Sunday, May 3, 2009
We started off in the dark, drizzling rain. I had never ridden more than 200 km in one day before. Plus, I had crashed my bike two weekends ago, and still had some lovely bruises and a sore shoulder. Then, last weekend I ran a half marathon in 90+ heat, and wound up at mile 6 with excruciating quad cramps. I ran the next 7 miles one painful step at a time, and couldn't walk properly until Wednesday. The pain was still dull in my thighs, and I knew my legs were not 100%. I was worried the cramps would come back, or the shoulder would act up, or the Myers Neuroma in my feet would kick in, or all of the above. But, as we were riding, I started chatting with the other riders. I could hear the birds chirping as the light seeped into the sky, and in spite of cold toes and gray skies, I thought maybe everything would be fine.
Then, Victor crashed. We were almost to the third control(rest stop). Going around a corner he skidded out on some gravel and went flying through the air. Luckily, he tucked and rolled. He was bleeding from minor cuts and abrasions, but he didn't think he had broken anything. His helmet was cracked in several places; even though he landed on his butt, his head bounced. You cannot imagine how scary that was to see him go down. I think he was in shock. Every time he stood up he got dizzy. It was cold and wet sitting there for a long time. I was about to flag down the next car that came by and ask them to take him to the control that was jut up ahead. But, he thought he could ride, so we did. We sat at the bakery for another hour or so drinking coffee. We had decided to quit and ride back to the hostel. Then a guy said, "Well, there's nothing broken right? You could ride. It's just a mental thing, right?" Apparently, in randoneuring, unless you are bleeding profusely, projectile vomiting or disemboweled, you push on. So, Victor sucked it up and we rode. Shortly after leaving the control his derailleur cracked off the frame and lodged in his rear wheel, sending him flying into a ditch. Victor was OK, but his bike was done. Game over. I called Juan, the guy who was running the ride and he kindly offered to pick up Victor and his bike. It was going to be more than an hour before he would get there, and then I would have to wait several more hours for Victor to get back to the hostel, get his car and come back for me. I figured Victor was going to be taken care of, and the sun had come out, so I decided to keep riding. Only, I forgot to take the cue sheet.
I rode to the next control with Tom, the guy who usually runs these rides. But there, he ordered a sandwich and sat down to eat. I wanted to get back as quickly as possible, so after chowing down a cup of chili, and calling Victor to make sure he had gotten picked up and was OK, I rode off with another bunch of guys. I figured I just had to keep them in my sight. And that worked, until I left the next control. I was following a guy out in front, but he was not sure of his navigational skills, and after a wrong turn or two, I hooked back up with the other guys. At the following control, I went in, got my card signed, went to the bathroom and came out to find another bunch of guys leaving. I figured I could get back even sooner if I could follow them. I took a couple of bites of a Clif bar, and rode after them. The next hour was a seemingly endless climb. If I don't eat on a ride, I bonk pretty quickly. Victor usually keeps tabs on this and reminds me to eat. But Victor was not there.
Pretty soon, I found I couldn't keep up. Because I couldn't see if they had turned, I stopped at the next intersection and waited for someone to come by. I played that chasing/getting dropped game for the next 20 miles. I can tell you, it was no fun at all. At one point, I just sat down on the grass and started to cry. I took out my phone, and was about to call Victor, but then someone came around the corner and I jumped back on my bike.
At the last control, I snarfed down some cling peaches in heavy syrup, a Starbucks Doubleshot vanilla, and a couple of bites of potato salad. I felt much better. But, by then, I had already ridden about 170 miles, and there were 24 more to go. A big, sweet guy named George was there, and recognizing a friend in need, offered to pull me in. It had started to get dark and we turned on our lights. He advised me to spin as we were going to be climbing for quite a while. I just stuck to his wheel and tried not to think. The next thing I knew, I could see the lights of the Weisel Hostel. Victor came running out to hug me. I thanked George, and I told Victor I never again wanted to do a long ride without him.
There were some wonderful moments: Wildflowers and blooming trees, their sweet honey fragrance permeating the air. The warm sun on my skin. Children playing in their yards. Old folks lined up for a church supper. The majestic Delaware River, wide and beautiful. At one of the many crossings, I noticed fat quarter-sized spiders had woven webs in each and every triangle of the bridge rail, waiting for their next easy meal. There were soaring hawks, blue black crows, red winged blackbirds, goldfinches and some geese that laughed at us as we passed in the dark, our blinking lights like Christmas trees. And, nothing tastes as good as chocolate ice cream after a long hard day of riding.