Tuesday, June 05, 2007

HRIDE: Crossing the Finish Line

I am writing this as I sit, knees sore and muscles cramped, on a flight from Denver International Airport to LaGuardia. Today I woke up at 6:30 AM to take my bike to the shipping truck (not the earliest of my wake up times in the past few days) before having one last meal in South Lake Tahoe –Red Hut Waffles are NOT to be missed – before heading to the airport in Reno, Nevada. Yesterday was an incredible day in my life, the culmination of four wonderful months and an entire weekend that celebrated them, and I am still in a bit of awe at what I have accomplished.

Since my last post on this blog, I put my bike on a truck parked on a city corner in Manh
attan, not to see it (or ride it) again until eight days later on the border of the Nevada and California state line in Tahoe. The past week was a hectic one, even minus the bike rides, during which I rushed around trying to pull together the other parts of my life while simultaneously resting my body (otherwise known as "tapering") and mentally preparing myself for what was to come. Then, last Thursday, Brad and I flew to Reno accompanied by my teammate and friend Lauren (yes, you've heard her name before) and her boyfriend. We drove together to Tahoe and our jaws dropped at our first view of the awesome lake, which, if you don't know, is huge, surrounded by mountains and full of crystal-clear water. At about that same time we all noted just how long we had been driving uphill for, certain it would be part of Sunday's route, and Brad gave us some words of encouragement, something like, "Oh man, you guys are dead!". Yep.

Anyway, at about 6,000 feet base altitude with 3 days to go, the theme was "HYDRATE!" and soon I was peeing like a pregnant lady. Friday we shopped for some last minute gear (arm warmers were quite a nice thing to have in the chilly, cloud covered Tahoe morning) and checked out the town until the rest of the team arrived and we finally were reunited with our bikes. Friday night we hit the casino, where Brad won 100 bucks at blackjack and together with my riding partner, Kurt, and the team's youngest member, Erica, he and I set the dance floor on fire!

Saturday we went on a team warm-up ride in the interest of acclimation (although we had a head-start from all the dancing) and to give us a taste of the hill climbs to come. We rode to the top of Inspiration Point, a grueling climb with a breathtaking view as reward, and only about 13 miles into Sunday's course. After the ride I had my bike tuned just one last time by some very competent mechanics at the local bike shop and the carbo-loading kicked into high gear. For lunch we had some great local pizza (and um, some nice dark beer), which was soon followed by a generous plate of pasta at the TNT pasta party (an event tradition with all the national chapters present). I learned that not only did our New York City chapter of 45 strong raise over $285,000, but the combined effort of all the national Team in Training teams for our event raised $8.5 million dollars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's mission.

The last event of the Saturday night before what we all hoped would be a good night's rest was a team meeting. We were advised on the course to come, decorated our jerseys with our race numbers and little dedications to those we all ride in honor of, and each individually shared our reasons and stories for why we were there. If it hadn't been for Lauren's father's illness, I never would have joined TNT, and as she reminded me on the drive in, it was a difficult commitment to make. As I told my teammates that night, it feels great to have reached my fundraising goal (and THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!, I did!) and I am proud of the progress I have made through my new dedication to cycling. But the incredible part is how much I have gained through this experience – new friends, a support network of teammates, and the chance to be a part of a greater thing, in which everyone involved has a personal motivation and as a team we can really make a difference.

Sunday morning the alarm went off at 4:30AM. My team's race start was scheduled for 6AM and we planned to meat in the hotel lobby at 5:30. I had bought some healthy food for the morning, but had trouble swallowing much of it. I cannot appropriately explain how nervous I was at the start of the ride. In fact I think it took about 20 miles and the most thrilling downhill of my life to calm those uneasy nerves of mine.

3,000 cyclists rode America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride yesterday (2,000 of them TNT participants) and it seems like an understatement to say that it lives up to it's name. I have been lucky to see a lot of beautiful parts of this country, but watching the sun come up over the lake as I pedaled along was one of the most incredible things I have witnessed. The hundred miles were challenging and some of the climbs I could not have dreamed of summiting 4 months ago, but I as continually looked out at the lake (from some really great heights), surrounded by beautifully aged, tall trees, I would breathe in the mountain air and surprise myself with the emotional weight I felt from what I was doing and how far I would go that day.

The 100 mile course was truly a blast, with my riding partner, Kurt, either in front, back or along side me just like we had trained to do all season. He took a pretty hard fall – or what I called a Hollywood Slide – and came down on his wrist somewhere around mile 30, but it didn't slow down our peddling for the remaining 70. It was a great feeling being part a team when we would ride up on each other, or high five at rest stops, pushing each other forward. I have some irritation I call "monkey butt" from an 8 mile climb that started at mile 79 and was nearly an hour of peddling uphill in the saddle, but could care less because riding across the finish line, with 12 of my teammates was the most exhilarating feeling of accomplishment I have felt in my life. Looking back on the lake later, it's still hard to believe I rode the entire way around it. It was a 9-hour day on the course (with the fall, lunch, and some very long waits in the bathroom line included), but my actual ride time was just under 6.5 hours, which I am quite proud of with all that climbing!

I should note that Brad was waiting in a homemade, duct-tape-lettered "Go Heather/Go Team!" t-shirt both at the 70mile lunch stop and the finish line. He even whipped up some turkey sandwiches for Kurt and I while kneeling in the finish line parking lot, just when I was about ready to eat my arm.

As the rest of my team crossed the finish line, Brad, Kurt, my coach Josh and and I went, on the advice of the on-site paramedics, to the Emergency Care center for an x-ray of Kurt's wrist. We all crowded into the exam room, had some great laughs with the doctors, and learned it was only some severe bruising (a week to heal while the bikes travel back to New York). Later that night, there was a victory party and my entire team ate and drank together, sharing stories of the road as our eyes all sunk into the same tired bags that had hung there when we met each other 5:30AM that morning. As I said before, it was an incredible day.

I have already signed up for another century ride in Tucson this fall, where I will serve as a mentor to all the new participants and hopefully help them have as great of an experience as I have had. Already, I can't wait, and am itching to get back on my bike, which won't be back from it's cross-country trip for another week. I will also continue to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in hopes of a cure, and I will also continue to encourage Brad to buy a road bike! I cannot thank those of you who have donated and supported me along the way enough (and if you still would like to support the cause, please do!). This experience has changed my life, and the money we raised will hopefully change the lives of others. None of this could be accomplished by any of us alone.

You can see more photos from the weekend here.

1 comment:

John said...

Hi Heather,

CONGRATULATIONS! What a fine performance at Tahoe, and a great write-up as well.

Although we haven't met, I was out on the AMBBR course with you, as part of the Silicon Valley (CA) TNT team. Your blog write-up will put mine to shame!

I enjoyed reading your blog to see what it's like on a different TNT team, 45 folks training together in the Big Apple. And I wondered how people from far away got their bikes to Tahoe!

Glad you're sticking with TNT. Go Team!