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.
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.
I woke up with a raging fever and spent the day on the couch. Several times that day I thought Good thing I’m sick today. It’ll surely pass by Sunday. I’d hate to be sick on the day of the big ride. That night I had feverish nightmares about being late for the ride start. My dreams were so real that at 3:30am, I shook Terry awake insisting that he get up because we were LATE AND HAD TO GET TO THE STARTING LINE RIGHT NOW!!! Ever so patiently, he ushered my head back to my pillow and told me it wasn’t Sunday. My fever broke sometime that night after I’d woken Terry up several more times with things of utmost importance, I’m sure. Poor guy.
While waiting for the laundry to dry and cursing my stuffy head, I found myself poking around the Internets, catching up on the latest over on Fat Cyclist. I scrolled down to the comments, wherein one of my teammates posted a notification about a course change for Sunday.
Ooh, a course change. I prayed fervently that a meteor had struck the course and it had to be shortened to, say, an easy 25 miles.
With a tailwind.
No such luck. No meteor at all. In fact the course had been changed to include an out and back. Out and backs are my least favorite type of riding because I’ve already seen everything once. And there always seems to be a headwind one way, sometimes both. But hey, maybe this out and back would be on a nice smooth, wind-protected flat.
Or maybe it would be on the really hard climbing part so that once I made it to the top of the climb and wanted to die, I would have to hold all thoughts of death until I went downhill, turned back around and climbed back up. I bet you can guess what kind of out and back it is. I love it when they tack on more climbing just for funsies.
Thursday night I went to sleep with a knot in my stomach. I sleep-pedaled my sheets into a tangled mess, dreaming of all that climbing.
I untangled myself from my sheets and slipped into the shower, letting the steam clear the gunk that had settled into my nose and lungs. Surely this cold will be gone by Sunday. I hopped onto The Rocket for an early morning ride on the river trail with a friend. My goal was to listen to The Rocket, to feel for any bumps in her gears and to make sure she was all set for Sunday. Riding cleared my head and made me feel sorta human for the first time in days. The river was lovely, as usual, but riding back uphill to my house, The Rocket and I felt our nerves rise up again. More climbing. More climbing. More climbing. This was the marching drill all the way home. With each pedalstroke I pictured the revised elevation profile. Up, down, up, down, up, down.20 miles of up, down, up, down, up, down.
As I was rounding the corner into my neighborhood, I spotted a friend out for a walk. I hadn’t seen her in a while and I offered to put on my walking shoes and meet up with her on my street. We had a great time catching up. Toward the end of the walk we stopped at the corner where our two neighborhoods meet, I asked if she had any summer trips planned.
She has just one. A trip to her mom’s house because her mom was just diagnosed with breast cancer and my friend wants to be there for her mom’s lumpectomy. Her mom is a young, vibrant woman. In fact, she’s always one of the first people to donate to LiveStrong on my behalf. My friend and I stood there talking on the corner, she fighting the lump in her throat, me giving her a hug and paltry words of sympathy that never seem strong enough in these circumstances. My friend has lots of questions and at least I could direct her to LiveStrong to find some answers.
We parted ways and as I walked home, I didn’t think about my stuffy head. Or the hilly out and back added onto the course. I thought about my friend’s mother. And my grandmother. And all the others who I’m riding for on Sunday. A pesky cold and a little more climbing don’t feel so daunting anymore.
I usually ride with friends. In fact, I think I can count on one hand the times I’ve ridden solo. Saturday I’d arranged to meet up with a group of girls for an easy spin on the river trail. 15ish miles, just enough to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather. Then one by one, most of my friends cancelled. So Saturday afternoon, when I found myself standing alone kicking rocks at our meeting place, I decided to ride in my own good company.
Sure I could’ve called it quits and stuffed The Rocket back into the car, but I was already clad in Spandex and you know I love Spandex. Plus I’d been battling a sinus infection all week and I was just sick of being sick. I, quite literally, needed to clear my head. And I knew just the road to clear it. I had a conversation with myself that went something like this: Today I will climb. Today I will climb the North side of Shasta Dam. I’ve ridden to the Dam countless times, but always from the South side. The North side is bigger, badder and has been beckoning me for months.
I set out along the river, her waters rising up to meet me, rippling right up to the edge of the trail. The Sacramento is the river of my childhood and as I pedaled her curves, I remembered riding my pink Schwinn on this very trail. Remember riding bikes as a kid? I don’t know about you, but my hindquarters rarely made use of my flowered banana seat because being a kid was about speeding over hills, crowing into the sky and slamming on the brakes to make the most impressive skid mark.
I rode along the river climbing beyond the section of trail populated by strollers, scooters and the occasional Segway. I was in the mountains now, alone save for a handful of cyclists enjoying a nice downhill from the opposite direction. I thought about turning around and coasting down behind them, but Shasta Dam called to me. I reached a clearing and there she stood.
Do you see that road to the left of the Dam? The one that snakes around the mountain? That was my road. At the base of the mountain, I shared the road with some ATV’s and some dirt bikes, all of whom were operated by extremely polite drivers. No, really. Each and every off-roader, gave me a wide berth on the road. About half way up the mountain, the dirt bikes and ATV’s raced onto the dirt trails, leaving me alone with the road. With every turn, it looked like the Dam was just around the corner. She’s tricky like that, playing hide and seek in the trees, coaxing me further and further up the mountain.
My legs were strong and steady all the way up the mountain to the Dam. I’m as shocked as you are, since my legs are usually about as strong as partially set Jell-O. I cruised across the Dam, riding close to the edge and peering into Lake Shasta, who had swallowed the entire tree line. I turned my bike and peeked over the other side. Staring down the face of the Dam, I felt my stomach drop. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m falling in a dream. Terrifying and thrilling all at the same time. And yet, I can’t cross over the Dam without taking a glance. 2 more miles of decent hills lay just on the other side of the Dam. That last bit of climbing was nothing compared to the ascent to the Dam. I zipped up and over the mountain into town where I crossed over Keswick Dam and slipped back onto the river trail.
The river welcomed me as I raced along the flat side of the trail toward my car. I was killing the flats and when I looked down at my speedometer, it was ticking away at 18 mph. This isn’t fast for a real cyclist, but for me it’s a pretty decent pace. I cranked into a harder gear and whipped my legs faster and faster. I was really flying now! I leaned my head back and crowed into the blue sky. At the end of the ride, I’d racked up 41 miles, but more importantly my head was completely clear. Driving home, I replayed the ride in my mind. I held the beauty of the water in my eyes and the joy of climbing mountains in my heart. I’ll be crowing about this ride for a long time.