After last Saturday’s ride — 70 miles from San Rafael to Stinson Beach, and back — I felt pretty wiped out. There had been a lot of climbing (by my standards, at least) and a surly headwind, and my tummy felt messed up starting at about mile 20 — but mostly … it was 70 friggin’ miles! My coach, The Bumpster, usually says only upbeat and encouraging things during a ride (“You’re lookin’ great! Lookin’ real strong!”); this time, as she pulled up alongside me around mile 50-something, she said, with audible empathy, “Hey — only one-quarter of the way to go!” I must have looked miserable, or at least grim. Certainly, by then both my muscles and my emotions had lost the elasticity they’d had early in the ride. My basic — nearly my only — thought was, next-next-next-next, as I kept turning the pedals.
Actually, despite the strain and effort, occasionally my thoughts did just go kind of Dada. Ascending one endless-seeming hill, I suddenly visualized a TV series called Touched by a Rangel. Based loosely on the old drama Touched by an Angel (which, admittedly, I’ve never seen), this show would feature different folks every week — each of them suffering in some way, and each of them saved somehow by gravelly voiced New York Congressman Charlie Rangel. That’s as far as I got in my conceiving of this program, as at some point I finally crested that hill and turned my thoughts to not crashing on the way down. …
Oh, someone did crash! One of my several teammates who is currently enduring cancer treatment — but who, it should go without saying, is a much better and faster cyclist than I — was zipping down a twisty mountain road and didn’t see a dip in the pavement in front of him. He flew off his bike and landed on the back of his head — which fortunately was protected by a helmet. I was at the SAG (refreshments) stop at the 35-mile mark at Stinson Beach (just where we were to turn around and go back to San Rafael), with several of my teammates. We saw a white truck pull up and a Park Ranger got out with the injured guy, who joked that the only thing that hurt was his ego. The ranger said the guy knew who he was, etc., and so didn’t seem to have suffered a concussion; but, of course, there would be no more riding for him that day. I noticed that the guy’s hand was shaking, and wondered whether that was from the crash or from his cancer meds.
Really, there’s a level of courage in my “honored teammates” (the term that Team In Training uses for participants who are now, or have been, in cancer treatment) that exceeds anything I could imagine in myself. And I do think of them as I go forward in the later miles, and of all the kind people who have donated in support of my ride, and of my family and loved ones, and I wish — wish hard; you might even say pray — for their health and happiness. So that’s another recurring thought that I was having, along with Touched By A Rangel (coming soon from C-SPAN3) and next-next-next-next and When will I be back in my own bathroom, with the latest New York Review of Books? and … and fractions: Okay, I’m one-35th of the way there … I’m four-sevenths of the way there …
But the weird thing is, each week, the moment the ride is over, I’m already recovering — emotionally, at least. I feel relieved to have made it through the latest challenge, and not to have bonked or crashed or cramped up. In fact, one curious thing I’ve noticed in our training is how each long ride is itself, in part, a series of recoveries: You strain up the hill, then recover going down. Actually, it feels even more micro than that: I can get a sense of recovery at the top of a pedal stroke, before having to press down hard again. Though of course each recovery doesn’t bring me back to the way I felt at the start: it just takes me to somewhere more workable than where I just was.
And the next day — Sunday — wow, that’s another recovery. A big one. Last Sunday I woke up feeling like something that a mastodon had just scraped off of the bottom of its foot. Plus, as in previous Sundays, I had a terrible headache. It only occurred to me last weekend that maybe, at least in part, the headache was from caffeine withdrawal: nothing that I had consciously done — it’s just that, as the rides have gotten longer and longer, I’ve been going all that time without coffee. And anyone who knows me knows that I rarely go more than a second or two without coffee! So for tomorrow’s ride, I’m bringing some goop from the bike store that has caffeine in it. The young guy at the store told me that the goop would help lower my “level of perceived exertion”; it took me a moment to realize that he was basically saying it would make the ride easier for me. Which, really, was all I wanted.
Tomorrow’s ride will be the longest of our whole training — 80 miles. And then, two weeks later, the big event: the Solvang Century. One of my honored teammates (not the one who crashed last week) had a medical setback and will unable to participate at Solvang — but he assures us that he will go on to do all the various marathons, etc., on his schedule, once he’s better. His recoveries are achieved through enormous perseverance. There comes a point, for those who are battling mortal illness, where recovering means surviving, means defeating entropy one more time. As a result of all their effort and pain, more love is in the universe than there would have been otherwise. This is a gift to all of us who have yet to reach that point, and who hope that when we do, it will be with at least a small measure of the grace that my honored teammates have displayed.
My heartfelt thanks to everyone who has contributed the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in support of my ride! The official fundraising deadline has passed — and I’ve surpassed my goal! — but you can still donate, if you want, through April 9, by clicking here. Thanks, also, to everyone who has bought tickets for my performance of Ben Franklin: Unplugged in Berkeley this coming Monday — all proceeds will benefit the LLS. (As of this writing there is exactly one ticket remaining on sale! If it’s still available, it can be purchased here.)
Below is a map of last Saturday’s training ride; you can click on it to get all sorts of statistics, some of them vital.