Crossing the Rubicon

On May 3, 2015, my Cycling Log tells a somber tale.   It was Sunday, a sunny and warm day.  I was out for a ride, heading westward from my home in Vienna to Herndon on the W&OD.  My standard westward ride, about 12 miles out and 12 back.  The first 2 ½ miles take me to Maple Avenue, the main drag in the town of Vienna.  After you cross with the signal there is an old railroad station on the left, a caboose and a small park on the right, complete with a memorial to those who have died in public service, and a chance to stop at Whole Foods or some other local place for a bite to eat.  It’s the spot I think of as the launch into the wider journey, from which you leave the familiar behind.


The Caboose at the park in Vienna on the W&OD.

Except on that date the launch was not to be had.  My body was signaling the control tower that there was a problem.  I felt exhausted, as if every bit of energy had left my body.  Surely, I thought, this is some kind of a temporary sugar low, or passing response to the medications I was taking in connection with my daily radiation treatments for prostate cancer.  Flomax induces dizzy spells sometimes.  So I crossed Maple Avenue and rested on a bench near the memorial fountain.  I watched the typical mixed bag of Sunday cyclists ebb and flow as the light cycled stop-go-stop-go.  Some were serious Spandex-clad riders on carbon fiber bikes, some were weekend warriors with bellies to match, others were families out for recreation, going at the pace of the slowest child.  Occasional joggers, walkers, dog-walkers, and roller bladers joined in.  They were all happy, relaxed, confident.

I was not, but after ten or fifteen minutes I had convinced myself that the weakness had passed.  I started out again.  I was wrong.  After a half mile or so the exhaustion started creeping in again.  I lowered my rate and my objectives.  If I could make it as far as Hunter Mill Road, about 4 miles beyond Vienna, I could stop, rest, and get back home.  Surely that was not too far.

I trundled out as far as Hunter Mill, and was glad to sit on the bench there for quite a while.  Then I got myself back home, stopping once or twice to rest. That was the last time I rode my bike for 2 ½ months.

On July 16th I tried again.  By that time I had been through with radiation for over a month, but still had two more monthly hormone shots to take.  Those shots reduced my testosterone to a very low level, so that my body lacked an essential ingredient to rebuild strength and stamina.  Yet I could make it to Hunter Mill Road without undue exhaustion, and in less time than the 55:59 minutes it had taken me on the fateful May Sunday.  From that point through the Fall, I rode only to Hunter Mill and back, except for a couple of rides during our Old Saybrook visit.  My times slowly dropped, and my stamina and confidence improved slightly.  The route is quite level and routine, just right for recuperation.

Over the winter I rode almost exclusively inside.  My physician suggested that I try resistance training to build up stamina for short periods of concentrated effort.  So every other time I exercised I set the exercise bike’s computer to that resistance setting.  I could feel the added resources of strength.  Then as early spring arrived this month I began riding outside again.  I was incrementally stronger and more confident on the ride to Hunter Mill.

In January of 49 BCE Julius Caesar made a fateful decision.  He was Governor of Gaul [which was divided into three parts], and was bringing his army back into Italy.  The Roman Senate demanded that he disband that army.  By ancient law, the Rubicon River was the demarcation line.  To cross that river with a standing army was considered treason, an attack on the Roman Republic.  But Caesar was very popular, and for what he considered the good of the Republic he crossed the river with his army to confront his political foes.  He was successful, and was proclaimed “dictator for life,” a life his foes brought to an end five years later on the Ides of March.

My decision a week ago was hardly as portentous as Caesar’s, but it was a big step for me.  I crossed Hunter Mill Road, my Rubicon.  Immediately beyond, there is a short but somewhat steep hill.  I made it with an ease that surprised me, thanks to the resistance training.  I went as far as Sunrise Valley Drive, another 2 ¼ miles round trip.  Then yesterday I went on to Sunset Hills Road, another mile round trip.  Still a bit more than 8 miles to go to recover my “old normal,” but I’m on my way.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016