First let me say thank you to all the donors that contributed $4,000 towards the fight against Leukemia and Lymphoma. Your support was phenomenal and I greatly appreciate it. Now to work my way through the thank you notes...
So the Death Ride happened on July 13th, just about a month ago. But before I tell you about the Death Ride, let me tell you about another ride. On September 17th 2011, I was leading my team of riders over hills on the Peninsula. We had just finished climbing Old La Honda Road and had worked our way over to the descent down Kings Mountain Road. We started down Kings Mountain, in one moment I could see our path down the tree lined road and in the next moment, I was in an ambulance and a paramedic was asking me if I knew where I was. From the accounts of the riders I was with, I would guess that 20 minutes of my life were spent as someone else. I was told that I crashed and that I was talking after I regained consciousness, but for the life of me, I cannot remember any of that. While crashing is traumatic in and of itself, the part that really unnerved me was as I was riding in the back of the ambulance - all I could think was that I needed to call Sherri. As I said it to myself, I couldn't understand why that thought made me uneasy. As I lay in the rolling ambulance, I searched my mind trying to recall her phone number. After several minutes of brain racking, like being dropped in a cold lake where the water takes your breath away and you can't think of anything but air, it all came back. The paramedic gave me a startled look as I gasped with the realization that I couldn't call my wife because she had passed away 17 months earlier. The paramedic asked what was happening and I feebly waved him off and said I would be okay.
But I wasn't okay.
Every hill I have ridden since that day has been an exercise of will. It's not the going up, rather the going down. As I would start a descent, I would ride my brakes too much, I would grip the handle bars too tightly; essentially the counter-intuitive things you should not do if you're trying to avoid a crash. Nonetheless, every hill was approached with weighty apprehension. After a year of this, I decided to do something about it. I was so afraid of descending hills that it was taking the fun out of riding my bike. I was so afraid of ending up on the road and losing myself, and either repeating or outright losing memories. So I did the irrational thing, I faced down my fears. I reasoned, if you're afraid of descents, then do more descents. So I signed up to do that Death Ride, not only to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma, a worthy cause if there ever was one, but to regain my confidence and joy for riding.
I knew that training for the Death Ride would also be traumatic. In the previous three Death Rides I've done, Sherri was heavily involved in SAG support. She would come on practically every ride and would be there along the route to provide water and food to support the team. She was so good at it, that she created a cook book that SAG people still use. During this year's training I would roll up to a rest stop to see snacks that our supporters provided that were made from Sherri's recipes. On every ride, I would relive her memory because the rest stops would be at the same locations from rides that we did years earlier. Every training ride was a melancholy reminder.
So the Death Ride comes and, as always, it's painful and torturous. Every climb is tough and every descent is nerve-wracking. As I was climbing the west side of Ebbett's Pass, the fourth of five mountain passes, a section where the sun sucks the energy from me and usually portends the onset of leg cramps, something different happened. As I was grinding it out, a cool tailwind comes from the valley and I felt relieved and energized. Like being pulled from the lake, I felt buoyed. In that moment, I could hear Sherri's voice in my mind saying it was going to be okay; you can do this.
And you know what...I did.
I rode better on the last 40 miles of the ride than I did on the previous 80. I was able to relax and, like a skier slaloming through fresh powder, I flowed easily down the east side of Ebbett's and kept a blistering pace through Markleeville, past the cheering crowds of spectators who sat on the courthouse lawn eating ice cream as we suffered by. I climbed the last mountain pass and I kept a steady and strong rhythm all the way to the top. As I descended, I could feel myself relaxing and enjoying the wind rushing past while savoring the fresh mountain air.
I finished the Death Ride an hour faster than previous times. As I rode to the finish I could see the TnT folks and I could see my girlfriend Tracy. While I have to say I couldn't have done the Death Ride without their support during the season and on the ride day, I know that on this day, there was something more.
Thanks to all my supporters for another great season. If you would still like to donate, please visit my fundraising site. You're doing a good thing.