The Pain of Being Weak in the Knees
Tom and Woody were a few hundred meters up the gravel path from me near a rustic farmhouse and barn. I’d just stopped to snap a photograph before pushing up the short hill to the next turn in the road. As I pushed down on the pedal to start again I felt a sharp jolt of pain on the outer side of my left knee. I quickly shifted into a lower gear and rode on with numbness continuing to reside.
Throughout the day the pain got worse and any time I tried to go into a harder gear or go up a hill the tendon reacted quickly, telling me to not strain it. I took the tensor knee bandage that I usually wear on my right knee off and put it on my left knee. It helped but then my right knee started getting those pains almost immediately. ‘Shit,’ I thought, ‘this could end Black to Black for me.’
That was day one between Donaueschingen and Sigmarigen. I was proactive about the developing situation and bought extra tensor bandages for future riding. They helped significantly, and I pushed on with force, but they were so tight that I started developing painful lesions behind my knees from the constant movement and friction. I covered up my skin with plasters and sports tape. They reduced the speed at which my sores were developing but didn’t rid me of the problem and hurt like hell when I took them off. Even Tom and Woody cringed when I yelled with near tears in my eye as I ripped the tape from my skin (though they laughed too).
A few days later, my Achilles tendons became inflamed and reduced me to a hobble. How I danced so enthusiastically with Ojos de Brujo remains even a mystery to me. Maybe it had something to do with the Krems’ wine or maybe it was all part of my growing tolerance for pain that I have developed on this trip.
It has truly amazed me what I have been able to do with very sore and sometimes hurting body parts. The pain is always most prevalent and noticeable at the beginning of the day or after a short break. Once I get into a good cycling rhythm it becomes part of the ride and diminishes. I have learned to listen to my body at every moment. If something hurts, I ride slower or in a lower gear or in a different style to give that body part a rest. Sometimes that just develops a stinging sensation somewhere else that works to take away the previous pain but is a rather pathetic coping mechanism. My Achilles tendons seemed to work that way for my knees.
The body’s ability to strengthen and adapt to new situations is well on display during Black to Black. Despite my initial woes and fears that I might not hold up for 3,000 kilometers, my body had grown stronger and the riding had become easier. I removed my left knee bandage less than a week into the trip. My right one came off on day eight into Vienna. The scabs have healed. My Achilles tendons only feel sore occasionally– usually when I have to carry my bike, panniers and all, up a flight of stairs. Riding has become easier and more enjoyable. Pains and aches are still there but they have become bearable. Yesterday, I zoomed through the first 45 km in my hardest gear, overtaking Tom and Woody in the best corn field I’ve seen on this entire trip because it passed so quickly and I beat them to our first meeting spot.
With less than a week to go to the Black Sea, I am very positive and confident. This trip has been a great way to learn to mentally communicate and cope with my body’s feeling and sensations and that has been an extremely cool experience.
An extension of our bodies our are bicycles. They have also dealt with wear and tear a mentioned in a previous post. Like we have learned to listen to our bodies, we do the same for our steeds. As sounds and weird movement have developed in our steeds, we have learned to fix them as quickly as possible. We are becoming better mechanics and learning what not to do (put break pads in that constantly rub against your disc rotor on a long, windy, hot day– I managed to fix that one by now).
We still fear and injury or a broken bike might end the tour but we’re taking every precaution to avoid that finale.