Saturday, September 6, 2014

When Non-cycling Hurts

Havasupai trail 2014

My hiking companion and I felt compelled to hike out of Havasupai in less time than it took us previously, so we set a blistering pace with no stops and accomplished our goal. I don't think I could have done it faster except in case of some sort of dire emergency. The uphill stretch at the end, essentially the trail in the photo above, from the gravel bed in the middle-left then curving and switching back right up the hill to where the photo was taken, was a quad-busting aerobic workout. 

It felt good. We had stashed a couple gallons of water and ice in a cooler in the car along with some snacks. That water, and those snacks, consumed while standing on the edge after that hike, were like some kind of glorious feast. 

The painful aftermath started during the ride home. I popped some ibuprofens but, after a few hours of sitting in the car, my legs began to let me know that glory in hiking time is paid for with pain in post-hiking time. It was as if I was aging rapidly, with stiffness, inflammation, immobility washing over me like some kind of sci-fi movie. I needed an ice bath, a professional rub-down, ultrasonic therapy, a tiger balm dunk tank, some shots of dexamethasone, something, but instead all I was getting was several hours sitting in the car, and my legs were not happy. My back, however, was fine, and my soul was still soaring in concert with my keeper of personal records who was pleased with the accomplishment, so there was balance, at least.

As expected, I was sore and moving slow the next morning. I figured I would loosen up and feel better after I moved around a while. I rode my bike to work, and noticed right away that while walking was slow and painful, riding my bike was no problem at all. It was a remarkable contrast: stepping slowly, painfully feeling everything from my toes, feet, ankles, calves, knees, quads, hip joints, glutes, all crying in stiffness and non-cooperation with locomotion when walking, yet, while riding the bike, everything was OK. A bit tired perhaps, but almost zero pain.

Once at work, sitting at my desk and walking sloooooowly between meetings and from place to place, I did not loosen up as expected. I did not feel better after a while. I was moving so deliberately, slowly, and stiffly that many people stopped to ask if I was OK. If anything, it seemed that the pain and stiffness got a bit worse as the day progressed, so that by the time I got ready to ride home, I wasn't sure if I could actually ride the bike anymore.

But again, as in the morning, cycling was perfectly comfortable. Still a bit slower than normal, but getting home was fun relief, that I could do it, that there was still some way I could cover distance under my own power without pain, that I could get some exercise without agony. 

I begin to think: could I cycle around the office? Was this my body's way of telling me, "Hey! Cycle more! Hike less!" 

I've heard the same from runners who also cycle. A marathoner of many years told me that it was obvious, he always noted the day after a race that cycling was free and easy even if walking was a painful slow joke.

Still, during the three days or so it took for me to get back to walking normally, it was a pleasant surprise to me that cycling was remarkably easy even though walking was painful and slow. When non-cycling hurts, it may make sense to follow the words of the wise man: don't do it if hurts. I even suspected that cycling would speed my recovery by gently exercising those sore muscles, help them to stretch out and circulate out the waste products of exercise and inflammation with low impact movement. I wonder if that's true. My body seemed to think it was, and I hope that it is, because it's one more reason to go for a ride.


  1. Congratulations on your accomplishment!

    1. Thanks maccandace. Although the kid who was at the top same time as us but for the second round trip that morning cut me right down to proper size.

  2. JRA,

    I had something similar recently. I broke a bone in my foot without realizing it. When in New York and getting about by bicycle, as I do most of the time, I didn't think there was much wrong. Then, when I had to go on a trip and walk around airports, it would become agony. It was only after the second of two trips I made with the undiagnosed broken foot that I went to the doctor. Even then, the first doctor failed to spot the break on the x-ray and I continued for another ten days in agony while walking but feeling pretty comfortable while cycling.

    All the best,


    1. I'm continually amazed by what our bodies can continue to do even when one part is broken. I know a kid who walked and bicycled around for a week with a broken bone in his forearm. It only came to light when it became obvious that he could not throw a ball.

  3. I suspect the cycling also helped speed your recovery.

    1. I also think so. Much better way to recover than, say, sitting in front of the TV.


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