Sunday, June 9, 2013

108 Miles of Solitude

Some time ago I read Marquez' 100 Years of Solitude. A pretty good read if you can get past the 5 generations of characters all named Jose Arcadio Buendia or some combination thereof. Occasionally I can still find myself in the grandfather's workshop, the sun streaming in, watching him make and remake the gold, nested fish necklaces, that I imagined looked like this:

This story and many others came to mind as I mounted the Zestycle, interrupted only by the occasional rest stop, or exchanges between fellow riders as we conquered the 108-mile Tour de Cure. You need to be ready for some solitude, and the 8.5 hour excursion did not disappoint.

Departing from Reston at 6:20 AM, I was a little surprised to see a Copperhead (snake) resting comfortably in the gutter pan of a Herndon street. I would later see one other, and 2 monstrous blacksnakes that doubled as speed bumps. Observation of wildlife (and death) provided a further source of reflection.

The vultures continued to look me over with A1 on their minds, but I was able to avoid that fate. Others were not so lucky. Raccoons were down 2. Squirrels 3. Birds 2. And in one of the more touching moments, a Yellow Swallowtail (of which there were many) stopped to check on his fallen mate who was stuck to the road. I pedaled on.

At one point I topped out over 40 MPH, which I can report is a tad uncomfortable. I am lucky enough to have lived through being towed on a skateboard at 37 MPH and letting go to ride it out with disastrous results. So I am fully aware of potential downsides. At least this time, 35 years later, I had on a shirt and a helmet. I held on for dear life on wet pavement. And pedaled.

At Rectortown (established 1772!) I popped 2 Advils and watched in awe as a group of riders just blew by the midpoint rest stop, with the next one 30 miles away. This is not like a treadmill, where you get off whenever you're tired and there you are, where you started. There is no crying for Mommy. You've got 54+ miles to get back. So you observe. And pedal. And meditate. And pedal. And watch the odometer. 

So courtesy of Google Earth's street level view, I can provide a few snapshots of the southern leg, miles 28 to 81:

Here you are riding essentially alone. You may see a rider or two nearby. Pass and be passed. And pedal.

Rural, bucolic, (and seemingly endless) rolling hillside. Lots of country fences. 5 horses, 2 with riders. Pedal.

And walls! Estimated 84 miles worth, counting both sides. Some pre-civil war. Some with split rail over them. Did I mention endless? Pedal.

Rain frequently threatened, but never fully delivered. Rolling. Endless. Now I generally like downhill. But after 60 miles or so, when the legs are dying, you only grimace, knowing that uphill waits on the other side - 6,450 feet of it to be exact. As my friend Andy put it: "The juice wasn't worth the squeeze". Pedal!

Long stretches of residences that have names, like "Nearby", "Kilvarock", "The Athenry" and the like. Road names like Ebenezer Church, Frogtown and Snickersville Turnpike. Places that are not even on Google Earth. PEDAL!

And this is why. To reach at last, the end of human strength. Beaten into the dust from which one came. Only then is the metal ready for the Maker's hand. Only then can one dig deep, think of the generous donors, those affected by the cause, and those unable to make the ride. Only then, through losing yourself, have you arrived. The pedaling somehow becomes easier. The images are set in the mind like nested fish necklaces, waiting to resurface.

And suddenly, it's over. You wonder what you thought was so tough about it.

So make the most of your ride. Be mindful, appreciative, and connected. Because it's over before you know it.

With sincere thanks for the many supporters of this year's ride.