August 7, 2012

A very long bike ride

I've written the start of this blog post about five six times. When I left on the Rally, I really thought that I was going to come back and be so filled up by the experience that it would be all I want to talk about. That it would colour every conversation or moment I had for weeks,  the way that big things do.  You know how that goes? Like - someone would tell me that they like bananas and I would be all "Did I tell you how many bananas we ate on the Bike Rally?" and then watch the other person flinch and realize that not only have I told them about the bananas on the rally, I've probably told them about the bananas a thousand times and really, the bananas weren't that interesting in the first place.  Instead,  I have almost nothing to say about it - it's not that there's nothing to tell or nothing to say - and it certainly isn't like nothing happened... it's just that so much happened that I'm at a loss to come up with any of it.  Ever have a time like that?  It reminds me of when the girls were tiny babies, and every day seemed so long- but together they flew by in a blur.  That's what the rally was like.  It seemed like forever, and no time, and all the time, and like it would never end and like it was happening so fast.  It was a crazy, crazy experience, and to try and tell you the story of the whole thing would be impossible and ridiculous and never work anyway, so how about I tell you what didn't happen on the bike ride.

I didn't fall of my bike.  Mostly this didn't shock me. I was pretty sure that I'd completed the learning curve on clipping in and what you can and can't do on a road bike (tip #1. It's way different than the bike I ride every day) but I still had visions of falling either right at the beginning, or right at the end.  You know, sometime when falling down wouldn't just mean that I fell, but that I could knock down a bazillion riders coming behind me and turn into a human speedbump that was loathed by all.  That didn't happen, although my terror that it would explains why I look like I'm being marched to my doom in the departure photos. I was so afraid that morning.  So afraid of being a speedbump, so afraid that I couldn't do it, so afraid I would be last, so, so afraid that I was going to let my girls down, or my sister down... so afraid that I was going to find out that I couldn't do it and it would be so disappointing.  

I wasn't last. This amazed me.  Starting out there were a few things I knew.  I knew that the minimum speed for the rally was 20km per hour. I knew that when I started training I wasn't riding that fast, and when I was done training I was - and I knew about The Sweeps. The Sweeps are team leads who take turns riding as slowly as the slowest riders. They ride at the very end of the 300 cyclists, to make sure nobody gets left behind. Getting caught by The Sweeps means that you were having a challenging time - for whatever reason, and I was determined  to avoid being swept. This seemed totally reasonable until I realized that the 20km minimum is total crap.  The rally is moving faster than that by a good chunk, and I had to haul arse pretty hard.  Turns out though that abject terror is a good motivator, and I don't suck. Erin and I shot out on our own one afternoon and we were flying.  Not flying like the big boys on the team, but flying.

(Photo by the rather amazing Brian, who I hope doesn't mind me lifting it.)

My kids don't suck.
As a matter of fact, they're made of iron. The rally isn't easy- it's hours and hours and hours of riding, and getting up at 5:30am (they don't put that little gem in the riders handbook) and by day three you feel pretty tired and hurt and sore and I lay in my tent wondering how the hell I was going to do another day, and there my girls were. Smiling, laughing, talking about how they were tired and sore and they got on their bikes anyway, and were generous with other people anyway and really, I knew they were young and strong and that would help with the physical stuff... but I was so impressed with their outlooks and hard work.  Riding that far is as much a mental trick as a physical one, and as a mother, it's breathtaking to watch someone who used to cry if their socks were too tight woman up and get on that bike.  I can't believe they did it.

I wasn't alone. On the first day I got separated from my little pack as the 300 cyclists spread out over kilometres. Some were ahead, and some behind, but I didn't know that, and I thought I was last.  It was a thousand degrees, I was riding as fast as I could, and I truly believed that The Sweeps were right behind me.  I couldn't see them, in fact, I couldn't see anyone, and I started to get worried.  I'm super, super good at being worried, so I was able to make it to anxious in no time, and desperate shortly after that.  It was hot, I was tired, I was alone and I was last.  Five minutes later I had managed to convince myself that on top of all of that I was lost, and I was riding like thunder, about to burst into tears on my bike because I'd screwed the whole thing up, when road safety drove by and gave me a thumbs up, and written on the back of the van was "Follow me".   The whole ride was like that. Road Safety was a bunch of amazing people in vans and on motorcycles that mark turns, yell encouragement, re-supply you with water and food and generally make you feel safe the whole time.  I was desperately fond of them all by the end.

It wasn't just road safety either. All the riders were so kind to each other, and our team? Our team was amazing - not just our little family team, but the larger team we were on as a group, The Derailleurs.

By the end of the ride, these men and women all felt like friends and family. Erin and Ken made hard-core efforts to pull us all together before the ride, and by the time the first night's camping came - it was really a team. The fastest riders collected our bins and staked out space for all of us (special shout outs to Pato, Geoff and Steve, who were magnificently kind and helpful.) We ate together, camped together - dressed in matching red dresses (and helmet facinators - we were nothing if not fashionable) and the support, love and good humour through every moment was amazing.

Beyond that, there were the knitters.  At least six times on the ride some of you were waiting on the sidelines, and I can't tell you how amazing it was to see friendly faces as I rode.  I even came away from one stop with a wicked finger-knit bracelet from a charming young man named Sam, and there was a really great banner at the finish line - more than that, the tweets, comments and emails (when I was able to read them) were unbelievably supportive and kind.  I'll never be able to thank all of you properly.

I didn't quit.  I know quitting was never an option, but let me tell you - there were moments. Riding 660km is HARD.  My arse still hurts, and there were a few nights where the aching in my legs kept me up.  My hands hurt from gripping the bars (that's not a good scene for the knitting, let me tell you) and a blister or two on my toes from the shoes.  Day three, which was supposed to be the "easy" day, was marked by a cramp that took up residence in my left calf just 5km in - and only got more painful as the day went on.  I'm not a weepy person, and I try not to cry in public, but that day just about had me sobbing on my bike.  Seconds after the ride ended I went straight in to see the RMT and got it fixed. Amazing relief, but it was so hard while it was happening.  I felt really proud of me and everyone, because dudes, I was not the only one hurting - and my problems were small compared to some of the challenges other riders were meeting.

(Yeah, that's two beers in the back of my jersey.  There was a beer store right before camp one night, and you wouldn't believe how much people got in those pockets to carry in. Tip of the hat to Jesse, who miraculously got a six-pack to camp, much to the delight of the whole team.)

I didn't forget to have some fun.  Fun was, some days- a little hard to find.  Towards the end of the ride I was just so tired - and until I rolled right up to the finish line in Montreal I didn't really believe that I was going to make it for sure, but there I was, and I turned to the rider next to me (Hi Brandon!) and said "I RODE MY BIKE TO MONTREAL" and promptly burst into tears.  It wasn't until that moment that I realized that really could do it, I'd been a skeptic until that second, and I was so completely overwhelmed. 

It was amazing, and part of what made it amazing was you guys, and how much money you raised, and how much meaning and value that gave my effort, and I stood there just gobsmacked that a dumpy writer/knitter had ridden her bike that far, because until that very moment, I didn't really, totally, absolutely know that I could do it... but I did. 

I thought a lot about something that someone said to me at a Rally meeting early on.  They were talking about the rally, and what it is, and what it does, and what it takes, and why to do it... and they said this:

I didn't say it would be easy. 
I said it would be worth it.

They were right.  Now if you don't mind, I'm thinking about lying down again. I'm a little tired.  Thanks for everything.

Posted by Stephanie at August 7, 2012 5:17 PM