Last year as we pulled into the parking lot after the Timber Road ride, Steve Brown said, “Remember this part, Heidi.”
My face was smeared with chocolate covered Gu and my hair was matted to my head. I’d just been nursed home into a howling headwind by three men who were kind enough to rescue me and my shattered legs.
Remember the finish. What it feels like to be done. What it feels like when the oxygen returns and the blood flows normally and your thoughts come in streams instead of fits and starts and you realize that you’ve killed it. Your self doubt. Your perceived limitations. They’re all dead.
Remember that part.
What’s happened in the last three weeks has to do with forgetting. Long, insane work hours – sure. But the gap in riding leads to a kind of athletic amnesia, in which you forget why you ride, and that you will see the other side of this particular pain, and that a light exists within the agony.
On Saturday I joined the team for a ride. We went into the west hills with a gaggle of guests – cat 1 and 2 male riders. Welcomed, yes. But their presence changed things. When the fitness disparity involves cat 1 male racers all the way down to mid-pack cat 4 racers (me), really bad things are in store.
Especially when you point the bikes up a few good hills.
I floundered. I gasped. I climbed and got angry. I quit cycling 5,000 times in my head and once out loud. I’ve been on the bike 4 times in three weeks and it showed. I suffered. And not heroically. I suffered pathetically.
We split from the group after doing 3000 feet in 18 miles. Sal and I pressed on and I sucked his wheel (pushing threshold power) around Sauvie Island in silence. The wind blew and we exchanged words only when we passed a goat napping on top of a pile of manure.
“Billy goat!” Sal said.
“Billy goat!” I replied.
And that was it.
Well, not quite.
Halfway through he called back, “Everything ok back there?”
And I said, “YES.” through gritted teeth.
I did not say, “I am riding threshold on your fucking wheel!” I did not say, “I am not as strong as you, Sicilian-boy!” I did not say, “Slow down.”
When we got to the bridge I told him that if he rode me off his wheel on the way back, to just keep going and meet me at home. I meant it.
The pace slowed considerably.
I’m going to be honest with you – and this is not drama – it just is what it is. I wanted to cry. For almost the whole ride. I actually visualized how I would walk into the house and put my bike down and go into the bathroom upstairs and sob. I planned on big, heaving sobs. Waves of tears. I had it all worked out.
What happened instead? Sal suggested we hit Laughing Planet for a post-ride meal. He carried the brown bag home, riding with one hand, and I chased him singing, “I am chasing the burrito boy!!”
We ate like starving people and then showered and fell onto the sofa. I didn’t sob. I didn’t even cry a little bit.
But the day still stung.
Then today I rode over to the coffee shop to meet the team again, despite my better judgement. I hoped and prayed that yesterday’s shelling had hurt the others as well. That a social recovery ride was in store. That we’d talk and ride together like a team.
Brubaker and Beckaboo came up from Salem to join us which boded well. We headed off in the direction of Oregon City, zipping through streets in a pack. We talked and then climbed and then flew out up and over rollers. I hurt, I recovered, I climbed again – and the legs felt good.
(Good bad like hurting ache but it’s gonna be ok, little mama.)
The difference was we were talking. The difference was we were laughing. (It may have also helped that we were not climbing in the west hills.)
We were riding bikes together. As a team. For fun.
And I remembered. I remembered why I bother with all this crap – the gear and the pain and the miles and the preparation and the spandex hanging out to dry in the basement.
Because of days like today. Good days – when things go well. And you feel like you’re in the right place, doing the right thing, with the right people.
Remember this part. This is why we ride. Days like today.