Papa Behr and Patfish decided to do the 45 miles. Team Fish usually rides the first 20 miles or so as a Team and we decided to do exactly that, riding out of the 100 mile chute in a light drizzle. All things considered, and in light of just how hot it has been in past years, I was actually welcoming the change. The first year we did it, the temperature rose to triple digits and the humidity was above 90%; the suffering was epic.In fact, this marked the first year where the temperature did not rise into the 90s.
I spent the time riding back and forth between Team Fish members, chatting with them and just generally enjoying the time we had together. It was good to reconnect with my brother, and we talked about his beautiful twins, and how fast they're growing up, how different they are, and how funny. The power stops were well organized and well-spaced again this year, about every twelve miles, so the first one was a perfect place to regroup. Having passed the place where Patfish got three flats in an eight mile span the first year, I felt like we could breathe a little, even though the rain seemed to be picking up.
Sadly, there was one lady right next to me who said, "That wasn't really Lance, was it?"
"I told you he was coming, didn't I."
"Yeah, but I didn't believe you." She was seriously bummed out.
A guy pulled up next to us and said, "Thanks for the heads-up that he was coming. That was SO COOL!"
"See," I said to the lady. "He believed me."
We talked for a while longer, then I gave her something even better than a moment with Lance. I gave her a BUTNZ!
I pedalled up with Kurt, Sean, Patfish and Papa Behr with Randy up ahead slightly. I noticed a guy in some distress on the right side of the road, and as is customary of riders, I asked, "You good?"
"Do you have any air?" he asked.
I told Team Fish to go on, I was going to get this guy some air for his flat tire.Sure enough, he had a flat, had replaced his inner tube and then jettisoned his air capsule all over the outside of his tire. I retrieved my air capsule (cyclists can carry an inner tube and enough air to inflate it under the seats of their bikes) gave it to him and showed him how to use it. He didn't look so sure, so I asked him if he wanted me to do it. "Please!" he said. I pushed the button and the air went into the tire. And right back out again. His inner tube had a flat in it. Either it was faulty or he didn't check the inside of the tire before putting a new one on. Either way, he was stuck and had to wait for one of the support vehicles, telling me he would be fine. Then, I gave him something that made the rain and the flat tire and the frustration all disappear: a BUTNZ!
I pedalled on faster, now, trying to catch up to Team Fish, and came upon a guy who went down badly. The medics were arriving, and there were a couple of cyclists with him, one sitting next to him and just speaking quietly. I later learned that he lost control in the turn and slammed into the guardrail on the opposite side of the road. It happened right in front of Randy, who stopped immediately to help. He stayed with him until the medics had things under control. Randy said he was sure bones were broken and that internal bleeding was even a possibility, but the response of the medics was very swift. I didn't see Randy there as I passed, but he remained behind us for the rest of the day. He is a strong cyclist, so I assumed he was ahead of us, rather than behind, and spent the rest of the day looking the wrong direction to find him.
And then the Heavens opened up. The light drizzle that had been present all day, sprinkled with intermittent rain, turned into a full onslaught of barbaric proportions. It was one of those sudden downpours and I couldn't see more than 10 feet ahead. We were riding over hills, and the uphills slowed me down and the hard pedalling served to help me stay warm. The downhills caused an increase in speed, and the rain stung like being shot with rock-salt. They bill this ride every year as a Challenge and every year the Challenge is a little different. Heat. Humidity. Hills. And now, rain. Surely, no amount of BUTNZ! would make this better. It sucked.
But then, something amazing happened. I prayed for help to get through this, and I started thinking about all of the people I knew who had cancer, including those who have passed. I thought specifically of the tears that have been shed BY them, and especially FOR them by their friends, their families, by the people who love them. And, I thought about how the heavens were crying now, reminding me of that. Like cancer itself, there was no use in complaining about it sucking, no sense in wishing it would stop. There was only the realization that we were all in this together, going forward, wrapped in a veil of love and tears.
I pedalled on with new resolve. And better perspective.