Update: This was included in Taking the Lane Vol. 5. I began to distribute this title at the 2012 CZF but sold out that day. I am hoping to restock it before the MKEZF. This version is a touch longer than the final published draft.
This is a piece that will hopefully be included in Taking the Lane: Our Bodies, Our Bikes. The zine is based on feminism and bike culture, which (I don’t need to tell you) is awesome. I am slowly compiling a new issue of The Obsesser on the theme of bikes, which is something I haven’t devoted to a zine in about a decade. There’s lots of new stories. Here’s one part of it.
There are few things that make me feel more powerless than losing my ability to bike. When I ride I feel like I can take on the world, like I’m strong and can go anywhere and do what I want. It’s true, I am strong. My legs push me up a tough hill; the wind whips my pigtails as I ride down it. I can go straight through a traffic jam and get to work in less time than a bus. But whatever riding high I get comes an equally low low when I’m forced off my bike. So far all have been from my right knee being injured.
When I was 17 I was a tough bicyclist, a self proclaimed bike terrorist. I sped all over town in a patched up miniskirt, striped tube socks, and a backpack full of cassettes. I still ride to fast music to keep my momentum going. It’s like I have a soundtrack. Pinhead Gunpowder, The Vandals, and The Grumpies mean just as much now as when I first wore them out on mix tapes. Back then I only had the kind of headphones that wrapped over my head and you had to have both ears covered to use them. I knew it was unsafe but I generally kept the volume low enough that I could still hear traffic. On this particular night it wasn’t low enough.
I was riding down a steep hill near my house and was distracted by how full of stars the sky was. I usually coasted down this hill but it was late, I had the road to myself, and I was feeling pretty good. As I came to a T at the end of the hill I began to pace myself so I would avoid a car and take a wide right turn. Suddenly another car came out of nowhere and rather than hit the car I hit the gravel. The next thing I remember was being on the ground, wrapped around my bike, and the cars were both gone. My back pack was over my head and my headphones were 3 feet ahead of me. My right knee was totally eaten up by the chain ring and I couldn’t stand up. Luckily someone came along and helped get me and my bike home. The bike was totaled, I got four stitches, and I was on crutches for a while.
The time off was tough because I had lost control of my ability to get me where I wanted to go and who I could hang out with. It all depended on my bike. My knee was much weaker after that and I still have a gnarly scar. I have a sense of over caution and I just can’t bomb hills like I used to. Maybe it’s for the better but sometimes I wish I could throw caution to the wind and rip down a wide open trail.
The next time was a bit more complicated. I’m a dancer in a roller derby cheer group. Think of it as radical cheerleading with half time dances such as “Thriller” and “Christmas in Hollis.” We do all our own choreography and I was teaching the girls a hip hop routine for the holiday bout. The repetition of a certain move slowly wore down my already weak right knee. I felt some pain but I kept thinking I was being a wuss and I should just push through it. The performance was the last straw. Giving the dance my all and standing on the sidelines for at least two hours was more than my fragile knee could handle. That night as I slowly lowered myself into bed I felt my knee pop. I fell into bed and though I was worried I didn’t realize the significance of my injury.
I tried to hobble around for a while before I finally went to the doctor. I had to use crutches for a month and go to physical therapy. For the next two years I would go back to PT periodically, usually after I began biking more in the spring. Each time I would pedal my knee would pop slightly. It became more manageable over time but still bothered me, especially after riding for a longer distance. I tried to not let it get the best of me but when even simple things like sleeping or sitting in a chair too long would affect me, biking seemed like too much to overcome. Still, it hurt me emotionally to think I was having such an important thing taken away. On top of it I was doing it to myself. Eventually, with a lot of work and time, I began to get passed it.
I participated in a 24 hour bike race. This was the first major push I had to test my knee and my strength to pedal through. My fiancé lead a male and female BMX bike team and I went in full force as the captain of a self-made team of ladies called The Menstrual Cyclists. We had a few seasoned bicyclists and a few first timers that didn’t even have a bike of their own. We did really well for ourselves and it felt great to place pretty high against so many men and seasoned cyclists.
Days later my fiancé and I went on a massive bike tour from Milwaukee, WI to Suttons Bay, MI. This was a really incredible trip that lasted days and included many, many gravel roads on back heavy, thin wheeled road bikes. He proposed to me on this trip, which shows just how important biking is in our lives. The story of this whole adventure is long, but the point was that I pushed myself beyond what I thought I could do. It was painful and exhilarating, but I knew that the further I went the more proud I was of myself and my resolve to continue. I had empowered myself again.
It’s been more than a decade since my crash and three years since my severe injury. I’m lucky that I’ve only had one major spill and nothing more serious. Others have threatened my power, self reliance, and ability. I’ve had my bike stolen three times – once by a violent gang of around 75 – and even by a physical (and emotional) altercation with a drunken male friend that left me trying to pedal one legged for weeks while I recovered. At times it feels like it’s all against me. Maybe my right knee is cursed. It’s covered in scars and is a reminder of my struggles. Sometimes it still holds me back but for the most part I can ride without pain again. I get past the tough times and am stronger with each obstacle. It’s something that doesn’t come easy but it reinstates my determination, power, DIY ethics, and core belief to be my own woman with every ride.