Exit Wounds

The last two weeks have been riddled with hope, frustration, realization, and finally – an extremely difficult decision.  Brief recap: On Aug. 20th, I was forced off HWY 96 near Wetmore, CO by a large truck, then almost run over by the car behind it.  I feel fortunate to be alive.  My left knee took the full force of a 250+ pound impact.  I was transported to Colorado Springs, seen by the Denver VA, and have been taken excellent care of by both a generous cycling host and the members of a Veteran Organization called Team Rubicon. I’ve been trying to recover and rehab my knee injury ever since.

My original visit to the Denver VA on August 22nd included a brief exam and concluded in Dr. Tyler S. stating to, “Stay off it for a few days”.  I knew this was a hasty and dismissive diagnosis based on my level of discomfort and he wouldn’t give me a solid timeframe or an MRI.  Just a bunch of hydrocodone, which I refused.  After the first week, the urge to get back out there was noticeably gnawing away at me. This journey had finally provided me with a renewed sense of purpose after nearly a decade, and days were once again passing me by.

After 9 days of rest, I went to Planet Fitness and used the stationary bike to safely reintroduce my knee to the pedaling motion.  It was painful at first, but there were some pops and cracks of relief, and I could feel it loosening up with each rotation.  I knew this wasn’t comparable to my steel frame Kona with full gear, but it was a start.

After the second visit, the cycling stats improved from 35 RPM for 2 miles up to 60 RPM for 6 miles.  Excitement certainly set in as improvement felt obvious.  I went ahead and purchased a cane to help with some short rehab walks. #CaneTellMeNothin #CaneStopWontStop #iLiterallyCaneEven

Desperately needing nature, I visited Garden of the Gods after my second rehab session.  This is a visually obscure and equally alluring array of disc shaped boulders that seemed as though they were spiked into the ground after a heated game of Greek God ultimate frisbee.  An easy walk up to an overlook provided what felt like a small victory in my recovery.

Now at the two week mark, I’m able to put weight on my knee painlessly.  Lifting my leg and twisting my foot, however, is still very difficult, making the back half of the rotation needed for riding feel weak and unstable.  On the 13th day, I decided to dust off my Brooks saddle and helmet and take my Kona Sutra out for a ride.  One mile, flat ground, no weight – testing my knee as responsibly as possible.  Pedalling and smiling, a sense of relief came over me as I felt at home again on my saddle… Based on pain levels and weakness, I didn’t know if I could do this.  But I did!

Unfortunately, less than an hour later, my knee was noticeably swollen. The inflammation and instability felt like day one. I immediately iced and elevated, hoping this was just a short term reaction.  The next morning, I could barely straighten my leg, it had become so inflamed.  After only one unweighted, flat ride.  For only one mile.  Staring down the barrel of reality can feel pretty defeating sometimes.  Everything I’ve been viciously cycling away from has been slowly catching back up to me the last two weeks.  Idle time for an active mind can be a Veteran’s worst enemy – or anyone’s.  I really needed to heal fast and ride again soon.  Instead, it’s back to the Denver VA.  It’s been two weeks – this isn’t right.  It should be getting better.  …still trying to stay optimistic.

On Sep. 3rd, we drove back to the Denver VA Hospital and had a very different experience.  The ER Doctor (Lauren A.) is a fellow cyclist who has had a knee injury in the past.  She spent over an hour examining my knee and calling orthopedic specialists for second opinions.  Dr. Lauren made it clear that she didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news, however, she stated, “After examining your knee, reading the CT Scan, and talking to the specialists, it could be months before you can safely ride your bike again.”  …and she had personal experience to back up her time frame.  In this moment, reality hit me harder than highway pavement.  I’m going to have to go home and heal.  I cannot allow myself to follow this wreck with recklessness – this injury is worse than I was originally told and will unfortunately take more time.  With winter nipping at my buds, I will now have to wait until Spring to complete my journey.

After digesting this diagnosis, sanity made me switch gears.  Just out of reach, I’ve been longing to formally introduce myself to the Rocky Mountains and fantasizing daily about all the memories I’d make with them.  Emotional and physical peaks and valleys.  Maybe its pinnacles would pull me in close and we would laugh together over how the Appalachians seemed like molehills now, or cry tears of victory together on its summits after 20 mile long, 10% grade, 4 hour climbs.  Now I can only speculate and salivate until Springtime…

For 2.5 weeks, I’ve admired Pikes Peak from a distance.  I needed to go and at least say hello.  The indescribable beauty of the drive up to 14,114 feet kept my eyes wide and my jaw dropped.  We reached the summit, took in the views and experienced some snow.  An unforgettable afternoon replaced the disappointments of yesterday with wonder and renewed willpower.

The Rockies are easily one of the most majestic and powerful landscapes imaginable.  This is the first time I’ve ever laid eyes on them up close and in person.  Their dominance is mesmerizing and the intricacies of their beauty seem to unveil themselves in endless ways wherever you look.  Sometimes, it’s overwhelming, just how many ways there are to repeatedly fall in love with our Country…

Driving up these mountains is one thing, but powering up these passes with 80 lbs in bike and gear underneath will evoke an entirely different set of perspectives and appreciation.  I cannot wait to know them in this way and properly describe them to you.  For now, photos will have to do.  For now…

Tuesday, I took my Kona Sutra back to the Great Divide Bicycle Shop in Pueblo, CO.  Lee, the owner, had become a friend, a big support, and a wealth of knowledge when I passed through late last month.  He sensed my enthusiasm and was sad to learn of the accident and injury.  Lee graciously offered to box up my bike free of charge and is seeing that it’s safely shipped home to Nashville.  I have ridden over 2,200 miles on my Kona from Yorktown, VA to Wetmore, CO.  This is so weird – it just doesn’t make sense yet.

Yesterday, I packed up my panniers and gear and got everything ready to ship.  It was a very somber process.  This journey was about healing.  Not more pain.  I stared at my gear, all packed away.  It belonged on my bike.  Not in a box.  I belong on my bike.  Not in a bed.

Revised Game Plan
Early next week, I will return to Nashville and dive full force into my recovery and knee rehab.  The VA has helped set up Orthopedic Specialists and physical therapy.  I didn’t cycle over 2,200 miles to give up or get weak now!

The moment the Colorado spring season allows, the Rockies and I will meet face to face on a much more intimate playing field.  I will be back on two wheels and they will be patiently waiting.  And until then, I will be starving for a true taste of their grandeur.

During the upcoming months, I will be documenting my recovery and will fine tune a “continuation start date” for the spring.  So long as I’m breathing, I will always fight to finish what I start.  I am grateful my accident wasn’t fatal and that recovering, then continuing, is an option.  Now it’s time to start healing my knee so I can return to Colorado and get back to healing my mind.  Dear Rocky Mountains, hold on to my heart til I get back, please.  Thnx.  <3

#FinishWhatYouStart #ArmyStrong