I rode for seven hours on Sunday, alone and smiling. I rode hard and did tempo intervals on the long, long flat highway. I rode hard and climbed our only long mountain, an easy-sipper named Larch. I rode from bottom to top and then descended and saw Jen climbing skyward as I went down. I sat up and put my arms to the sides as if I was winning something. I shouted, "I'll be right back!!"
The sun came out that day and I'm here to tell you that hasn't been happening very often here in Portland. The sky was warm and soft and not too hot and I felt like Goldilocks in shiny Capo spandex. Jusssssst right. At the little country store I bought a bottle of Gatorade, a bottle of water, a banana and a bag of jojo potato wedges. I guess I feel most like a cyclist when I am putting together shitty meals from sweet little spots like this.
Outside rough men filled gas tanks from the single pump. It had that look of circa 1980's industrial stainless steel squareness. A little dodgy, like the men themselves, who rolled up in those old Ford pickup trucks that absolutely will. not. die. My paternal grandpa had one. All the good, honest, hard-working old men that I once loved had one. 'Cept my mama's daddy, because that man did not have any legs with which to drive a truck. (He could steer a mean motorized wheelchair though, and we were accustomed to the thrill of high speed chases around the trailer park which often ended with a Creamsicle at the corner store where most people called him "mayor".)
I'm cut from rough people and the truth is, they don't really understand this cycling thing.
I didn't either until the Sicilian looked at me from across a 3-foot high pile of piled-up empty Keystone Light cans and explained what a "century" was. "It's a hundred mile bike ride." he paused to take a drag from his Winston cigarette, "Usually a benefit for some sort of charity or other."
"What's this one for?" I asked. He was supposedly riding one the following morning. I'd been killing aforementioned Keystones with my roommates when he'd crashed our driveway party a few minutes prior. We'd been working on this Keystone pile for months.
"Lung cancer, I think."
He took another drag and I did too before saying the only thing that popped into my head: "A hundred miles? On a bike? That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard of in my entire life."
I meant it. I was 21 years old and I smoked a pack a day. (God help you if you send my mother the link to this column. I'll kill you where you stand.)
Quitting smoking was easy (I woke up one morning and realized I hadn't smoked in three days. I thought, "Ok, so that's over." and that was it.) but riding a century took a lot longer.
This past Sunday I did 106 and I felt good when I finished. Tired but happy. It was just a training ride, not a monument. A workout, not an event I registered for and trained for and thought about much. It didn't feel like the stupidest thing I'd ever heard of in my entire life. It felt like flying. I climbed about 7,000 feet which seemed reasonable and almost banal, not epic.
I had a good day on the bike, which hasn't happened in a while.
It occurred to me that the thought I'd had when I was 21 – that I would (and could) never ride a hundred miles on a bike – was a very genuine thought. I had been an all-league cross country runner and played college softball, but this was something that I really couldn't imagine for myself.
What are the things that you cannot imagine for yourself?
People have been writing to me lately telling me about their goals. This one is starting to lose weight, this one wants to ride further than 30 miles, this one wants to take a solo trip across the country, this one is becoming a doctor, this one is trying to pass the bar. One wrote and said we are all battling our own version of ReveTour. She was dead on.
I dreamed once that I ran a marathon with my father. I've never run a marathon, but I know that I could. After last year's knee replacement surgery, my father probably never will. He's battled weight his entire life, along with bi-polar disorder. Two things which are not, incidentally, unrelated.
After the dream I sent him an email I told him that we should do it. "Even if you have to crawl across the finish line," I wrote, "I think we should try." We didn't but I still believe we could. He laughed (I can hear him laughing in emails, a special power) and told me he would almost definitely have to crawl in order to finish.
This past summer I drove my dying Honda 5 hours north and east through the desert to the mountains where my parents now hide at the end of a long, treacherous driveway in a cabin tucked among a grove of trees. We got in their even older miniature pick up truck and headed deeper into the wilderness where you're allowed to harvest the trees that have already fallen. There I watched as my dad limped precariously over the uneven ground, a chainsaw in one hand and a walking cane in the other. When he got tired, my mother took the chainsaw and started slicing off logs one by one. I posted a picture to the internets and a chainsaw safety expert sent me an extremely worried and slightly scathing email.
Afterward we ate burgers at the drive-in and then I stopped at the liquor store to buy cigars. That night we sat around the campfire watching wood burn - quarters I'd split the day before (splitting logs is a lot like batting: read the log/pitch, swing through the target, don't take your eye off the ball). Mom and I drank a cheap bottle of white wine while Dad and I bit off the ends of our cigars and then smoked them with purpose, admiring the consistency of our burn as we went.
My grandfather did not have any legs. My parents have never been to France or run a marathon or ridden bikes further then a few miles. And yet I learned every single thing that I know about cycling from them. Because cycling is just a means to access something more important. It's an expression and a mode. It isn't significant in and of itself, it's significant because of what it represents. It is the same with this tour.
What are the things you've never imagined for yourself? What are the things you know you cannot do?
Write them down and come with us. Write them down and take them on. In July, if you can.
My grandfather had no legs yet every year I bought him socks for Christmas. I can still hear his raspy, cheerful cackle as he opened the package. It was funny every time. Socks are overrated (if you asked Alton, feet are too) and so are self-imposed limitations . Have a laugh and throw them across the room at someone. The get to the living part of things. Get to the doing part of things.
I'll race you to the corner store. There's a Creamsicle in it for the winner.