Wednesday, August 24, 2011

LiveSTRONG: Ride for FIVE Part I

Your alarm goes off at 5:15 am. Every year you think you're prepared for just how early this is, but you never are. In situations like this, you have two go-to songs: the Triathlon Song...

...or the one by Mark Knopfler for which you can never find a video. You choose Knopfler. Your body has some creaks that you're certain weren't there last year, perhaps weren't even there yesterday, but still you rise. Quickly, you don the gear you have laid out the night before, everything designed to streamline the process and get you out the door more quickly. You have a mission, and you cannot be late. This is your focus, now.

Your jersey is the seafoam aqua of The Lounge, an inside joke for many of the cyclists you know, emblazoned with the code that is both an impetus for humor and an odd badge of welcoming. You double check your shoes and your helmet, because you realize without these, you won't be allowed to ride. Quickly, you pack up the sleeping bag, the air mattress, your belongings are tossed in a knapsack with the LiveSTRONG logo. It's a gift awarded for the fundraising you did last year, for the efforts of your friends and family and a host of people who care about you and hate cancer. Many of them you have never met, but you will spend all day thinking about them. But not now. You are packed up and ready to go. It is 5:30.

You walk out to your car, make sure your bicycle is secured on the back of the car and drive out of the garage, probably for the last time. You think of your mother-in-law and the kindness she has shown you in allowing you to crash at her place for the past 5 years. You say a prayer for her that God watches over her.

You stop at the Dunkin' Donuts on the way out, another tradition for the past five years. The coffee cannot come soon enough, and you also order a bagel with ham and egg. You know it's going to taste awful, but you also need the calories. The coffee is the first sign of hope you have had today, black and perfect. There is hardly any traffic at all and you get to the event venue ahead of schedule. Your friend George is already there and you get texts from the rest of the team they will be there quickly.

You speak easily with George, you've known him for almost ten years now. He's a good man, and a good father, and always trying to be better at both, so you recognize in him a kindred spirit, as you also did when you first met him. Your friend Jenny shows up, and it's good to see her again. You have seen her for nearly two years, you guess, when you ran in a race to celebrate her brother, Tony, who died of colon cancer. Your sure she's thinking of him now, and you say a silent prayer for her as well. Your brother Pat joins the Team Fish group, the illustrious Patfish Hunter who has ridden every LiveSTRONG with you. You're glad the tradition continues, and you're glad his coworker Sean has joined you yet again. Team Fish is now together and assembled.

You pedal down to the start line and you think about the Team Fish people who are not there this year. Family commitments have kept Kurt and Randy out this year, as well as a host of others who had "maybe" circled for this date. You're hoping they'll be with you again next year, then you turn to face the sea of bicycles and the task before you.

You secretly curse the idiots who set up the announcing booth, with all of the speakers facing away from the cyclists. You're sure it makes sense to someone, but to you it sounds like that etacher in the Charlie Brown series who just goes on in a monotone, "WAH WAH WAH WAH WAHHHHHHHHHN..." It might be amusing in the Sunday comics, less so for an event like this. You can't hear a thing until music begins to play and thousands of bikers go silent. last year they had a jazz singer and this year an opera singer. Both times you were moved nearly to tears. You think of your friends Eric and Kurt and the rest of the people you know serving this country to keep you and your family safe. You recognize a feeling most people would call gratitude, but you recognize that only scratches the surface of the thanks you feel.

Normally, they run a pretty tight ship with regard to start times. This time it is handled poorly, and you actually start 20 minutes late. As you roll out, you catch people discussing the possibility of storms coming in. The normal cutoff time to ride the 100 mile course is to reach a certain checkpoint at 10.30. The organizers reserve the right, it is said, to redirect 100 mile riders onto the 70 mile course if they don't make the cutoff by 10.00. There is not a cloud in the sky, so you don't worry about this. You're happy to be riding, finally, with Team Fish. And off you go onto the course.

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