Yesterday we were returning from our “Tour of East Bay gated communities”—that’s from the outside of the security perimeters, not the inside!—when with whom do we unexpectedly cross paths but the Den Daddy. Despite being almost 89 years old Derek is a prolific cyclist and ever peripatetic world traveler (at least until the Pandemic started). For those of you who are too new to Different Spokes to know about whom I speak, I refer you to this blog post.
Running across a friend while riding is nothing to speak of (unless maybe that friend is Madonna/Obama/yo mama). But in this case it truly was remarkable. Undeterred by the threat of the coronavirus Derek had been riding up a storm last spring and summer when some of us, ahem, were instead hiding out. His local cycling adventures came to an abrupt halt when he crashed his bike in the Point Richmond tunnel and broke his hip or pelvis, I forget which. At 87 that can be a devastating injury leading to general incapacitance, disability, and an inevitable decline. Those who know Derek felt that this bump in the road would not keep him off the bike for too long. After all this is a guy who has survived a few bouts with the Big C and once had a horrific mountain bike crash requiring a helicopter evacuation. However after surgery and recuperation physical therapy has proved to be a tough row to hoe. You just don’t bounce back that quickly from injury and forced indolence when your years pile up (as I can personally attest). Getting on the bike with a stiff hip is a big challenge and building up muscle and aerobic strength when you’ve been off the bike and inactive for several months is only for the strong-willed and those with lots of testosterone. For the first time Derek thought about giving up cycling and retreating completely to his other love, very fast cars.
Confronting the decision to stop cycling can hardly be rational even when your body is giving you a grueling time. In Derek’s case it wouldn’t have been a bad call to move on to other less hazardous endeavors given his many interests. Although there is something to be said about dying with your boots on, cf. Joe Shami, I don’t consider it a more noble way to go than say, keeling over on BART from a fatal heart attack.
Just two weeks ago Derek told me he was doubtful he’d be riding again. Then a few days ago I received an email from him with a movie attached—there he was getting off and on his bike and pedaling around his cul-de-sac. Derek’s comment: “Did a couple of miles and it was tough going.” So now running into him cycling a few miles away from his gated community, Rossmoor, was a pleasant surprise. Clearly he’s had moments of doubt but he persevered with his PT program and got to the point where he could go for a real spin albeit a bit shorter than his previous rides. The clincher was when he quizzed us on our bike lights and wanted to know where to get them—I don’t think this is a man giving up cycling!