Six years ago I didn’t see myself doing charity rides but then … cancer. And today I lined up for my fifth Livestrong Challenge. Two were in Philly (actually King of Prussia) and now the third in Austin.
I wanted to ride with 13 year-old Alex Shepherd in Oregon but never got the chance. At his service in June I told his dad, Dan Shepherd, I’d like for him to join me in Austin and we would ride for Alex.
I arrived on Thursday and attempted to find a route called the Volente Loop using a downloaded file on my GPS. The problem was there were a couple spots where the route crossed over (think figure eight) and the GPS wasn’t sure, or probably I wasn’t sure, which way to go. At 16 miles I found myself back at my car. OK, at 95 degrees, I gave up.
Friday morning I went to the airport and picked up Dan. We didn’t have much time as he assembled his bike then we rode downtown to meet Will Swetnam and some of the Cyclists Combating Cancer group at Mellow Johnny’s. We rode over to a Rudy’s which is delicious BBQ in a gas station.
Yesterday Dan and I went to Livestrong Headquarters to pick up our registration materials. After lunch were able to do the real Volenti Loop. Still hot with some punchy hills and “heavy” pavement. Those 42 miles seemingly took something out of me.
This morning we timed our entrance perfectly. I had raised enough funds to get a priority start in the first coral. I wanted to ride with Dan but being in the front coral meant I could ride out with the top fund raisers. Our CCC team almost always the top team but this year we were second to “Lance and Friends.” Well good for him.
Lance Armstrong lined up in the first group and I thought if I had a chance to ride next to him, I would. I got to the coral at 7:29 a.m. One minute to spare. But there were lots of cyclists in cue and I was at the back of the group. I never even got a glimpse of Lance at the front.
We rolled out at 7:30. Our plan was for me to soft pedal if I wasn’t with Lance and in either case, we would meet at the first stop at Mile 10. I wasn’t with Lance and I began to back off the pace. At Mile 6 Dan and I joined up, both looking splendid in our Team Alex jerseys.
I rode up behind a man wearing a picture of a child and said “tell me about your daughter.” I slowed to talk and I think Dan saw that it wasn’t all about the riding. The best moments of the day would come from riding.
At the second stop I met the kids from the Texas 4000. That was a surprise to them as I started dropping the names of Vanessa Beltran, and Lexi Rogers and others who were part of the program the past couple of years. They seemed genuinely excited to meet me. Well, I was excited to meet them too.
Each “challenge” is designed to feature a challenge on the century route. While this route was mostly flat with some rollers, I remembered well the Wall. Around Mile 50 you could see this butte in the distance. As one got closer you could see there was a road straight up the side to the top. Closer still, you could see almost everybody pushing their bikes.
As Dan pushed on I told him we should back off a little. Don’t want to hammer it and then having nothing left for the big climb. At Mile 48 we pulled into a rest stop. There I met Rudy the Chicken. A girl was holding him and offered to let me hold him. She now has me rethinking my love affair with Chick-fil-A,
As we rolled out I wondered about the Wall. Dan went ahead and I found myself next to a woman, Christy San Antonio. I asked her if she had ridden this century before. She looked at me and said “I rode a century yesterday.” She must have heard “ridden a century before.” We talked.
The next 25 miles went by as quickly as any I have ridden this year. Not quickly as in fast but quickly as in the time few by. Mostly, Christy and I rode side by side and did not notice we were pulling 12 riders. Christy’s friend, Christa Ginsburg, and Dan were busy talking too.
Back at the rest stop (with the chicken – we made a loop) there’s always that moment of truth when you have been riding with strangers. Do you wait for one another or do you move on? Not sure who but we waited for one another and the four of us rolled out of this rest stop.
Both women are strong. Both are triathletes. Christy has been to Kona for the Iron Man. Do I need to say more? But on this day, her derailleur wasn’t functioning and she was stuck in a small ring on the back. Not the 11t but close to it. Having ridden a century the day before in Houston and now riding in a “big gear,” I actually had a chance to stay with her.
At the next stop we found a mechanic. He put the bike on a stand and said a piece of hair was in the derailleur and he removed it. None of us believed that was the cause but her bike functioned again. The mechanics also confirmed that Lance and friends came by real early but apparently did not ride the full century. I never saw him the entire day.
We rode back to Austin enjoying more talk about cycling, doping, school, and politics. Once we passed a man, fit looking, who was struggling, and he looked over and saw two women. Whatever struggles he had that day he put behind him because he took off just like someone lit an afterburner. It was apparent he wasn’t going to get “beat” (it’s not a race, it’s a ride) by women.
As we approached the finish line I soft pedaled and let the three of them go on. I still find the first 99 miles of these challenges to be easy but the last mile difficult. Even while talking about cancer all day I was really thinking about cancer. But the last mile is one where I think of others and I reflect on my own journey. I slowed down and moved to the right where volunteers handed out yellow roses to cancer survivors. It was my 5th time receiving a rose but it’s still hard.
Back at Camp Livestrong, Dan and I went to the food tent. While we were there a woman came by pimping her kid with a donation jar. She told us her sad story of how she needs money because he child has brain cancer. Dan and I were taken aback and I was the first to ask “what kind of brain cancer?” We know a little about pediatric brain cancer. She started backpedaling both from her story and from our table. Pathetic but perhaps a pathetic cry for other help.
I made bibs/cards for 60 people that I wanted to put on their message board. Just as soon as we started putting them up, workers were tearing them down. It was 4:00 p.m.
With nothing more to do we gathered our belongings and went back to shower at the hotel. Dinner. Pack the bikes and reflect on the day. It was a great day of talking about Alex, Jake “the Hero” Grecco, and others affected by cancer. The talking was therapeutic as was the riding.