A few weeks ago, Frank and Michelle made me the most hilarious birthday gift, meant as a form of encouragement for my renewed enthusiasm for biking: They took a Specialized advertisement starring Tom Boonen and put my face where the professional bike racer’s head once was, atop a bike significantly faster than mine. It’s a scary clip, and makes both me and poor Tom look quite ridiculous. Like the wolf in Grandma’s clothing, only in my case, it’s my little bobble head on a significantly more athletic body. My, Jess, what strong legs you have.
In my lexicon, “bicycle” and “racing” only really meet each other when I’m talking about getting those damned shoes off. When we rode with our friends again last weekend, though, I started to feel strong on a bike for the first time in years. (Or ever, maybe.) Michelle chatted me up the side of Queen Anne Hill at a whole mile an hour faster than I’d gone the previous weekend. I took a hit of one of those carbohydrate gels without making a face, even.
Now, I’m no Tom Boonen, but I’m getting closer. Michelle took off near the top of the second hill, to finally get her muscles warmed up, and I came to an almost dead standstill, to breathe again – but I didn’t get off that bike, and that felt good. And at the end, as we headed up Fremont toward the zoo, I didn’t think of crying.
It’s one thing, to have someone say you can do it. But it’s another thing entirely, another great, wonderful, life-preserving, heart-filling thing, when the people you’re with say you are doing it. I’m being dramatic, I know, reading so much into a single bike ride, but resting at the top of the Lighthouse hill (which measures a 22% grade at one point, thankyouverymuch), having hauled my ass up the thing in a painfully slow sinuous pattern at a crowd-pumping 3 miles per hour, I sure didn’t feel like I was “suffering from lupus.” Or anything, for that matter, except a little touch of sunburn. I just felt like the old Jess, trying to get back into shape, doing the biking thing in a way I sometimes thought I’d never do again. Oh Tom, I thought, pain is your enemy. But do you know how nice it is to feel the most normal pain, as opposed to one you can’t control? Maybe he does. Good for him, too, then.
That husband of mine? He’s doing his best to make the whole thing a positive experience, also. (Smart man. He’s the one who taped my handlebars pink, which thrills me to the core, and encouraged me to get a good bike jersey, because he knows I subscribe to the fashion-equals-fitness exercise mentality.)
On Saturday, he hopped right off his own trusty steed and into the kitchen, bike shorts and all, to whip up some huevos rancheros – my favorite brunch, if the rumblings my stomach is now making are any indication – to refuel us.
While he cooked, I stretched, and putzed around in the refrigerator for something to tide me over. I found the cucumber salad I’d made a few nights before, and again, obsessively, the previous night.
Then, it had seemed so perfect – crunchy and light, almost fizzy-tasting, with that celebratory champagne vinegar, and sharp, with that little dab of mustard. I made it because it seemed like such a shame to hide fresh cucumbers in a salad, or put them aside for pickles, when I could taste them just for themselves. The cucs were sliced thin, so we got all the good green flavor of the skins, but none of their sometimes-leathery texture. (Really. “Leather” and “cucumbers” should never be used in the same sentence.)
But when I opened the container after the bike ride, I just about laughed. Cucumbers? Pointless. I traded them for a piece of bacon, and sat down to wait for the rest of breakfast.
Sunday, we went for an easy hike up near Mt. Rainier, in the glowing September sun. (Oh, yes, a full weekend without work! Maybe that’s why I feel so good.) We took it easy, and my joints were more or less happy.
That wolf? I guess she’s all bedded down in grandma’s pajamas, these days. I know she’s there, and I know she’ll be back with the rains, all huffety puffety, but boy, is it nice to have some silence, for once. I do hope it’s a positive feedback loop.
Now that I’ve recovered a bit, my appetite has been correctly recalibrated, and I want another batch of those cucumbers, to celebrate Indian summer, on the porch. There are still a couple left from Friday.
Between us? They’re getting a little soggy, three days on. But that second day, they were still surprisingly crisp.
Champagne-Chive Cucumber Salad (PDF)
Here’s a recipe for cucumbers you won’t have to wait months to enjoy. It’s a simple, spunky, refreshing salad, the kind of thing you can eat standing up without feeling guilty. It’s also the perfect counterpart to rich fish, and would make a great sandwich ingredient. Slicing the cucumbers ultra thin means you get the flavor of the peel without its objectionable texture.
TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings
2 small cucumbers (not pickling cucumbers), or about 2/3 pound
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
Salt and finely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Slice the cucumbers as thin as possible on a mandolin, and transfer to a mixing bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk the mustard, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste, until blended. Add the olive oil, and whisk until emulsified. Add the dressing to the cucumbers, along with the chives, and stir to coat all the cucumber pieces, using your hands if necessary to separate the slices. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to 4 hours and serve chilled.