A Winter of Stopping

When my body hit the pavement, I remained still for a few seconds, conscious of the minivan that was just behind me, not moving, and conscious of the parked car to my right. I pushed myself up through a plank position, untangled my legs from my bicycle frame and slowly stood up.

My chin hurt and it was bleeding. So was my left shin. My forehead also hit the ground, but a well-fitted helmet saved my head. I didn’t think anything was broken and x-rays later showed nothing was. Still, a hard body slam to the earth, along with a jolt to the neck, can do a number on your body in ways you don’t immediately notice.

I have been bike-commuting to my office in DC for five years on a city-street route of about 11 miles one way from my Maryland suburb. Perhaps it was just a matter of time before I got ‘doored’ – what cyclists call it when you collide with the door of a parked car as it opens into the bike lane. My biking buddy with whom I had shared my route for most of those years had recently relocated. So I was by myself as I stood on the sidewalk, discussing my condition with an off-duty police officer who happened to be in the area, on that steep hill along Howard University.

After some deliberation, I reassured the officer that I didn’t need an ambulance. As I turned to walk myself to the hospital which was less than a mile away, and as the shock and the adrenaline started to wear off, I fell to emotional pieces. I didn’t want to hassle the woman who had opened her car door at just the wrong moment. I didn’t want to file a report. But the off-duty officer was wiser and when he saw me in tears he offered again to call an ambulance. An on-duty police officer also arrived, who took my information and a description of what happened. Strangers in blue uniforms packaged me up on a gurney, braced my head, and drove me to Howard University Hospital. There, medical students and doctors swarmed around my body, checked for broken ribs and a concussion, and bandaged up all my scrapes. With head injuries you never know, and it was smart to get checked out.

Up to that moment on that hill where I fell, it had been the perfect autumn morning ride. It was November 3rd, and the last of the remaining fall leaves still clung to their branches. I distinctly remember a moment about a half hour earlier, when I came to an intersection that crosses onto Sligo Creek Parkway. Looking up toward the east, I noticed rays of white sun piercing through the lacy orange and yellow leaves high above. It was about 7:30 am. I paused to take a good long look before continuing. I thought to myself – memorize that light.

After my husband picked me up and brought me home, I rested. And for two more days, I stayed in bed and worked from home. I was sore everywhere and short-tempered. I felt like the accident had stunned my metabolism somehow, into a cranky, irritable, immobile state. As soon as I felt strong enough, I got back into my work routine. The following weekend I hauled my bike to the bike shop for its check-up and was happy to find it needed only a minor repair to the handlebars. I bought a new bike helmet and had it properly fitted by the same people who saved my skull the first time. I figured I would push myself back on the bike as soon as possible, before I lost my nerve.

But I was rushing things and I didn’t know it. The next day, as I was putting away groceries, I reached across the kitchen table for a bottle of ketchup. In an instant my lower back was in so much pain I could barely move. Back to bed to lie down. And again, it took me about three days before I was up and going again.

And this time I finally got the message. Stop, Amy. Just stop. Whatever you are doing. Just stop. Do something else for awhile.

I put the bike away for the rest of the winter. And instead of changing sports to interval running, which is what I would normally do when biking season ends, I began taking more varied yoga classes and especially yin yoga. I focused on restoration. I also became more dedicated to my weekly Pilates hour.

Over the next three months, as I focused on my core physically, I also focused on my core metaphorically. I called my folks back home in Wisconsin more often and began exploring my Slovenian roots in earnest. I found my way to baking yeast breads, something I used to do when I was a teen. I also happened across an opportunity to learn how to knit, as well as a chance to learn about Ayurveda, a system of holistic health practices. I surprised myself by pursuing both of these. As I moved through the dark months with a new view, three themes began to emerge – self-healing, handiwork and heritage. Like threads in my knitting yarn, they intertwine.

My winter of stopping turned into a road of all green lights. As we go inward, life expands. I made new friends – the knitter ladies at my office, Slovenian-Americans at the embassy, and my classmates and teachers at the yoga studio.

All this led me back to the keyboard, and wanting to write again.

I topped off the season with an intense 2-day yoga retreat that coincided with my 45th birthday in January. There, our yoga teacher prompted us to meditate on what we would like to leave behind in 2015 and what we would like to carry forward. I invite you to consider that. I also invite you to come back to this blog in the coming weeks. For me, the themes of the past few months are still unfolding, and each one of them is a story that I am eager to share.


Amy Ambrose