Monday, May 2, 2011

Riding for a Cause

Yesterday, Sunday, May 1, was the TD Bank 5 Boro Tour. I'll be honest with you - in 2010, I rode in all weather, all year, every month, every season. But with the hinky weather we've been having this year, I haven't really been out much at all. And not nearly enough for a significant ride. Which, no offense to the 5 Boro Tour coordinators, I didn't think would be a problem, since the ride was "only" 43 miles and relatively flat. I've done centuries, so what's 43 miles, right?

Let explain to you why that is the dumbest assumption I've ever made about a ride.
  1. Did I mention I haven't been riding consistently for months? Sure, when I've been commuting to and from work, 25-30 miles a day, 43 miles is nothing. But when you haven't been commuting, or leisure riding, in months? Only a fool would think they'd be fine. A fool that looks something like this:
  2. I was riding my beloved Madone. Which, without question, is the sweetest machine in the world. However, I've only ridden it once before, and that was only for a few miles so I could lead out the ROCK the RIDE & RUN. While it's amazing, it is still relatively foreign to me. And she's a finely-tuned machine, but, just like the finest race horse, a little temperamental when it hasn't gotten to know you, and you haven't gotten to know it. Not to mention the fact that I'd violated the Cardinal Rule of New Road Bikes - GET A FIT DONE BEFORE YOUR FIRST BIG RIDE!
  3. If you've been following the blog for sometime, you may know that I have Hashimoto's Disease, which is a very bizarre auto-immune disorder which does funky things, the most commonly known about is causing hypothyroidism. In my case, my metabolic system, adrenals etc are all thrown out of whack. What does that mean? That I've just started a whole new naturopathic nutritional plan, a set of new drugs and supplements, none of which have been in my system for very long, and all after my "season" in 2010 ended. So I really didn't know what my body would do, how it would react, etc to a ride.
Of course, none of this occurred to me until it was too late to do anything - aka, once I was already on the ride and it was too late to do anything about it.

My son and I got up at 3:00 am Sunday morning, started to get ready, gathered our last minute items that weren't already packed up in the car, and left the house at about 3:45 to get to Stamford, CT train station by 4:30. The train didn't leave until 5:03, but knowing that we had to unpack the bikes, put the wheels back on, get our gear on and make sure nothing was left behind, I wanted to give ourselves plenty of time. So, after some early morning stupidity (we thought we were done, I locked the door and realized my helmet was inside... he closed the trunk, forgetting that his Camelbak with our stuff was inside... I locked the door and realized I forgot my tea behind... ), we crossed the street from the parking garage, went up and down 2 sets of escalators and onto the platform for the train.

At first, we were a bit nervous - there were no other cyclists, or anyone else, for that matter, other than the Allied Burton security guards - but slowly, we saw more and more two-wheeled friends appear from the dark shadows. The train is almost empty, yet the conductor tells us, "Only 2 bikes per vestibule!" which seems like a ridiculous request, as this train was scheduled specifically to transport cyclists to the Bike Tour. My guess is many more bikes will be per vestibule. I, of course, refused to leave my bike in the vestibule, so she sat on my lap. My son used my commuter bike, which he used as a head rest/nap support.

Soon enough, we joined the throng of cyclists out to Park Avenue and started riding to our meet point, so I could get my kit from Colleen of Team LIVESTRONG, put on my VIP Jersey (because I'm that special) and passes so we could get into our breakfast and our chute for the start point. We ran into some LIVESTRONG friends, I stood in line for the bathroom for most of the time, while my son stood watch over the bikes and had breakfast, scarfed down the muffin, fruit and drink they gave us, and scurried into our place for the start.

Friendly crustacean, whose penguin buddy was a bit farther up

The Salernos
The pyrotechnics (literally) went off, and riders were released onto the streets of Manhattan. We rode past Radio City Music Hall, were herded into Central Park, where we were able to ride a little faster, and began to pace ourselves. There, we ran into some friends from the Trek Bicycle Store of Fairfield, John & Dr. Salerno - another parent/son team! John-John, as we call him, is a regular delight at the shop, and I think this was his 3rd 5 Boro Tour. (We ran into him later in the ride, as well, while I was waiting for a mechanic to adjust my derailleur - I think the chain may have stretched a bit, so it was a little out of whack - again - dumb to have started this ride without some prior riding!) Sooner than we know it, we're cruising through Harlem, passing early church goers in their Sunday best, watching this spectacle of spandex and wheels whiz through town while they wait to become road kill cross the (closed) street. We cross our first bridge, the Madison Avenue Bridge, entering our second borough - the Bronx. After a short dance in the Bronx, we cross the Third Avenue Bridge back into Manhattan, where we got to ride down the FDR.

This, by the way, had to be one of the highlights of the ride. First, we were now 3 lanes wide, so we weren't a tightly packed peloton anymore - we had some elbow room. Second, as a result, we could pick up the pace. Previously, we were lucky if we hit over 10 mph, which for many, is fine. But when you're on a road bike, and both my Bianchi, which my son was riding, and my Madone, are pretty light bikes, it's actually more work to go slowly than it is to go fast. So it was pretty tiring to ride at such a slow pace. (Not to mention, as we went through the tunnel section, we all started hooting and hollering and enjoying the acoustics like little kids.)
The Queensboro Bridge
Now, I may have been raised in New York, but please bear in mind, that I was raised in the state of New York, not the city of New York. There are a couple of isolated neighborhoods (the Upper West Side, the area around Canal Jean Company, Little Italy and Times Square) that I know pretty well, but I have no idea how to get from one to the other. I do not know my way around unaccompanied, and I certainly don't know the bridges, or their geography. I know their names, and if they come up in directions en route to a specific designation, I recognize them. But I don't know what they connect to (well, I mean I know the Brooklyn Bridge connects to Brooklyn, and the Queensboro presumably connects to Queens). HOWEVER, I do not know them by sight. All that I know is that we would be crossing the Verrazano at some point, and that it was the worst climb of the ride. Please note: I do not know to what the Verrazano connects, as there is no borough called "Verrazano." So, as we approach a steady and steep incline towards some sort of bridge, and turn a corner, I tell my son, "This must be it. I'm in trouble."

For those of you who rode any stretch of any of the LIVESTRONG challenges with me, you know I don't like hills. For those of you who have mountain biked with me, or raced with EFTA with me, you know, I don't like hills. (Ironic, I know. A mountain biker who doesn't like mountains. That's a whole other complex blog. Of course, many of those people would also likely say I'm a roadie who hikes up mountains, not a mountain biker.) By now, thanks to not having a bike fit (self-flagellates once more), I'm putting more pressure than I should on my arms, and my shoulders and back have cramped up. Which would be bad for anyone, but, a year later, my back has still not fully recovered from the sprained sacroiliac ligaments. In trying to keep the pressure off my lower back, I'm trying to shift my weight onto my feet. Which, in turn, has now caused foot cramps. So my muscles aren't playing nice with me.

Then the anxiety sets in as I make it around the turn and I see the slow rising, distant expanse of highway. I see the number of riders who are dismounting and walking. And I start to weep. Literally. And somewhat uncontrollably, because I'm terrified of what my back will feel like. I'm terrified that if I slow down and need to clip out of my Speedplays, I won't, and I'll fall. I'm afraid I'm going to lose my son as he goes ahead and gets lost in the 32,000 cyclists on the road and I won't be able to reconnect with him.

But I can't stop. I swore that, despite all the stupid things that happen on rides, I would NOT walk a FOOT of this ride, I would NOT hitch a SAG ride, and I would NOT QUIT. Tears streaming down my face, holding back whimpers, I pedal on. My son tries consoling me, saying, "Remember, 'Pain is temporary, quitting is forever.'" I know it's coming from a good place, but it happened to be in one of the few moments where I actually hate Lance Armstrong simply because he sails up hills, making it look so effortlessly, and here I am, on the same bike he and Team RadioShack rides, and I'm in agony on a slope any member of the team would do without thinking. I turn, trying not to be short (which is hard to do when you're crying), I tell him that I appreciate the thought, but I need to get out of my own head. I tell him to go ahead without me, and, when he gets to the end, if I'm not there with him, to pull off to the right when it is safe and look for me. He goes ahead, periodically looking back to see where I am.

Honestly, I also didn't want him to hear me sobbing. So I sobbed, and cried, and pedaled on. I kept trying to think of something that could inspire me to go on riding. I thought about my friend who got me into cycling in the first place, and had given me some of the best tips for climbing, as he's an amazing climber on his road bike. But, I'd just learned that he is still angry/upset enough over a fight we had over a year ago, that the mere mention of my name evokes a very harsh reaction. So that makes me even more upset, and the crying continues. I try and take my own advice and sing, "Just keep spinning, just keep spinning," in my head, but that doesn't work, either. I keep wishing that there were something that could carry me, lift some of this weight off, so I could fly up the hill.

Just then, a little girl, 8 or 9, on a pink Trek MT 200 with her mom and dad, catches my eye, and she smiles at me as I pass her. Now, this can't be easy for a little kid. And the bike looks a little big for her. But there she is, smiling, chugging along, loving life. And that's when I sprouted the little, mini wings I needed to lift me up that hill.

Zoe Anyan. I've gotten to become friends with Zoe's mom. And she's one of the cancer angels I'm riding for. Her mom goes on and on about how happy Zoe was, how she always had a positive attitude, and the joy she brought to people. How she lifted other people's spirits. And then I thought about how she lost her battle. This stretch was for Zoe. I had to fly.

Maybe it was Zoe, or the cortisone that I've started for my Hashimoto's, but either way, my head cleared, I saw the Silvercup Studios sign in the distance, and I didn't feel the pain anymore. I did keep sobbing, now more as I reflected on the state of the aforementioned friendship, but I had enough of an adrenaline rush to get over the hump and catch up with my son.

At this point, I'm ecstatic. I'm giggling like a school girl, repeating, "I did it! I did it!" like I'd just learned how to ride without training wheels. My son is patting me on the back saying, "Great job, Mom!" and we pull into the next rest area to get some ice for my back and try and work some kinks out. We get back on the road, but some of those foot cramps are getting pretty gnarly.

Somewhere on the Pulaski, I pull off so I can take my shoes off and try and massage the foot cramps out and re-adjust my shoes. My son starts working on the knots in my shoulders (his fingers are knot detectors - never in my life have I met anyone that can find a knot as quickly and accurately as he does!) and another friend, Jeremy Brittain who runs the SPOKES Ride for Suicide Prevention, rides by and says, "HI!" I hop back onto the bike, and we keep going.

All too quickly, a familiar sight. We arrive on and are coasting down the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway), with car traffic flying in the opposite direction, while we're at a complete stand still. "Wait a minute," I say to the gentleman next to me (who was riding a MIGHTY sweet MOOTS full-suspension MTB), "I thought riding bikes was to reduce traffic congestion, not create traffic congestion!" That's right, we were in the middle of a major traffic jam. No joke, it was one of the worst I'd ever experienced on 2 feet, 2 wheels or 4 wheels. We were making great time, and due to arrive well before 1pm. But, instead, we spend over an hour, in 80 degree heat, fully exposed to the sun, with no water outside of what we got at the last rest area, standing completely still. We had no idea what was going on. Was there a massive crash? Was there some kind of emergency where they had to open the highway? Did a bridge collapse? We have no clue. Some of us, myself included, pull out our phones to check Twitter and the news to see if there were some catastrophe that caused this jam, but we can find no explanations. We hear sirens, but realize it's from below and not on the BQE. Finally, we begin to move, with marshals on megaphones telling us to mount up and ride, and then telling us to stop. Mount up and ride, then stop. It turns out, someone in their infinite wisdom, decided to shut down 2 of the 3 lanes of the BQE, and they were herding all of us into one lane.

A word about Speedplay pedals: They are fantastic for riders with knee and joint problems. The clipping in and out process takes practice, and is tricky, but once you're in, you're in. This, however, is the first moment I regret I'm not riding SPDs on this steed of a bike. And possibly the only time I regret the Speedplays. First, you need to keep the cleats lubricated. Which is fine. Second, it takes a significant amount of pressure to initially clip in, with your weight on your left foot as you hover over the tip of the saddle. Bear this in mind as I explain what happens next...

We're given the go ahead to mount up, and it looks like we'll really be moving forward this time. I begin to clip in, and, just as I stand to put my body weight on my left foot, hovering over the tip of the saddle (which is made with titanium rails - not flexible or giving), the woman in front of me stops short, and, in my haste to stop, my left foot slides out of position (as I must have slightly over-lubricated the cleat on my shoe), my foot slams down onto the ground, and let's just delicately say that my "where the sun don't shine" slams into the pointy tip of the saddle with all my weight on it. Boys and girls, you've just met your first female castrato. I've just, at the very least, seriously bruised the part of the body that spends the most time in the saddle, and bears the bulk of the pressure when riding. Even my son turns to me and says, "Now you know what it's like when [my sister] kicks me in my private place." Fortunately, his innocent euphemism and grabbing the chance to throw his sister under the bus relieves the tension, makes me laugh instead of cry, and he survives another day for teasing me instead of consoling me.

This time, for real, the crowd begins to move and, now somewhat battered "down there," I hop back into delicately place myself onto the saddle and we ride further. We get to the final rest stop (we'd passed a couple on the way wanting to make time), which is at the top of a hill, and hard on my new bruise. When we get to the entrance, I just start crying and a marshal thinks I'm done for the day. They even bring a wheelchair, but I'm crying too hard to be able to say, "That's not necessary." They help me off the bike, into the chair, and wheel me to a cluster of male EMTs who ask me what I did. I look at them and try and think of how to delicately explain how I hurt myself. They can't see any bleeding, broken bones, etc. Behind the guys, I see 2 female EMTs and ask if they could kindly wheel me over to them, as it's a "woman" thing. That sure parted the Red Sea, and they happily passed me onto the ladies, to whom I explained what I did. After the winces, they offer me an ice pack, which I now have to jam into my bib shorts without exposing myself. Fortunately, my experience at MTB races where re-application of chamois butter in front of a group of sweaty guys is not an uncommon thing, so I shove that ice pack between my legs and sit. 10 minutes later, the ice pack has sure chilled down my chamois, but hasn't really stopped the swelling. I understand we only have 4 or 5 miles to go to the end. Since it's all downhill, shouldn't be a problem, right? I went over the worst of it - the Verrazano.

I'm sure those of you reading this who aren't illiterate when it comes to New York City may have noted that earlier, I thought that the expansive bridge that made me weep like a silly, little girl was the Verrazano, but it was, in fact, the Queensboro. You  know, at this point, that I have yet to cross the dreaded Verrazano. I however, think I'm home free, and the worst is behind me.

My son and I go flying along the South Brooklyn shoreline in Bay Ridge, and we see some signs for the Verrazano, which I assume, would put us back onto the BQE from whence we came, therefore we aren't going to follow those signs. But, then I see the riders in front of us taking Exit 2, which says it's going to the Verrazano. I'm enough of a New Yorker to know that, often, the signs are very misleading, and you take an exit towards one thing, but you easily turn off at the end of a ramp and you head in the opposite direction. So, like a lamb to slaughter, I've convinced myself we'll just be passing another ramp where those that want the Verrazano veer off to one side or another and we continue straight, over a happy, flat, downhill bridge.

That is, until, I see the sign for the Verrazano Bridge and realize that the bridge I wept on was not the Verrazano Bridge, and that I now have the steepest part of the ride, the 6,690 foot Verrazano Bridge, which I'd also heard moves a lot, as it is one of the top 10 longest suspension bridges in the world.

I start crying again. My cramps aren't relieved yet. The feet are still sore. But now, my "special place" is bruised, and swelling, and sore. Oh, and for those of you thinking, "Well, then just get out of the saddle and climb up," here's the catch: I don't do that. I really don't know how. The one time I thought I had it right, I got out of the saddle, and the pedal snapped. (Mind you, this was on my 25 year old Peugeot with the original pedals, which had gotten quite rusty.) Not only do I have a fear that, even with titanium, or even Kryptonite pedals, I'll snap them, I don't have the skills to get out of the saddle.

My boy patiently repeats that I can do it, that we're only a couple of miles away, that it's not that bad. Unfortunately, I have very keen eyesight, and an exceptional sense of perception, so even though he's telling me, "No, really, it's flat," I can see the contours that he doesn't see. It ain't flat. I pull off to the side, gather myself together, and ease back into the saddle, riding another few hundred feet. I pull off to the side again, breathe, and get that perspective that this is so silly and, though it hurts like hell, it isn't going to kill me. But much worse pain was endured by friends who did die from their situation - cancer. So I go. And I push. And I push. I tell my son to excuse my language, and I curse like a motherf^$@ing truck driver. And then we're done.

I can see the Festival Tents below us, as we start FLYING down the ramp. We clocked over 30mph, and I'm in a position where I can coast and hold myself off the saddle. We cruise in, cross the finish line, and dismount. My poor son had to lift my foot to make sure that I didn't get stuck swinging my leg over the saddle.

Now, here's the sad part. I've attempted to ride 200 miles in one day. I've been beaten to hell on mountain bike courses. I've had sprained backs, pulled hamstrings, and G-d knows what else. But I've never felt so badly, physically, after a ride! I've never been so stiff everywhere. I've been hit by a car riding 3 times in the past 3 years, and I hurt more after a mere 43 miles. So, I looked my son in the eyes, and told him to thank me. He said, "For what?" I said, "I am your lightning rod. Your front suspension fork. I drew every stupid mishap that could happen to a rider (minus a flat tire - we were both spared that misery), hurt every part of me (save my head) upon myself so that you could be spared and you'd have an incident free ride." He looked me back in the eyes and said, "Mom, you did a great job. You toughed it out, and I'm very proud. But your eyes are turning brown from all that poop." And he walked off to find out where the VIP Lunch was. That's my son. It's been a while since I saw myself in him, but in that very moment, between his genuine care and loving, and a sharp, sarcastic wit, I knew he was mine.
With the Dreaded Verrazano behind us - literally.

Passing the Statue of Liberty
You know what, though? Even with all those mishaps, we still averaged just over 12 miles an hour, which is the typical pace for the 5 Boro Tour. And, I'd bet, if it weren't for that stupid backup on the BQE, we'd have been at a 13-14 mph pace. Unfortunately, we missed reuniting with other members of Team LIVESTRONG at the end, though we did run into 2 or 3 others.

We chilled at the Festival for a couple of hours, as we heard there was an hour plus delay at the ferry, until we could catch a SAG bus to the ferry (after the time at the Festival, my injury had swollen to the point where I couldn't sit in the saddle at all). We passed the Statue of Liberty on the Ferry, got pictures taken with my Team RadioShack Madone with tourists from Japan, Canada and someplace else (all the guy would say was that he was "from another country," though he had a pretty good American accent, if you ask me).We got off the ferry and then flagged down a minivan cab faster than I'd ever hailed a cab before in Manhattan in all of my life. We picked up our traditional Zaro's Black & Whites (one for all three of us), a hot beverage for us both, and got onto the train.

We were so tired when we arrived in Stamford. We packed up the car, hit the road, and just as we were pulling into my parents' driveway to pick up my daughter, my son turns to me and says, "I don't mean to be rude, but if we have both bikes in the car, and I have to sit in the front seat, where did you think we'd put my sister?" Uh... I had completely forgotten that not only did we have to pick her up, but that she had to fit into the car, with a seat belt and all of that good stuff. After driving several miles out of the way to pick her up, I had to call my father from his driveway to ask him to follow us with her in his car to take her to our house because we had no room for her. We got back home just after 9:30, with just enough time for my son to take a shower, for me to snuggle with my daughter and slip into a coma before "Brothers & Sisters" was halfway done.

Today, as I look back at the day, I say it was a fantastic ride.

(And, for those wondering, the swelling has gone down. The pain is there, so I don't know when I'll be back in the saddle yet, but maybe this will force me to learn how to finally get out of the saddle when I ride.)

Yesterday, I raised $1,003 for LIVESTRONG. I got to share the story of how I got a Madone of my dreams thanks to RadioShack. Burned 4,687.2 calories. Had a mother & son bonding day. Saw several familiar faces as we cheered each other on, and got to tour all 5 boroughs of NYC.

I don't need a medal or certificate at the end of the day.

I know what I accomplished.

I didn't ride for selfish means. I rode for a cause.

1 comment:

  1. You are awesome my friend! Great Job on the Ride. LIVESTRONG!


I'm all about free speech, etc, but I have to ask that comments are respectful of other readers, the fact that I, and many of us who follow this blog, support LIVESTRONG, and that you reserve Lance or LIVESTRONG bashing for another forum. As of right now, I'm still allowing Anonymous postings, however, that may not be the case in the future. Thanks!