I was a little nervous about this years’ ride. I had not trained for it like I should have. My attention was elsewhere in the months leading up to the ride, like restoring the Miyata. I had hopes of riding it for the Challenge but rain was predicted so I opted not to ride it for fear of something happening and ruining all the hard work.
I rode the bike I have ridden for the past two years, my Jamis Satellite. Loved it from day one and I still love it, especially the “granny gear”. That came in handy this year, something the Miyata does not have which is another reason why I did not ride it. After getting everything together and preparing for the ride Saturday afternoon, I sat outside with my family around a campfire that evening and had a couple glasses of wine, good conversation, laughter and giggles and Bogie, my dog was lying at my feet; one of my favorite ways to spend time with my family. When it came time to turn in for the evening, I wasn’t able to sleep. When I finally did succumb to slumber the clock read, 2:34 A.M. My alarm was set to go off around 5:20 and my last thought was, “How am I gonna ride 45 miles on 3 hours of sleep?”
I hit the snooze button a few times then crawled out of bed, got dressed and took off for Dripping Springs. I rode up to the back of the start line then began snaking my way through and tried to get in with John, my friend who was up by the start line where the stage is but the crowd was thick. 3,100 strong and once they announced that Patrick Dempsey was there, the surge of predominantly female riders towards the stage completely denied any attempt to meet up with my friend.
John, who is responsible for getting me into road biking, is a much stronger rider than I. He’s always encouraged me to ride with him but being the realist I am (much nicer way of saying “pessimist” isn’t it?) I knew that if we did ride together, I would only be able to hang with him for the first mile. So it wasn’t too terrible a disappointment when we didn’t meet up.
At 8:13 they sent us off. John, not being shackled by the ball and chain, me. Shot off like a rocket. I on the other hand, got caught in the throng of aluminum and carbon bikes, wheels and spandex, of which some were obviously out to prove the maximum stress load of said material, me being one of them. I didn’t get started on the course until 8:30. It is an overcast morning and it’s cool. Everyone is happy, laughing and riding. By the time I hit the first rest stop, 5 miles in, John had already conquered 16 out of his planned 90. 90 miles…sheesh, I wince at driving 90 miles. The route I rode this year is the exact same as the past two years. It’s 45 miles in length and I know it by heart. As I always do, I plan to stop at all the rest stops or “Power Stops” as they call them. I also plan to take it easy this year and have already predetermined to walk a few of the hills that are leg and lung busters. I don’t want to “bonk” during the ride and have to get a lift.
I ride alone at this event and that’s both good and bad. I think, pray, laugh, and cry, as well as curse and always at some point in the ride, panic. I use the time alone to think about friends and family who have been affected by cancer. I pray for them. I pray that God would heal them or comfort them and their family. I laugh at funny memories. I cry for them and mourn over the loss. I curse the disease and its effects and I panic when thinking about friendships I’ve let slide and consider the “what if” and ask myself if I have been a good friend to them. These are the things that occupy my mind when I ride alone. Don’t know if one outweighs the other, good or bad but it is quite an emotional roller coaster. Just like the route through the hill country.
I’m not saying that these are the only things I wrap my mind and heart around when riding. I don’t want to come off as a bleeding heart-Mother-Theresa-selflessly compassionate for all of humanity type of guy, I wish I was but I’m not. I am selfish and human just like everyone else and I have other thoughts too. For instance, “Why didn’t I choose the 20 mile or even the 10 mile route this year?…45 miles….good grief…and on three hours of sleep no less!” I cry for myself too. I cry cause my butt hurts from the stupid tiny, little freakin’ seat I sit on for five to six hours. My hands go completely numb, that sucks when trying to brake. I cry cause the back of my neck gets scorched by the sun and of course, my favorite, when my legs completely lock up and can’t move which causes me to fall over on the bike and wait till they relax enough to unclip my feet from the pedals. I curse my lack of training (which is never enough) and then I usually have a severe panic attack when I realize the next port-a-potty is nine miles away…uphill.
So you see, it’s actually a double whammy. It’s an emotional roller coaster and physically, it’s as close to hell as I ever want to get. The only thing keeping it from being a trifecta, is the lack of a spiritual crisis but thank God for His unrelenting and obsessive love for me. That doesn’t happen on this ride.
I felt good though, even with the lack of training. A little tired of course but the overcast weather early in the ride was welcomed and helped. I love doing this ride actually. I know it doesn’t sound like but I do. It hurts like hell but I love it. I like seeing all the Yankees stop and gawk at the Longhorns. There is a ranch the route passes by that has a bunch of Longhorns. One in particular, I kid you not, was posing for the cameras. Tons of people were stopping and taking pictures of him. He was beautiful. He was hanging his head over the fence turning it to the left and would pause for the flashes then turn to the right and pause again. It was hilarious.
As the ride continued, I realized that I was getting slower and slower. At each rest stop you have a ton of food like bananas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix and other assorted goodies. Great stuff for energy and it keeps you going and I was availing myself to such generosity but regardless, I was dropping down into the “granny gear” quicker and quicker when hitting the climbs and staying in it longer than I would like. No shocker really, again, the blame was the lack of training. I am comfortable on the bike when my cadence is around 75 to 80 revolutions per minute and unfortunately, maintaining that cadence when in the granny gear, moves me along at roughly 5 mph. This does not bode well for me when I have 45 miles sitting on the table. Everyone was passing me on the climbs. Everyone was asking if I was alright or if I needed water or help of some sort or they thought I had a mechanical problem and would slow down and ask. Even the Longhorns looked with a concerned eye in my direction.
A friend commented that I should have shaved the “bad boy” goatee in an effort to reduce drag.
But speed was not a concern or a desire on this ride, just finishing it was but a funny thing I discovered. I do go really fast…downhill. Everyone would pass me on the climbs but I would pass everybody on the descents, even without pedaling one stroke. Now, one would think when you have the girth of a Volvo it would translate into having a coefficient drag of something like the LBJ Library, thus reducing your speed but no, oh no, not me. Now I’m sure there is a physics, trig/algebraic or Mesopotamian-thingy type of equation out there involving mass, gravity, acceleration, stupidity and the density of pudding that would explain why I am fast but I don’t know what it is. What I can tell you is that reaching nearly 40 mph going downhill on a bad road with barbed wire on both sides on skinny little tires is NOT, I repeat, NOT the time to find out you have a “shimmy” in your front wheel! I looked down and saw my wheel going on one direction and my hands that I couldn’t feel going in another. Now I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I have been so scared that its induced a case of rectal palsy but the banana, PB&J and trail mix I just ate at the last stop were rapidly making their way out the basement. Apparently they didn’t want to be on board for was about to happen.
So, why do I do this? Why put myself through the emotional roller coaster you might ask and the physical hell? Well, just as always when I ride, I remember, my friends and family didn’t sign up for cancer. They didn’t choose it. When filling out the registration form under “Options” when you enter this world, you check the boxes of Laughter, Happiness, Education, Marriage but no one checks the little box next to cancer.
Cancer is no respecter of persons. It has no regard for age, sex, race, occupation, ethics, beliefs, social, moral or economic standing. It doesn’t care if you’re fat, skinny, tall or short. Could care less if you are smart, stupid, smoke, don’t smoke, hairy, bald, drink, or don’t drink. Doesn’t give a flip if you eat right, eat trashy, or if you are a poet, a scientist an artist or a mechanic; a lover, fighter, strong or weak, loud, quiet, outgoing, or a wall flower. Has no concern if you are athletically inclined or a couch potato, a peace lover or war monger. It’s an equal opportunity disease and it sucks.
Each year, I write the names of family and friends who have lost the battle or are in the midst of the battle or have survived the battle over cancer on my race bib and unfortunately this year saw a few more names get added. I lost one this year; diagnosed in March and passed away in May. She was a friend of seven years and coworker. She was someone I saw every day. Someone I laughed with, shamefully gossiped with and joked with and we encouraged one another. She always laughed at my stupid dorky jokes. She always asked about my wife and family and was genuinely interested and very happy that I am happy. I will and do miss her. Another, a mentor during my youth is in the midst of his battle (treatments) and yet another, who is a mighty woman of God has been victorious in her battle. Praise God! Not to mention my own sister who recently had a scare and just found out all is good! No cancer!
I do this ride to remind me that this life is not about me. It’s about others. I do this so I can identify with those who have been or are effected by cancer. Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn the bible says (Romans 12:15). In other words, get into their lives, their world. Identify with them.
The ups and downs of the course are much like the ups and downs of treatment. Some hills are a piece of cake, others might as well be Mt. Everest and my personal nemesis, head winds just flat out suck. Some days treatments are easy-peasy yet other days it’s hard as hell with the nausea and vomiting and everything else your body does in revulsion to the chemo or radiation. Not to mention the effect it has on your family. The strategy I plan out for my ride is much like the strategy the Dr. plans out for treatment in that the goal of both is getting through this trial. Knowing when to push hard and when to hold off. The title of this event is called the LiveSTRONG Challenge and it takes someone who can and does, LiveSTRONG to make it through the Challenge of both the ride and cancer. There are a myriad of other analogies I can make about the struggles of the ride and how it relates to dealing with cancer but the most important part about the correlation between the Challenge and battling cancer is the SUPPORT one receives during such times, especially the support of those living with cancer.
Read that again please.
The support one receives is paramount to the success of the challenge. In this ride, the riders have the support of event coordinators, volunteers, friends and family. Even those not associated with the event like the ranch owners along the route were very supportive. They decorated their fences and gates, some even offered their own drinks and cold towels to the riders. Played music and rang cow bells and whooped and hollered and shouted encouraging words. The “Power Stops” were magnificent. As mentioned before, bananas, PB&J sandwiches, Gatorade, water, fruit slices, trail mix and other goodies were offered. Medical needs for your body could be met at each stop as well as mechanical needs for your bike. Even while on the road between the stops, they had men and women riding with us who were medics and mechanics carrying all manner of necessities. It is a fantastically run event and the support we receive is above and beyond and the support we give to those who are living with cancer should be no less!
Support in the form of loving and encouraging words, prayer, rejoicing in the good times and mourn with them in the mournful times. Take care of them and their family. Cook for them, mow their lawn. Run errands. Clean their house. Or simply sit at their side. As I have parroted before the words of the pastor of my youth. For love to be love it must be practical and observable. These are things you and I can personally do for those that we love that find themselves stricken with this disease. But what of those we don’t know? Do they deserve any less effort from you and I? How can you or I show our support and actually do something about it?
Well, this is why I ride. To raise money for those that I don’t know. I choose the LiveSTRONG Foundation because, well, I like bikes and I like riding them. Obviously not very well at times but I like it. I want to encourage you to find your way to support those living with cancer. Through your church, or school or a foundation, there are a lot out there.
Hopefully you have laughed, giggled or even gave a slight groan while reading this but make no mistake. The point of this is to move you enough to DO SOMETHING. I would love to see all of you who read this participate next year. I know riding is not for everyone but they do have the 5K walk/Run as well and of course, you can participate by giving a donation.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read this.
I love you all,
P.S. It’s amazing how strong the sphincter muscle is. Crisis averted, no carnage to bike or body to report 😉