Today I rode in the Lance Armstrong Foundation LIVESTRONG Challenge. It was a 40-mile ride through the picturesque farms and fields surrounding the Nike World Campus. It might have been yet more picturesque, nay, even bucolic, were it not for the steady, relentless, unceasing rain and wind. But I digress.
I began this little journey a few months ago when my friend Wussy McFairweatherpants (name changed to protect her identity) suggested that I join her on this ride after we had completed the Summit to Surf in July. It will be fun, she said. Won’t it be nice to have someone else to ride with, she said. All the really cool kids are doing it, she said. So, I gathered up my courage and through the miracle of that set of tubes we call the internet, I got all signed up.
Now, a 40-mile ride was kind of intimidating to me. The longest I’d been on was 35, and the first ten miles of that are bombing downhill at forty miles per hour. Exhilarating, yes. Work, no. Except for keeping an eye out for gravel patches and manning those brake levers like your life depends on it. Which it in fact does. So the thought of having a cohort in crime was attractive. When we did the 35 miler together it was over so much faster than when I did it alone, the year before.
Cut to this morning. As I drive to the venue, my cellphone rings. She’s bailing. (To be fair, she did warn me that she might if it was rainy, and I don’t really blame her that much, although I will give her crap about it forever.)
Great. Now what am I going to do? Should I ride forth, alone and friendless (sniff, sniff), into the driving rain? Or should I turn around and go home?
Clearly, friends and neighbors, I have no brain at all. I chose to forge ahead, though I did occasionally falter. Like every minute and a half, right up until we got moving.
So, off we went. Lance Armstrong was there to kick it off, there was much media coverage, hoopla, fol-de-rol, etc. Into the Valley of Rain rode the 3,000! Puddles to the left of them! Puddles to the right of them!
All went fantastically at first. I was completely drenched, but warm; the wind was a bit gusty but not terribly strong, the rain was steady but not a deluge. The hills were rolling and manageable. I stopped at the rest stops and snacked a bit, had some water, some Gatorade. It’s all good. This is easy! … Okay, not easy, but not horrible.
Then, I met (duhn duhn DUHN!) the train tracks. Sure, I’d met train tracks before, and just passed right over them, no problem. But these tracks were different. They were not perpendicular to the road. They were slanty. This was along about mile 25.
The textbook approach to a slanty railroad track is to turn your bicycle slightly to meet them at a 90 degree angle. If you have time and realize that the track is slanty before you pass over it. Which I did not. Also? If it’s raining? Yeah, you’re pretty much screwed.
In all the years that I commuted by bicycle in my misspent youth, I never ONCE wiped out on a railroad track, manhole cover, or crosswalk stripe – all slippery harbingers of evil to the bicycle tire, particularly the smooth ones favored by road bikes.
Yeah. So much for that.
My front tire got over it all right but the back tire slipped right down into the slanty groove and suddenly I was all over the road like a big, nylon-coated sack of potatoes. I took the brunt of it on my right elbow, then my shoulder and hip. My right ankle got into the act as well as the inside/back of my left knee. I slid down the road, merrily slithering along, until finally coming to rest. Which is when the pain began. Ow. Ow, ow, ow. Stinging ow! Hurting ow! OW!
Fortunately, a police car bearing two law-upholding types happened to be right behind me, and they stopped to collect me and my trusty steed off the pavement. Once I determined that nothing was broken, sprained, or bleeding, I continued on, smarting and wincing but Not! Giving! Up! I found that there was a hitch in my gitalong: some shifting difficulties, but I can still limp along. Another rider happened along and accompanied me to the next rest stop, which mercifully was not far away, and once there, I submitted my bike to the attentions of the mechanics who are omnipresent at all stops. They bent my rear derailleur back into some semblance of order. It will require further ministration by Ye Olde Bike Shoppe, but it was good enough to keep me on the road. Also I was given some Tylenol by the medics.
Oh! And they handed out these swell little mini-warm-packs, which they suggested be placed inside each of our gloves, right against the blood vessels that pass close to the surface on the inner aspect of the wrist. This kept my hands perfectly warm for the rest of the ride. A little trick to remember!
Several riders were being assessed there for hypothermia. I do not know what the temperature was today but it was a bit chilly, and with the rain (and shocking lack of raingear displayed by many riders) it was easy to get chilled.
The rest of the ride passed without incident. I was flagging pretty hard but was too close to resort to the sag wagon. I inched my way up the hills and slogged down them, and eventually arrived at The Finish Line! Yay me!
Now, those of you who know me at all should be guessing that this is not the end of the story. And, if you know me well, you should already be adding up the variables:
Low blood sugar.
Anxiety about time.
Poor sense of direction.
I now have three hours to get home, take a shower, and drive to work.
Can I find my car?
Of course not.
After a good twenty minutes of wandering through the vast, confusing parking lots, I made my way back to the post-event party and found some helpful volunteers to assist me. A very nice and extremely patient young man drove me around in a truck, bike in back, through every single parking lot. My car was in the last possible place it could have been. This process took a HALF HOUR, during which I have gotten colder and colder, until I am shivering uncontrollably. Thank heavens the car warms up quickly.
Once I get on the road, I pick my way through complete traffic mayhem and finally arrive home. It is now 2:30pm. I finished the event two and a half hours ago. I call work, tell them I’ll be late, run inside, shower, dress, endure enthusiastic wrestling moves administered by the young one (ow! ow! ow!), and bolt to work. I am half an hour late, due in part to yet more traffic mayhem. This is the first really rainy week of the fall and no one here can drive in the rain now, evidently. There are accidents everywhere.
It was still totally worth it.
I rock! (at least a little bit!)
PS I totally blame my absent friend for the wipeout AND my inability to find the car. Ha! (just kidding) (sort of)
PS Again: My elbow is all swollen up and hurts like a mofo. My hip is developing its bruise quite nicely. And the back/side of my left knee is purple. War wounds!