Friday night was spent picking up last odds and ends (yes, dark chocolate covered almonds counted as a necessity). I loaded up my panniers, installed my new pedals, readied my new cycling sandals, and installed my cyclometer.
Then I went to bed and lay there thinking about what the the next three days would be for me. Would it confirm my desire to cycle over 3,000 miles? Would it make me rethink my plans, changing everything that I've been thinking (obsessing?) about for the last two months?
I woke up early on Saturday, showered and dressed. I ate a little, said goodbye to my family, and headed outside. With my bicycle loaded, I began to push it to the end of the driveway.
It was so heavy. How had I not expected the heaviness?! I knew my panniers were heavy, as I had loaded them onto my bike. But actually moving the bike with my body proved to be more difficult than I had expected. In fact, I uttered the words, "what the f*ck was I thinking" as I neared the end of the driveway, chuckling to myself.
So, not only was I first learning to ride with a weighted bike, but I also was wearing my new cycling shoes for the first time, too! I took time to learn how to click in and out of the pedal, one at a time. And after riding on our rail trail, I felt like I was getting the hang of it. I stopped at the co-op for a coffee, and as I sat in silence, I contemplated the next few days. I really don't think I was thinking anything in particular. I just let my mind wander, thinking about my family, camping, the weather, the challenge ahead.
I went back to my bicycle and started my ride to the state park. About 20 miles later, I arrived and made it to my campsite. My friend Kate joined me for the rest of the day and made plans to camp with me, and it was so nice seeing her pull into camp. We ate lunch, rode around the state park, and I made my first change of plans for the weekend. Instead of riding 60 miles on Saturday, I decided to stick to riding in the park and felt finished, having only ridden 36 miles for the day. We returned to the campsite, read and napped, and ate dinner. We roasted marshmallows, talked and I fell quickly asleep once my head hit the pillow.
In the morning, after Kate had returned home, I made breakfast and headed out. I hoped to ride 60 miles, and I headed to the back roads to start my ride. The route was very hilly, and I experienced a range of emotions and thoughts. This is so beautiful. I wonder what my family is up to. What's that noise on my bike? My butt is sore. I can't believe I'm out here by myself doing this! I wish I had someone to talk with. I'm so glad I'm not slowing anyone down because I'm barely breaking 9 mph! My fingers are numb. How much longer? I'm so tired. I've only ridden 14 miles so far?! Okay...if I've gone 22 miles since I left, what time will it be when I finish? And so forth.
I somehow made it up one hill only to find another one waiting in the near distance. I took each uphill as it came, trying not to think about the others that followed. I found myself counting and told myself that I could do anything for 60 seconds (something I share in childbirth classes and doula work as we talk about contractions "you can do anything for a minute."). I'd pedal, "1", pedal, "2", and on, until I tried to mix it up to stretch out the numbers. I rode up, knowing that I'd surely have a glorious downhill, if not immediately following, then sometime soon. I reached the highest downhill speed of 33 mph, but tried to keep it to 20-25 mph.
I rode the opposite direction of the Hilly Hundred cyclists, and I was met with some confused looks and none of the waves or comradery I'd expect from fellow cyclists. But I kept on, and changed my route a bit, not by choice, as I missed a turn off a state highway I was only supposed to be on for 0.1 mile. So, I stayed on the state highway and found myself more south than expected but on a well traveled road with good shoulders. I felt good about this change in plans, as being out on the backroads felt too solitary and isolating.
I ate lunch at the cutest diner, sitting at the counter. I saved most of my food for later, as I just wasn't hungry for it. I made my way on, having decided to ride the longer +30 mile route instead of the 17 mile route back to camp. I can do this. This is why I'm here. I'm supposed to feel tired and sore. This is all new (again) to me. So, I kept riding, excited to enter the next town listed on the map. All were small, with little to speak of. I wondered whether the small towns on my cross-country ride would resemble these towns, particuarly the ones where I was planning overnights. I can't imagine spending the night in a small town city park like this one!? What am I thinking?! But I kept at it, knowing each mile pedaled brought me closer to camp.
I soon found myself getting off the bike, sometimes halfway up a hill, to give myself a water break and a chance to catch my breath. I also was conscious of the narrow shoulder at times, and gave passing cars more room to pass on the uphills. Once, I was getting back on my bike, and right after I clipped in I lost my balance and the bike slid out from beneath me, tossing me to the right down a steep shoulder. I only fell a few feet, and I caught my bike as it turned over towards me. It all happened in slow motion, making me take a few minutes before trying to get on my bike again. I wasn't hurt badly, but I felt shaken up, knowing I had probably 20 miles left in my ride for the day. If I ride and stop for breaks, that means I'll be back by 6pm?
I called Jim for some support, some encouragement. He said all the right words and I kept on. I couldn't have been happier to arrive in the final town.I stopped for a cup of ice, a soda, Starbursts and gum. I rode on, thinking of how wonderful it was going to feel to lay in my tent, eating candy and wearing dry clothes. About 5 miles later, I found my way to my site, ate my lunch leftovers and built a fire.
I fell alseep after I read, with the crackling fire outside my tent. I kept the rain fly open so I could turn my head and see the flames reaching skyward. I fell asleep
I woke up this morning, later than I had expected. I wasn't on the road until 11am, after taking the morning slow and thinking about what I wanted my day to bring. Did I want to push myself and ride 40-50-60 miles? Did I want to really take this weekend to be what I had built it up to be? I was very much fine with my shorter day on Saturday, enjoying it for what it brought and feeling alive and happy and whole. I was pushed to my limit on Sunday, but I completed the longer route and felt really good after having rested for a bit at camp. Now, Monday, I had a choice. And I wondered if the answer somehow dictated how I would do on a cross-country journey.
I decided to load up my bike and ride home.
With only 20 miles under my belt today, I averaged 40 miles a day for my trial ride. Not exactly my 60 mile a day challenge, that I had planned. But I arrived at home at peace for what my trial ride was.
I remind myself that I accomplished more cycling in three days than I have in many, many years. I rode for the first time with a loaded bike. No, I didn't ride what I had wanted, but I am not holding onto that, either.
I'm thinking a lot about what this experience means for my cycling next summer. In my head I have this really big goal and in my mind, I really still believe I can accomplish that goal. I really do believe I can ride my bike to Oregon. But, I also know that it will be really hard. It will be challenging. I will miss my family and my friends so much. I will push myself further than I've ever done before.
All of this is going through my head, and I know that it's my choice whether I embark on this challenge. It's not something I have to do, but instead something I would be choosing. Knowing that makes me think about what I need in order to feel solid in the decision I make. I don't know if it's something I need to do to ready my body or more of a mindset I need to find. I don't know.
I'm feeling energized by the possibilities and I'm really curious where the coming months will take me.