Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Philly tried to break me. Cancer is still around. Game on in Austin for Round 2.

Lance Armstrong addressing "the troops" before kicking off the 100 mile leg.
I won't lie. Sunday's LIVESTRONG Challenge in Philadelphia broke me. Lance warned us in his opening remarks that, by far, it was the most hilly, challenging course of all the LIVESTRONG Challenges. You know that is a BAD sign. But his words of encouragement were tremendous, and especially exciting after learning that there were over 3,000 riders flooding the chutes for the various Challenges in Philly, that we'd raised $3.8 million dollars. This was also after Lee Applbaum of RadioShack presented the LAF with a very generous check.

In the 100 Mile Chute
Though I was excited at the beginning, I also felt sick to my stomach. Nerves? Tension? Stress? Fear? All of the above? I can't tell you. But I definitely didn't lettem see me sweat, and I put on my happy face on the outside. I'd ridden the day before, put in about 16 miles, and my back was feeling a bit strained, but not awful. I'd fueled up the night before, though I did indulge with my protein - had lamb (darn you, Dave & Billy for taking me to an amazing Middle Eastern restaurant with irresistible fatty meats!) - which I presumed was why my tummy was extra nervous. But, then again, I was very concerned that my nursing my back had impacted my training to the point my legs could handle the distance, but my back couldn't handle the course. And, when Lance said the hills are tough, and I was expecting flats, well, anxiety kicks in.

Adrenaline and the 3,000 other riders sent me at a blistering pace (or, maybe that's what happens when Lance starts a ride off... ) and my cyclometer was reading 23, 25 and 27 mph. And I was being passed on the left. We were riding 6-9 abreast at the beginning - the roads were cleared. It was amazing. I've heard about the sound of a professional peloton - that it sounds like an on-coming train. And here I was, part of that train of cancer-kickers, hammering the pedals. The clicking of the gears sounded like an old black and white movie featuring a steno pool. The whirring of the wheels spinning reinforced the fact that I was now in the middle of what "drafting" is all about. Our joint momentum was literally pushing me forward and pulling me up slopes with ease.

After a few miles, though, the slopes evolved into hills, ever increasing in pitch and length. I was not prepared for this. Though the peloton thinned out, there was still momentum and I was riding 15-18 mph uphills. Back was straining a bit, but legs felt fine. Then the real hills started. And there was a crash ahead of me. While, of course, I stopped to see if the woman was ok, I secretly gave myself a break to restart up a pitch that wasn't Rica-friendly. I walked with her while I stretched the back to test how it was doing for a few yards. Pinching wasn't the feeling I wasn't, but that's what I got.

I clipped back in, and I found that I was now trailing the 100 mile peloton, and amid stragglers from the 100 mile. I could look behind me and see the aggressive 70 milers were approaching. I clipped in and kept moving on. But, let's just say there was a payoff for stopping and being in the gap.

I found myself in between two groups of riders, and I was riding solo for a mile or so. We hit a flat area, with a slight hill approaching. All of a sudden, on the opposite side of the road, I see a motorcade approaching - 2 police motorcycles, lights flashing, a black SUV, a gap, and a second black SUV. The gap was suspicious, and, as we approached one another, I see that's not any ordinary gap. There are 4 cyclists, in black kits. One has a white helmet, and Oakley jawbones. It's the Boss. Lance. I'm approaching Lance Armstrong. On a bike. And I'm alone. Now, I see Lance is nodding at the riders ahead of me and acknowledging them, but I don't see or hear any verbal exchanges.

This is not the actual thumbs up.
But I didn't have a camera, so this is as good as it gets.
And he was riding with much cooler folks than Landis.
He rode with College, Bart Knaggs and a member of the U23 team.
As Lance approaches me, (because, let's face it, he's going faster than I am - I may as well have been a brick wall), he looks up, looks me in the eye, says, "Hey, Great job! Keep it up!" and gives me a thumbs up. I, goofily, reply, "Uh, thanks! You too!" Needless to say, my pace upped, and I rode up that slope pumping hard.

Lance must have had an "in" with the weathermen, because soon after, the heavens opened up and we were not showered, or merely rained on, we were pounded with rain. I took of my lenses, as they were collecting more water than good and fogging up, and, riding barefaced, I couldn't see - the rain stung my eyes. My shoes collected so much water, with every downstroke, I could see water coming back out of my shoes by my ankles. And then the real hills hit, and more and more riders were walking.

My hair got all mussed up.
The 100-mile ride was canceled due to torrential downpours and possible lightning. 20 miles in, the hills took their toll on my back, even with walking. I went to a medic who said she knew the course well and I asked for her opinion. I told her I don't mind hurting for the next day or two, or "suffer" like we cyclists love to do, but I didn't want to re-injure myself. She determined that my back hadn't healed enough from injury to be able to sustain riding the profile any further without sustaining further damage, and I was already at risk of having re-aggravated the sprain. A SAG wagon was called, and another rider and I were driven back towards the finish line. But, we decided we were not going to finish on 4 wheels, but on 2. So, we were dropped off along the way, and we rode back in. And I did it with an angry vengeance. I hit 23 mph once more, sprinted at the end until they stopped us in the chute.

By end of day, soaked to the bone, chilly and sore, I clocked in 35 miles. A far cry from the 100 I was determined to ride.

But sometimes it just isn't meant to be.

So, now, with even more determination, my goal is set to ride the full 90-miles in Austin, TX and to meet my $15,000 fundraising goal so I can fly the kids out to face the LIVESTRONG Challenge and for Zach to ride with me.

In Philly, I rode for Ryan Weiss and my Gramma. Gramma and Ryan will remain on my bike, but who will join them in Austin?

For sure, Carolyn Davis, Lisa Allison and Darlene Berggren, three AMAZING Mary Kay sisters, two of whom have come out winning the battle against cancer, one falling before she had a chance to fight. Tal Friedman, Scott Joy, Jody Schoger, Debbie Thomas, Lynn Lane, and many other fellow LIVESTRONG Leaders and supporters who are fighting, surviving and thriving. I will ride for Michael Patrick, who has been picking a fight with cancer for years, and, as much as he could, riding EFTA races for the Gary Fisher 29er mountain bike racing Crew. I will ride for my Aunt Carol, who beat cancer. I'll ride for David Breakstone, Nancy Leferman and Jonathan Singer, part of my Bi-Cultural family. I'll ride for many others, with their names pinned to me, mounted on the walls, and elsewhere.

But I'll also be riding for you. One day, whether directly or indirectly, you'll be affected by cancer. 1 in 3 will fight the disease personally. 28 million are fighting right now.

I ride for you, in hopes that one day, you never will have to fight. As Lance said to us on Sunday, one day, we'll be able to ride for ANOTHER cause, because cancer will be a thing of the past.

Help me win this fight. Please consider a donation today, or pass this blog onto someone that you think might be interested in supporting the cause. I have a LONG way to go - almost $10,000 to go - to hit my fundraising goal to support the LAF.


Follow This Link to visit my personal web page and help me in my efforts to support Lance Armstrong Foundation.

More photos from the day can be seen on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/39868920@N05/sets/72157624665967471/.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Philly, here I come... for Ryan

With less than a week to go, I'd be lying if I said I was as prepared as I'd like to be. Between back recovery, timing between jobs and other obligations, and unpredictable weather, I haven't been commuting as much as I'd hoped. Every morning I've woken up to ride to work, I have either overslept, been told by the weatherman that it will be treacherous in the afternoons, or the back is most unhappy with me. Even this morning, after a long night of dishes, laundry and post-camp straightening up with the kids, my back was not going to let me do much of anything.

Not to worry - that won't stop me from riding. Knowing what little things are throwing my back off, I may have to modify plans and attempt the 90, but be willing to settle for the 75 mile leg. But I'm determined as ever to be there and ride hard.

The fact that Lance, himself, will be at the Challenge, of course, makes bailing an impossibility. And I wouldn't think of not going after the fundraising I've done.

But that's not what has made it do-or-die for me to ride it, regardless of lack of prep. It is because of MySpace.

Well, not entirely MySpace. But thanks to MySpace.

3 years ago or so, I created a MySpace profile. It was, initially, to experiment for work, try out marketing ideas for Mary Kay etc. I chose a professional headshot as my profile pic, and something interesting happened. All of a sudden, random men started requesting to be my friend. Some even bought Mary Kay - so much so to the point that, for a time, the majority of my clients were male. I was onto something.

Then I got a most unlikely friend request. It was from a gentleman in Delaware, single, not my usual type, covered in makeup a la the band KISS, with fake blood on him, playing the electric guitar. But, he was also a nice Jewish boy, and, despite photos and the names of his bands, seemed like a nice enough person. So, I accepted his friend request.

While there weren't any sparks, per say, we struck up a really lovely on-line friendship. We were both divorced, going through relationship struggles, parents, and nice guys/girls often mistaken for doormats. There were times when we'd IM and chit-chat frequently over the course of a few weeks, and then there would be a lull, until one of us needed something or just wanted to chat again. And we'd strike up the conversation.

This has been going on for the past few years, and when we last spoke, we were both on the verge of some big, wonderful relationships. Since then, it turns out, both of our situations changed drastically. Mine fell apart, and fell apart hard, and I ended up getting back with someone from my past (that I always kind of new was who I'd end up with anyway). Strangely, he ended up doing the same, and reconciled with his ex-wife.

But that's not what brought us together in conversation again.

A month or so ago, I saw something on Facebook that was jarring. I saw his name and cancer in the same sentence. And, after reviewing wall posts I'd missed in my stream, I learned he'd been fighting cancer.

This past Thursday, he left the hospital after treatment, and rang the bell on his way out.

Well, Ryan lives just outside of Philadelphia. So, I'm dedicating my Philly Challenge to Ryan. And, I've promised him, if I qualify with my fundraising to earn 2 tickets to the pre-Challenge dinner, which will be attended by Lance Armstrong himself, I will bring him with me to celebrate.

So, for the first time, I'll meet this friend of 4 years, and we'll celebrate his survivorship together.

Ryan, I apologize, I don't think there will be any death metal cover bands this year. But, maybe you can talk to Lance and see about performing next year.

You fought hard, Ryan. Now, LIVESTRONG!

To make sure that Ryan and I get to celebrate together at the Challenge Dinner, please consider making a donation to http://philly2010.livestrong.org/ricarockstheride.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Chal-lange! (Part II)

Where we last left our heroine, she had found some peace and calm atop Camden Snow Bowl before facing off against acrophobia, climacophobia, and gelotophobia. All seemed well. It was all downhill from here...

To quote Bill Cosby once more... "Riiiiiiiiiight..."

We're not just talking about a quick descent. We're not just talking about whizzing downhill to the bottom. Oh, no, that would be too easy. The downward spiral of rocks, hairpin turns, loose dirt and obstacles do not fit into the definition of "downhill." When I walked it on foot, I thought it was managable. I could understand the reputation of "white knuckle" given the pitch. What I didn't take into account was the momentum with which my body and bike wanted to go (which, on the road, I will happily yield to) was in direct competition with over-my-head technical trail-furniture. And, lest you think the downhill was, well, downhill, oh, no, somehow EFTA in its infinite sadism, found a way to incorporate what seemed like an equal number of ascents on the way 'back down" as there were on the way up.

I have to tell you, I was sure I was home free when I hit that clearing. I was putting those demons and ghosts away that came to taunt me on the climb. And now, they snuck around every corner I skidded through. I didn't see that pipe standing 3 feet upright, with its hooked end on the left side of the trail coming into a clearing. My left shoulder, however, introduced itself, and I went down once more. And the tears started again. I passed through a trail crossing, and did my best to see through the salt-bath washing my lenses to see which way to go. (A wrong turn would not only delay my finish of this lap by taking me off the race course, but it could either put me on a recreational trail leading who-knows-where or put me on a race course from the day before - a downhill race - which I was not equipped for by any sense of the imagination.) Someone must have had a disagreement with the tape and posts, as well, so I followed what I thought was the freshest trail.

I was wrong.

I kept following the trail, and realized I was going back up. Not on a fun little incline EFTA threw in for fun - I mean I was back on course up to the top. I hiked forward, hoping to find an intersection, but there wasn't one. So I turned around and rode back down. And I found the race course signs once more - only I know I hadn't passed them yet. I kept moving forward and ended up at the same intersection. I was half-expecting the Scarecrow to tell me to go "that-a-way," so I followed the path I hadn't taken.

Interestingly, my instincts the first time were better than the second time as I soon realized I was approaching a dastardly descent with the ominous orange signs from the downhill race that read, "Difficult Line" and "Easy Line" and a dirt ramp, which would have launched me into the air - and I'm not overstating this, folks, I mean I would have been airborne several feet. My brakes squealed under the pressure, I clipped out once more, and hiked upwards. I got back onto the trail to find my way back to that blasted intersection. There were only two more ways to go - back where I came from in the first place, or, lord help me, upwards once more? I cringed and went onto the 3rd option - veering upwards once more.

Familiar signs approached, and I relaxed a bit. And then I heard whirring from behind me. Other racers were approaching. "Thank goodness! Signs of life!" I thought to myself. As I heard their derailleurs click and chains shift, I knew that was my cue to pull off to the side to let them pass. Sure enough, it was some of the elite riders, most likely on their 3rd or final lap. This time, a couple of encouraging words, and back onto the trail.

I had a second wind. I trailed the dust clouds they left behind them. The ghost from before was a distant memory - I was literally back on track to finish my first lap and onto the second lap. Only my confidence was short-lived. I came around a turn and saw my tent and the parking lot in the distance - I knew I was near something good. I was approaching a series of switchback turns, when I thought I saw a flash of my estranged friend's car in the lot. I lost my concentration.

Fortunately, a most friendly tree decided to intervene and introduce itself. Unfortunately, trees aren't very subtle in their introductions when you're on a sharp downhill turn on sandy loam with a sharp cliff on its other side, and it slammed itself into the right side of my helmet, shoulder and right leg. The tree did point out, most politely, that had it not stepped in, I would have fallen into a most unfriendly rock garden. Somehow, my right side was not as grateful as the rest of me was.

Shaken, and stirred, I did a quick check to see if my bike survived and that all my body parts were still attached. Yep, they were. I continued onto the finish of lap one.

Or so I thought. I'm not entirely sure how I did it, I have to tell you, but I somehow missed the path down back to the finish line, which, for me, would have marked the end of lap 1, and the start of lap 2. Confused, I finally passed an official and asked where the short lap was. He said it was near "the woman." Oh, that helped. "Which one?" He answered, "The one in the middle of the intersection." Surprising enough, I knew who he was talking about. I asked how far I had to go. He raised an eyebrow in confusion and asked where I'd come from. I told him I was aiming for the finish point to end the long lap and start the short lap. He said he'd seen me before going around in circles and was surprised that I hadn't, officially, ended my long lap yet. I should have a while back, based on where I was on the course. Given where I was, he thought I was approaching her intentionally. I shook my head, and he said he'd take care of me at the finish, but to continue straight and I'd find my way.

I did, finally. Thank goodness. Only the lady wasn't there. The wildflower patch was, however, under the lifts (the patch with the wild irises I'd spied on my morning hike) so I know I was back on track, once more.

I heard more riders approaching and passing through the woods, some grimacing, some intent on the end game. At this point, it was a mix of straggling novices, like me, and elites finishing their fourth laps. Not many smiles on these faces, save one woman I'd recognized from Harding Hill. She had a unique kit - with plaid sections on the chamois. She was petite, toned, agile and swift, and clearly in the elite class - everything that I'm not. She danced on the pedals and seemed to float over the roots that tripped the hulk that was me on my bike. She smiled, shouted, "Good job!" I shouted back, "You, too!" And I was in awe, and green with envy, of her. I guess I'm a little old to say, "When I grow up, I want to be like her on the bike!" But, I do.

And, clearly, I wasn't. Because moments later, when I dragged myself up the slope she flew up, I clipped out and continued my hike. And then I made the mistake of looking at my cyclometer. The awards were being handed out at 2pm. My goal was to finish by 1pm - 3 hours after the start. It was getting close to 1:15pm, and I knew I still had a long way to go. Not only that, but I watched my cyclometer to see how fast I was going when I got off the bike and hiked. The digits kept reading "0.0"  I wasn't even hiking fast enough for my computer to pick anything up.

My heart sank. But what could I do? I kept going. There was only one way to go. If I turned back, not only would I be quitting, but I was sure to get stuck on that turnstile of doom and keep going around in circles over and over.

I'd love to tell you more, but I'll be honest: the remainder of the leg was mostly made up of more tears, more stumbles, getting out of people's way and thinking I was near the finish, with teasing glimpses of the parking lot and other signs of life washed away by re-entry into the woods. Not only that, but I really don't remember much more, beyond crying, biting my lip until it almost bled, pushing forward either on foot or in the saddle and hopes dashing at each clearing when I realized I wasn't nearly as close to the finish as I thought I was.

Ultimately, after one final stupid crash and bouncing off of a root I'd misjudged, I came down around the last turn past my tent and the parking lot and ended up on flat ground. Only this ground wasn't about to be swept back upward into the gnarly woods. It was grass. Mowed grass. And in the near distance, I started hearing hoots and hollers. I looked up, and there it was - the finish chute. And fellow riders, who at this point, were cleaned up, changed, hanging out and likely on their second beer, started to turn and cheer for the soul they were sure had been lost on the mountain, to be adopted by the moose and wolves. No, I wasn't living on berries and grub, I was on two wheels. And so grateful to be done, I pulled up to the chalet and got off the bike. When one of the other racers stopped clapping to shout, "You still have to ride up to there!" I dismounted before I crossed the finish line. I got back into the saddle, clipped back in, an rode the final 10 yards.

I was done. I was the last to finish - the laterne rouge. I had to be at least 1/2 hour behind the second to last rider.

And yet... I still managed a 3rd place finish in the NECS #6 Maine Sport Run-Off in my class, I was the 4th woman to finish, earning yet another prize, and now, I am in 4th place in the overall standings in my class, ahead of the man in fifth place by 166 points.
Ultimately, I found my happy place. In a home-made, wild Maine blueberry ice cream cone. You see the remnants, here, of a 3-scoop high mountain of blueberry goodness. Welcome back to age 8. Not a drip touched the ground, not a crumb was not consumed. It fought a good fight, but I was victorious.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Chal-lange!" (Part I)

No, I haven't lost my mind or sense of spelling. For those of you children of the 80s, you may recall an episode of "The Cosby Show" where Cliff takes Rudy to a tap dance class. While Rudy is having her lesson, he is left alone in a room, where he starts to tap "dance" (as only Heathcliff Huxtable can do), and an older tap master comes in. He then begins to dance, stops, throws his hands in Cliff's direction and yells, "Chal-lange!"

As many of you know, I also author many of the blog entries for Trek Bicycle Store of Fairfield. This week's blog, "Challenge Yourself," was as much an homage to the Connecticut Challenge, the upcoming LIVESTRONG Challenges and other similarly named rides as it was a gauntlet thrown to our readers. I didn't want to get too personal, of course, as it is our business blog. So I write this as a more personal post-script to that blog entry.

To say that the past several years have had a recurring theme of being faced with/overcoming challenges is an understatement. Some of you know the depth and breadth of what kinds of absurd challenges have been thrown my way - from construction nightmares to financial blows, from post-divorce aftermath disasters to injuries, not to mention troubling relationships that, at times, have taken shocking turns - it's been a brutal few years. I don't think it's a coincidence that, at a time when my non-physical strength has been tested to what pro riders would refer to as the "razor," I chose to take up cycling and push myself to a physical "razor."

This weekend, I did EFTA's NECS #6 Maine Sport Run-Off. For those that aren't fluent in East Coast mountain bike lingo, it's one of seven cross-country bike races sanctioned by the Eastern Fat Tire Association. You'd think that a 10-mile ride in Maine, compared to the 100+ miles I rode to and through NYC would be no big deal, right? Well, when you throw a mountain into the mix, very technical (rocky, root-filled, pipe-laden, uneven and obstacle-filled) singletrack, with frequent and sharp switchbacks, absurd inclines and descents, it becomes more understandable why this was far more of a challenge for me than a century road ride.

I'll confess that, despite performance, there has not been a single century or road ride of significant distance that I've done where I haven't shed tears. I always seem to push myself - somewhere near halfway through the ride - to the brink of hitting the wall, and, seeing the impending doom, I start to cry. It's when the pain starts to set in. I can feel the lactic acid burning my limbs. My rear end aches from being in the saddle as well as supporting my cranking legs. Shoulders twitch and go numb, aching to be cracked. And mentally, I can't comprehend that I'm only approaching the midway point, as I could have sworn that by now I would have been close to the finish.

But on this race, the wall was even more threatening upon the approach. At NECS #5 Harding Hill, I wrecked my back in the first mile of the race. I stupidly raised my saddle during the pre-ride without realizing that, when I shut the clamp around the seatpost, some grit or sand got into the mix, so when I rode over the first rocky bit of trail, the grit loosened, which allowed the seatpost to slip into the bike's frame with such velocity, my bum slammed down, shooting a wave of pain up my spine, jostling my still-recovering sacroiliac ligaments. From that point on, every bump, sharp turn and climb caused my back to sear. By the time I got to the top of Harding Hill, I knew I was done. I was so angry that I threw my bike on one side of the trail (and out of the way of riders who were lapping me, now, for a third time) and, on the other side of the trail, I had to lay down flat on a rock to try and get my back to function once more. I had to do what I'd sworn not to do - I had to ask a friend, as he passed on his final lap, to send help. I wasn't going to finish. I was going to have to quit. An embarrassing repeat of my bail out of the Bloomin' Metric. I was furious. It's one thing when you have to face an external challenge. But when the challenger is part of your own body, which should, intellectually, be under your control, part of your domain, and yet it proves to be your downfall, it is a most frustrating thing. I'm also hardly a patient individual. In my mind, taking it easy, intra-articular cortisone shots, acupuncture, ice treatments and forcing myself off the bike for several months should have been more than enough time to be able to ride again. My back, however, and my doctor, had a differing opinion.

So, just hearing about the race's technical features, the notorious "white-knuckle" descent and the pitch I could see merely by looking up from the base made this race daunting. But the challenge was already a done deal - I had to do it - I wasn't going to drive 6+ hours up to Maine and not face the beast. Back be damned. I came prepared. I had roll-on menthol, as I knew ice-packs in the sun and body heat would only last a few minutes. I had my emergency percacet, to loosen my back in case of too much pain. I made a mix of inspiring music to listen to on the drive up. "Defying Gravity," "I Believe," "The Day That Never Comes," "A Hero Comes Along," "Brave"... anything that had the theme of beating odds, defying, well, gravity, etc. I drove up the day before and camped out at the mountain so that there was no way I could oversleep or rush recklessly to the race and not have time to get ready. I made sure to get plenty of sleep the night before. I brought my road bike and went for a quick ride in the morning to warm myself up. I performed reconnaissance the morning of the race by hiking up and down most of the long trail, making notes of different landmarks and other important points so that I know what to expect and where. I made note of where the terra forma was deceptive, bridges that had lead-ins that were way too technical, and turns that lead into surprise rock gardens. I scoped out every climb, every ascent, to determine which ones were within my means, would push my limits or not be worth riding up and when to clip out and hike. I studied the course on foot for almost 2 hours prior to the race. Granted, I didn't cover all of the race, but I hiked at least 3/4 of it. I was prepared to face any challenge forseeable.

Without getting into too many details, though, Life has a way of finding new challenges to throw your way when you're certain that you've put a control on all the challenges you expected. All my preparation the day before and morning of could not have anticipated a challenge raised by a simple question. I was asked about a friend who hasn't been showing up to races - something very out of character. Why should that derail my preparation and focus? What wasn't known was that we haven't been in touch for several months - a very personal pain-point for me. I laughed it off, trying to regain my focus.

I joined the ranks, began the race, and as soon as we hit the first turn, and the first incline, while the other riders charged ahead, straining, I pulled off to the side, clipped out, and began my hike. I knew the beginning pitch was long and steep, and any attempt to ride it would likely kill my ability to ride later. I also knew that by taking this approach, I'd immediately fall to the back of the pelotons, and likely be lapped by my competitors. But here was my secret weapon - I knew, as one of two or three in my category, that as long as I finished the race, I'd still get a top-3 position in the race. So the pressure was off. It was like starting the Tour de France with a 3-hour gap between a podium spot and the rest of the pack. So this was going to be a different challenge - a mano-a-mano fight between me and the mountain. At least, that's what I thought.

As I approached what I thought might be a "wall," the first of the climbs that was on my "maybe" list, after a stretch of technical singletrack and switchbacks that were just on the razor of my abilities, I was reminded of my friend. And all of a sudden, instead of the open patch I was preparing to ride across, an emotional wall formed and I slammed into it full-force. My mind flooded with questions, emotions and heartache related to the current situation with this individual, and I began to break down. I pulled out all my tricks - I started drinking water, hoping it was that I was getting dehydrated and my mind was wandering. I started picturing myself at the top of the mountain, about to start the descent. I envisioned scenes from "Race Across the Sky," trying to re-inspire myself. I started singing, "I believe, I believe, I believe, Oh I believe, all will be forgiven... " Uh, oh. Wrong song to use. I tried backtracking, trying to remember the lyrics to "Defying Gravity." I drew a blank. I tried to hear the rips of guitar in Metallica's "The Day That Never Comes." All I could hear was the cast of "Spring Awakening" singing, "I believe, I believe, I believe, Oh I believe, there is love in heaven... " And then it came.

Not the hurricane that began as I finished my last lap of NECS #3 Big Ring Rumpus. It was the torrential rainstorm of tears - a virtual maelstrom on a warm, sunny and clear day - that flooded my Tifosi lenses. I kept trying to ride myself forward, and as the air rushed against my cheeks, I could feel salty crusting forming around the pregnant pools of tears forming in my eye sockets, draining down my jawline. Blinded, with an incessant stream of the chorus repeating over and over, I kept going, and went over a bridge I was planning to walk over. I didn't see it coming. I also missed the approach to the rock I'd given the nickname "the egg" - the obstacle I knew I had to squeeze through far on the right, otherwise I wouldn't have made it. Only, I didn't make it to the right, because I didn't recognize where I was. And I crashed. My physical defeat was now matching the emotional and mental defeat I was experiencing. But I couldn't give up. I hadn't even made it to the top. And I swore - I swore - I would not quit another race. I pulled off to the side, and watched the next batch of racers lap me, speeding with ease and grace, as I, overweight, under-trained and clumsy, swallowed, trying to free my voice up to shout out words of encouragement to those far superior riders. They were still in their zone, and, on any other section, would likely have responded, but I recognized their grit teeth, laser-like focus - I expected no return of support, but that was ok. They wouldn't have been able to encourage me to go forward. It had to come from within.

And, who knew - what had previously been my enemy - my back - felt fine. I mean, it wasn't just tolerable, it felt fine. Limber, even. My shoulders weren't twitching. My legs weren't burning. Physically, I felt fine. Which left one challenge - I had to get out of my own head (and heart) and get back into the game.

Sorry, Lance, I thought about you, but this time, not as the hero or beacon, but at the disappointment I'd felt when I watched you this Tour just accept the blows. You gave up the fight. And I'd felt let down. Mind you, man, I still admire the hell out of you. And it doesn't reflect on my impression of you. But, perhaps what the French might have seen as endearingly humanizing, I saw as just giving up. It was like you'd lowered yourself from cycling god to, well, the likes of me. And I knew you had more in you. And I'm not that much younger than you. And I would have fought harder. You were in fit condition - I wasn't. And I only threw in the towel at Harding Hill because I had a bona fide injury. It's not a race for me unless I crash a couple of times.

Now, yes, some of this stream of thought was mental smack talk to boost myself up - I know even with a sprained back, broken collarbone and with both hands tied behind his back, Lance Armstrong could kick my ass up and down the mountain three times while I was still trying to make it up the first manageable climb. But that was the level of hell I had to crawl back from - in order to get myself back into the saddle, I had to somehow convince myself I was better than Lance Armstrong.

That got me back into the saddle. But it didn't get me moving again. For that, I had to face the challenge that surfaced unexpectedly. I pulled the most dangerous card in my arsenal - the one that could make or break me, because it would either inspire me or defeat me because it was so close to home. Four letters said it all (and for those who can't decode it, don't bother trying.). WWAD?

I knew the answer. I rode. I cried, and my heart ached, but I rode. Because I knew the answer. Now, the song that made me sob started to give me strength. All of a sudden, the treeline broke, I saw the chair lifts, and I saw the end of the lift lines. I saw people standing at the top. And one, lone man clapped. I looked up. I saw the ocean. And nothing else. A couple of trees, below me. I looked to the right, to the left, behind and in front of me. There was no more rock above the ground. There were no more dirt paths leading upwards. And, choked up from crying, dry from breathing hard, I managed to squeak out to the clapping man, "Is this the top?" And he laughed. "You betcha!"

The corners of my mouth rose, my dirt-covered teeth peeked through my lips, and I rode forward, triumphantly.

Well, until I hit the pipes that feed the snow machines. As one of my friends, Sean, from EFTA that I've ridden with on occasion to try and absorb skills by osmosis can tell you, I don't like pipes. Of any size or girth. And these were easily 2-feet in diameter. I crashed. I toppled over, my right calf and knee falling into the spokes of my front wheel. Crash #2 at my moment of triumph. I couldn't believe it. Plus, I was afraid I'd damaged my wheel to the point I couldn't ride anymore. Fortunately, the bike was fine. I rode on.

The view from the clearing
I got to a clearing, just as the white-knuckle descent began. It was a far more private overlook than the actual peak of the mountain. I stopped to take a photo of the view - something my friend had told me to do when I get to the top - he was actually racing other people, not himself and the mountain, so he wouldn't have been able to take a break. So I did. Tears of relief, sorrow and facing the wall came in waves. I went from "I can't believe I made it to the top" to "Why can't I know why he's not at the races?" to "I am going to die on the way down this mountain, aren't I?"

The hardest physical part of this lap was over. Now, was the test of my skills and, more importantly, my natural fear of heights...

I'll continue this another time so I don't bore you all to death...

To Be Continued...