This past weekend was the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s 75 mile (actually 80+ but we’ll get to that) City to Shore Ride that I confidently and excitedly signed up for last year when my sister told me that the doctor she works for does it every year. In my mind I thought I would be fit from racing REV3 Cedar Point half aquabike and really, what’s another 24 miles after you’ve ridden 56? Well, by mid-June I was praying for rain, hurricanes, or any force of nature to cancel this damned ride of doom. It was not to be. Saturday morning arrived and we awoke to the alarm at 3:52 and it was downright perfect weather for a bike ride. Ugh.
I really didn’t want to do this ride. It seemed like just one more thing I had signed on for this year that just felt like a task, a burden, another job I had to do. Almost as a metaphor for 2014, I dreaded it, went through the motions of preparing for it with a joyless, half-hearted attitude. Just the Sunday before, Kathy had come over to do a long ride with me. I had ridden the old road bike (which has never fit me) and had bitched and moaned and I’m sure made a complete jackass of myself. We literally rode five miles and then turned around because I was so miserable. The only thing that made me get out the door on Saturday was the guilt of having told Kathy I would do it and the money that people had donated to me for the MS Society.
When we picked up Kathy at her apartment, she was not exactly excited at the prospect of riding 75 miles, but John kept driving toward the PATCO station in Cherry Hill and we formulated our plan of how we’d just ride to the first rest stop and then we could say we broke down or got sick or whatever and John could come get us and drive us to the finish. The traffic getting into the PATCO station was backed up for nearly a mile onto 295 and we sat for about 15 minutes just on the exit ramp. We watched others unload their bikes and ride them to the start. Hahaha, we are not doing that! We don’t really want to be here!
Eventually though, as we got into the station, our screaming bladders forced us out of the car. John told us to go get my number, take a pee and then call him to see where he parked. Being John, he sweet-talked a police officer into a VIP parking space. We had a nice clear shot at the start, plenty of room to unload, pump tires and load our bottles and snacks. Then, it was time. Well, fuck, it’s time to fall off my bike in front of fifty million other riders. I’m going to look like an idiot on my tribike with my arm warmers and aero bottle. I’m such a tool. Oh well… With a sigh of resignation, I swung my leg over my beautiful red Kestrel. As I clipped in and followed a police car through an intersection I felt an instant change in me.
I looked at the sea of riders lined up in the start corrals. Some were on super expensive road bikes, some were on cruisers, hybrids or mountain bikes. There were riders in team kits, riders in sweat pants and even a tiny little Asian woman in a house dress and high heeled leather shoes! I wanted a photo of her but she got away into another corral before I could get a shot of her with my phone. As Kathy and I lined up in our corral I decided that I would just throw away the garbage in my head. Am I a tool? Maybe I am but so what? I started taking selfies. I started making stupid faces and taking photos of me and my big ass and my belly and I started posting them to Facebook. When we mounted up for our start (having now clipped in like 4 times without falling off yet!!!) I felt like I was heading out to race the Tour. I felt athletic and strong and slick on my shiny red bicycle in my beautiful race kit.
We stopped at every single rest stop during the day. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drank blue Gatorade when I ran out of my Osmo and water. I practiced passing and being passed, drinking from all my bottles no matter where on the bike I had them. I clipped in and out a gazillion times at red lights and intersections. I fell in love with my bike and made it mine. Even though I have loved that bike since the first time I saw her hanging in the local bike shop window, I now felt like she was mine. I learned how to really ride my bike. By the end of the ride I had no excuses left.
I’m not saying that the seven hours passed with no incident. I did not pack enough nutrition with me and I started to get “cranky” the last couple hours. Kathy cramped up in her quads, but luckily the very next rest stop was filling bottles with water and blue Gatorade. I made sure to get a pic of myself with the blue stuff! And obviously things got sore. By the fourth or fifth hour my crotch hurt no matter how I adjusted on my saddle, my feet swelled in my shoes so that my big toes banged against them and my wrists ached from riding on the flats. But I learned that I can suffer and that I do have what it takes mentally to get through the real shitty stuff. The ride ends in Ocean City, New Jersey. To get into the city you have to ride over two big ass bridges and this is AFTER having ridden 75 miles. The actual mileage of this ride is 81 miles. Yes, it is there on the cue sheet on the ride’s website, but who reads cue sheets of rides that you are not actually going to finish???
When we came around a curve and the only thing ahead of us was the bridge, I decided there were two ways I could feel about it. Either I could say “Oh no.” or I could yell “Hell YES!” and hammer it up the bridge. I chose the latter, shouting “On your left!” the whole way up! The descent got my blood pumping as the wind caught me and my carbon fiber steed and took us for a wild ride but holy shit it was fantastic!!!!! I waited for Kathy afterwards, made sure she was fine (she was) and raced balls to the wall up the second bridge “Don’t lose the momentum!” I shouted to my fellow riders (some of whom were off and walking their bikes and I am sure saying What a fucking tool!) but I had found my joy and it didn’t matter what anyone thought anymore.
After the final totally excellent scary descent, I waited for Kat at the toll booth and we rolled slowly with the crowd into town. I have often watched European bike races on television and thought to myself, I could never ride so closely in a group like that. Bullshit. I did and I loved every damned minute of it. The final miles I felt like I was part of a conquering army being thanked and lauded by the townspeople. It was magnificent and just frigging beautiful. The finish line was booming with music and everyone was clapping and smiling and I unclipped for the zillionth time that day and I did not fall over.
We celebrated with salty food and Stellas and lying around and laughing in our dirty little Jersey Shore motel and life was simply wonderful. I felt like I had learned a lesson that day that I had known all along. But this time I really LEARNED it. Every day we choose how we want to live our lives. It is our choice to live our life happy or miserable. We can either piss and moan about the big hills or we can scream up one side and tear down the other like a lunatic. I learned that I prefer to be the lunatic.
I found my joy again: the easy laughter, joking with strangers, poking fun at myself, giving myself the freedom to be a jackass. Age and illness and just the ol’ crap shoot of life can make you a bitter and boring person if you focus on only the negatives. I built up “rules” in my head about what I could NOT do. I could NOT ride my bike on the roads where I had to clip in and out because I would fall over. I could NOT do long distance races because I am a terrible runner. I could NOT do an Ironman because I am too busy and I don’t have the life that those people on the Facebook or the Twitter have. I should NOT wear sleeveless tops because my skin is saggy and I don’t have enough muscles. I should NOT have a beer because I will eat and drink too much and stay up too late……….!!!! What the serious FUCK????? So many frigging rules that I simply built, like walls around myself - walls that for some reason, in the itchy, sweaty, wonderfully sore aftermath of 81 miles on my bike just seemed so silly and arbitrary that, as a (reasonably) sane person, I wonder how I had ever come up with them?!?!?
So somehow, for some reason, this is where I am now. I feel calm, even in rush hour traffic. I crack jokes with my fellow coffee addicts in line at Wawa. I sleep without the help of drugs. My long-suffering coworkers who have had to watch me withdraw into a seething ball of nastiness over the past year now stare at me in disbelief when I smile at them and engage them in conversation. But I’m ready for the stares, even the ridicule if that is what comes my way. I have to just not give a single fuck anymore what others think of me.
I’m breaking down walls and questioning everything. When I feel impatient or bristle at a comment or something that happens at work, I ask myself, “Why?” Why so angry? Why feel so put upon? Why allow yourself to feel like a victim? There is no good answer; no good reason to let in the dark clouds of negativity. I have no time for that bullshit. This is my life and I choose to focus on the bright shiny bits!