208 miles is a long way to drive, let alone ride a bike, but last weekend, that’s exactly what The Rocket and I did. The Rocket took a road trip to Portland and then hopped a bus to Seattle. I’m told she was well-behaved and didn’t talk in her sleep too much. While the Rocket travelled by land, Terry and I flew to Seattle. The morning of the ride, I woke up at the unholy hour of 3:30 to yank on my Spandex and throw a bowl of Cheerios down the hatch. As we fought road construction to the start line, my stomach was a ball of nerves. With 10,000 cyclists participating in the Seattle to Portland ride, the start line was a hive of activity. I met up with my pals, Joan, Laura, and Jim. Terry kissed me goodbye, and at 5:15 we were off. My favorite part of the morning was riding through Seattle watching the sun rise above the downtown skyline.
I also rode by green fields filled with wildflowers, like the ones I used to pick in fistfuls for my mother when I was a kid.
The sky was overcast most of the ride and temperatures hovered in the sixties and seventies. It was a welcome relief from the scorching Redding heat and when it began to drizzle, I tilted my head back and let the sprinkles hit my teeth as I smiled, filled with joy to be on my bike.
3 Awesome Things With Wheels
With 9,999 other cyclists on the course, I was never alone. I thought of the rules Gramma and I had on our trip to Eastern Europe. Rule #1: See something new. Rule #2: Meet someone new. Rule #3: Eat ice cream. I was riding by all kinds of new scenery and crazy bikes. On the first hill, I rode past a three person wide bicycle. Yes, I know that’s not technically a bicycle, but since they were riding across, not front to back, it’s not a tandem either. I don’t know what this thing was, but it was a bike with three riders that motored up hills like a sack of bricks. I also passed a unicyclist. I cannot even fathom what it takes to ride a unicycle 200 some odd miles. I’m just going to take a moment of gratitude for my comfortable bike seat. Maybe I’ll write it a sonnet later. While the brick of riders and the uni were incredible, the most amazing bike (and again, I’m grappling for the right term here) was this:
It is the offspring of an unnatural romance between a bicycle and an elliptical machine. I saw two of these parked at the finish line which means there are at least two people on the planet insane enough to ride/run from Seattle to Portland. Incidentally, when I showed this picture to Terry, he said something like “I think I’d be awesome on a bike like that.” He’s right and that makes me feel a little bit stabby. Anyway, now I understand why there is a separate room for spin bikes at my gym. Who knows what might happen if they were left alone at night with the elliptical machines.
After 100 miles there is a midline festival. I’d heard rumors that when you ride into the festival, there are people there handing out Creamsicles. I assure you, such Heaven does exist on Earth. Before I get to the Creamsicles, I have to backtrack a little. I’m a proud member of Team Fatty and on both days of the ride I sported Fat Cyclist jerseys. This means that throughout the ride I heard “Go, Team Fatty!” and “Fight Like Susan!” This warmed my heart knowing that Fatty has touched so many people with his efforts to fight cancer. When people rolled up next to me, they would usually open the conversation with a friendly “Hey, Fatty!” Now, let it be known here and now that if you call me Fatty when I’m not on my bike, there will be punching. Lots of punching. People who don’t know Fatty’s story asked about my jersey and I told them the story of Susan and my own story of riding for my grandmother.
There was also a large contingent of cyclists that felt they had to make sure my self-esteem was properly inflated. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of cyclists rode up to me and said “You’re not a fat cyclist.” I’d say a quick thanks, relieved that my jerseys were ironic and not truth in advertising. I’ve worked hard this season to trim up a bit, but after 50 or so people commented on my unfatness, I started replying a little differently. Instead of just saying thanks I’d say things like “It’s more of a state of mind.” People would laugh and then I’d tell them how I came to join Team Fatty. At mile 99, with Creamsicles dancing in my head, another cyclist rolled up next to me and this was our conversation.
“You’re not a fat cyclist.”
“Thanks. It’s more of a state of mind.”
“Oh, like p-h-a-t cyclist?”
“Yeah, sure. That and if I beat you to the midline festival, I’m going to eat my Creamsicle and yours, too.”
He sprinted to the festival and I sprinted right after him, passing him just in time to grab a Creamsicle. He gave me his Creamsicle and I happily ate them both. One for me, one for Gramma Betty. Sorta like pouring one out for my homey.
1 Awkward Moment of Chivalry
I am a big fan of chivalry, specifically of men like Terry who hold doors open for women. At each rest stop there were rows of port-a-potties.
Did you catch the manufacturer’s name? Honey Bucket. Has there ever been a more ill-fitting name for something? I think I’ve just found a new curse word. “Oh, honeybuckets!” or “Aren’t you just a little honeybucket?” Yup, it totally works.
So there I was on deck for a Honey Bucket, waiting for a door to pop open. A man exited the last one, and I hurried over. And then he held the door to the port-a-potty open for me. It was awkward. I just stood there for a second until he let the door go. I don’t really know why I felt so awkward except that nobody has ever held a port-a-potty door for me before. I feel kinda bad because I was stunned by this act of chivalry and I’m not even sure I said thanks. So, let me just say thanks to that guy now. Thanks, nice guy who held the door for me. I’ll try to be less of a honeybucket next time.
One of the best parts of the ride was crossing from Washington into Oregon. We crossed over the Columbia River by riding over a drawbridge. Joan snapped this photo as ride volunteers closed off traffic and let huge groups of cyclists go at a time. Crossing the bridge shoulder to shoulder with hordes of other cyclists was thrilling.
1 Good Cry
At around mile 160, I passed a sign for Prescott Beach:
My grandfather’s name was Prescott and when I saw the sign, I immediately thought, “I’ve got to call Gramma and tell her about this!” And there it was. Grief bleeding through the scab that had begun to form in the months since my grandmother’s death. Most of the time, I’m aware that she is gone, but every now and then I’ll see something that makes me think of her. My reflexes react and I am left raw, missing her in a whole new way, grieving for all the things I will never get to share with her. I pedaled and cried. My legs were weary and my cadence was slow.
And then I thought of my mom. The same weekend I was riding for Gramma Betty, my mom was closing up my grandmother’s house for the last time. Packing up her furniture. Sitting in the backyard one last time. Driving away with her heart in her throat. Riding a double century is hard, but I thought of how my mom was doing something so much harder. I thought of how my mom has been so strong and brave these last few months. I thought of how my mom is so much like my grandmother and how I want to be strong and brave, just like both of them. My legs began to pedal faster, my tears dried up and I sailed across the finish line.
32 Donors & 1,243 Dollars
Maya Angelou says “I will be myself. I will speak my own name.” This season I have taken my hobby and used it to speak my grandmother’s name. And now I speak your names because you have spoken for cancer patients and their families. Together we raised $1,243 for LiveStrong. You have overwhelmed me with your generosity. Thank you Adam C., Amy H., Andrea & Jeromy H., Anita J., Betty C., Cheryl P., Chris F., Christine W., Dale M., David & Vickey P., Debbie S., Diana P., Hayley L., Heather F., Jill S., John P., Katie G., Kathy V., Katie L., Krystle J., Marla M., MaryKay, S., Melody A., Nick W., Patti L., Peter K., Sallie C., Sam O., Sara S., Stacey R., Sue H., and Tracy H.
1 More Thing
It’s been a fantastic, heartbreaking, beautiful cycling season. Thank you for being a part of the journey. I couldn’t do it without you. Oh, and there’s just one more thing before I go: