the Museum of Science of Industry (© Huffygirl 2011)

By the time we reach The Museum of Science and Industry, the fog has lifted a little. We still can’t see the lake, but we can feel the cooler air moving off the water. We pose with others for pictures on the museum steps, and fight the massive crowds for a chance to eat Oreos and over-ripe bananas. By this time, our skin is soaked. I’m starting to shiver and wonder if it’s possible to get hypothermia in the middle of the Second City on a spring day.

A little way out from the museum, we stop and help another cyclist with a

The last leg of the trip - from the museum back to Grant Park (© Huffygirl 2011)

loose pedal. As Dave helps the fellow rider, I switch to my back up gloves which are now the only dry clothing I’m wearing. I’ve stopped drinking water as I don’t want to make myself any colder; with the heavy mist coating our skin, dehydration is the least of our problems.

We ride purposely the rest of the way, managing to warm up a little as we find clear lanes in which to hit our best speeds, and arrive at Grant Park happy and unscathed. Despite the gloomy weather, the Grant Park post-biking festivities are in full swing. Moms and dads towing muddy children stand in line for pancakes and sausage, while cyclists in full Spandex nab a free water bottle from the bank tent. Dave and I huddle on the edge of a muddy damp bench that we’ve managed to share with eight other people, scarfing pancakes and wishing we had something warm to drink. The music of the Blues Brothers tribute band (The Bluz Brothers), wafts from the stage, a pretty good imitation of Jake and Elwood. Usually we enjoy lingering among the crowd, sitting on the grass and watching everyone in their crazy outfits,  marveling at the variety

One muddy bike shoe (© Huffygirl 2011)

of old and new bikes that somehow made the trip. But today Grant Park is a sea of mud. By the time we hop on our bikes for the short ride back to the hotel, my shoes are so caked with mud that I can’t clip into my pedals. We speed past other riders who are just finishing or just starting their rides. We’re cold, wet, and muddy, but still glad to have been part of that one magical day when cyclists take over Lake Shore Drive.

(The Bike the Drive Event takes place the Sunday before Memorial Day every year. Huffygirl and Dave biked the full 30 miles, and plan to be back next year.)

At the Museum rest stop (© Huffygirl 2011)
Foggy day at the Museum (© Huffygirl 2011)

© Huffygirl 2011

Related link: (see some great pictures of the fog)


The Ultimate Exercise: More on Le Tour de France

I continue to be fascinated by watching the ultimate exercise, aka The Tour de France. As a cyclist myself, I know what it’s like to be going uphill, breathing hard, heart pounding, hoping to get to the top of what I consider to be a challenging hill.  Yet, to the typical Tour rider, my hills would not even be considered a hill. Maybe a little blip in the pavement to them. Today I watched as Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck battled to reach the summit of  Col du Tourmalet. These boys had been riding for hours, yet, did not even appear winded. Their level of fitness continues to amaze me. At one point the commentators noted that they could tell the riders were really working hard to reach the summit, because they could see that from heart rate monitoring data that riders were reaching “excessive heart rates” of – wait for it – 154.  

Most of us will never reach the fitness levels that Tour competitors have achieved. After all, their job is training and riding. It is their job to be as fit as they are, and they would be unable to compete had they not reached the exceedingly high levels of fitness that they have achieved. The rest of us – we have home and work responsibilities that preclude us from spending several hours a day in exercise. Our jobs are routine – we work in factories, offices, schools, hospitals. We drive kids, bathe toddlers, carry groceries and mow lawns. We don’t need to be fit enough to bike up a mountain. Yet,  as a whole, Americans lack basic fitness and endurance, and at least one-third of us are overweight or obese. 

Tour de Chicago, aka Bike the Drive 2010


The past two weeks I’ve noticed more people than usual biking and walking on my local trail.  It may just be a coincidence, or may be inspiration from the fantastically fit riders we’ve been seeing each day in the news these past three weeks. Whatever the reason, I hope that more people will be inspired to challenge themselves to become more fit. 

Meanwhile, who to watch in the next few days of The Tour? Today, Andy Schleck won the stage, but still remains 8 seconds behind Alberto Contador, who stole the yellow jersey from Andy three days ago. Experts predict that Contador will win, but I’m still pulling for Schleck, who besides being an amazing young cyclist, just seems like a nice guy. In any case, it should be an exciting  finish, and a fantastic display of ultimate fitness.

Satire Friday: Two Tired

two mountain bike tires, same size (26, 2.1), ...

Image via Wikipedia

I went to ride my bike today and discovered it had a flat tire. Not just any flat tire, but the BACK tire. Bummer. I’ve developed my own method for changing tires that’s worked pretty well in the past:

1. Get out bike. Discover the flat tire.

2. Lay out the new tube, tire levers and tire pump.

3. Ask husband to change tire.

That method has worked great so far. The problem is, I’m supposed to be real biker now, and real bikers change their own tires. I’ve signed up to be the bike leg of a triathlon relay team, and competitors are not supposed to receive help during the competition. No help getting out of wetsuits, putting on shoes, or changing tires. The tri is still 3 months away and I’m already having nightmares of my walking 5 miles carrying my bike because I couldn’t change my own tire. And letting down my team. And letting the record show forever a time of 3.5 hours for my first official bike ride.

Trouble is, I’m a weakling. I can’t even pump up my own tires. When I bike with my bffs they pump up the tires for me. How pathetic is that? They’re girls, I’m a girl, but I can’t do it. I’m jumping up and down on the tire pump and nothing. My friends even have to lift my bike on top of the car for me. I’m like a helpless little kid. But that’s about to change.

I’m sitting in the tire changing workshop. The guy from the bike shop is making it look so easy. Put your chain onto the smallest sprocket. Okay, I can do that. Next, release the brakes. That’s pretty easy too. Now, turn the quick release to loosen the wheel. I watch in fascination as the bike shop guy breezes through the steps. The tire is back in place in no time. I vow that the next time I have a flat tire, I’m going to change it myself. Trouble is, it could be weeks or even months before I get a flat, and I’m certainly not going to change a good tire just for practice. But turns out that God does have a sense of humor – I find the flat on by bike only two days after taking the tire workshop. What luck! And at least I can change this one in the comfort of my own home instead of on the side of the road with cars zooming by.

Step 1: Put the chain on the smallest sprocket. Turns out this is the opposite gear of what I think it should be. Done. Step 2: Loosen the brake; remove the skewer and the wheel. Check. This is farther than I’ve ever gotten with tire changing before. I feel empowered.

Step 3: Jam the tire levers into the wheel rim to loosen the tire. Try both ends because neither one seems to be doing anything. Do this for at least 20 minutes. Step 4: Lay the wheel down cassette-side up on the floor. Right in the middle of the living room works best.

Step 5: Allow wheel to rest on floor for several hours, or until husband comes home, feels sorry for you and changes tire. Alternate step 5: Put wheel and bike in car, take to bike shop, and pay bike shop guy whatever it takes to change tire. Step 6: Voila! Tire changed.