I Am an Athlete (Comma, Damnit)

“One of the greatest tragedies in life is to lose your own sense of self and accept the version of you that is expected by everyone else.”K.L. Toth

Ugh, this is hard to write.  UGH.  The orthopedic doc I saw for my knee says no riding bikes, at least until the MRI results come back.  Nooooooo!
All who’ve seen the knee – the PT, the PA, and the ortho Dr. Hagan, agree I tore my PCL, which, if you ride gravel around Nebraska / Iowa you recognize as the swarthy awesome PIRATE CYCLING LEAGUE of gravel grinders, ARRRR!  Um, no, not that PCL, APPARENTLY.  They also agree that if you’re going to tear one of the knee ligaments, the PCL is the one to do. (Oh good, I made the BEST knee-fuckup choice when crashing my bike.)  It’s typically not surgical, and it can heal on its own, unlike the ACL, which is almost always surgical, and the LCL or MCL which – you know, I think they were just throwing random letters at me by that point.  L O L (which ligament is THAT? Hey, doc, actually, I think I tore my LOL).

Okay, so.  My plan for this weekend was to jump back on the horse that threw me and ride a few miles of gravel, including where I fell.  Not the hill, just the flat part, a total of maybe 4 miles, and then do it again tomorrow if things felt okay.

I told the docs & PT the same thing: I race gravel.  I am a gravel racer.  I need them (and all of you) to understand that I am an athlete.  I am not a cancer patient who is riding bikes; I’m in training.  I’m not doing anything brave or crazy, I’m just riding bikes like thousands of other ordinary people.  The cancer is gone, the chemo effects that are going to leave are gone* (no more curly hair, SAD), and I am no longer a sick person who rides.  I am a rider who has a few extra things to deal with, including a lot of fear and sometimes overwhelming emotions. Oh, whoops, where did that come from?  Erk.  To confirm that the chemo effects are gone, I offer as proof my amazingly fast skin healing from the crash — 3 weeks ago today.  I followed directions, keeping the skin MOIST (LOL sorry Jennie) with Neosporin and/or 2nd skin water squares and Tegaderm.  During chemo and the following months, even a scratch would take an absurdly long time to heal.  Now, I’m Wolverine!  I’m Deadpool!

*I saw Dr. Silverberg, the oncologist, for my 6-month checkup last week. He said it’s an average of 18 months for the IV chemo drugs to reach levels in the body that can no longer be measured, WOW.  I finished early May 2017, so, pretty much there.  Which means I’m probably keeping the neuropathy in my fingers & hands for good, (as he predicted) along with some joint pain, and it means the drugs did successfully push me into actual menopause, which SUUUUUUCKS.  One more thing – we talked about quitting the Tamoxifen & he convinced me to try an alternative, Letroprozole?, which I am doing.  I am happy to report no “chemo brain,” which was so upsetting, but disappointed to confirm its best-known side effect: joint pain. I was having problems with one hip and one elbow, now I feel like I’ve been tumbled in a spin cycle.  But hopefully it’s something I can get used to or figure out. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT ATHLETES DO.

The ortho said I should be back in the ankle-to-hip immobilizer to prevent the knee from bending; he wants it kept at less than 90 degrees.  I’m not going back in the immobilizer.  But once I got the professionals to talk to me like an athlete, not just some middle-aged fat woman who wants to tootle around the block on her Walmart bike, we could discuss it in a way that respected me and my goals.  Putting it back in the immobilizer guarantees I’m going to lose range of motion & the muscles will atrophy.  So I agreed to be careful, at least until the MRI comes back, which will tell us if there’s a small tear (lay off everything & let it heal) or if it’s completely torn (no point… will have to live with it).

Aside: you know what’s REALLY frustrating is to have a nurse tell you you’re overweight in the same visit you’re told to not do the thing that helps you stay healthy. (Yeah, okay, eat less, got it.)  This is where I do NOT post the photo of the Twinkie I had for breakfast instead of the eggs and lox I brought to the cabin with me.  Oops.

In defiance and stubbornness, I brought my bike to the cabin too, even though I am 94% resigned to not riding it.  What I need is some sort of platform that will let me keep my left leg straight while I pedal with my right.  Road pegs!  Or some sort of extra long pedal crank forward of the regular crank, so I can use the quad muscle (encouraged) but not the ham (frowny face) and my knee doesn’t bend as much.  Time to do some internet research, in case this is longer term than just waiting on next week’s MRI findings.  Because I am trying very hard not to cry about this.  No, I am not doing that at all. I may be paused, but I am not stopped.  It is a small setback in my path back to Ann Who Rides Bikes All The Time.  The kind of thing that happens to athletes all the time.  Athletes like ME.

Nicely Done, Asshole

“We’ll take our bikes,” I texted Kara.  “Not planning any big ride, just a little JRA with Noah.”  (Just Riding Around)

And yep, it was 5.4 miles, slow & I easy, with 174 feet of climb up to the Holy Family Shrine (the glass chapel along I-80) and 174 feet back down where I slowed for the descent, then moved to the left to pass K and Noah around the curve at the bottom of the hill.

I know this route, backwards and forwards, and so I was relaxed, easy… and inattentive.  The gravel in the center of the road wasn’t deep, but it was deep enough, and the bike went right out from under me.  I crashed, stopping forward motion mostly with my face.  I thought first of Noah and jumped up quickly, “I’m fine!  I’m fine!”  and that’s true:  I’m fine.  Nothing broken, nothing concussed.  A wrenched knee now immobilized for a few days, a few layers of skin off that knee and elbow, and I really chewed up my face. Nine stitches in the ER last night.

There was a lot of blood – I looked like a Walking Dead extra after a fresh meal.  So Noah was scared, and I feel badly about that.  He’ll be okay, and so will I.

I made a mistake and I’m paying for it.  I’m missing out on a fun, flat century I wanted to do today, I won’t be able to swim or hang out in the sun until my face heals, RAGBRAI is at risk — at least riding all 7 days.  I scared my friend and my son.  Still, I feel like I got off easy.

Riding gravel is the kind of riding I want to do.  Gravel didn’t cause the crash, complacency did.  I’ve ridden far more technical routes at far higher speeds; the difference was absolute and complete focus.  And probably some beginner’s luck.  Let’s be honest:  I’m still new at this.  So I’m giving thanks that this crash wasn’t high speed, didn’t involve other people, and yes, the bike is okay.  Also very grateful to K for taking me to the ER and taking Noah home, and to Jennie for picking me up.  (Sisters don’t get anonymity, LOL.)

Riding gravel is the kind of riding I want to do.  It’s slower, the routes are rural with all that entails — less traffic, more wildlife, and views that make you pull over and inhale the smell of sun-warmed grass and hot dust, not exhaust and asphalt.

My friends ride gravel, and they’re the friendliest, most helpful, and laid-backest riders there are.

Riding gravel is the kind of riding I do.

Well Go On, Then

Oh, HAYYY, It’s been a minute. 

In my defense, I’ve been overwhelmed with FEELS, felt under attack, captured, confused, and then needed long, slow months to think about why I exist, why I write, what I share, and where I do all that… all that existing I mean.  And sharing. 

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and not just the delightful trashy detective novels I love, but also a lot of delightful trashy advice columns I love… and, okay, some grown-up New York Times articles and self-help and poetry and essays.  Reading isn’t as easy as it used to be.  I don’t sleep well, I’m always tired, so I fall asleep quickly… sometimes after only a few pages.  My eyes blur almost all of the time now, except when I’m at the ophthalmologist’s office, apparently.  So I just had to make more room in my life for reading, is all.  (Cue helpful others who take over chores!  Yay!) 

Incidentally, it was reading one of those advice columns, Captain Awkward, that gave me that last little push to return to the blog world.  (Thank you, Kara, for the new addiction!  I’m up to 10 of the most recent and #17 from the archives, LOL.)

Oh wait, this is blogger, not CaringBridge, so I could make that an actual link!  Hooray, links and imbedded pictures

and text formatting with color, bold, and italics!

I feel so free right now.

I haven’t posted the final CB post, the 5/31 post, that if you’re here now you probably read first.  So if you’re wondering why I’m so chipper after you just read something that was obviously painful, it’s because I wrote it on 5/31 and haven’t looked at it since.  It threw me for such a loop that I completely shut down. I can tell you that I have still not processed the hurt and anger and I have some ideas that I’m not ready to share about what happens next, but for now I’m going to leave it at that.

If you got here on your own and have no idea what I’m talking about, you can visit my very NSFW CaringBridge (OH I CAN LINK IT HAHAHA).

So hey, yeah, we are going to get back to biking and camping and hopefully someday backpacking and hiking on this blog.  But it’s never not going to be me, which means it’ll sometimes be angry or messy or HILARIOUS (in my head which usually means AWKWARD SILENCE in yours) but anyway… .

I’m back.


I’ve been hanging out in my motel room all day, fiddling with my new bike set-up and stalling. The check-in process for the Dirty Kanza gravel camp started downtown at 1, but the kickoff meeting / meal isn’t until 5, so I didn’t want to have to find 4 hours of entertainment in Emporia, Kansas or (God forbid) make 4 hours of small talk in a bike shop.

Yes, I found something to shift my focus (and my freak-out) so I’m not focusing (or freaking out) about next week’s surgery – riding 200 miles of Flint Hills gravel. Perfect!
And I am freaking out *a little.*
Not at the distance, I can ride 50 miles of gravel.  Tomorrow’s mileage is 50 miles.  Not at the weather, I’ve ridden in everything, and I packed for anything.  Tomorrow will be cold & maybe snowy.

I’m freaking out over the stupidest thing, which is FOSPD, or Fear of Slowing People Down, or inconveniencing them (FOIP?) because I know I am DANNNNG slow, the slowest I’ve been in my adult cycling life, and in an elite camp like this, it’s gonna be super obvious super fast that I’m not in their league.
It’s stupid because gravel riders are a pretty laid-back, helpful bunch. 
It’s stupider because there’s nothing I can do to change my physical abilities at this moment.
It’s stupidest because we’re not even riding tonight… just meeting & eating—I’m pretty good at that second part! I’m borrowing from tomorrow’s concerns, and that’s not helping.
Stupid or not, I’m feeling intimidated okay nervous, scared, and freaked out anyway.

Here’s a thing: no one here knows me. I can go this whole weekend without saying or hearing the word “cancer” or “surgery” or any kind of blaming on anything from the past 2 years.  I get to be a lousy bike rider all on my own merit, ha!
I’m both excited and nervous about that. Mostly excited!  

None of this means I won’t be careful. Ask anyone who rides with me: I’m tough & don’t quit… until I need to quit, and then I do.

Alright. This entry turned out to be a pep talk… for me!  I’m going… now! shift

And After a Long Absence, We Learn …

Wow, my last post was two years ago this month.  Not because I had nothing to say, oh no.  I said plenty, but in another forum, CaringBridge, because I became another person.

I am no longer just Ann, mother, biker, badass.  I’m now Ann, Cancer Survivor.

Just between us chickens, I prefer the former.

If you’d like to read the confusion, fear, and pain of cancer and its many indignities, of loss and more loss, in a blog that is most definitely NSFW, consider this your personal welcome to check out Ann Gentle’s Cancer Show (yes, that’s really what I named it) on CaringBridge.com.  I’m pretty sure you can visit the site and type in my name, Ann Gentle, or you can clicky-clicky on this link:  journal.  If you choose to visit, I suggest you start with older posts, back at the beginning before I got pissed off and cynical.

Funny / not funny that it’s today I return to this site.  I’ve been thinking of shutting down the CB site now the cancer is gone and the chemo and (fingers crossed) major surgeries are behind me.  It’s time to focus on goals other than “survive,” and I like this blog.  The sad inspiration is that I’m back here because I use this Google account to access a few other blogs, and via one of those, I learned in the wee hours of the morning that its author passed away, and I am feeling terribly sad right now.

It’s fitting that I return to this Go! blog this morning, 5 AM, sitting in my Amtrak bunk, returning from a trip to the mountains.  I’m recovering from my most recent surgery, but needed a few days Colorado-style recovery.  (No, that doesn’t mean marijuana… it means mountain time, snow-laden trees, shockingly-starry skies, and definitely some of Grandma’s rhubarb….)

It’s a cycle, it’s a circle, here I return home, here I am hopefully returning to life even as another passes on.  And someday, of course, it will be my turn to pass on, and I can only hope that at least one person will be as comforted and inspired by my words as I have been by hers.  Rest in peace, Laurie.  Thank you.

"It’s not too cold . . ." Part I

“. . . you’re just wearing the wrong clothes”  is the rest of that line.  I’m not sure if my bike buddy Scott coined that phrase or if he was quoting someone else, so I pass it along uncredited all the time.  (Sorry, Scott.)

I believe the phrase.  It’s not too cold, too hot, too windy, too wet, or too snowy to ride.  I have the ability to adapt with clothing, bike, and other gear.  Now if I don’t WANT to ride because I find the day’s weather unpleasant, well, then, that’s on me.  Scott jokes that I prefer the crappiest weather days for riding and maybe that’s so.  Who doesn’t mind a reputation as a badass?

I’d like to tell you why and how you can ride in almost anything. 

1 – attitude is everything.  I psych myself out of the morning commute all the time, even if it’s not that bad out.  I’m a writer; I have more avoidance excuses than you do, I promise.  Action:  don’t go to bed until all of your clothing and gear is laid out and ready for the next ride.

2 – distance is everything.  Yup, it really is.  How “far” you’ll be riding is a relative term based on the actual distance, ride difficulty, the time it takes, accomodations at destination, emergency intervention options, the weather, your bike, your gear, & your clothing, your physical ability, and most importantly, see #1. 

That’s it:  attitude and distance.  Let’s assume (since it’s still the first week of January) that you have the attitude of ONE BADASS MOFO who is going to RIDE EVERY DAMN DAY or at least you want to maybe try out that crazy winter riding just one time, possibly, perhaps, but okay.  OKAY.  Okay?  So we’re assuming #1 = CHECK.

Actual distance & difficulty.  Sure it’s a factor.  A 10-mile ride can take an hour in bad weather, and that’s a long time if you are wearing those knit Hello Kitty mittens that looked so cute when you got dressed this morning.  So for our first ride, let’s assume a 3-4 mile morning commute of relatively flat route in very light traffic, maybe one or two hills of 500 feet or so of gain.  We’ll assume you’re in decent physical shape with a recently-tuned up bike, so ride time 30 minutes because you’re a law-abiding rider who stops for all the lights.

Weather conditions.  Let’s say for this first ride it’s 25 degrees with north winds at 5-10 mph but 0 precipitation.  That’s pretty chilly, but dry, so your primary goal is going to be covering exposed skin and layering to keep your core warm — but not too warm.  Sweat is your enemy!  Keep in mind, of course, that whatever the weather is in the morning, it could change completely by your ride home.  Carry your windcheater/ waterproof jacket.

Bike / gear / clothing.  I have different interchangeable pieces that I wear and/or carry depending on the current and expected weather.  The pieces I would not go through a winter without include . . .

Knee-high wool Surly socks.  I have two pairs and I wear them every damn day, usually one pair 2 or 3 days in a row while the other pair is in the wash.  I don’t wear them throughout the day at work, just on the AM/PM ride.  Oh alright, I sleep in them too.  For our scenario, just these socks will be fine.  Much colder and I’ll add a pair of very thin 100% wool hiking liner socks.  These are designed to fit close to the skin, wick away moisture, and provide and extra layer of warmth.  I would almost never need these on a morning commute, but on a longer social ride, definitely.

End of Part I . . . .

Reframe the Membrane

A Saturday bike ride, chilly and damp, made lovely by the utter dearth of people on the Keystone and Big Papio trails.

I don’t usually ride trails, but I needed brainless pedaling, free from traffic, free from decisions any more complex than “North first?  Or south?”  And the prevailing winds decide that anyway.

Hawks swooped startled from nearby branches, only to reperch and regard me without concern.  Gaggles and gaggles of Canada geese declined to move from where they sqatted alongside the trail, between the trail and the ravine, in the fields across miles of scrub grass or fallow fields.  Though it was overcast, gloomy, and wet, it was still about 45-50 degrees with a stiff wind out of the south.  With the trails almost compass-straight north and south, I alternated between 17 mph and 12-13, with about the same amount of effort.  Actually, I alternated between “I AM FLEET AND FAIR AND STRONG!” and “I am the fattestlaziestlousiest rider of bikes in the world.”

I rode 35 miles on flat paved trails, pshaw, nothing.  Used to be nothing.  Now that I’m so long between rides of any kind, much less good long ones, it’s something and I’m proud.  I claimed my hot tub time like a weary boxing champ, chanting, “I am still a contendah!”  Until the lightning began, when I climbed back out, dripping and muttering, “I am still not stupid.”

During a commute or even a long social ride, my brain is focused on traffic, cadence, performance, form, ohshitabighill, or — sometimes just as challenging — making clever conversation.

Saturday’s ride was completely in my head.  #SoZen.  I had a lot of time to think, and some of that thinking was about how I might write about the ride I was on.  #SoMeta.

But I wasn’t thinking about the blog.  I still have to remind myself I’ve rekindled the blog.

So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that my thoughts about Saturday’s ride came to me in 140-or-fewer-character bursts.

Time to untrain the Twitter brain.

Monetize !

I have long neglected the blog and long dithered over adding store links or banners.

I spend enough time and money on Amazon that I feel confident recommending their services and allowing their ads on my site.

I spend enough time and money hiking, biking, camping, and otherwise traveling that I do desire a more public forum for writing about those jaunts than my little paperback journals.

I hereby commit to reigniting this blog and driving readers to share in the Gentle family adventures as we hike, bike, and camp across these United States and, who knows?  We might venture further afield in 2016.

Welcome back, me-as-blogger.  Glad to have you.


As of this afternoon, the leak has been stopped. So celebrate, right? Well. It’s a only a temporary measure, so a bit premature for celebration.

According to the AP article I just read, it has been “85 days and up to 184 million gallons.”
184 million gallons!

At the very least, if the cap holds and the next steps work (new wells), the engineers can focus on the failure analysis, and by that I mean prevention of the next failure, not finger-pointing. And perhaps those cleaning up might start to feel that they’re making progress instead of just stop-gapping.
And we are all assuming, hoping, and praying that capping this tube doesn’t just force the oil to find another outlet, rupturing the seabed for example.
Still watching and waiting, then. Not celebrating. Not yet.