This post has been a long time coming. ALC was, in large part, my impetus for starting this thing. The evolution of self, and self-identity, that was on the horizon as I started the endless training for this ride was something I was excited to chronicle. Unfortunately, my forgetfulness, laziness, and slow processing speed (all of which we shall instead call ‘living in the moment’) conspired to make sure this never happened. I even failed to journal things while I was on the ride, as I originally intended, in order to make it easier to put things down here when I got back. Now it is straight reflection.
There are little logistical things that I found almost as interesting as the ride itself that I could go on and on and on about. How I marveled each day at the endless energy of the roadies, up hours before I was (and my lazy ass was up and dressed by 5am), who made me feel like my very existence was their sole reason for being. Or the endless awe I stood in at how the folks running this event somehow got 2,500 cyclists and 600 crew members from points A to B, with upwards of five rest stops in between. Or maybe the most jaw-dropping thing was the amount of food cooked and consumed by our ravenous bodies (seconds, thirds and fourths were not unheard of). The people who are the pillars of this ride (we cyclists are its face, but the roadies are its bones) are magical, and I owe them so much. There was a man who worked, for example, in bike parking. His job started at 4am, and it entailed helping all 2,500 of us, who were too tired when we rolled in the night before to remember where our bikes were parked, find our bikes and get on the road. But he tried to hug as many of us as possible, telling us to ride safe and ride strong, and that he would see us in camp that night. The morning of day 7, our last ride out, we both cried when he hugged me for the last time. Or should I tell you about the chiropractor who ameliorated my panic at the pain my in knees every day with his gentle manner, rock tape, and magical stretching techniques.
There were also physical realities I was aware of, but ultimately unprepared for. I thought, for example, that I knew was hunger was. But what I mean by that is ‘I had a busy day, that went longer than anticipated, and I forgot to eat lunch’. yeah. that’s not hunger. That’s mild discomfort brought about by simply neglecting a meal. This hunger, also called ‘starvation mode’, which is a real thing, is unreal. You are its slave, at its mercy completely. It’s feeling stupid because you ate two cliff bars 20 miles ago, but you cannot stop yourself from eating three bananas and a bag of chips and a whole bottle of Gatorade, even if you wanted to, because by day five, your body has had it with you and all your cycling bullshit. Which is to say nothing of how your knees, feet, ankles, and quads feel. I made a feeble and ill-advised attempt to take a walk on the beach during our last night in camp (which, I should be clear, was four hundred and eighty miles into this ride), and almost died in the attempt.
But there were other things, more ephemeral things, that I was also unprepared for, and that I marveled at in equal measure. Like how there could be three thousand people in the same space, sharing limited resources, who are all exhausted, have been sleeping on the ground for seven days, and not a single one of them was an asshole. Not only that, but were actually loving, accommodating, cheerful, and genuinely happy to be where they were. Or how goddamn endlessly strong I felt every single day, even when I had to go directly to PT afterwards to have new tape put on my aching knees, or the time I cried frustrated, angry tears on the shoulder of the med tent worker who told me I was too dehydrated to keep riding on day three and they were SAGing me out. I was equally unprepared to feel so confident – a feeling dismantled by the morning, when the first 15 miles back in the saddle were the most agonizing of my life, but reaffirmed each time I rolled into camp, crested a hill, or helped someone else who was me three months ago do the same. I was not prepared for the wave of emotion that overtook me at the top of the second of the Evil Twins, making me sob uncontrollably at the rest stop marking the ‘half-way to LA stop’ – the huge realization that we were halfway done with this amazing experience, and, equally, that I ridden halfway to Los Angeles, and survived (the embrace of a huge, burly drag queen who ran over and held me, petting my sweaty hair and telling me how beautiful and strong I was made for an equally surprising and hilarious experience). There is magic in these moments, when your body feels like you have pushed it too far and you have nothing left. On day two, we were tasked with 108 miles between our start and our end. By the end of it, we were weaving, unable to hold our lines, exhausted, too tired to call out or signal, getting thrashed by wind. All of a sudden, a man’s voice breaks into the monologue in my head, assuring me beyond doubt that this is the end, asking who is riding their first century (100 miles)? Many of us respond in the affirmative. He tells us that his bike computer is informing him we have ridden 100.3 – my first century is completed. After some badly conceived attempts at congratulatory fist-bumping that almost caused a crash, we all knew we were going to make it, and now my legs know what 109.3 miles feel like.
And I was in no way prepared for how tired I could be when it was all over. By the end of closing ceremonies, I didn’t even know what was happening, and broke down crying when the mechanics took my bike apart to ship her home, my parents watching with open confusion written all over their faces, while the mechanic chuckled and said only ‘you’re the third one so far’. At dinner, in a restaurant who might have thought I was a homeless person if not for the clean, put together people I went in with, I ate four plates of food while my family and friends watched in horror, my step-mom asking me if i had skipped lunch or something. I was asleep by the time we got on the freeway, staggered through LAX, was slurring my words on the drive home, and crashed hard enough to sleep for 12 hours. My bed has never been more comfortable. When I got up, walking hurt. For three days, I could not stay awake for more than a couple of hours at a time, and during those couple hours, I could not. stop. eating. I shamefully looked up at one of my housemates as I devoured my fourth bowl of cereal that morning and said ‘I’m sort of ashamed to tell you that I just finished eating an entire package of fig newtons’. Lucky for me, this housemate is himself training for an Ironman, and understands. Sort of.
As time passed between the end of the ride and my life grinding itself back into routine, another unexpected thing happened; I didn’t realize how badly I would miss it. The women of Team Pretty all live here, and I ride with them sometimes. The folks who shaped this experience for me are here, but it isn’t quite the same. I miss the space made by something so massive, so moving; something that so completely requires so much of you.
One thing that shocked me at first, but which now is not surprising at all? I will be back in 2014. There is no doubting it. This is something my world needs, as much as the worlds of the people whose lives it saves need it. It is saving us both, in very different ways.