Sunday, June 28, 2009

Long Live the Blog!

“We might not learn cycling from literature, but by studying cycling’s appearances in literature we can learn what people know and feel about cycling.”—John Forester

No, the Blog is not dead…long live the electronic literary.

“The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets.”—Christopher Morley

Life's Lessons

“Cycling provides all the big lessons in life: humility, pride, greed, discipline, grappling with the ego, and learning what your will is and when to apply it and how to apply it.”—John Wissenrider, Mountain Bike Racer

Last weekend, along with family and friends, I rode the Big Mick for the first time. This year, The Big Mick was a 104.6 mile ride on the George S. Mickelson Trail, starting at Lead, SD and following the abandoned Burlington Northern railroad to Edgemont, SD. The trail traverses some of the most beautiful landscape that South Dakota has to offer, starting in a mixed coniferous forest and ending on a short-grass prairie. The ride started at 5:30 am at the Lead Trailhead…of course we were characteristically late in starting…but ahead of the sweep riders.

Rocket rode her new Girly Surly (Cross Check) and I rode my hybrid. The DiStillers (Tina and Joe) were riding their mountain bikes. Immediately, the trail started us on a 10 mile incline that rose to around 6250 ft above mean sea level, a total elevation change of around 1200 ft. The temperatures were brisk in the shade (high forty’s) and gently warming in the sunlight-exposed areas. I was glad I had a jacket. We rolled into the first stop (approximately 20 miles) for a very nice breakfast at the Rochford Community Hall. After some pancakes, biscuits and gravy, fruit and orange juice, we set out for what would be the most challenging cycling I have had to deal with both physically and emotionally.

Earlier in the week, I had been diagnosed with a mild case of pneumonia and had been using a broad-spectrum antibiotic for several days before the ride. I thought that I was on the mend and the trek would be a pleasant break from the chaos I know as a vocation. Instead, it was one of the most defining moments in my life. As John Wissenrider’s statement suggests, cycling can provide the lessons of life, up front and personal.

Four or five miles out of Rochford, I could feel the elevation and my pneumonia-impeded breathing start taking its toll. My legs turned to lead and the energy, I had in the first leg of the ride, was now draining out of me. My riding partners were both gracious and affable in staying together, yet I knew I was holding all three of them back. I honestly thought I could overcome this physiological setback; if I could open my airways…physician heal thyself—use the albuterol nebulizer. Now with a little tachycardia, brought on by the medication, I continued to dawdle behind the others. I was feeling the humility of age and perhaps the lack of collegial discipline to accept my unconditional kismet to SAG after our arrival in Hill City.

Grappling with my ego to finish the century ride, we set out from Hill City for Custer. I told the others that I would catch up with them for lunch in Custer and we would enjoy the descending topography into Pringle…where our sons were waiting for us. There they were to join us in completing the last 32 miles of the Big Mick with my sister and brother-in-law. Several miles out of Hill City, Rocket dropped back to pick me up, but it was already over. The mind said “go on” yet the body was not cooperating. I wanted, in a most greedy way, to finish this ride. But it would not be my providence…I continued to pedal almost in a meaningless way. Maybe it was the will that drove me to the half-century mark…after all, how could I presumptuously wear a t-shirt that bears the slogan “The Big Mick 2009—Century and Half-Century Ride.”

It was the wisdom and charity of Rocket that made me stop at the half-century mark…as if she had been watching her odometer, so she could say that it was time to put my silly pride away for the day. It just so happened that we were immediately in front of a rural home of a kindly, charming and altruistic women, Mrs. S, when it became time to oblige the “bonk.”

As the banal afternoon rain clouds gathered over the Black Hills, we sought shelter under Mrs. S’s carport. Sprawled motionlessly on her backdoor stoop, I wheezed and coughed for air, with a heart that was bemused somewhere between stopping and beating its way out of my chest. Mrs. S allowed us some “personal time” under her carport, inviting us into her home several times before she asked if she could give us a ride into the next town. Emotionally defeated and feeling the devastation of utter exhaustion, I agreed to having her drive us to Pringle where one of our vehicles was parked. The boys, my sister and brother-in-law had already left for Edgemont by the time we arrived. We bid farewell to Mrs. S in a manner you would a close family member, a doting parent.

Rocket and I returned to Mrs. S’s home to retrieve our bikes and to express our sincere gratitude for the gracious and unreserved generosity that she had so willingly extended to complete strangers. She is now a part of our “cycling family,” intertwined into the fabric of our jerseys. It is her admirable application of will (spirit) and humanity that will be eternally remembered.

Thank you Mrs. S!