Thursday, September 1, 2011

Getting Back On the Bike

This May, I rode a bike for the first time in 17 years.

You might say to me, “Wow, riding a bicycle. Colour me impressed. It’s not like my four-year-old niece goes off-road extreme mountain biking and punches cougars in the face when she encounters them out in the wilderness or my 80-year-old grandma is training for her 18th triathlon and built her own bike out of the bamboo she cut down herself during her trip to Nepal or anything. Did you bust out your fanny pack for your epic trip around the Seawall?”

Okay, yes, I realize that I am living in the epicenter of the Active Westcoast Lifestyle and everyone and their dog rides a bike here. This, however, is a big deal to me because it’s literally the only thing I can do post-hip-replacement that I couldn’t do before. (Well, I have found a few extra uses besides bike riding for my newfound ability to straddle, but let’s not go into that).

I resisted posting about this for several months because the person who taught me how the ride a bike is someone I was casually dating at the time. It’s a long-standing opinion of mine that blogging about an ex (even a casual, short-term-relationship type ex) is a one-way ticket to AwkwardTown with stops along the way at AiringYourDirtyLaundryInAWayThatWillCauseYouShameVille and TheMinuteYouMentionDatingCreepersOnTheInternetAreImaginingYouFucking-opolis.

I’ve decided to blog about learning how to ride a bike, however, because so much of Young and Hip has chronicled my disappointment with my hip replacement. I often get emails asking me if I regret it, and I worry that I am talking people out of a life-altering surgery. But even though I’m over a year post-hip-replacement (and two years since the first one), my hip still swells up like the ass of a baboon in heat if I try to do such extreme sports as…deep water aerobics. Or walking down the street. Or sitting in a chair for longer than 20 minutes. I still walk with a cane. I can never play wheelchair basketball again. If I work out for more than a couple of days a week, I’m in constant pain. Over the past year, I’ve honestly struggled with the knowledge that this is as good as my hip will ever get.

But back to the bicycling. I met D. on an online dating site. I was immediately comfortable around him, which is astounding because usually on dates I talk like a crack-addicted LOLcat (“O HAI!!”) and knock things over with my elaborate hand gestures. A few weeks after we met, I mentioned that I wanted to learn how to ride a bike. I joked about getting adult training wheels so I wouldn’t fall and bring about Total Hip Replacement 3: Rise of the Prosthetic Fractures. D offered to teach me.

I assumed that he meant that we would rent a bike by the seawall and he would attempt to catch me if I looked to be veering towards certain death. But D. surprised me by researching how to safely teach an adult how to ride a bicycle. Thanks to a few websites and several Youtube videos of old Chinese ladies becoming confident cyclists, he came up with a plan. (Is it a bad sign that one of the nicer things a man has ever done for me involved Youtube videos of old Chinese ladies?)

And so, on one of those rare Spring days when it’s sunny in Vancouver and your Seasonal Affective Disorder calls in sick, D and I went to Stanley Park armed only with the wisdom of the internet. D’s method involved me coasting down a grassy hill first with my feet touching the ground to get a feel for the movement, then again with my feet up, then finally while pedaling. And it was….really easy. Though the writer in me died a little, I had to admit that the cliché is true: you really never forget.

This was a surprise because when I tried to ride a bike several years before the hip replacement, I couldn’t get my left leg on the pedals, it nearly got caught in the chain and A. (who was holding on to both me and the bike) and I ran into a tree. This time, however, I took off riding up a hill. Wobbly, yes. Slow, absolutely. Graceful, sure as hell not. I, however, felt like Lance Fucking Armstrong winning the Tour De Fuck You Hip Replacement Because That Shit Just Happened.

D. and I took a break for lunch and then he rented a bike and we rode together around the Seawall. Because of my lack of speed and the fact that I was wobbling more than Lindsey Lohan after a rough night, cyclists kept chiming at me. At first, I mistook this for a friendly salute, as if they were saying, “Greetings and salutations fellow cycling enthusiast! May your journey be safe and free of ass-chafing!”, but D. informed me that ringing your bell is actually cyclist speak for “fuck you.” (Well chime chime to you too, Vancouver bike commuters).

Soon, however, I was coasting down hills, picking up speed and wondering how long it had been since I’d gone fast. That’s the one thing I miss about sport, and it’s something that elliptical machines can’t replace: just going balls out fast. I will spare you any clichés of feeling free – nothing’s free in Vancouver, let’s be honest – but for the first time my long recovery felt over. I was ‘better.’ Sure, it wasn’t the better I expected or wanted, but even though my hip was swollen and my back was sore and my anti-ass was like “fuck off right here and now,” it seemed like a better I could live with.

I looked at D., who was flushed from pedaling and who had gone to all this effort to teach me how to do something he didn’t even enjoy, and at Stanley Park, which was being all picture-post-cardy, and I thought: Best. Date. Ever. And that feeling continued for several more weeks….until it didn’t. And then it was over. There’s a Gloria Steinem joke here somewhere.

After the breakup, I’ll admit that I spent a day or two sulkily listening to “Blood on the Tracks,” but it doesn’t take long to get over a six-week thing with someone you only saw a couple of times a week. And it’s even easier once you realize that that the only thing shittier than a breakup is being unable to date because you’re stuck in bed post-surgery injecting yourself with bloodthinners and groggily watching some reality TV show about the joys of home renovation.

Because – watch out people! Literary Device Alert! Here comes a very subtle metaphor because I am a fancy, fancy writer! – after two years of medical limbo, I am happy to be back on the dating bike, and the social life bike, and the getting the fuck on with my life bike. (That’s a lot of bikes. What’s the metaphorical equivalent of padded bike shorts?) And even though it means accepting the notion that the cane is here to stay, I’m happy that the Great Hip Replacement Debacle is receding into a small point in the rear view mirror. It’s nice to not to catch myself starting the bulk of my stories with, “So I was at physio and an old lady said…”

So even though it didn’t lead to happily ever after, I’m glad to have a story that begins with the phrase “So I was dating this guy and he taught me how to ride a bike,” even if it ends with the phrase “yes, grandma, I’m still single. No, I’m not a lesbian.” Because several weeks after D. and I broke up, I bought myself a bike. Her name is Dorothy Mantooth and right now I only ride her around the quiet streets in my neighbourhood because cars seem like huge metal dinosaurs chasing me, though I have delusions of becoming a Serious Biker Who Wears Spandex And Refuels With Those Energy Gels.

A few weeks ago, I rode around the Seawall again. I passed a gaggle of elderly ladies stopping every few seconds to take photos of birds. I passed a tourist couple who kept announcing Vancouver’s beauty every 3.8 seconds to one another. I even passed a pair of girls who looked mildly athletic. Granted, I got my ass handed to me by several middle-aged rollerbladers, but let’s go ahead and chalk this up to a solid victory.

So if you’re in the Vancouver area and you see a very tall girl on a white bike making the Seawall her bitch, that is me, and I’m passing on the left. Chime chime, motherbitches!

And if you’re not in Vancouver and you’ve had a hip replacement and are looking for a safe way to relearn how to ride a bike without falling, here is a video of me doing so on a very good day with a guy I was dating. If you want to do a drinking game to this clip, take a shot everytime I say “yay!”