Four months. I’ve been at this four months but today it took just five short blocks to make me seriously consider calling it quits. Turns out I’ve been worried about this challenge for all the wrong reasons. And I’ve been asking the “experts” all the wrong questions. This morning I put on my snow pants, a new winter ski jacket and my cozy Sorel boots. I was so afraid of getting cold that I didn’t think about the slippery snow and the good chance that I may fall on my face. I was two feet from my garage when I nearly bit it on a patch of ice. It took that slip up to convince me to lay off the front wheel brake and opt for the back brake first. Then I lowered my seat so I could catch myself on the next slip. I was scared to death. A slight hill I usually don’t notice was suddenly a menacing, white-knuckle ride I was sure would end in a wipe out. It didn’t. But the point is it easily could’ve.
A little background on my health may help you understand: I have bad hips and shoulders. I need all four joints replaced. I often joke that I’m a 38-year-old woman living in an 80-year-old body. It feels that way. And it looks that way on the x-rays as well. I’ve told the story many times but the short version is this: when I was pregnant with my first son I caught a bad virus. I thought I had a cold. But this bug nearly killed me. It attacked my blood platelets. My blood wouldn’t clot. It was seeping into my skin. The only treatment was massive, crazy amounts of steroids. It took months but I finally got better. Then about a year after that scare I suffered terrible back pain, or so I thought. Several doctors and experts and MRIs later I had my diagnosis: osteonecrosis of the femoral heads. It’s a fancy way of saying my hip-joint bones are dead. I need both replaced and it’s pretty painful. The “bone death” was a rare side effect from the steroids which can cut off blood flow to the tiny veins that send blood to your joints. A year after that diagnosis we discovered the condition in my shoulders as well. I’ve been putting off surgeries and pushing through the pain every day since. It seems counterintuitive but the doctors back then told me to stay active. They said moving the joints would prevent them from locking up. They suggested I ride a bike. I went out and bought the bike I currently ride though it sat in the garage until this summer. I took up running instead and completed two marathons on those dead hips. Those races and this blog may be my way of telling my body who’s boss. In case you haven’t caught on, I’m a little stubborn. But time is catching up with me and I fear the next scans will show major progression of the arthritis and bone brittleness. I can feel it. And that brings me to my point: the last thing I need to do is fall on my hip on the ice. For me, “You’ll break a hip” is not just an expression. It’s a real fear.
Back to this morning: I made it five blocks from my house before I turned around and swapped my bike for my car. My tires and my nerves were not ready for the ice. When I got to work some fellow commuters who have years of winter riding on their resumes confirmed my fears. “Oh yeah, it can be scary. And remember when you are slipping on the icy roads, the cars may as well.” Greeeeat. That makes me feel better. They suggested I start by deflating my tires to make them squishy, a tip I’d received before but forgotten. I’ll try that this week. But I need to think long and hard about whether it’s a smart idea for a woman as damaged as I to ride on the ice. I may have to put my first-person experiences on the back burner until spring. It would be a sad, defeating end to the blog and the journey. But I need to think hard on this decision. Like many parts of this experience this fear of falling has come as a big, sobering surprise. Until now the surprises that came with commuting on a bike have been positive. But this one may break me.
Angela Keegan Benson is the Assistant News Director at WCCO-TV and a mother of two. On August 1, 2011 she began her quest to live one full year as a bike commuter. Follow along as she figures out how to mesh the cycling culture with the demands of parenthood and an affinity for 4-inch heels. And yes, she’s committed to sticking it out through February storms. For more Cycling In The Cities, follow @Angela_Keegan on Twitter.