On New Year’s Eve, the day my brother Jake turned 39, I rode 39 miles on my bike. Thirty-nine years of age seems incredibly young to me, whereas 39 miles seems like a really large distance to bicycle.
Jake called me just after I’d finished my ride. He and his wife, Ket, were having fun down in Palm Springs; I was having fun in San Rafael. The main thing on both our minds these days is our gorgeous little niece, Elsa, born in London on Dec. 13 to our sister Amy and her husband, Jeff. Elsa is not yet even 39 days old, and already she’s been to Europe! Clearly, she is an adventuress (a word?)!
We lost our father in 1983, and lost Sue — my stepmother, and the mother of Jacob and Amy and Sam (until Elsa, the baby of the family, at a mere 35) — in ’91. They are never far from our thoughts. (Nor is my dear mother, Bernice, who is recuperating from a hip-replacement that itself needed to be partially replaced.)
Dad was 59 when he died, 55 when he had the stroke that devastated him. So 55 has been a totemic number for me as I — the eldest of his children — have approached, and then passed, the age of 50 myself. I wish I were like my father in so many ways, except for one: he didn’t take good care of himself. I want to take good care of myself. Which, mostly, is why I signed up with Team In Training to do this century ride in March: to give me a structure that would help me — force me — to get fitter.
But of course the purpose of the organization itself is to fight cancer (blood cancers, specifically). And so a spirit of remembrance hangs over our training rides. Saturday’s ride was in memory of Kevin Maurer. I learned that he had died from Acute Myeloid Leukemia (a cancer that grows in the bone marrow) just two days after my darling new niece was born; that he was only 51; that he left behind a wife, Julie, and three daughters; that he worked for US Airways in North Carolina; and that he was a big Notre Dame fan.
I have found that the experience of hearing about people who’ve died of cancer, and of riding alongside people who have survived cancer or are even in the process of trying to survive it now, is less sentimental one might suspect. Which is not to say that people aren’t feeling deep emotions. But, to me at least, there is an overall sense of determination, of plowing forward. Actually, that doesn’t quite capture what I’ve been feeling at these rides: it leaves out the sense of joy — a paradoxical thing to feel as we note the absence of those whom we and others have loved, but it’s there. It’s there as we glide under the Redwoods that will (I hope) outlive us; it’s there in the camaraderie of our teamwork; it’s there in the realization that we, for now, are still here, with our dreams and our loves and our memories, alive.
Next week, I heard, our training ride will go for 55 miles. That’s a bigger number than 39 — though smaller, to be sure, than some others.
If you’d like to make a donation to Team In Training, in support of my upcoming 100-mile ride in March, you can go to my TNT fundraising page.
Below is a map of last Saturday’s training ride; you can click on it for details. It says I burned 1,145 calories, but believe me, it felt like at least 1,146.