Well dangit, now I have that Chumbawamba song stuck in my head. Oh wait, I can link it here — YOU LUCKY PEOPLE! Aaaaaand now it’s playing and I can’t wait to get on my bike and RIIIIIDE.
It’s absolutely perfect weather for a long bike ride. Lucky again, it’s time for Gravel Worlds! I signed up once again for the full ride, 150 miles of delicious Nebraska gravel. And once again, I know I won’t ride 150 miles.
Last year, my first attempt at GW, I was less than 3 months after finishing chemo. I was still mostly bald, I was so exhausted, and I was terribly, terribly slow. But I was buoyed by OOODLES of encouragement from many friends, and I was grimly determined to say FUCKCANCER in the best way I knew how. My good friend S* was riding with me and provided ride support, navigation, reminders to eat, and of course, his signature cheerleading. Still, when we reached Malcolm at mile 75, it was time to face reality.
“I’ll ride with you if you want to finish. And there will be somebody there at the finish line — they’ll wait for you.”
“But if you want to bail out, we can call for a ride…”
“Or I think I can plot a ride back to the start… it would be about 10 miles.”
And that is what we did. There’s a fantastic barbecue joint at the Malcolm stop (this year at mile 90 on the GW route) but it’s not a food I’d typically want in my belly if I still had a half-century or more to go. With only 10 miles, I cheered up a bit, bought a Coors Light at the tiny grocery and a pulled pork sandwich from the heavenly-smelling place next door. We sat in the grass as S loaded the route and I tried not to feel like a total failure. I was giving up, which was probably the smart thing to do, but I also knew I could do more….
I’ve spent this whole year calling that finish a failure, quitting other rides early and calling them failures, beating myself up as I encounter setback after setback, eating and drinking too many calories, not riding and not riding as I gain weight and, along with it, a healthy dose of self-contempt.
“Once again,” I tried to joke with J*, “I’m signing up and paying for rides I can’t finish!”
What a loser. I thought. What a waste.
“But you’re supporting efforts that you believe it,” she said, smiling, and we started talking about something else.
And she’s absolutely right. She meant, I’m sure, that I’m supporting the races, the organizers, the events. But I read a little more into it. Because supporting these events is supporting myself, myself as a person who rides bikes crazy distances in all kinds of weather. A person who races gravel. And I DO believe in myself.
I don’t know J well, but we spent some time together at the Dirty Kanza camp last spring and she’s staying with me at the lake cabin weekend. (Slumber party! Because that’s what gravel brothers n sisters do….open homes… and hearts.)
So I’m not going to attempt the 150-miler this morning. I have a torn PCL, grade 3 and a damaged MCL, grade 1, and I’m just 5 weeks out from the crash that caused those injuries, along with elbow, face, etc. 150 miles isn’t being tough, it’s kinda stupid.
I have permission to ride (you know how well I follow directions). But seriously, the ortho doc I saw yesterday said he was very pleased — I’m healing fast! (This still amazes me. During all of chemo and for the year after, even a scrape on my skin took weeks and weeks to heal… normal healing now feels like superpowers!) After reviewing the MRI and the PT notes & our discussion, Dr. H said he saw nothing wrong with doing about 20 miles.
I had just told him I rode about 18 miles of gravel, including a few hills, in Kansas the previous weekend. I rode with one SPD (shoe that can clip in to the pedal) and a regular tennis shoe on my left foot, since that twisting motion to release the clip I can’t do, and that worked out well.
“Fifty,” I said firmly (thinking “One-fifty”).
His eyebrows popped up. “Okay,” he nodded. “It’s okay to push it.”
I am going to push it. Not 150 miles, to set myself up for something I know I can’t and shouldn’t finish, but 75 miles. The short course. I think I can do it. I have the bike, I have the food & water I need, I have the determination. I am going to finish a race.
More importantly, though, no matter how many miles I get or how long it takes, I am going to call this a win. I am supporting what I believe in.
*(I don’t use names without permission)