Friday, November 8, 2013

Fear and Longing

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When I walked through Pamela's front door, they were moving furniture. Or rather, her husband John was moving furniture. Pamela herself stood nearby in a posture of uncharacteristic stillness. She then made her way toward me, slowly stepping out of the shadow into the living room light. I took one look at her and exclaimed "Hey, that looks fabulous on you! Sexy, like a corset." I was referring to her massive back brace. 

People say the darnest things when they don't know what to say. It's the nerves talking. Or the shock. Or the feelings of guilt. But none of this applied to me. I genuinely thought her back brace looked cool and I felt comfortable blurting that out. See, that's one thing I love about Pamela. I can say whatever the heck I want to her without worrying about being insensitive. Because she has a warped sense of humor. Because she understands that to treat a disaster nonchalantly means you're well on the way to overcoming it. Because she'd say something similar herself. Because a comment like that was sure to cheer her up.

Except this time it didn't. She wasn't offended, but she wasn't cheered either. She looked sad, pessimistic, deflated. When we spoke, she told me she could not imagine riding a bike again. "Damn it," I thought. Broken back or not, this isn't Pamela. This is bullshit." And I reacted the way that felt right, which was to treat Pamela as if nothing had happened. As if a truck hadn't hit her from behind a month prior, fracturing her spine and putting her future mobility into question. 

For a surprising number of people the year 2013 has been a year of crisis in one form or another, and I am among them. This summer the course of my life was irreversibly altered. And while I am evasive about it here (for now at least - bear with me), I wasn't evasive with Pamela. When I wrote her about it from Ireland, she responded in her usual practical, helpful manner. The following day she was hit by a truck, sending her next email from the hospital. And so our very different crises became linked in time.

Visiting Pamela back in Boston, I realised the connection was not just a temporal one. We had something in common: We were not ourselves. What I mean is, we were each behaving out of character in the way we were reacting to our respective situations. And, each noticing this in the other, we felt alarmed. We wanted to shout "Snap out of it, this isn't you!" And we did shout it. 

In one of her blog posts about her injury, Pamela writes:
"I may not be physically paralyzed, but I am becoming so paralyzed by fear that I may not be able to get back on my bike when the physical impediments to do so are gone. 
...I define myself as cyclist first and foremost, and if I can't reclaim that state of being, this distracted driver who ran me down on September 8 will have robbed me of my identity."
This is chilling for me to read. Particularly because, as I see it, it's not just Pamela's cycling identity that is threatened, but one of her defining character traits: her fearlessness. There are situations that bring about a crisis of self, which can prove more serious than the immediate disaster we are faced with. 

Undergoing my own crisis of self, I started to question everything. This included my identity as a cyclist. Over the past weeks, I had wanted to focus on personal matters and "take a break from the bike world." To a laughable degree, these two goals proved incompatible. I may have taken a break from posting on the blog, but my friendships, interactions, daily activities, even my thoughts, remained intertwined with the reality I've come to know through Lovely Bicycle. My world as a whole may have turned upside down, but cycling - and the impulse to write about it - has retained firm footing. There is some comfort in that. Some confusion too, but mostly comfort.

The last time I visited Pamela, she mentioned the idea of "longing." She still could not imagine cycling, she said. But she could now "imagine imagining" it. She could imagine a time when she would feel a longing to get on the bike again. And once that happens, it will only be a matter of whether - and when - the longing outweighs the fear. 

Hearing this lifted my spirits and infused me with a sense of optimism more than anything else that's been said to me in the past month. I thought back to my first rides with Pamela two years ago. She took me up and down winding hilly roads the likes of which I'd never ridden before. With her signature nonchalance, she introduced me to roadcycling as I know it today, ignoring my anxieties and ineptitudes. So much of it felt impossible at the time, but I got through it - the push and pull of my own fear and longing so tangible I could feel it in the back of my throat. Remembering this, I rode home with the wind on my face and felt tears streaming down my cheeks. They were windy cycling tears, mixed with happy tears - for Pamela, and maybe also for myself. 

58 comments:

  1. This too will pass...

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  2. Glad to see you back :)

    Pamela's hit [I do not like call them accidents] really shook everyone up, so thanks for sharing this with us. This has been a bad year for drivers colliding with me and my friends.

    Keep the rubber side up and I hope you keep on posting your wonderful writing.

    antbikemike

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  3. I would just like to give you a big hug......

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  4. Best wishes for a season of hope for both you and Pamela.

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  5. Thank you for bringing back the candid, fluid and self-deprecating stories. And to all, ride safe and overcome.

    Lennon
    Singapore

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  6. Life does have a magical way of inspiring us when we least expect it. Ride on!

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  7. Great to receive another posting after these past few weeks. Bicycles led me to your blog originally, but I return for the honest, clarity and surprise of your writing- thank you.

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  8. V, Thanks for the very kind words and the reminder that the longing will return.

    I'm not sure the detail shows in the photo, so I wanted to point out the significance. My dear friend, Rich Taylor, who has suffered from his own share of broken bones, got this jersey for me. He mailed it off to my surgeon at Duke along with a permanent marker and asked the doctor to draw in my new hardware. My surgeon was an artist and drew in great detail where the 8 screws and 3 rods were positioned to stabilize my back. This is a prized and treasured piece of clothing for me.

    Many of my friends have been alarmed to hear hesitation in my voice as I talk about someday getting back on a bike. But since it seems 99% of my friends are cyclists, our conversations inevitably turn to some story about some ride. My facebook newsfeed is filled with photos of smiling people on bikes. The blogs I read are all about bikes. Everywhere I turn in my house, there is some reminder that I am a cyclist. The fear is still large. The pain is still severe. I can't imagine getting on my bike anytime soon. But I can dream of the day when that desire will return, as all the bones heal and the pain lessens and I've grown stir-crazy from the lack of wind in my face. And V, I will come visit you Ireland or where-ever you are and we will ride, as you non-nonchalantly reintroduce me the the joys of road riding.

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    1. this blog post and comment made me cry tears of many emotions. I wish you both the best and hope to ride along side some day.

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  9. I've had the pleasure to read both you and Pamala's adventures for a couple years now. And though it is highly unlikely that we would ever meet in person, I still felt sick hearing of Pamela's injuries.
    One of the wonderful things about the internet is the chance to "meet" and learn about different people that we otherwise never would. The accompanying problem is that an otherwise ignoreable story about a "cyclist hit by truck" now has a name and a face.
    Just know that there is a world-wide network wishing you both the best, and wishing that there was something more tangible that we could do.

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  10. After reading your good writing I have been thinking about the spirit of Blues music: despite complicated lives people provide wonderful songs.
    I hope you have a better tomorrow, you have a kind heart.

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  11. Welcome back and thank you for the spirit of yours that shines through your writing

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  12. Biking gives you that fearlessness the more you do it, the farther and faster you go, but it can lead to a false sense of "safe". With the amount of miles she has I'm surprised it hasn't happened sooner, one of the reasons my road rides are few and far between now. It's only a matter of time I think, now that drivers a full connected to other activities other than driving.

    We find other identities if our current reality is kaput. It's only a bike, a pernicious, addictive, life-giving and life-taking thing. I love it.

    Best to you both.

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  13. I'll ask the most trite question in the world: Why does bad stuff happen to good people?

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    1. Having one minor but painful injury on a bike and several close calls with vehicles, I try to be careful. I know in the back of my mind that something can happen to change things. It's a gamble to cycle but one we take to enjoy life to it's fullest. I hope Pamela comes out of this rollin' again and Velouria is once again feeling fine. My best wishes go to both of you.

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  14. Coming out of a 24-month tunnel wherein injuries & medical treatments had weakened me physically and left me so psychologically disheveled and my confidence to ride a bike without incurring repeat injuries so shaken and profoundly undermined that I wondered if my riding was behind me. When one is in that physical & mental pain tunnel, it's so difficult to endure and overcome and perspective can be lost; you do not know whether you are in 50 feet of ink dark waters or five and whether you are 20 yards from shore or 20 miles. Life and time though can confer extraordinary healing. When the big winds blow, we hold fast with our friends for a better day. You & Pamela have so many friends who wish you all the best! Jim Duncan

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  15. Dear Pamela, I send my best wishes and encouragement to get back on your bike. I can't imagine the difficulty, only the frustration of not being able to cycle.

    Richard

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  16. Thanks for an inspiring, thoughtful post.

    An Iowan

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  17. 1. Good to have a favorite blog read back.
    2. Pamela: sorry to hear it. You: sorry to hear it, too -- don't need to hear details.
    3. I hope things quickly improve for both of you.
    4. Most important: life is more than cycling. Cycling is too small to fill the whole of a normal life. It is most fun in its place. Let none of us allow this particular love to minimize a full life.

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  18. Great post, emotional. I was a bit worried because a few people with cycling blogs decided to end them this year for personal reasons and I was like no, not lovely bicycle too. Although I'd be glad you're onto something new as well.
    I was horrified to read Pamela's blog post and wish her all the best healing. She's been so inspiring, biking after her collar bone fracture, not fazed by that. I had my own health issues that derailed another summer, kept me from my cycling dreams. i've had massive injuries that forever changed my cycling abilities. Something or other continues to conspire against my strong desire to be out on a road bike, wind in my face daily. I bike all the time, commuting, running errands, but cannot seem to get it together to have a proper road bike or rando bike and that is itself a crisis. I stopped thinking and dreaming about bikes, wasn't looking at bike sites, drooling over gorgeous bikes, even Jan Heine's blog seemed like homework. A crisis of life, circumstance and not knowing what to do.

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  19. Best wishes to you both in trying times. May you have quick and thorough healing and resolution of whatever's troubling you.

    I really hate to see people like y'all having problems. :( Good thoughts to y'all.

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  20. Thanks for writing again!

    All the best to both of you.

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  21. I was hit in May 2003. Broken leg along other various injuries. I was back on my bike in late August. The first time got on my bike I was shaking I was so nervous and I was just in my driveway. The mental scare tissue stayed with me for about two years. After that I could ride like my old fluid self. It comes back gradually. I should point out that I started getting back into riding with my mountain bike, In the woods there is no fear of the car. Good luck.

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  22. I too will probably never meet either of you, but I wish you both some good times in the future.
    All the best, Don

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  23. It's not how many times we are knocked down that defines us, it's how many times we get up. Namaste, A

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  24. The fear will lessen, it did for me. After I got hit by a car (I did not get hurt bad) I almost gave it up.

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  25. I was really afraid that Lovely Bicycle was gone. No more gorgeous photos, I thought. No more heart-wrenching and heart-warming tales. No more of some of the most beautiful prose I have ever read. Velouria, I am delighted that you are writing again! And I hope things are looking up. You are such an inspiration. As for you, Pamela. I am so sorry to learn of your injuries. But you will ride again. I am sure of it.

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  26. Hey ladies,

    As always, you both inspire with your willingness to share and make yourselves vulnerable.

    To participate fully in life is to have suffering. When the pain of not riding is greater than the fear of riding, things will change.

    xoxo,
    Alice

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  27. I've been trying hard to get over dealing with fear since I had a pretty bad accident this summer where I broke a couple of teeth.

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  28. May you both heal in body and spirit.

    Matt

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  29. While I'm sad to hear that both of you are confronting challenges, I appreciate your writing about your relationship with Pamela and both of your current struggles. I'm lucky to have met both of you this year. Like a lot of people, I was inspired by Pamela's and your writing and adventures. I'm hoping that Pamela recovers fully and continues to inspire me with her adventurous and courageous spirit.

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  30. Really glad to see another post and to hear a bit about the Pixies progress. Never know what to say in these situations and often get it wrong, but, if having a lot of people care is helpful than there must be some hope for you two.

    Spindizzy

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  31. I've discovered that I am terrible at putting my thoughts into words, but I wanted to offer my best wishes and hopes that you both heal and overcome your pains. Big hugs to you both (just not too tightly for Pamela...) ;)

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  32. It is absolutely great to see another post on LovelyBicycle... Initially drawn to this site due to bikes, I was taken in by the honest clarity of your words... I suffer badly from Ankylosing Spondiliytis and Rheumathoid Arthritis, two debilitating conditions, and this blog set me out on a bike after being diagnosed... reading this post has put me in a very sensitive mood again, because this is pure poetry of the heart....

    Hope that Pamela really gets her health back...and of course, whatever has been troubling you as well... Here's wishing you the best of health...

    We will probably never meet in person (I live in Malta, opposite side of the world), but your words are such an inspiration... I raise my hat (or bike helmet) to you.

    Thank you.

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  33. This somewhat overweight middle aged, mostly silent reader wishes you and Pamela well. I hope you both find happiness in terms that you are at peace with, and better days.

    Sometimes survival is an accomplishment. It can be hard but only in surviving the dark and difficult times can a brighter dawn follow.

    I hope you both soon enjoy a beautiful sunrise.

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  34. Over and over I've seen (and been) people gutted, usually by other people and their terrible surprises. Then, time down the road, realized with wonder that, when nobody was much looking, the worlds turned upside down had unloosed odd wonders like treasures fallen from hidden pockets. Keep an eye out for yours, they'll surely be really good ones.

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    1. I've experienced this myself (treasures found after the most painful losses) ...you state it so eloquently.

      Velouria, I found you because of cycling, but it is your writing (and photography) that keeps me returning.

      I send my sincere wish for continued strength and pain free moments and beautiful days to you both.

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  35. Blogger, a bit of software Google offers, turns a keyboard and display screen into a quiet place where someone with curiosity that becomes passion, supported by a way with words and an eye to capture the right photograph, becomes a story teller. Like the bard halls of yore, the blog becomes a place where folks come in to listen and sometimes comment. It's a personal story, a one-to-one/many of a growing and evolving passion. It's sometimes about information, really useful information about who makes what and how it performs. Other times it is about relationships, as we witness a contact that becomes a discovery (are you V...?!), and the larger-than-life blogger becomes a person, somewhat private, with her quirks and passions and then becomes a friend. We read about it from both blogs, Pamela and Velouria as they tell their own stories of meeting. We witness this in a kind way devoid of the over-amplified drama we become used to in film and television.

    Then the screen goes blank. Checking back from time to time, it’s the same posting. Velouria is not writing. We miss her. We wonder what is going on. After reading the morning news on the iPad over breakfast, we check in. It's still October 13, and we are now into November. But for some reason, we keep checking back in. It's not a relationship, because we have never met. We have never corresponded. She would not know us from a bar of soap, and if we pushed our way into her life, it would not be appreciated. But she is, in a curious way, in our lives. This is the miracle of the Internet.

    Then tonight, we try again, and there is a new posting. In the first instance, it is a flicker of joy. As one commentator wrote "Welcome back, I have missed you!"

    But then we read the story. Pamela with a broken back. No it can't be. Pamela is Peter Pan, the one who flies up mountains and never grows up. How can she be broken? And what happened in Ireland that irreversibly altered Velouria's life? This is not how the story is supposed to unfold.

    But it is not a story; it's real life and we feel the pain. We go through the emotions of shock, sadness, emptiness, but then we feel the spirit rising within. Come on girl, heal, and get back in the saddle. From the far corners of the earth, people you never met are focusing their thoughts on your cells that are busy rebuilding that which is shattered, that which is damaged. But the focus is also on you, both of you, the soul whose body is locked in a brace and the soul who writes about fear. How can we, readers from afar, send both of you the love and support that banishes fear; that casts that warm glow that heals and restores the soul?

    We send the love and support the old fashioned way, by focusing that golden beam that extends from our hearts to you, transcending time and distance in a way the old people understood and we are only now relearning.

    And then, through the miracle that is the Internet, and the medium that is Blogger, we tell you by writing a comment.

    Velouria and Pamela, I write this in the plural because I am certain that there are many more who share these thoughts. Heal well, come back strong, and never lose your passion.

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  36. Glad you are back. I hope Pamela has a full recovery, emotionally and physically.

    I'm with antbikemike, we should stop referring to car crashes as "accidents." It relieves people of responsibility. It baffles me why, as a society, we put up with this. It reminds me of a time when we often turned a blind eye to drunk driving. I think we need BADD--Bicyclists Against Distracted Driving.

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    1. There was the most amazing comparison I read recently of the handling of two accidents involving children on bicycles; one "accident" in America, and one "hit" in Europe - was it Denmark? I wish I could find it now.

      It was striking to read the difference in the reactions. In America, they mourned the loss, excused the driver's negligence, and people (though, presumably, not the boy's family) moved on. In Europe, they had re-tooled the corner where the European boy was struck and killed within days in order to prevent another family from losing a cyclist.

      Another story that really stuck with me was the story of the young woman killed by the truck in Portland not long ago (she was in the bike lane; she was also in the blind spot of a large truck to her left that was turning right). In Europe, they've added rails between the wheels so that she would have been pushed out of the way (and likely still badly injured, but alive), and in America, we've once again called it a "terrible accident" with no charges for the driver.

      These stories, together with finding my way back onto a bicycle (and viewing the bicycle as transportation) have done more to focus my attention on the awesome responsibility of operating multiple tons of machinery when I drive, and has made it all the more obvious to me how many are driving while distracted. It's terrifying. Oddly, it makes me want to be on my bike MORE, not less.

      Wishing recovery (physical/emotional/spiritual, as appropriate) to both V and P.

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    2. Those who get around by bike definitely need to do something:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/opinion/sunday/is-it-ok-to-kill-cyclists.html?adxnnl=1&ref=opinion&adxnnlx=1384091092-bu3EEfTe0RJY+8C/CD1k4g

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  37. Sending lots of positive thoughts your way!

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  38. LOVE and PEACE, very glad you are back.

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  39. Welcome back Velouria. Missed reading your wonderful writing. When I need to step out of the rat race and manage my own mental health issues, I always find your blog a joy to read.

    Come back to Northern Ireland soon! Best regards to you and Pamela

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  40. Even though I knew a bit of why this blog had gone quiet recently, like other loyal readers, I was sad every day that went by not to see a new post. This blog is on my must-read list, and I've truly missed this regular source of inspiration. Velouria writes with such a delightful perspective and my life is better for getting to know such a kind soul, both through the blog and personally. I'm also quite thankful for all the positive energy and kind thoughts that you, her readers, have sent my way. And like you, I also am sending my own positive energy to her.

    - Pamela

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  41. Thanks for writing this, sharing your thoughts and inspiring the rest of us.

    http://awilliams53.blogspot.com/2013/11/fear-and-longing.html

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  42. Everything else I come up to say with is neither adequate nor original, so I'll just say that I am glad you are back to writing here.
    I'm also grateful that you are around for Pamela, and she for you.

    Sounds like there is a new life direction for the both of you.
    To play off Dorothy Parker's famous quip, that bird is showing a lot of pin feathers right about now.

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  43. Wondered what the clean sheet in the last post was about. Hope you sort everything out. You and Pamela have different stories to tell and issues to fix, but you’re fighters and survivors and I’m sure you’ll pull through – you’re a couple of heroes.

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  44. I'm very glad you're back. You've been missed.

    Not knowing your specific situation, I'll say this: I, too, have recently experienced a crack in the foundation of my world. I've been treading quietly and carefully through my life since midsummer, trying to find what of it is still stable, what's broken, and what's crumbled and gone. I'm hoping courage comes later - for now it feels like a daily picking through the rubble of my life, looking for things that are safe, that survived. I've found a few things, and I'm grateful for them. I'm my hoping courage is in there somewhere. Self-evidently, I still have hope, so there's that.

    All that to say, if you, or you, Pamela, are in a similar place, I offer you my empathy. If your situation is dissimilar, the I offer my simple gratitude for your writing. I enjoy it thoroughly. Thank you for making the effort to write, and best of luck in the time ahead.

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  45. Velouria...Glad you're back to blogging, but sorry to hear about the life altering things going on with you and the Fixie Pixie. Over the years, your blog has inspired me to get into biking for transportation. That love has grown into a thirst for knowledge of bike mechanics and frame building; I can't thank you enough for your writing. I'm sending you and Pamela positive energy from Florida.

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  46. Hi Vel and Pam.
    Missed you, the experiences and the insights. Also missed hearing from the family of commenters here as well. I am saddened to hear about what happened. A little apprehensive too as I look out the midtown NYC window at the darkening skies and think about going out into the coldest day of the year so far for the 11 mile ride home to Brooklyn.
    My friend had someone maliciously right turn into him in Park Slope a few weeks ago. He was OK.
    When it's below freezing it all seems so much more dark and lonely going through the empty industrial areas on the ride home.

    I do hope to meet the whole bunch of you up in the Boston area one day when I have sufficient endurance for a decent ride.
    Best wishes to you both. Looking forward to the posts!
    Victor K.
    vsk

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  47. OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY! YOU'RE BACK! I MISSED YOU SO MUCH!
    Best wishes to Pamela and her back. Fear is more paralyzing than pretty much anything else. Remembered longing is like a deep breath of courage, invigorating and wholesome.

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  48. Velouria, I want to add to the thanks.

    I am an enthusiastic scooterist from Cincinnati who has been commuting by motorbike for over eight years. In March of this year I was hit head on at speed by a driver paying more mind to her cell phone than the road; or me, sharing the road. The five bones that were broken are healed and I'm almost totally undeterred by the little lasting pains and stiffness.

    After I completed the recommended physical therapy I started riding my motorbikes again. And soon after I started riding I began commuting on my bicycle to help regain my stamina and strength. Your entries and photos were right there to encourage and inspire me; and I'm stronger now as a result.

    I have always dreamt of touring by motorbike, and taking my daughters with me, to share this love; but now I have new goals for next year. I hope to do some randonneuring and really see the world at the right pace, on my bicycle. Thank you for introducing me to even more two wheeled enthusiasm.

    And Fixie Pixie Pamela, I know what it's like to be caught out. It's weird to have been in a crash that was not a direct result of my own actions. I'll be praying that something will inspire confidence to allow you to enjoy road biking again.

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  49. Velouria,
    Sorry to hear, I have missed your post over the last few weeks. Pam and John are definitely an inspiration. My wife and I saw them "lead from the front" at a tandem rally years ago! We never caught up!! So many good comments to this post, really I hope both of you know how much you mean to "our" cycling community. I really have appreciated your blog as I am a long time cyclist, since the 1970's. I pray for Pam to heal, for you to continue, and for all of us to be positive advocates for cycling. We should all inspire each of us to be the "change" that we want society as a whole to see. Thank you so much for your post.

    Sincerely and with much appreciation,

    Ron B.

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