It is possible to weep while grinning while gasping for breath.
All those many training miles alone at my own pace did very little to prepare me for riding in the Pan Mass Challenge.
I thought I was prepared. The worst I could do was finish last, or maybe not even finish but come up with a great excuse. My standing mantra was “it isn’t a race”, though everyone kept asking me when was the race?
I was ready for whatever was to come at me, or so I thought.
I did all the research, I went by the plans, listen to all the advice, rode long and slow, rode short and fast, up hills, down hills, less yoga, more yoga, cleaned my bike, rode in the rain, ate pasta, fig newtons, drank gatorade, more water, had caffeine, no caffeine, baked monster cookies, even watched the “tour”.
I looked at bike after bike at bike store after bike store, witnessed websites ad nauseam, talked to and watched man after man talk in the secret cult language of carbon, forks, cranks, schleck, seatstays, damp, stiff, compact, triple, weight, can he or can’t he (and we cyclists should know who “he” is?) climbs, components, fittings…hey, where are the females?
As we drove to Sturbridge my stomach churned over and over and my mind turned around and around. What have I done?
I had barely ridden with other cyclist, other than waving to them as they pass by or trying to keep up with my wise trainer. I put off joining any group ride all spring and summer, I was doing this myself, period.
I had only ridden this rental bike a few times. My bike was good enough, it was the Cadillac of bikes, or so I was told. Maybe I should have packed it as a back up, remember it wasn’t a race anyway.
Yeah, food is important, sure I read plenty about it so I am uncertain why I put all my belief into a total stranger’s perfect sales pitch for a drink mix, the magic elixir, it was going to do all the work, all I had to do was come along for the ride. Shouldn’t I have just stuck with what I had rehearsed?
I could back out, everyone would understand, she had survived cancer what more can you expect.
The alarm woke me up at 4am and somehow I don’t remember much between breakfast and the start, although the sea of bikes and red shirts did it’s best to startle me into the present.
Suddenly, we were off. I never practiced mounting my bike with wobbly nervous legs in the dark surrounded by a field of others like me though I perceived them all as a patch of cool cucumbers knowing a secret that I had yet to find.
Then it didn’t take long for a smile to build on my face, and tears to stream down my cheeks and my legs to do what they have so kindly and stubbornly been doing for me all these months.
It was all down hill from there.
With 5,000 riders, 3,000 volunteers and thousands of appreciative, enthusiastic and kind humans cheering us along, how could I not turn the pedals over and over?
Most of all involved have been touched by cancer some way or another. Is touched an appropriate word? More like accosted, maimed, affected, detained though might changed be the most fitting word? Change leaves it open to both positive and negative. There was nothing negative about the weekend. Sure there was plenty of sadness and missing but goodwill and pure devotion overpowered all.
The entire weekend left me wanting more, it was addictive. The extreme beauty of humanity at its best, the power of a mass driven by the same desires, and the pure fun of riding a bike faster and longer than I thought possible. Sublime comes to mind, beautiful, morally worthy, complete, excellent.
I will do it again, life is good and it is good we all have ours.
Thank you all