The other thing that I discovered about Dave was that his sister and brother-in-law own the Landis Store. The Landis Store is the most epic of rest stops, located at roughly the halfway point, and you have to ride the 100 mile route to get there. It is also located at the top of a 1 mile climb that is incredibly steep at points. Honestly, it's the climb that puts the "Challenge" in the LiveSTRONG Challenge. At the top of that climb, the Landis Store offers live music, chicken and rice soup and the friendliest volunteers on the course. It's a party! I always think of the Landis Store fondly, because it was so special to my friend Kurt, and I was thinking of him as I was talking to Dave. Sadly, he could not ride with us this year, due to an injury. Toughen up, and we'll see you next year, Kurt. I gave Dave a BUTNZ! for himself, and one for his sister, for all of her hospitality over the years.
We pulled into the next rest stop and Pat, Paul and I regrouped. We quickly refueled and got back on the rode. Pat had committed to the 45 mile ride and Paul and I were still undecided. We got right back into the swing of things, when all of a sudden, we came up to a fork in the road, and it was decision time. Go left and do the 45 mile ride. Or go right and shoot for 70 miles. Paul and I were still feeling really good, so we decided we were going right. Pat was ready to head for home. It was really strange, because I honestly thought we had more time (I think in life we always think we have more time, until suddenly we don't). We said a quick goodbye, and I was saddened that our time together was over so quickly, so suddenly, and without any warning.Paul and I rode on, but I was feeling a bit melancholy.
The miles rolling steadily under our wheels cured me of my melancholy, slowly but surely like an old-time tonic. I like to see old friends, and you actually see people you remember. Jon's Crew, a group of people who ride in remembrance of their friend, were there again this year. On one significant hill (are you getting a picture of the course, or do I need to emphasize that there were hills on it?), I pulled a BUTNZ! out of my jersey and held it up, so the people cheering at the top of the hill could see that I was going to toss it. As I did so, one of the guys yelled, "Are you Team Fish?"
"YES!" I said as I tossed the BUTNZ! and rode past, wondering how the heck he could know who we were.
"We have five of your BUTNZ!", he shouted as I rode on. He had come out with his family every year I have ridden, and because they are alone at the top of a really hard hill, shouting, cheering and ringing cowbells, they really stood out. So year after year, I tossed them BUTNZ!. Very cool! He actually has a Team Fish rookie BUTNZ!
I came up along another rider and we got to talking. He was riding on a bike clearly marked with IronMan stickers, and I thought that was pretty cool. His name was Steve, and it turns out he was not an IronMan. He was riding in memory of his father-in-law, Ira, who was a seven-time IronMan. The family had taken to calling him "Ira"nMan, and it was a joke they thought was pretty funny. Ira passed away suddenly from a heart attack this year, and Steve and the family were looking for a way to honor him, when they saw the LiveSTRONG Challenge. They realized this was exactly the type of challenge Ira would have loved -- physically demanding and also finding a way to give back. I thanked him for coming out, and choosing the Challenge to remember Ira.
We separated and I saw another guy riding alone, pedalled up and introduced myself. He asked about my dignosis and I told him my story, then he told me about his friend, the smartest guy he ever knew. They were in high school together, and had stayed friends over the years. Sadly, his friend was claimed by brain cancer, leaving behind his wife and two kids, aged 4 and 8. As he told me about it, he choked up, and it was clear how fresh all of this was, how unresolved his emotions were, but he said he and his friends were coming together in meaningful ways to help the family, and to honor their friend. It amazes me how much stronger this disease makes us, and also those who are left behind. It's one of the reasons I think we are going to beat this disease someday. Instead of despair, cancer awakens something within us, those who fight the disease and win, and those who are left behind after someone passes. It teaches who we are and what we are capable of, and it is simply astounding.
Paul and I rounded a turn, and I told him the next hill was going to be challenging, emphasizing the word in such a way as to let him know that, perhaps, those last 30+ miles of hills weren't in the same arena as this one. I remember this hill. As we started to climb, I actually started feeling better. My legs were under me and I rode up the hill, passing people as I went. I looked back and saw Paul was doing pretty well on the hill as well. I could tell it was putting "the hurt"on him, but he was powering through, slow and steady, grinding out the pavement.
We got to the top, and it was again decision time. Left for 70 miles or straight for 100 miles. Amazingly, we had made the cutoff time. Wisdom is the better part of valor, and we actually opted for the 70 mile course. I didn't feel defeated. I didn't feel disappointed. Seventy was my initial goal, and I was sticking to it. Paul was totally on board, so we would ride the second half of the Challenge together, all the way to the finish.
We rode down chip sealed roads (a nightmare), potholed roads (even worse) and silky smooth asphalt (the old hyms talk of Heaven's roads being paved with gold, but I know it's going to be a fresh coat of asphalt), arriving at the next rest area, which I remember as "The Worst Rest Stop in the World". I think it was the first year I did the Challenge. I stopped here and the volunteers seemed disinterested, there was very little to eat, and there was nothing going on. This is Sparta. Or, at best, Sparta-like.Even more disappointing, this stop is at a Fire Station, and I was riding in memory of a friend's son, a fireman who was killed tragically in a car crash. I couldn't help but think about how disappointed Donnie, the young man who was killed, would have been, and how different it would have been had he been in charge of things here. Fast-forward to this year, and I have to think Donnie's spirit informed the organizers of their shortcomings in this area, because there was an immediate change in feel to the stop. As soon as we pulled in, there was a six-year old kid running up and giving all of the riders high fives and congratulating them for getting this far.
"Were you in the Tour de France?" He kept asking all of the riders as this question as they pulled in, and they, of course, said, "No, no. Not me."
Until I got there.
"Yes," I said. I was! And it was awesome! Did you see me?"
"Yeah. You were on TV!"
"You're right! That was me! Thanks so much for all of your help. I really appreciate it, buddy! Here's a BUTNZ!"
He was overjoyed. I was too. It was a beautiful moment, and one I will cherish for a long time.
Paul and I saddled up and pedaled out of the stop. I felt really good.