Big Miles, Small Miracles, and a Three Man Rescue Team
At mile 54, Steve Brown rolls up to me with his big three million dollar grin.
"How ya feelin’?"
There is no room for pretense at this point, no room for bravado. I checked my ego at the door after the 26 mph "warmup".
"Steve. I am in so much pain. I want to chop my legs off with an axe and throw them away."
He didn’t really need to ask the question. He probably could have answered it himself. I am a million miles off the back of the group and pedaling in squares. The only reason that he is here is that he has a hunch that I could use some love.
About 6 miles earlier I’d lost the wheel in front of me and shot off the back of the paceline like there was a black hole behind me. I was still in sight of the group when they turned to go up the backside of Clapshaw, so I could see Sally getting bigger in front of me. He came back and talked me up the hill. Up the excruciating grade that sunk daggers into muscles that were already cooked.
I was climbing at 6 miles an hour and he stayed over to my right and said, "You’re doing great. I’m proud of you."
Now Steve Brown is here with me smiling that shit eating grin.
"You’ll be ok." he says, "Find my wheel. Don’t let go."
I find it. It certainly isn’t the first wheel I have sucked all day, but it is probably the most important.
We are battling a wicked headwind. It’s the kind of headwind that has your number and is dead-set on eating your lunch. Whichever way you turn, it’s pounding on you, making you wish you were anywhere else.
I see Sally getting bigger again. He’s coming back and he’s bringing a friend. He and Kender spin and coast until Steve tows me to them.
Now we’re four.
My pride is tempted to be bruised by the fact that I have required a rescue team, but my heart is singing inside of me. I have never been so thankful to be surrounded by three teammates in my entire life. I have never been so relieved.
My legs are screaming. I am doing 15mph on the back of Steve Brown’s wheel and my heart rate is 175 beats per minute.
175 beats per minute! On the flat! Sucking wheel! Going slow!
It would be demoralizing except for the fact that 5 minutes ago I had no idea how I would even make it back. It would be demoralizing except for the fact that this is the longest ride of my life and I have just climbed Timber Road.
I am battling for every single pedal stroke at this point. I am fighting for every revolution. I am thinking of Bigwood, off the back at Cascade last year, covered in salt, out of water, and fighting his way to the finish line.
All that is clear is that the pedals must keep finding motion, and the wheel in front of me must not go away.
I knew I probably couldn’t hang with the group, the point was to give it a try. To ask the legs and lungs for more. To push them until they wanted to stop. And then to keep going.
That is how Sal put it while we were climbing Clapshaw. When he said that I thought, "I don’t know how I am going to crest this hill." Then I did. The legs went around and around until we were over the top. His point was driven home.
The beauty is in the annihilation of your own self-doubt. You go to the edge of your limits and push. You think to yourself, "I’m not really even sure I can do this." Then you do it and you wonder what else is possible.
Then you go try something else and the process repeats. The result is growth.
Staying in your comfort zone is an invitation to stagnate. Risk avoidance is asking for spiritual paralysis.
I risked. I got shelled. I came dangerously close to blowing into a million tiny bits.
And then I got rescued.
I have been struggling lately with what it means to be on a cycling team. In ‘cross it’s easier to pin down. There are cowbells and bellowing beer-fueled cheering that remind you. On the road, the relationship is more subtle.
You train together with the hopes that by beating each other into oblivion, it will make everyone stronger.
There is value in exchanging such blows, but today Steve, Sal and Kender showed me what it really means to ride as teammates.
Three fast guys gave up the last 13 miles of their ride to make sure that I survived. One of them was probably obligated. Two of them were not.
And the one who scooped me up in my darkest moment was the fastest among all three – a cat 3 rider with no business towing a novice woman who had bitten off more than she could chew.
The favor did not go unnoticed and the love will not go unreturned.
My legs today did more than they have ever done. They climbed more than they have ever climbed, rode faster than they have ever gone, and took me further than they have ever taken me.
All in one day.
Small miracles happen all the time. Today’s was 70 miles and 3 hours and 58 minutes long.
Walls are coming down and I cannot wait to see what is on the other side of them.