Not too long ago I bought this super sweet Masher jersey from Twin Six. Go ahead, take a second to bask in her beauty. I know, it’s awesome. Of course it is because Twin Six makes their jerseys out of polyester and unicorn eyelashes. Now don’t go firing off angry PETA comments at me. I don’t even know if unicorns have eyelashes. But back to The Masher.
When Heidi over at Biology and Bicycles saw The Masher, its stripes mesmerized her and she ran out and bought one for herself. Wherein, I mentioned that we should ride together in our new matchy-matchy goodness. There was just one teensy problem with this idea. A minor glitch, if you will.
Heidi lives in Wisconsin. I live in California.
But what kind of people would we be if we let a mere 1700 miles get in the way of a good ride?
So we hatched a plan. We’d each ride 25 miles on the same day, in our respective states snapping photos every 5 miles or so. Then we’d share our rides. So here’s the Masher Ride from sunny California.
The Mighty Sacramento
I grew up riding this trail on my pink, one speed Schwinn, complete with flowered banana seat. My family moved here just before my 8th birthday and our neighborhood backed up to the Sacramento River Trail.
Riding this trail always makes me a little nostalgic and earlier this year when the city opened a trailhead that’s a mere mile and a half from my house, I was ecstatic. (There’s another trailhead equally close to my house, but it requires playing a game of Bike Frogger to get there. Nothing like crossing a freeway overpass with a semi just inches away to make me appreciate life in new and profound ways.) So on the day of The Masher Ride, I set off from my house and enjoyed the smooth bliss of the newly paved trail.
The Poet of Glass & Steel
Within 3 miles of my ride, I crossed over the Sundial Bridge. Allow me to hijack my own post for just a sec to give you a little history lesson on this beautiful bridge. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish architect with an eye for artistry. You may know him from projects like the World Trade Center Transportation Hub or the Peace Bridge in Calgary. The fact that he came from his office in Zurich to build a bridge in my little town is amazing. Kinda like saying Frank Lloyd Wright designed a church here, which is another stunningly wonderful fact about my hometown. The Sundial bridge is 700 feet long, 217 feet tall and 23 feet wide and it’s suspended by cables, never touching the water so as to cause minimal disturbances to riparian animals. I love this bridge. I love it when it’s lit in pink for Breast Cancer awareness month. I love it in the winter when my tires skittishly navigate its frosted pathway. Calatrava has been called the “poet of glass and steel” and each time I cross the Sundial, I’m grateful he penned his vision in Redding.
At mile 5 I paused for a moment at a bench to take in the river. When I was a kid, I remember being totally nauseated by the teenagers that were inevitably playing kissyface here. Luckily for The Rocket and I, it was mercifully empty the day of my ride.
Up, Up and Away
After passing the bench, I rode across the beautiful and minimalistic Sacramento Trail Bridge. Locals call it The Ribbon Bridge because it’s a stress ribbon bridge. It was built in 1990 and was the first of its kind in North America. It has 236 steel cables inside the bridge deck that are drilled into bedrock so it doesn’t touch the water and doesn’t disturb the water’s flow or the wildlife. Compared to its sister bridge, The Sundial, The Ribbon Bridge isn’t nearly as famous. People flock to The Sundial, aiming their cameras up at the sky to catch all of her towering beauty. Nobody comes to the trail to have their picture take with The Ribbon. She just quietly does her job. Maybe that’s why I like her so much.
A quick right turn had me pedaling past Keswick Dam, a steady producer of hydroelectric power. Of the two Dams nearest my house, Keswick is the lesser known sister of Shasta Dam. After Keswick Dam, the River Trail starts climbing. It’s one of those long climbs where every corner reveals more climbing. In fact, I rarely see anyone else going up this part of the trail unless I convince some poor friend to ride with me. I’ve been known on occasion to invite friends under the guise of going on a ride with “a little bit of a climb”. Hey, all’s fair in love and cycling.
I hit the crest of the climbing part at mile 10. Here I am, red-faced and a little too happy to be at the top. Wouldn’t you know it, there wasn’t a soul on the trail and so I snapped the horrid self-portrait shot, which always gives me no less than nine chins. I took half a dozen shots most of them including only a quadrant of my face. I give up. Moving on.
Here’s Keswick Reservoir. Isn’t it pretty? And more importantly, look how not red it is. Ahem.
After the climb, I took a left and headed back toward the South side of The River Trail. On the South side of the trail just beyond The Ribbon Bridge, I hit mile 15 where some creative person had spray painted the trail.
I’ve written about this particular graffiti several times and each time I ride past it, I like it even more. I wish I knew the story of who put it there and why they chose that particular message and those specific places to paint. It’s got to be a great story, right? Let me tell you, this tomato-faced girl loves hearing that I’m beautiful, even if it’s from the very pavement I’m rolling over. I think it’s impossible not to ride over the words and smile just a little bigger.
A few miles later I crossed back over The Sundial and did a little loop by the river which brought me to The Monolith. The Monolith is the site where gravel was processed for the building of Shasta Dam. In this shot, you can see the rust colored high water mark. In 1940 floodwaters rose to this height before the Dam was built.
A 9.5 mile conveyor belt hauled the gravel to the Dam site. The Monolith closed in 1945, but in 2005 Seattle artist Buster Simpson turned it into a museum of sorts, telling the story of the workers and their role in the completion of the Dam. This shot shows how much concrete was mixed to build the Dam. Can you imagine enough concrete to lay a sidewalk encircling the world? Now that would be a cool bike ride!
The Eagle Has Landed
After visiting the Monolith, I headed back toward the new trailhead. The new trail passes between the highway and a quiet little inlet. The inlet is surrounded by greenery where a pair of bald eagles have chosen to nest. The couple returns every year to the same spot to lay their eggs. The eagles are named Patriot and Liberty, and even though I’m terrified of birds, each time I pass by their nest, I can’t help but take a peek. In fact in the Fall you can take a peek, too, when the eaglecam is up and running for another season. Just look at the nest. It’s so huge and beautiful that it sent shivers down my spine and made me pedal home just a little bit faster.
Home Sweet Home
Mile 25 found me pulling into my driveway just as the heat of the day began to rise off the pavement. I set my bike down in the lawn and unstrapped my helmet, amazed at how much beauty and history is just a short bike ride from my front door. I unzipped my Masher jersey and smiled at the thought of Heidi riding her own 25 miles in Wisconsin.
The morning of the LiveStrong ride I hopped in the shower and for the first time in a week I could breathe out of both nostrils. Yahoo! Finally this horrid cold was letting up. As far as I was concerned, this day was off to a great start and I wasn’t even out of the shower yet! Plus it was Terry’s birthday and riding for LiveStrong seemed like an amazing way to start off a year.
Terry and I slipped into our gear, ate breakfast and rode to the starting line where we met up with the rest of Team Fatty for a photo. I double checked my gear and my bike computer to make sure everything was just as it should be. We waited in the good company of 1,500 other cyclists for the ride to begin. Butterflies skittered around in my stomach. Would I make it to the cut off point in time to stay on the 105 mile course? Would I be able to do the extra climbing that was added earlier in the week? I was nervous, but determined to finish the 105 mile route.
As a cyclist, I’m not very fast or very strong, but what I lack in physical prowess I make up for in mental fortitude. I’m the girl who finished a metric century with pneumonia and a broken toe just to prove to myself that I could do it. Shoot, I’m the girl who rode my bike days after heart surgery because I couldn’t wait to live my life as someone with a strong heart. So, as I stood with my team at the starting line, I knew my determined mind and my strong heart would carry me through.
Lance Armstrong spoke that morning about what a great day it will be when LiveStrong doesn’t exist anymore because cancer has been cured. What a great day, indeed. Then a local woman sang the national anthem and a hush fell over the crowd. I stood with my hand over my heart watching the flag above the start line ruffle ever so slightly in the breeze. When the singer hit the line “the land of the free and the home of the brave” my eyes welled up and a lump caught in my throat. There I stood in a sea of people wearing the names of loved ones they were riding for. Other cyclists wore signs proclaiming they’d survived cancer. I knew in every fiber of my being that these were the kind of people our national anthem is about. I was standing in group of people whose bravery was not only pinned on their jerseys, but was evident in each of their faces.
Before I knew it, the starting horn was fired and we were off. About a mile in, I looked down and noticed my bike computer wasn’t working. Shoot, I needed my bike computer to tell me if I was going fast enough to make the cut off at mile 27. I also needed my computer to make sure I was drinking and eating enough. 1 water bottle every hour along with a Clif bar mini and a Shot Blok or two every 15 miles was the magic equation for me. Not to worry, I would just rely on Terry’s bike computer. A few minutes later it quit working. Damn.
We soon linked up with Mike, a fellow Fat Cyclist from North Carolina. His computer was working fine and dandy and the three of us formed a nice little paceline. Knowing we had plenty of food and water, we skipped the first rest stop. 13 miles in Terry’s seat decided to drop of its own volition and so we stopped for a couple of minutes while he fixed it. While we were stopped I fixed my bike computer and ate a snack. Cool, now all I had to do to figure out where I was on the course was add 13 miles to my odometer. With plenty of food and water we zipped past rest stop #2 and hurried on to the cutoff point. We made it to the cutoff and Mike turned left to the 70 mile course and Terry and I turned right on the 105 mile option. Things were looking good. We were riding pretty quickly, I was feeling great and my legs felt strong.
We soon got to the climbing portion of the ride. Terry is a much faster climber than I am and so I told him to go ahead and that I’d see him at the next rest stop. He nodded and in no time was out of sight. I hunkered down in my lowest gear and pedaled past beautiful Lake Berryessa. It was a warm day, but being from Redding, the heat wasn’t a concern at all. I continued to drink water as needed and climbed some more. What I didn’t know then was that in an effort to shake this pesky cold, my body was burning through much more liquid than usual.
As I was climbing, I noticed my arms and legs prickling with goosebumps. I’d heard of that happening to athletes who were dehydrated. I drank some more water knowing the rest stop was at the top of the climb. I climbed some more and rapidly moved from having goosebumps to being downright cold. I drank the last bit of my water and pedaled my bike toward a shady spot where I stopped. As I got off my bike the unthinkable happened. Suddenly I had the sensation that I was wetting my pants. I couldn’t make it stop. I’d lost control of my bladder and I knew in that moment that my overheated body had taken control and was throwing a Hail Mary to cool itself down. Very little urine came out, not even enough to make a dark spot on my Spandex. On one hand, that was a good thing because I did not want to stand on the side of the road with pee running down my leg. On the other hand, I knew it was a bad sign that my body wasn’t producing very much fluid. Cyclist after cyclist asked if I was okay. I told them I was fine. And I truly thought I was. I knew I just needed some water. I pulled out my cell to call Terry, but there was no service.
I hailed a course marshal on a motorcycle and asked him to bring me some water. A few minutes later he returned with a bottle of icy cold water. I downed it and asked him to call a SAG wagon to take me to the next rest stop at the top of the hill. He radioed the SAG and I decided to walk my bike a little further while I waited for them to come and get me. Often times moving forward, even if it’s just walking, makes me feel better. At this point I heard someone behind me yell “Hey, Fatty, wait up! I’ll walk with you.” I looked back and saw Christine, a Fatty from New Jersey. I was so happy to have company. We walked until the SAG wagon scooped us both up to the next rest stop where Terry was waiting. I was glad we’d chosen to take a ride in the SAG wagon because the rest stop was down the hill and up another climb, much farther than I remembered it being on the course map. At the rest stop I downed a few bottles of water and ate some food. I told Terry that the climb was too much for me and that I’d run out of water. I also told him that I felt much better now and should be fine for the rest of the ride. I really did feel better. I really did think I’d be fine.
Remember earlier this week when I told you the course had been changed from a big loop to include an out and back? Well, that out and back meant that after the rest stop, I had to tackle the hills again. When we were ready, Christine, Terry and I left the rest stop and began the climb. Terry stayed with me until I couldn’t climb anymore and told him I had to get off and walk. Christine had to walk, too, and so I waved Terry ahead assuring him I was fine and that I’d see him at the next rest stop. Christine and I walked our bikes to the top of the hill. We were chatting and cheering on other cyclists who passed us by. At the crest of the hill, we hopped back on our bikes and enjoyed a nice descent and some flats.
Usually I can really motor across the flats, but that day I was a slower than usual. I tried to be patient with my body. After all, it was having a little bit of a tough morning. I pedaled along, making sure to drink lots of water as I went. Christine clipped along ahead of me and I caught back up with her at a water stop where I drank some more and refilled my bottles. We rode together for a little bit, but my body still couldn’t go as fast as usual. I pedaled along by myself over some rolling hills and then the course turned into a headwind. It wasn’t an unbearable headwind. I’ve ridden much faster in much stronger winds. As I rode, I watched my speed plummet. It felt like I was pedaling in quicksand. I kept pedaling and drinking water and eating, determined to snap out of this major bonk.
The goosebumps returned, making my arm hairs stand on end. The muscles in my calves twisted and cramped. To my shame I again had the sensation of wetting my pants. This time not a single drop came out. I pulled out my cell. Damn, still no reception. I knew the next rest stop had to be close. I watched for course marshals or bike medics or SAG wagons, but I was all alone on this stretch. I tucked my head into the wind and pedaled.
Then my phone rang. I clicked my earbud and heard Terry on the other end, but the wind was so loud I couldn’t tell what he was saying. I told him I couldn’t hear him. He yelled “Where are you?” I looked down at my computer. It read 56 miles. All I had to do was add 13 miles for the stretch at the beginning of the ride when my computer wasn’t working and another 5 for the part where the SAG wagon had driven me up the hill. Now, I’m not normally good at math to begin with, but even I can add three numbers together. I tried to add them and I couldn’t. Come on brain, just add the numbers. I tried again. Nothing. I told Terry I didn’t know what mile I was at. Terry said something, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I told him I thought I was close to the rest stop and I hung up.
It was one thing for my legs to cramp, for my body to throw in the towel, but now my mind was giving out. It was scary and for the first time that day I admitted to myself that I was in real trouble. I felt a lump rise in my throat, but I forced myself not to cry because I knew I needed to stay calm.
Even worse than admitting I was in trouble was admitting that there was no way I could finish the 105 miles. I was absolutely heartbroken at the thought. To know that I was not going to make the goal I’d been working toward for months was a crushing blow. I can’t even describe to you the depths of the disappointment I felt with myself.
And then I saw the most glorious yellow sign!The next rest stop was only a mile away!!! I could ride a mile in my sleep! I summoned all my remaining mental fortitude and pedaled a little faster. I saw another cyclist. Then I saw several cyclists leaving the rest stop. I pulled in and relief washed over me. Terry was there along with my friends, Nick & Abby, who were driving the SAG wagon for that stop. Never in my life have I been so happy to see friendly faces. I unclipped from my pedals, laid my bike on the ground and hugged Terry tight.
I wish I could tell you that this is one of those stories where I tap into unknown reserves of strength and finish out the last 30 miles. I’ll tell you right now, it isn’t that kind of story. I gave this ride every last bit of strength I had.
And it just wasn’t enough.
I sobbed on Terry’s shoulder and told him I wasn’t going to make it to the end. Saying it out loud brought a fresh round of tears. I told him I just didn’t have it that day. I was too embarrassed to tell him about wetting my pants or any of the other humiliating details. Terry told me it was ok and that I’d done an amazing job considering I’d been sick all week. Terry could have easily finished the ride, but I needed him to stop with me and so we climbed in the SAG wagon with our friends and drove toward the finish line. I was quiet in the van, disappointment heavy on my shoulders.
LiveStrong gives the SAG drivers strict instructions not to drive people all the way to the finish line unless they’re in need of medical attention. I probably did need medical attention, but I was too ashamed to admit it. A few blocks away from the finish line, Terry and I got back on our bikes. To be honest, I didn’t feel like I even deserved to cross the finish line, but I stayed close on Terry’s wheel.
As we approached the finish line, I heard people cheering and I plastered on a fake smile. Terry and I rode side by side and the announcers said “Here come two members of Team Fatty. They started the ride together and now they’re finishing it together. There’s Terry McCauley and Alicia McCauley. Alicia raised over $1,000 for LiveStrong.” At that, another cheer went up among the crowd.
For that one moment the disappointment and humiliation of the day left me. I knew I’d been part of doing something great in the fight against cancer. In that moment, I was crossing the finish line for my grandmother. I was crossing the finish line for my friends who are navigating their own path through cancer right now. And I was crossing that finish line for all the people who believed in me enough to donate to LiveStrong on my behalf.
After finishing, Terry and I got some food and drink. We joined our fellow Team Fatty members for pie and each of them told fantastic stories of their rides. North Carolina Mike told us funny stories from his 70 mile route. The fast 105 milers told about their speedy double paceline and the Fatty who almost caught up with Lance Armstrong. New Jersey Christine rolled in as the Lanterne Rouge of our team and I congratulated her on a job well done. Hearing their stories was bittersweet for me. I was thrilled to hear about their successes, but was sad I couldn’t say the same thing about my ride. When people remarked about my finish time I’d quip “Yeah, riding in the SAG wagon for the last 30 miles really makes it go by fast. You should try it sometime.” I’d laugh and quickly ask more about their ride. After eating pie and thanking the Fat Cyclist, it was time to go home.
Later that night, I confessed just how bad off I was on the ride. I told all the embarrassing details and like the good man that he is, Terry reassured me again that I’d done a great job. A little part of me even started to believe it.
As I was throwing my profusely stinky cycling kit into the washing machine, I unpinned my race number from my jersey. I smoothed out the wrinkles and hung it on the fridge. When I look at my number, I think of the LiveStrong motto:
Unity is strength, knowledge is power and attitude is everything.
It’s that last part that strikes me most. I’m still the girl who finished a metric century with pneumonia and a broken toe just to prove I could do it. I’m still the girl who rode my bike days after heart surgery because I couldn’t wait to live my life as someone with a strong heart. And now I’m the girl who gave up every last bit of my physical and mental strength for 75 miles all in the name of fighting cancer.
If you’re just joining the LiveStrong Ride story, you can read Part 1 here.
Remember when I woke Terry up in the middle of the night with my crazy, fevered dreams? Well, Saturday morning he took his revenge and didn’t turn his alarm clock off. In an attempt to keep away from this nasty cold I’ve got, he was sound asleep on the couch when his alarm sounded a little before 6am.
I woke up with a head full of disgusting sludge and I drug my sorry self to the shower. Surely this has got to be the last day of this miserable cold I thought as I hacked up all manner of things. Let me mention real quick that Aleve Cold & Sinus is my new best friend and the Kleenex with the lotion is a close second.
I finished packing and double checked everything, oh, 861 times. It would be just like me to forget something. Like pants. Or my bike. Once everything was in the car, I relaxed a little bit. When Terry nonchalantly said “I almost forgot to put our front wheels in the car.” I didn’t even stab him. After all, it was the day before his birthday.
After an uneventful drive to Davis with our pals, Nick & Abby, Terry and I headed to the fundraising awards dinner. Team Fatty captain, Elden Nelson, would be given the Individual Champion Award for raising the most money of any single person. He also won the Individual Messenger Award for having the most donors. Team Fatty won the Team Champion Award for being the team that raised the most money. We also won the Team Time Trial Award, measured like real bike time trials by the funds raised by our fifth highest grossing team member. Did I mention that there are only 4 awards given out? Team Fatty swept them all.
So there we were mingling in the crowd before dinner was served, meeting most Team Fatty teammates for the first time. Needless to say, every single teammate I met was funny, gracious and had a great story to share about why they joined Team Fatty. Usually I feel really awkward and sweaty in social settings where I don’t know anyone, but this was different. Fatty does a great job of creating a community over on his site and so as I mingled, I was putting faces to names I’d known for several years. It was more like meeting up with friends I hadn’t seen for a long time and less like sweating in a crowd of strangers.
Just before dinner was served, Terry and I put our place cards at one of the Team Fatty tables. We sat down to eat and to my delight we were at the same table as Fatty himself and his lovely wife, Lisa. At our table were Team Fatty members from Utah, California, New York and New Jersey. We were having a great time chatting and laughing when Lance Armstrong came over to talk to Fatty. Their brief conversation went like this:
Lance: “So, you decided just to win everything, huh? Not let anyone else have any awards?”
Fatty: “Hey, I learned from the best.”
Lance: “Yeah, f*&k ‘em all.”
Fatty: “Damn straight.”
The rest of us at the table sat there for a few seconds with our mouths agape wondering how we were so lucky as to witness the most awesome exchange ever. Then Lance walked away, but not before Terry could touch his arm. That’s right Terry’s hand touched Lance Armstrong. And Terry’s hand touched me. The hand that touched Lance touched me. Swoon.
There were many jokes around the table about how I’d be calling Terry “Lance” later that night. Some jokes are funny because they’re true. Just sayin’.
When it came time for the awards Lance bestowed all four on Fatty and he gave a moving speech composed of reasons why each of us on Team Fatty have taken up the fight against cancer. Fatty was eloquent, humble and had many of us in tears. I held it together until he read my reason:
“I ride in memory of my grandmother who lived with courage, humor and zeal for life. Even cancer couldn’t take that away. Riding my bike allows me to fight cancer with courage, humor and zeal-just like my grandmother did.”**
There it was, the reason I’m part of Team Fatty. The reason I pleaded, pestered and begged all my friends and family to donate. The reason I swung my leg over my bike and trained the last few months.
Later that night as I tossed and turned in bed, trying in vain to find a position that wouldn’t make my head stuff up, I thought back to the awards dinner. Doug Ullman, President of LiveStrong, talked about how the fight against cancer belongs to all of us as citizens of the world.
We all have stories of how cancer has impacted our lives. Some are beautiful stories of survival against incredible odds. Others are courageous stories of loved ones who fought hard for life right up until their last breath. And then there are the stories that don’t have an ending yet, stories of loved ones who are battling cancer right this very second.
Sleep came in short spurts that night and each time I woke up, I thought of what a privilege it is to be healthy enough to fight cancer by doing something I love. I laid in bed and stared at The Rocket just feet away and imagined what our ride the next day would hold. Little did I know, the ride wouldn’t go at all like I imagined.
**Read the rest of Fatty’s speech here. You’ll be glad you did.
Oh and while you’re at it, please take 2 minutes to watch this LiveStrong video and then follow the link to sign the open letter saying that you think cancer should be a priority when world leaders gather for the Global Health Summit this September.
We’re a rag-tag group of people vigilantly pursuing self-sustaining educational & employment opportunities with and for students and their families living in rural communities in developing countries. We believe in asking hard questions like, “What do you need and how can we help?” We believe that communities know their needs better than we do and that it’s our job to listen. We’re big on being kind for the sake of kindness and we believe that even the smallest acts of kindness can make a big difference. We believe in keeping vigil over one another and watching for opportunities to help, no matter how far off the beaten path those opportunities take us. We’re vigilant in our belief that God has given each person unique gifts and that one of the highest forms of worship is using those gifts to serve others. We believe God has a purpose for each life and Vigilante Kindness is our purpose. Join us as we live out wild adventures in service of God and others. Join us in committing acts of Vigilante Kindness.