Kaity Kasper

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Kaity Rides A Bike [Again]

"What is the one thing you really miss?" she asked me, sitting cross legged on my couch.

"I miss my bike."  The answer came without a thought, and surprised even me.  But it was true.  I missed Bea in a deep and mournful way.  Like many things in this space, it wasn't something I would have expected.

*   *   *

I didn't learn to ride a bike growing up.  I have vague memories of being gifted a bike one Christmas in middle school, and of my stepdad taking some time to start to get me going, but I may have logged two hours total on a bike in my younger years.  This gap in my learning a combination of growing up in an alcoholic household and my constant revolt against anything athletic that my gym teacher mother put before me. 

But they always seem to say that you don't forget how to ride a bike, so I figured those two hours made me a proficient rider when - some ten or so years later - I gathered a group of friends to ride bikes out of Cambridge and through the English countryside. 

Turns out, two hours does not a proficient rider make. 

There was lots of wobbling, falling, and narrow misses with resident riders.  In the end, while part of the group made it for the intended duration of our ride, two friends stopped with me to hang out along the riverbank - I was clearly not equipped to exit Cambridge.

Fast-forward another ten or so years, and fueled by a few glasses of wine I agreed to accompany Tim on his annual ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  If you are counting, that's 545 miles. 

I had not been on a bike since that day in Cambridge.

Have I mentioned I like to set unrealistic goals for myself?

*   *   *

Gracie came home with me first.  She is far nicer than any bike I have any business owning and she makes me clip in, so we have a strained relationship.  But like many of my dearest, the fact that she challenges me and and disappoints me sometimes has drawn us closer.  And we did, in fact, survive 545 miles through California together - although it was anything but pretty. 

At some point in my bike riding journey I came to realize that I actually liked riding.  It took months to get there, but once I could go further than a block without falling over and ride without holding my breath, I found something so freeing in grabbing my Gracie girl and heading out for a ride.  

I've never enjoyed driving.  If you offer to drive, I'll let you.  I don't hate it, but I don't find the joy some people seem to from getting behind the wheel of a car.  But riding a bike?  Its my happy place.

When you don't know the first thing about riding a bike and you are trying to figure out what you need to do to ride 545 miles, you pick up some experts along the way.  One of mine finally convinced me that it wasn't so smart to leave Gracie hanging out around Richmond chained to trees and posts.  The odds of her being stolen was too high.  So eventually Ellie came home - a darling little red bike who didn't make me clip in and who would cause a bit less pain if she was stolen.

Ellie was, in fact, stolen.  I cried.  And then her twin sister, Bea, came home.

Before the snow came last winter, Bea and I went everywhere together, save work and a handful of places after dark.  Our favorite rides were to church on Sunday morning and to the early Saturday yoga class I frequented.  We rode to the coffee shop, to brunch, to spin class.  We were getting ready to start riding to work in the spring.

But then cancer came along.

And Bea stayed in the shed.

*   *   *

"Congratulations and welcome to AIDS/LifeCycle 2017!  We're glad you're here."

Tim was at camp - I should have been there too.  And he registered me for next year's ride.

"You registered me as a roadie right?" I texted him later that night.  I would still be getting maintenance chemo next year.  And I couldn't even look at Bea, never mind ride Gracie another 545 miles. 

"For now.  But I checked - you can transfer it to be a rider.  Honestly, I think the ride would be good for you."

Something in my heart agreed.

*   *   *

We call it the love bubble - the place where the ALC community resides.  Its what got me through those 545 miles after only 9 months experience riding a bike (on terrain significantly flatter than California's mind you).  These people who had been strangers were suddenly hugging me, waiting for me at the bottom of terrifying hills, texting me notes of love and encouragement from their tents at night, lifting me up when I couldn't lift myself.  And they've continued to do so in this space.  When I couldn't come to the love bubble, it came to me - notes, texts, packages from all over the country, reminding me that even when I feel like I don't belong anywhere, I belong there, with them.  Always.

*   *   *

"How is the exercise going?  Can you do anything?" Dr. Bush asked, running down the review of how hard chemo is hitting my body.

"Not a lot.  Well, I'm riding my bike, but not more than 3 or 4 miles at a time right now," I respond.

He looks up, stunned.  "You're riding your bike?" 

Apparently, this is incredible.  As is my twice weekly yoga practice.  And a good sign.

I didn't mean to start riding again.  I figured if ever, it would happen sometime in the late fall.  But probably in the spring.  But the weather was so perfect, and my body felt so tired of being stationary that I dug out the bike pump and yanked Bea from behind the Christmas decorations, and got her cleaned up.  And then I just rode to the coffee shop. 

And it was the greatest day of the last four months.

So I started riding a little more.  I haven't crossed the Boulevard hill yet - the rain foiled that plan this weekend - but Bea and I have resumed our adventures around Bellevue and the surrounding neighborhoods. 

It makes me happy.

Like a little piece of my life is coming back.

I can ride my bike again.