Tuesday, June 13, 2017

We Pedal On

We got to West Point Friday night just in time to pick up our registration packet and drop off our bikes.  I got to meet my first friend from AstraZeneca.  Priscilla was a riot of optimism and enthusiasm, asking to take photos and promising me that we would see each other in the morning. She assured me that we would encourage each other throughout the 100 miles. She did not lie

We had time to grab some delicious pasta dinner, get Dan and the other kids settled into our Airbnb (Dan gets extra points for being the lone driver in the later car) and then go to bed. No late night Cav's watching for this girl--although it seems that they did quite well, even without my attention.

Jamie gets extra chauffeur points for getting up so early to take us to the starting line and a round of team points for getting snazzy custom RamerNation jerseys made for the three of us. The morning weather was mercifully cool. West Point was stunningly beautiful. The course, as advertised, was hilly throughout. I felt great for the first 45 miles.

I met Orlaigh, a woman from Ireland, (actually from the same town that Laurie just returned from) who now lives in Long Island. She was riding 100 to honor her mother, who had breast cancer. I hate cancer, kind of a lot.

I thought a lot about the people who travel with me in spirit. My phone, which carries a fantastic biking playlist from my volleyball girlfriends, dinged text messages of encouragement throughout the race. Jamie, Dan and the kids waited for us at the rest stops and finish line, ever supportive. I saw a ladybug on a flag, a symbol of my friend Gabby. I felt both a rush of grief and a dose of her encouragement, something which always bolstered my confidence. We don't really do anything alone in this life, regardless of how it may appear.

I came to this century ride with Alex (who absolutely killed it, finishing an hour and a half before us) and Laurie (who was announced as the 4th highest individual fundraiser). However, we ended up riding most of the miles alone, only bumping into one other at rest stops, which is how these races tend to work out.

Like a starry sky filled with constellations, there are vast stretches of quiet in between. Throughout the ride, I thought about how Alex was somewhere in front of me and my sister just behind me, connected by invisible bonds.  My husband would be cheering just up ahead. Glimpses of Brent, Lauren and Olivia could sustain me. Jamie often drove by, shouting encouragement through the window.

I met some researchers who had good things to share about their work.  This lifted my spirits as I considered Lauren's current issue. Potential issue, I should correct, because it is not a problem until it is a biopsy confirmed problem. 

I say this kind of a lot, a mutant mantra for mental health.  Because there are lots of worries along the way, which could rob me of today's blessings if I allowed them to dominate my thoughts.  It is difficult mentally to tamp down worry, particularly when I have intimate knowledge of how long and difficult a sarcoma treatment is.  But today is not that day-- which is another handy phrase.

It got hotter in the afternoon, but the folks from CRI did a fantastic job of providing support. There was food, water, Gatorade etc, every 10 miles or so, and the SAG trucks patrolled the routes to make sure that everyone was covered. Laurie struggled at the very beginning and tailed the pack of 100 milers.  She told me that for the first 40 she had her own personal SAG driver, Paul, who insisted that he would not leave her. And he didn't, until she began passing people, and met up with me at mile 55.  It was an extremely well run event.

I biked with Debora, another part of the AstroZeneca team, an ebullient woman who is comfortable hugging a sweaty stranger on a bike. She evoked Gabby's social fearlessness and perpetual optimism.  

In the second half of the ride, the century riders chatted more at the rest stops, encouraging one another, plying pickle juice on those who were cramping and plotting out the distance remaining. Breaking down the miles we had yet to grind out, into smaller more manageable chunks really helped. "Only 12 miles to the next rest stop!"

Around 70 miles in, just after passing a SAG truck, I lost use of my brakes.  Laurie, ever practical, pointed out that I wouldn't need them for at least the next quarter of a mile, which was clearly uphill, so we climbed.  At the top, there happened to be three riders from AstraZeneca who were stopped at the crest. They kindly helped me with what ended up being a simple fix, something that any experienced rider would know how to handle.  A downhill followed, one that was perilous even with functioning brakes. Without their help, I would have had to wait for the SAG truck. It felt somehow prophetic to see how these researcher-riders became directly involved with my plight. 

Laurie and I later worked our way up a ridiculously steep and winding road that hugs the rough rock face of a mountain, with the Hudson River flowing below. We had come down that gloriously scenic hill early in the morning, when our adrenaline was rushing, and our legs were fresh. We did not stop for a photos in our haste. Racing along, I had seen a huge bird take flight and I thought about how extraordinarily beautiful, but fleeting it was. 

As we reached that same peak after a long climb on our late afternoon return, Jamie was waiting there to take our photo, capturing us sweaty and tired. It was still a glorious view. As we posed, a biplane which I can only describe as 'Gabby Yellow' came out of nowhere, passing close, and commanding our attention.  It was perfect.

An exhilarating downhill followed.  However, we did not return through West Point. The course took us instead a different route that involved some hills that Laurie and I neither anticipated nor appreciated. There may have been some swearing. We passed a woman who shouted encouragement to us, telling us that we were only three miles from the finish.

Heartened, we pedaled on.

Two miles later, we read a sign that said '5 Miles To Go.' There was definitely swearing at this point. And murder plotted. Disheartened, but determined, we pedaled on.

Finally at the finish, I hugged my family--Alex looking irritatingly well rested--and we cheered Laurie and our new friends in.  Dan bustled us to a massage tent where angels of mercy put their hands on our positively disgusting bodies, encrusted with 100 miles worth of crystalized sweat (sorry to be gross, but it was like sand on my face)  They stretched us and pummeled our muscles. It felt positively amazing and I think this saved me, because believe it or not, I was not sore the next day.

Over $900,000 was raised at the event for immunotherapy research. I know that more will roll in for CRI until Sept 1, when fundraising is finalized. It was an honor to be part of this effort, and I am grateful for every bit of encouragement and support along the way


In the morning, I sipped coffee and listened to musical gift from my volleyball friends, a lyrical affirmation of their belief in me. Laurie and I talked about how fortunate we had been in the weather.  On Sunday, it neared 80 degrees by 9am.  Biking in that kind of heat would have been an altogether different sort of challenge.

I was enjoying the beautiful gardens at our airbnb and watching Olivia feed a goose and her four fluffy chicks. It suddenly washed over me that there was nothing left to do, no 100 mile buffer between me and Lauren's surgery. 

This is the next step.

Deep breath.

Heartened, or disheartened, we will pedal on.  We do not do this alone.

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