One year ago today, I turned my road bike into a mountain bike, hurtling over the edge off Santa Susana Pass and tumbling down about 30 feet. And walked away from it.
The mental toll was much worse. It took me about nine months before I started cornering more aggressively on my Colnago. Even though I consider myself mentally "rehabilitated," there are still moments on downhills where I recreate the events leading up to my crash. Sweeping right turn. Over-correct to stay on the right side of the road. Notice the rapid left approaching quicker than I'd like. Brake too hard. Get loose on gravel. Lock eyesight on cliff, and the tree just beyond it. Panic.
I knew today would be a milestone for me as I'd have to overcame those mental images throughout our Fortius team ride in the Malibu/Agoura hills. I think about that crash on almost every ride, but I knew it would be top-of-mind today. Especially when it was announced we would be descending down the notoriously technical Decker Canyon Road off Mulholland Drive. When Stephanie and I got back together, I promised her that I'd avoid this canyon as much as possible because of how fast cars and motorcycles rocket down it. But today, on this one-year anniversary of an event that should have either killed or severely injured me, I had to prove something to myself. It wasn't a day to turn back.
The descent was fairly easy, I'm pleased to say. In fact, I surprised myself by taking some of the more difficult lines almost perfectly. The feeling of nailing a line is so ecstatic. I can only describe it as feeling bound to your bike and the road as if all were melded together on rails like a roller coaster. Gravity, physics and inertia all work together simultaneously, and in that brief moment, cycling becomes gliding.
I did have one flashback moment though. There's a tight left hairpin turn with a berm at the apex. If you don't know it's coming, it can take you by surprise. I remember seeing it for the first time months ago on my initial Decker descent, grateful for my ginger approach down the mountain. Had I not crashed at Santa Susana Pass, I very well might have missed that corner amidst my inexperience and arrogance.
Because I hadn't ridden Decker in so long, this turn caught me a bit by surprise this morning. But the difference was a year of maturity and respect for the sport. Instead of slamming on the brakes, I gradually applied pressure and looked my way through the corner. I didn't lock on the potential obstacle, but scanned ahead to the other side of the corner so I knew how to approach the turn after that. Instead of freezing, I analyzed. Instead of panicking, I adapted.
This moment was probably indistinguishable to the rest of my teammates, but it's something I'll remember for a long time. I've descended Decker before. But today, it was a little more special. A rite of passage. A rite that I feel blessed to have been afforded.
The rest of the ride was highly enjoyable due to the sunny, temperate weather and the fact that my buddies Frank and Dustin (both pictured) accompanied the Fortius team and me. Each held their own today, which always impresses me since they both juggle busy work and family lives. I joked with Dustin that he and Frank are actually quint-athletes since Dustin balances a marriage and a pregnant wife while Frank has a wife, two kids and a new dog. Now that is dedication!
In addition to our Rock Store climb and Decker descent, I was also proud of the time trial we did in Hidden Valley. I wasn't wearing a heart-rate monitor or a speedometer but I know I pushed it hard today, and felt strong. Improvement is both physical and mental.
I'm so grateful that I even had an opportunity to be in this position. To realize the dream of becoming an Ironman. To be able to learn from past mistakes and grow. To learn more about myself and evolve into something a little better.
Aha. The real benefit of this Ironman journey.
214 days and counting.