to go: 998.49
once squeezed a six-pound human being out of my body, through an
the size of a lima bean. It took twelve hours, and it involved the loss
of massive amounts of bodily fluids and dignity.
year prior to that,
I was sitting in the passenger seat of a 1972 Dodge Dart Swinger
as it flew over a concrete embankment, rolled in mid-air and landed
upside down on the pavement ten feet below the street.
I recall, that was pretty painful too.
summer I was forty years old
I quit drinking, cold turkey. I went
through withdrawal alone in a crummy little apartment in Oregon City.
Nobody was there to hold my hand -- or my hair -- as I vomited into a
metal wastebasket for five days in a row.
none of these experiences -- extreme as they were, horrific as they
were, brutally painful as they were -- prepared me for the agony I
endured last Saturday, as David and I participated in the annual
Healdsburg Harvest Century ... my first organized bike ride.
I thought I knew what I
was getting into, last month, when I signed us up for the Healdsburg
honestly truly did.
My pal Bitter
had posted a
blurb about the ride on our women's cycling message board, saying she
thought that it sounded like a good potential BOOB
adventure. So I followed her
link and went to the official website, where I took a good long look
around, trying to decide if this was something David and I could
At first glance ... it
We've been to
a number of times since I moved to California. I remembered it as being
spectacularly beautiful: mile after mile of lush, verdant vineyards and
endless blue skies reaching off into forever. The website advertised a
choice of 60, 37 or 23 mile rides, depending on skill level. At that
point I was just beginning to get comfortable with weekly forty-mile
rides on the Iron Horse Trail, and I felt certain that I could handle
the 37-mile Healdsburg option. (And if not -- if for some reason it
proved to be tougher than I'd anticipated -- I could always cut it
short and do the easier ride. Right?) Plus the event was
the weekend of our first wedding anniversary. I'd been looking for
something special for the two of us to do together -- something
different and fun and emotionally significant -- and this seemed like
just the ticket. After all, what could be more 'emotionally
significant' to two middle-aged people for whom bike-riding has been
nothing short of a miracle?
I called David at his
office and said "So what do you think?"
"Let's do it!" he
After I sent our
registration off to the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce, along with
our $90 (completely unrefundable) registration fee, I had a few weeks
to waffle and obsess and work myself into a thorough, dithering
I worried about my
social comfort level, for one thing. Basically, I'd
just signed us up for a gigantic party with 1,000 total strangers:
something I generally would go out of my way to avoid.
worried about spending money we can't afford right now. I worried about
stoopid girly-stuff: I don't have the right shoes, I don't have the
right helmet, I don't have the right jersey, I don't have the right
But mostly I worried
about the hills.
Everything I read
the ride mentioned the hills. The brochure for the Harvest ride
optimistically described them as "moderately
My book of
Northern California bike rides, on the other hand, described the exact
same hills as "brutal."
I began to have serious misgivings about the
whole thing. A week before the ride, I timidly broached the idea of
blowing it off to David.
"I'll just eat the
registration fee," I said hopefully.
But of course he was
having none of it. "You can do
this," he said, zeroing in
immediately on the main source of my anxiety. And he took me, point by
point, through a recap of all the little milestones I've achieved
lately. The forty-mile rides in Contra Costa County every weekend.
Riding with fewer breaks and greater speed. Conquering the Moraga Hill.
Gaining greater technical skill on the new bike. (Read this: I've
ridden in every gear at least once, and I haven't fallen down in over a
I still wasn't
completely convinced, but finally I said "OK. I'll do it."
Friday night after
we tossed our bikes, our cycling paraphernelia and an overnight bag
into the Subaru, and we drove for a couple of hours north to Santa
where I'd booked us a room at the local Comfort Inn. Check-in time for
the ride would be 6:30 a.m., so as soon as we got to town we grabbed a
quick bite to eat and went directly to bed.
can do this, I
told myself over and over as I fell asleep that night. I
this, I can do this, I can do this.
can't do this," I gasped.
my count, this was the 43,897,621st time I'd uttered the words 'I
the past two hours. Even *I* was getting
sick of hearing myself say it. But now, as I exhaustedly pushed my
bike up another goddamn vertical hill straight into withering Sonoma
Valley sun, 'I can't'
was becoming less a whiney reflex
than an absolute statement of fact.
can't do this anymore.
call it 'bonking' ... the state of complete physical and mental
depletion a cyclist experiences during extreme riding conditions.
Basically, all of your systems just shut down at once.
what was happening to me.
first part of the ride had been fine. After registering, David and I
left Healdsburg High School at 7:15 a.m., rolling out of town with an
army of other riders, 99.9% of whom were 1.) younger than we were,
2.) faster than we were, and 3.) more groovily dressed than we were.
Right away we were being passed in droves by thundering herds of young
Power Rangers. "On
they would announce, with mixed
deference and derision. But that was perfectly OK. David and I were
having a lot of fun, toodling along through the Alexander Valley in our
matching buttercup yellow windbreakers ... stopping for occasional
photo opportunities ... taking our time as we cruised the long, rolling
hills of the scenic valley country. (The irony of *me* -- a former
cheap chablis addict -- riding her bicycle through WINE
COUNTRY was not lost on either
one of us.)
yes, there most
definitely were hills, right off the bat. Endless, looping hills, one
right after another after another after another. As Bitter Hag
described them in her very funny journal
about the ride, "They weren't
hard hills, just relentless."
the time we reached Geyserville Elementary School -- the first official
rest stop of the ride, at about mile eighteen -- I was more than ready
for a break. We plunked our bikes (and our butts) down on the green
grass and enjoyed a nice, extended sit-down. As I slipped
out of my shoes and waited for circulation to return to my
bunion-twisted right foot, David went off to explore the food tables.
He came back a short time later bearing Power Bars, banana bread,
little squeezy packets of orange "energy gel," and -- best of all --
refills of ice cold water. Bitter Hag found me in the crowd, at this
point, and hung out with us for a while as we rested. (Her
transformation from nervous, newbie cyclist into sleek, powerful Road
Goddess -- see picture at right -- has been nothing short of amazing
this year. She looks like a magazine cover, just waiting to happen.) We
ate. We took a few pictures. We chit-chatted about gear and about
riding conditions and about our fellow BOOBs for awhile. It was
definitely one of the highlights of the day for me. (Rumor had it that
fellow BOOB Jenipurr
and her hubby were participating in the ride -- and I was hoping for a
chance to meet them -- but I realized, as I was sitting there watching
the crowd, that I have absolutely no idea what she looks like! Next
time I guess we'll all have to wear BOOB jerseys.)
though, it was time to get back on the road. Bitter Hag rode along with
us companionably for the next couple of miles, until our pokey
middle-aged pace threatened to hold her back. We watched admiringly as
she zoomed off in a blaze of long-legged athletic glory.
away, *I* started having trouble.
suddenly seemed a whole lot warmer than it had been before our break,
for one thing. David and I had both long since removed the buttercup
yellow windbreakers and tied them around our waists, but even in a
ridiculously expensive "moisture-wicking" tank top and a pair of
unflattering bike shorts, I still felt like I was melting. I had eleven
metric gallons of sunscreen slathered on every exposed *Skin Molecule,*
but I could still feel the sun microwaving me like a Meatball Hot
Pocket. Plus I was desperately thirsty but trying to resist the impulse
to chug down my precious remaining half-bottle of water, mainly
because I didn't want to add a full bladder to my misery.
was not having fun.
I plugged along gamely as long as I could. I actually managed to take a
couple of the lesser hills without stopping: a minor achievement that
had me basking in my vast reserves of grooviness ... for about ten
seconds. But pretty soon the 'lesser' hills began to morph into the
'not-so-lesser' hills, and I was having to get off every couple of
minutes and walk the bike for large chunks of the uphill. Soon I was
walking more than I was riding. Eventually there was no riding involved
at all anymore: just walking.
was the worst kind of misery. I would get to the top of the hill,
finally, and collapse into a sweaty, nauseous heap by the side of the
road for a minute or two ... only to get up and face yet another
longer/steeper/more hideous incline, dead ahead. After a couple of
hours of this, I began to bonk in earnest. Even the occasional flat
spots had become impossible for me: I would pedal and pedal and pedal,
but get nowhere. It felt like I was riding my bike underwater. Plus my
water bottle was now empty, my thigh muscles ached, I was sunburned
nearly to the point of blistering, and I had absolutely no reserves of
energy (or humor) left.
that's when I called it quits.
can't do this anymore," I said to David, for the 43,897,621st time.
And I burst into tears.
we'll just have to wait for the SAG wagon," he said gently. He helped
me pull my bike off to the far side of the road, and we stood there in
a thin patch of shade, waiting for the rescue truck to come and collect
us. As we stood there, I wept uncontrollably.
I needed was for Danny Kent to show up
and my humiliation would be
started junior high school, I went on a bike hike with my church youth
As a somewhat lumpy
bookish preadolescent, I loathed physical activity in general, and
bike-riding in particular. But I was determined to participate in this
bike ride for one reason and one reason alone:
That summer, Danny
was the object of my ardent (and wholly unrequited) twelve-year-old
desire. He was my first crush: a blond Adonis in a crew-neck sweater. I
fell in love with him during an oceanside Bible Study retreat,
somewhere between beach volleyball and asking Jesus Christ to be my
personal Lord and Savior. He already had a girlfriend, a loathsome
pixie named Joy, but I didn't care. I loved Danny Kent with a love
as pure and as true as the first golden sunlight of morning.
And for most of that
summer, I followed him everywhere ... just to make sure he knew
The bike hike was a
disaster from start to finish. All of the other kids were riding
something called "ten-speeds." I had no idea what a "ten-speed" was.
Frankly, I thought they looked unnecessarily complicated. My bike -- a
holdover from elementary school -- was an ugly purple Stingray with a
banana seat and raised handlebars. On the rare occasions when I rode it
up and down the sidewalk in front of my house, it seemed to do the job.
I figured it would be just fine for a bike hike. What I hadn't counted
on, of course, was the fact that 1.) my bike weighed a bazillion
pounds, and 2.) I hadn't "ridden it up and down the sidewalk in front
of my house" since fifth grade.
I was piteously
unprepared to ride down the street to the mailbox, let alone a
ten-mile ride to the park.
Ten minutes into the
ride, I was panting like an overheated Siberian Husky. Danny Kent was
little more than a handsome golden dot on the horizon ahead of me.
Twenty minutes into
ride, I was trailing painfully at the very back of the line, along with
the fat kid and the myopic kid and the kid with the broken arm. Danny
Kent had long since vanished into the distance, along with all his
groovier, more athletic friends.
Forty minutes into the
ride I was sitting in the back of Mr. Martin's 'rescue truck,' next to
the fat kid and the myopic kid and the kid with a broken arm. Our bikes
were piled in a heap in the truckbed behind us. A block away from the
park, the truck turned a corner and we passed right in front of
Danny Kent. We were so close to him I could have reached out and
brushed that errant blond hair from his perfect forehead.
Instead, I turned my
and pretended I didn't see him, as my face burst into flames.
It was one of the more
significantly humiliating moments of my childhood.
SAG wagon was heading up the hill toward us, as inexorably as the
executioner's cart coming to take us to the guillotine. In a matter of
moments I would be surrendering my bike -- and my dignity -- and having
the support staff drive me back to our car, less than five miles from
the end of the ride. Worse still, I was about to force my husband -- a
man who once rode his bike from San Francisco to San Diego and back --
to suffer the same indignity with me.
my luck, Danny Kent
would be driving the fudking SAG wagon.)
least you'll get some water in a minute,
whispered the parched,
dehydrated little voice in my head. I'd run out of water at least three
or four hills back. For awhile we'd considered flagging down a
SAG driver for a
refill, but I knew I needed more than liquids. I needed relief. I
needed a sit-down break. I needed shade and sugar and a bathroom and
complete disengagement from riding, if not for the rest of my life then
at least for the rest of the day. And since none of those things were
likely to happen, out here in the middle of Nowhere County ... giving
up seemed like the only option.
it was at that moment that we experienced our miracle.
older I get, the less I believe in the divine sort of "miracle" we
learned about at those Bible Study retreats, and the more I believe
in the miracle of plain old right-place/right-time serendipity. Like
the serendipity of meeting my husband-to-be in an AOL chat room. Or the
serendipity of being offered the perfect new job the same day I'm
leaving my old job. Or the serendipity of walking into Long's
Drugs at the
precise moment that Luna Bars are going on sale for ninety-nine cents
the serendipity of standing on that road in Healdsburg, as the SAG
wagon approached, and hearing David say the ten most beautiful words in
the English language:
a minute. Isn't that a store across the
that a store across the street?
swear to god, that store hadn't been there thirty seconds earlier.
(Maybe it's one of those Brigadoon things: the store appears magically
every hundred years, or whenever perimenopausal cyclists are
threatening to drop dead from heat exhaustion.) We waved the SAG wagon
on as it passed us -- Maybe
next time -- and wheeled our
way across the street to get a cold drink and rest for a few
this doesn't work," David promised, "then we'll get a ride back."
plopped myself gratefully onto one of the shaded picnic benches in
front of the little general store and waited as David went inside to
buy drinks. There were several other Healdsburg Harvest riders hanging
around nearby -- I recognized the pink wrist bands, identical to the
one chafing at *my* wrist -- all of them refilling water bottles and
swapping hill horror stories. I took off my helmet and felt a
delightfully cool breeze on the back of my neck. For a few minutes I
layed my head down on the picnic table and closed my eyes.
few minutes later David was back with our drinks. I was expecting him
to bring us bottled water -- all of the other riders standing around
were drinking Calistoga and Arrowhead -- but instead he had a Vanilla
Coke in one hand and a Pepsi in the other. I grabbed the Pepsi and
slugged down half of it in one long voracious swallow. I'm sure there
are a hundred perfectly valid reasons why Pepsi is the worst possible
thing to drink in situations like this -- sodium, sugar, caffeine,
preservatives -- but I don't care. It revived me instantly. I took the
rest of it in little sips, over the course of ten minutes or so, and by
the time I was finished I felt like a new person. After that I sent him
back into the store to buy a large Calistoga, which I divided evenly
between our water bottles.
stayed at the general store for almost half an hour ... long after the
other riders had already remounted and ridden off into the distance.
Finally I stood up and started strapping myself back into my helmet.
looked at me questioningly. Well?
his expression seemed to say. Are
we going for it?
think we should go for it," I said. I still wasn't convinced I was
going to make it. We had at least another hour -- and, according to the
map, at least another two or three monstrous hills -- left to go. But
at least I was starting this last leg of the journey feeling
replenished in body and in spirit.
we loaded up the water bottles, I remarked that my tires had been
rolling 'funny,' the last hour or so of the ride. "That's one of the
things that has made it so tough," I said. And I told him how it felt
like I was riding underwater ... how I would pedal and pedal and pedal
and get nowhere.
picked up my bike by the handlebars and gave the back tire an
experimental spin. It rolled smoothly. "Nothing wrong there," he said.
Then he did the same thing to the front tire ... except that the front
tire didn't "spin." It rolled about half an inch forward, and then
it just stopped.
not good!" he said, surprised.
And he monkeyed around for a minute with the gears and the levers and
the miscellaneous doodads hanging off the handlebars. After a moment,
he looked up at me with a look of pure amazement on his face.
don't know how it happened," he said slowly, "but it looks like you've
been riding all this time with your brakes locked."
gave me the quick technical explanation. Somehow the brake wire had
gotten tangled up with the parallel flange indicators -- possibly when
I plunked my bike down in the grass at Geyserville School during that
first break, hours earlier -- and it had essentially locked my brakes
in place, making it impossible for my front tire to roll smoothly.
had been trying to ride uphill with my brakes on.
didn't know whether to laugh, or to scream ... or to just lean over and
vomit Pepsi all over my shoes. In the end, though, I did none of these
things. What I did instead was this: I got on my bike. I followed David
back to the road. I adjusted my sunglasses, and I tucked a couple of
stray hairs under the brim of my helmet. Then I slipped my feet into
the toe clips, I gripped the handlebars, I took a big deep breath ...
and I followed my husband towards the finish line.
and i've got the t-shirt to prove it
throw a rock