We trained for months for the 30-mile bike ride through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On the day of the ride, a crisp October morning, we met for breakfast and drove the 40 miles to the bike ride. We were eager, a little anxious, but ready.
We laughed over our different packing and preparation styles. Always the minimalist, I carried my phone (to use MapMyRide) and cue sheet for directions, some grapes and cheese, my car key, and water bottle. My two friends, Diana and Jane, brought the following items in their respective backpack and fanny packs: wipes, Fig Newtons, energy bars, electrolyte replacements, chewing gum, trail mix, Swedish fish, credit card, cash, Kleenex, an extra shirt, along with water bottle, car key, and phone. They were prepared for anything. I carry only the essentials and hope for the best. We make a good team.
The events of the race are as follows.
One mile into the ride, Diana’s bike chain slipped as she changed gears. For a few minutes we thought the ride was over before it even began. But I was able to ride her bike a short distance and re-align the chain and gears. And we were off again.
Smooth pedaling with a few rolling hills and gorgeous scenery until mile 15.
At the half-way rest stop, we’re all happy and feeling confident. But Jane complained that her bottom hurts. We all have this problem. She has on her padded biking shorts but her underwear is bunching up and she’s convinced she’ll feel much better with no underwear at all. There is only one problem . . . just how she will accomplish this goal. Off to the porta-potty she goes. I have no idea how she completed this maneuver in the confines of a portable toilet, but she came out with a smile on her face. When asked just what she did with her underpants, she looked at me and with a straight face, she said, “Oh, I threw them down the hole.”
After snacks and a little stretching, we were ready for the second half of the ride. This portion of the ride was extremely hilly. I was out ahead of my friends but waited at each turn or direction change to make sure everyone was okay and knew where to go.
After a long slow uphill grade around mile 22, I pulled over in a residential driveway to wait for my friends. Sure enough, both had to dismount and walk a bit to tackle that hill. Jane came first with Diana not far behind. We were commiserating over the challenge and catching our breath when all of a sudden Diana hit the ground. She didn’t actually fall or even crumple, but quickly lay down. This was startling as one moment we were just chatting away and the next she’s on the ground. Diana explained she had felt lightheaded and knew to get to the ground and lie down (she’s a nurse). She sat up and slowly assessed her situation. In the meantime, Jane wondered if maybe Diana needed food, specifically sugar. “I have just the thing,” she said, reaching into her well-stocked fanny pack for the Ziploc baggie of Swedish fish. Diana perked up at the sight of the candy and popped one in her mouth. Mid-chew, Diana made a funny face and said, “Uh-oh.” She pulled the gummy fish from her mouth for us to see – the crown from her molar firmly implanted like a little house atop a candy mountain.
In the meantime, we are trying to decide if Diana is okay to continue with the ride, 8 miles to go. Other riders shout out to check on us as they pass, and within a few minutes the SAG (support and gear) vehicle pulls up. I decide it would be safer for Diana to end her ride early and convince her of this wisdom. So the handsome young man with a wad of chew between cheek and gum loaded Diana’s bicycle onto the bed of his pick-up truck and her in the cab and off they went. We waved goodbye and told Diana to expect us in about 45 minutes. We figured those last 8 miles would fly by.
Still along a scenic route, the wind picked up. Not a head wind, fortunately, but a powerful wind coming at us from the side. So strong it becomes harder to control the bike. We passed a large tree with black walnuts scattered across the road. As we cautiously pedaled along, trying to avoid running over the walnuts, the wind sends walnuts sailing through the air. We look at each other as if to say, “Is this really happening? Did a flying walnut just almost hit us in the head?”
And then the pretty scenic views come to an end, and it’s just miles of long steep hills, one after the other, along highways and busy routes and even through a traffic circle. It feels like we’re never going to finish.
And then we do – finish. We pull into the Baptist Church parking lot and collapse. The ending is unceremonious – no ribbons or medals or bands or finish lines. Just a t-shirt, which seemed a small consolation at that time. But there is our friend, Diana, waiting for us, fully recovered and smiling. There is a lovely lunch together, shopping, coffee and coconut cake, and the giggles that come so easily when you are spent.
I didn’t take my camera on the bike trip, as it just wasn’t practical. But I went back the next day, early in the morning, driving my car this time, gathering pictures of scenes that marked the miles. And already the memory of the ride had softened so that the arduous work was forgotten and all that remained was the gratitude for friends who are by your side, always, and good health and the adventures of this life.