When the alarm went off at 5:25 on Day 2, I was already awake. I was gazing vacantly at little Wheelie who was sitting on the table beside the alarm clock with his big, wide eyes staring back at me with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
It was funny how his expression seemed to change depending on the situation. On the ride Saturday, he’d be looking up at me with eyes that sometimes confidently urged me on, occasionally wondered how we were going to make it, at one point pleaded for it to be over, and then proudly shined with triumph.
The night before, he and I both looked a little like this:
Over a few of these at dinner, our entire team decided to take the 40 mile loop on Sunday. After all, we’d done the work. We’d raised our funds. We’d ridden like banshees all day long. For crying out loud, we’d earned the easier ride.
Breakfast was being served at the start again, but the Waffle House behind our hotel was calling us. I wanted to want waffles. Instead, I wanted the peanut butter sandwich I knew I wasn’t going to get. Anything else was promising to sit in my nervous stomach like antimatter.
I looked around at the handful of other cyclists sitting at the counter and in booths, us all in our brightly colored team jerseys and lycra shorts. I was wearing the uniform. I was in the club. Cool.
It was a beautiful morning, and we took off following the green 40-mile arrows up a smooth incline. Wheelie beamed. I pedaled. We were in perfect synch with the bike, the scenery, and the road.
And at the first rest stop... peanut butter sandwiches!
I elbowed Gary. “Let’s do this route twice!”
I was feeling good. The kind of good you feel when nothing hurts and you have nowhere else to be.
I was riding along behind Gary and another team member, feeling fantastic and full of energy, and then it occurred to me. I always rode behind anyone I was riding with. Always! Even if I felt like pulling ahead, I’d say behind.
Because apparently, I was a sheep on wheels.
With that, I stood up in the pedals and pulled past Gary and Jon, sailing over the crest of a slight hill and then down a long and fairly steep descent. I ducked down into the drops and felt the wind from the speed wash over me, so loud I couldn’t hear anything but the rush of air.
I didn’t touch my brakes. I didn’t think about what would happen if I hit an acorn or a hole in the road. (Or an armadillo.) I went with it the entire way down.
Wheelie grinned up at me with a slightly dazed and blissed out look. Yes. We were officially hooked on speed.
After that, the uphills didn’t phase me as much because there was usually a downhill to look forward to. When it got tough, I bargained with myself just to stay on the bike as long as I could before I walked.
I didn’t have to walk that often, but near the end it became clear I was reaching a limit. I started looking for the please-make-this-easier gear, and then soon, the Jesus-stop-the-madness gear.
Look, said my legs after a particularly heinous climb. We’re not sure you’re completely understanding our situation here.
I ignored them, and on we went.
I found myself making mental lists to keep my mind off the fact that I’d been on the bike for about 8 hours over the past two days.
One: The human body is not a perfect machine. There are going to be peaks and valleys of energy, and you have to keep pedaling through one to get to the other.
Two: There’s no point worrying how fast you should be going or how well you should be able to climb a hill.
Three: Lip gloss is nature’s gnat magnet.
Before long, we were at the finish line. People cheered and held out medals. I reached out and snagged mine as I rode past, and held it up in the air, total cheeseball style. Wheelie’s eyes were brimming with emotion. I actually think he was proud of us.
We ate a bratwurst and headed home, all stinky and unshowered, to pick up the kids.
If you’d asked me at the finish line if I was planning to do anything like this again, I would have said hell no. But now? Absolutely I will. It’s kind of like childbirth. The memory of the sucky parts doesn’t stick around too long. All you’re left with is the good stuff.
You wouldn’t believe how great my ride was yesterday.