Here’s the problem with talking a friend into riding your bikes together for one hundred miles in Killington, Vermont. Six years later when she asks you to ride a measly thirty miles with her, you pretty much have to do it.
When Sarah and I did the JDRF Century Ride, we trained for six months. We went out on our bikes on Sunday mornings with the intent to ride twenty miles, got horribly lost, took a ferry to get back on the correct side of the Connecticut River, and ended up going fifty-five miles. But, we were fit. And training. So it wasn’t a big deal.
The morning of our Vermont journey, it was forty-degrees and with wrath-of-God rain. We put our feet in plastic baggies to keep them dry. Then rode fifteen miles to the first rest area with frozen toes sloshing around rain water, realizing that Ziplocks are great for PB & Js, but aren’t waterproof.
Riding a hundred miles up and down ski-mountains was surprising not terrible. Yes, there were killer hills. But who knew there are flat parts of Vermont. We rode with a huge group from Essex, collectively raising more $60,000 and we crossed an impressive feat off our bucket lists.
Fast forward to 2013 when my friend Alicia told me she was doing the sixty-five mile leg of the Closer To Free bike ride for Smilow Cancer Center. She had trained with me years before for JDRF even though she wasn’t doing it. Solely because she is kind, she logged many miles with me and stood patiently on the other side of the road while I got off my bike and walked it across busy streets because I was too afraid to cross traffic. She also took frequent breaks so I could stop and drink water because I was too much of a weenie to let go of the handlebars to pull my bottle from its holder. I hadn’t been on a bike since my pink Schwinn with glittery ribbons and a banana seat.
When Alicia told me why she was doing the Closer To Free ride, I immediately volunteered to ride with her. I only had four months to train, but I logged many hours on my bike that summer. We rode the event with another friend and had a great day. The weather was perfect, the ride was challenging, but not overwhelming and there were thousands of people riding in honor or in memory of loved ones. I drove home that night feeling good about myself- for raising money for Smilow, supporting a friend and conquering a tough course.
That brings us to present day. Well, more like three months ago. Sarah (remember Sarah from the century ride?) said she was doing a measly thirty mile ride for The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp for kids with life-threatening illnesses. She asked if I wanted to ride with her. I will fess up and tell you that I kinda blew it off. Kurt had talked about sailing to Block Island that weekend and there was a horse show that I was thinking about going to. But most importantly, I’ve gotten lazier than usual. But, I was honest with myself and Sarah, I just didn’t see myself logging the miles to train over the summer.
Problem solved. I told her via text (because I’m a big, guilty, wuss) that I wasn’t going to ride with her. Honestly, I never thought about the event again until I met up with Sarah and some other friends on Labor Day. She hadn’t mentioned the ride all summer, so I thought maybe she’d bagged it. I made the mistake of asking her if she was still doing it. And in her typical cheery, lovely Sarah way, she said yes and she’d go it alone because she couldn’t get anyone to ride with her.
This is where I had flashbacks of pedaling up ski slopes and training in downpours and logging hundreds and hundreds of miles together as we prepared for and then rode the century ride. I couldn’t bail on her now. Five days before the event, I told her I’d do it. Our friend Richard heard us talking and said he’d join in the fun. Then he sandbagged us and said his bike was thirty-years old and he barely remembered how to ride. Remember Richard in a minute or two.
I only had four days to train, so I decided it was pointless. It was kinda like how I felt about cramming for exams. If I didn’t know the material twelve hours before the test, I didn’t think it would magically come to me no matter how late I stayed up studying.
On a side note, my husband Kurt is a serious athlete. He runs marathons and does Half-IronMan triathlons and doesn’t bother to train for most of it because after nineteen years together I’ve discovered that he’s a life-like robot. A cute humanoid built of muscle and will. A few years ago Kurt bought me a trainer (the thing you put your bike on in the garage so you can still ride it in the winter, not an actual fitness-minded person) and set my bike up on it with an amazing computer program that would automatically make it change gears as if I were climbing a big hill. Needless to say, I despised the trainer and I came to think of it as a fancy kickstand so I wouldn’t have to lean my bike against the garage wall.
The night before the Hole In The Wall Gang ride, I asked Kurt to disentangle my bike from the evil trainer and assemble it. After he did so, I checked the odometer and saw that its mileage read 65.45- the exact distance of the Closer To Free ride I’d done with Alicia. You know what that meant, right? I hadn’t sat on my bike in exactly two years. Crap! Had it been that long? What had I been doing with myself? Oh, that’s right. Nothing. I’d embraced that other than riding horses, I have zero athletic ability and even more so, I’m just so lazy. I love my couch and I loathe things that are difficult and make me work hard. That pretty much crosses exercise of my to-do list.
This ride was only thirty miles and I would never be able to shake the memories of Sarah giving up an entire summer to train with me and then ride one-hundred miles in the place where people pay a lot of money to go up high mountains.
Saturday morning Sarah picked up Richard and me, and off we went. During the drive to the camp, we couldn’t help but notice how hilly the terrain had become. I’m not talking a black diamond trail on Killington Mountain steep, it was more like Mt. Everest. On the way up. I choked back my fear and told myself that it was only thirty miles. I pushed out of my mind that it’d been TWO YEARS since I’d sat on pretty, pink Ruby (I name everything. I have a suitcase named Kermit) and perhaps riding and practicing was an import part of you know, surviving.
The Hole In The Wall Camp was stunningly beautiful and it was clear that the kids it serves love it and the people who work there. There was a huge spread for breakfast (of which I could eat nothing, but that’s a different blog) and hundreds of excited riders ready to get a move on. We made friends with the woman who’d parked next to us. Not having a super-model’s body has made me very aware of those who do. I have no shame in staring at beautiful women and their fit, toned bodies. First thing I noticed about our new friend was that she had serious cyclist legs. Believe me, after almost two decades with my very own triathlete robot husband, I can spy them anywhere. While I was admiring her calves, she told us it’s one of the most challenging courses she’s ever ridden. I was about to bash my head on the side of Sarah’s car because I’m pretty sure they don’t let you ride with a concussion, when I remembered that there was also a 62.5 mile ride offered. I commented that we were only doing the thirty-miles and I wished her good luck with the longer course. She smiled wryly and said that she wouldn’t dare do the longer ride. Not here. Not with these hills. As she walked away, I saw the 140.6 sticker on her car’s back window. That’s the mileage of an IronMan.
Oh man, I thought as I put on my helmet, I’m screwed.
A route and elevation map was in our packets. The first two miles were flat. Sweet! Two down, twenty-eight to go. Then the next four miles took us on a slow climb for two thousand feet. Say what now? Did I read that right? Four miles straight up hill? As my dad used to say- you’ve got to be shitting me.
I don’t know much about physics or maps or even geography, but logic told me that if we went up almost half a mile, we had to come down, right? Isn’t that one of Newton’s Laws? What goes up must come down? Or was I thinking of Fig Newtons? Throw a cookie in the air, it lands in my mouth? So, I kept looking for the downhill portions. And looking. What I did see was that miles twenty-six through twenty-nine took us on another climb straight up hill before leveling off for the homestretch.
Like the map said, the first two miles were relatively flat. I clipped into the pedals, which I not so fondly refer to as the bindings of death, remembered which gears were which and off we went. I’ve always been a pretty strong cyclist on flat terrain (you know me and one-legged chimps. It’s just not that hard to ride in a straight line on zero elevation). We took off and I could see Richard slightly behind me. Maybe he was telling the truth when he said his only goal was to finish on his antique bike.
Well, we got to the base of the first monster climb and I downshifted into a low gear and took a breath. Then I watched Richard and Sarah and virtually everyone else ride by me like I was nailed to a tree. I wouldn’t see Richard again until the first rest stop. By the time Sarah and I pulled in there, he’d filled up both water bottles, gone to the bathroom, gotten a snack and meditated for half an hour. Somehow I wasn’t buying his humble, I’m-just-here-to-raise-money-for-a-good-cause spiel.
Sarah and I pulled into the rest stop, chatted with Richard, hydrated ourselves, and I checked my messages only to discover that Kurt had texted me a photo of Ainsley picking up rocks instead of riding her pony. Uh-oh. Clearly her snotty alter-ego, Rodafina (half rodent, half Lucifena- spawn of Lucifer) had emerged. Okay- score one for me. I might have been killing myself trying to get up these you-can’t-get-there-from-here hills, but at least I was spared the epic meltdown of a ten-year-old girl.
We got back on our bikes and Sarah noticed an odd thing. She had map app open on her phone and the mileage did not match the signs posted. Turns out the ride was five miles longer than advertised. I know what you’re thinking. Shut up and pedal, you giant pansy. Five miles on a bike is nothing. Normally I’d agree with you.
Do you remember the comedian, Richard Jeni? He did a bit about walking six miles to school, in the snow, uphill, both ways. Well, that was this ride. It was straight uphill. And then up hill. And then uphill some more. Fifteen miles into it, I was ready to flag down a support vehicle and hitch a ride. Eighteen miles in, I seriously considered throwing myself in front of one.
Being the exceptionally good friend she is, Sarah basically didn’t pedal so I could keep up with her. I loved chatting on the rare moments I could catch my breath, and we eventually finished. I’m pretty sure we were DFL (a sailing term Kurt uses- Dead F-ing Last), but we did it.
Maybe long-distance rides of yesteryear are like childbirth. Pain has no memory. But, I swear both the JDRF and the Closer To Free rides were a million times easier than this one. It was just hill after hill after bloody hill. Of course, Kurt gently reminded me that it probably would have been a little less torturous if I’d trained, even a tiny bit. Okay- Mr. Roboto. Lesson learned.
On the way home, I told Sarah that if I die tragically, I’d like her to set up a charity ride in my memory. I want it to be twenty-two miles (the far reaches of my comfort and fun zone) and on completely flat land. It can be called the “We’re Fat or Lazy or Fat and Lazy, But Still Raise Money for a Good Cause Ride”. Because it will require virtually no effort, people can even do it in costume. How about a nice Zombie Ride?
Because a Zombie is exactly what I felt like by the time I got home that night. With exhaustion and soreness barreling down hard on me, I took my gorgonzola salad upstairs and ate dinner in the tub.