Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ride for the Feast 2012 - My "Ride"

Hello again friends - miss me?  Yes, I am the world's WORST blogger!  Worst.  I own that.  I should be ashamed.  I am ashamed.  Nonetheless, I came out of hiding to reflect on Ride for the Feast - bittersweet for me this year, as it was my second year off the bike for health reasons.  This year's debacle is a herniated disk in my neck - it makes my right arm go all gimpy when I ride (and also sometimes when I don't), and would produce a major disaster if I crashed.  This means spine surgery some time in the fall, and no riding until then.  In lieu of riding, I served as Medical Director for the event, as well as unofficial official photographer - and I must say that I worked harder than I ever did riding!  It gave me a new perspective on the event, which I thought I'd share for those who may be interested. 

5:00AM:  Awake, goddamnit.

5:20AM:  Rage at the cosmic injustice of my being awake melts away when I step out onto my balcony and am blinded by the beauty of the sunrise.

5:24AM:  Sunrise admiration takes a back seat to panic when I remember that I broke my flip flop last night.  Why, you might ask, would a simple flip flop failure provoke full-on panic?  Because, for reasons that are unclear even to me, the only other shoes I brought along for the Ride were four-inch high bright red hooker heels.  Not standard uniform for a 14-hour long athletic event.  And how, you might ask, did I break my flip flop?  This occurred while jumping the concrete barrier that separated my hotel from the extremely illegal place where I was forced to park my car when I found my hotel parking lot entrance obstructed by a vintage Mustang.  Despite much honking and cursing, the Mustang stayed put – doesn’t it know that it’s cruiser weekend, which implies, you know, CRUISING???  As opposed to sitting in one place with the loud-ass engine on, blocking everyone else??  Apparently Mustang didn’t get this memo, so I was forced to take poor Pugsley around the corner where I wedged him onto the sidewalk between a bench and a fire hydrant, hoping like hell that the police have more important things to worry about, like maybe TOWING AWAY THE FREAKING MUSTANG!!!

5:40AM:  Have strapped on the hooker shoes and strutted my goods back to the car, which is mercifully still there.  I get another blast of sunrise, and find I’m having a hard time staying angry.  Me and my shoes scramble over the sand to photograph the blazing sky with dune grass silhouetted in front of it.  Life is good.

6:00AM:  Route 50 Starbucks!!  I am the best domestique ever.

6:08AM:  Attempt to deliver Becky’s venti quad-shot vanilla latte using a Tour de France style in-motion car-bike handoff maneuver.  Mercifully recognize disaster potential at the last moment, and opt for a stationary parking lot handoff.  Am nonetheless greeted with astonishment and gratitude, because what could be better than the latte unlooked-for?  Between the caffeine and the shoes, I’m pretty sure that I’m fabulous.  Plus Becky has just given me a stuffed seahorse.  Life is really good.

6:12AM:  Fabulousness confirmed!  In a sea of lycra and cycling cleats, four-inch red heels really stand out.  Plus they’re just the right shade to complement my Team Atomic T-shirt!  I receive gushing praise from riders and crew, and pledge to wear them all day, or perhaps forever.  Life is great!

6:34AM:  Oh hell.  Fuck.  Oh fucking hell.  Becky just gave Joe a harmonica.  Seriously.  A straight up harmonica – the kind that you stick in your mouth and it makes noise.  The kind through which you can inhale or exhale, meaning that you can operate the damned thing through your entire respiratory cycle, meaning you never need to stop playing it.  Ever.  For any reason.  Life is decidedly no longer good.

6:50AM:  Okay, enough with the damned shoes.  Lisa Harbin, angel of mercy, has lent me flip flops.  Able to walk normally again, I’m off to the start line for team photos.

7:05AM:  Somehow the team photo thing is running with military precision.  None of the usual cat herding – they’re lining up, they’re facing the right way, they’re looking awesome, then the next team comes.  The only problem is the occasional appearance of the beach Zamboni (Sandboni?).  All the teams are so shiny and beautiful that I want to cry, but the unicorns of BikeCurious are the ones that actually bring me to tears.

7:31AM:  And they’re off!!  200 cyclists with hearts of gold, each one riding to feed a fellow human.  Each one riding for someone who can’t.  In past years on the bike, all I feel at this point in the day is nervous about the miles ahead and relieved that the anticipation is ending.  Off the bike, I feel humbled and honored to be part of this incredible event, with these incredible people.  And yes, I’m crying again.

7:40AM:  Joe appears not to have lost the harmonica.  In fact, there is no indication that it has left his mouth at any point.  No, he will not let me play it, he is worried I may “lose” it.  I take a moment to mourn this tragic end of my lifelong friendship with Becky.  Goodbye Becky.

7:52AM:  Route 50 Starbucks!!  Déjà vu.

7:53AM:  First flat of the day.  Seriously?  A helpful fellow cyclist is trying to turn this into a teachable moment, patiently explaining the subtle art of the tube change process.  In recognition of the fact that we are at mile 2, with 103 more to go, Joe nips that shit in the bud.  Thank god -  it’s too damned early to be learning things.

8:12AM:  My on-road photography has gotten more daring, and I am now hanging my entire upper body out of the passenger window in search of the perfect action shot.  Soon I am just hanging my entire upper body out of the passenger window just because I can.  I totally get why dogs love this.  Hello, Ladies!

8:17AM:  I have filled a 4GB SD card.  Joe puts down the harmonica long enough to do the math on this, and concludes that I have taken a photo at least every 3.7 seconds since waking up at 5:00.  I can’t help it – the Ride is just so pretty this morning!  I attempt a photo of him, and get the paparazzi hand-in-the-lens treatment.  It will truly be a miracle if we both survive the day.

9:35AM:  First pit stop!!  Everyone looking so strong and happy, no medical needs more complex than a Band-Aid.  SAG Army has taken to the seas this year and begun dabbling in naval operations.  In the Navy…they can sail the seven seas!

10:40AM:  Countless flat repairs, another full SD card, but mercifully light on the medical front.  Riders are still all smiles, at least for the camera.  Life is good.

11:07AM:  Yellow Submarine harmonica sing-along!

11:18AM:  Well, we’ve figured out why Becky’s knee hurts.  Its because she appears to have actually completed a full Iron Man in her cycling cleats.  I mean the swimming and running parts too.  Either that, or they were mauled by a bear.  It’s hard to tell.  Fortunately I have a phone that’s smarter than me, so a couple of Google hits later, we’re off on a quest for a bike shop and new cleats.  I only hope that by solving the cleat problem, I can avoid performing a battlefield knee replacement.

11:42AM:  Unicorns on bikes spotted at drive-thru espresso stand in Salisbury!!  Joe!!  Turn around!!!  Photo op!!!!!  My valiant knight launches our steed in a hairpin turn across six lanes of traffic, yielding a moment of magic.  I found out later that not only were the unicorns prohibited from paying for their coffee, but the staff of the espresso stand now plans to form a team for next year.  One of us…one of us!! 

12:20PM:  Lunch.  Things are not uniformly rosy.  Sprinkled amongst the still-chipper are the exhausted, the nauseated, the overheated, and the chafed.  I work the room with the inexhaustibly fabulous Sara, handing out cold packs, chamois lube, Icy Hot, and approximately 14 pounds of ibuprofen.  Sara diverts a few of her postpartum Percocet to the seriously pained – don’t tell the DEA.  I provide a bit of massage here and there, though in this crowd, that gets way too dirty very quickly.  Lifeline is deployed for a Walgreen’s run, since we’re running low on everything that matters.  Not one of us eats, drinks, or pees.

12:34PM:  After stalking me for the past half hour, the Harbins have finally moved in for the kill.  Roland has pinned me to the side of the car while Penny smears sunblock on my very pink skin.  I squirm a bit at first, but ultimately realize how very badly I need a little parenting, and how lucky I am to get it.  Love you, mom and dad!

1:10PM:  On the road again.

1:17PM:  My first forced SAG of the day.  Yes, there is arguing, albeit halfhearted.  Sorry, Love - but pale, sweaty, and lightheaded is simply incompatible with riding 140 miles.  Trust me, I’m a doctor…

1:39PM:  I pour yet another bottle of water over somebody’s road rash.  I reflect briefly that I really should be drinking some, and not just using it all to irrigate wounds.  This may explain why I’m getting a bit pale, sweaty, and lightheaded.

2:06PM:  No way - a flat tire!

2:19PM:  I have grown accustomed to the harmonica, much as I imagine that in hell, one would grow accustomed to the heat.

2:41PM:  I’m still photographing, but the smiles are getting more strained, the fist pumps more feeble, the horns not quite as…horny?  Everyone is seriously tired, myself included, but this is the part of the day that I love.  This is the part where it gets hard, but people keep going anyway.  The part where people have to confront their demons, tell their legs to shut up, and just keep riding.  They do this – defying all rational explanation – for themselves, for people they love, for people they’ve lost, for a cause they believe in.  Fortunately, I am WAY too tired to cry.

3:19PM:  Medical is quiet for now, and an endless string of mechanical mishaps has pushed us back into the tail end of the pack, where I’ve photographed everyone seventeen times over.  This leaves me with little to do but watch Joe in action.  After a full day of fighting over the harmonica and listening to his heated rants about everything from gun control to EZ-Pass, I didn’t think there was much to learn from him at this point.  But I listen as he explains how gears work to a woman who has clearly never felt empowered to shift before, and it’s obvious that she gets it for the first time.  She rides off, head held high and finger on the trigger – I feel bad for her that it’s so flat here.  He manages to make big macho straight guys feel okay about having their tires changed by another man.  He hugs the dispirited, massages the sore, and flirts with women who feel fat in their spandex – the occasional man too, for that matter.  Nobody leaves Joe without a smile, and I remember why I wanted to spend today with him in the first place, why he’s my friend.  If only my bedside manner were that good.

3:52PM:  Eyedrop-a-palooza!  Chemical weapons attack, or just spring on the Eastern Shore?  Hard to tell, but in either case, there’s an epidemic of giant googly red eyes in need of treatment at the 80 mile pitstop.  There’s also strained backs, scraped knees, numb hands, and general exhaustion.  But there’s also beer, so I guess it all evens out in the end. 

3:59PM:  Becky was nauseous before, and I didn’t have any antiemetics in my bag-o-tricks.  Once again, technology saved the day – I Googled a local pharmacy on my phone, called in a prescription, and Wayne navigated to said pharmacy using his iPad.  We were feeling pretty smart about all this to start with (at least as smart as our smartphones), but when Wayne returned with a slightly loopy but less nauseated Becky, they clued me in to just how smart we were.  The cost of said prescription?  Exactly 26 cents.  Let the record show:  America’s healthcare spending crisis cannot be pinned on me!

4:16PM:  Name That Tune!  Hint:  it's Inna Gadda da Vida.

5:29PM:  Leaning against the car, staring at the pretty scrolling numbers on the gas pump as though I was high.  We’re almost back to Chesapeake College, and half of Team with a Purpose is waiting at the intersection, presumably ready to stage a triumphal team finish.  My glazed eyes are attracted to a yellow blur cresting the hill – the glorious reunion of TWAP is about to occur.  But one yellow blur veers away from the pack, heading into the gas station.  I wrench myself back into focus.  It’s Derek, and he’s airborne.  I watch in horrific slow motion as he sails into the air, over his handlebars, lands on his neck and shoulder, crumples to the ground.  The rest of TWAP is watching too, and I see Laveta – a gifted triathlete – sprinting toward him.  I’m back in full-on doctor mode, and am certain that Derek has broken his neck.  Laveta will not know this.  Laveta may move him.  I do not like the idea of a quadriplegic Derek, so it becomes imperative that I beat her to the scene.  I break into a sprint too – it’s like a rhino racing a cheetah.  But I charge on, head down, horn at the ready.  Apparently a really determined rhino can occasionally outrun a cheetah, so I arrive first, stabilizing Derek’s neck while Joe disentangles him from the bike.  The cheetah appears to consider eating the rhino, not yet having recognized it as me, but Pete intervenes, and I am allowed to live.  I examine Derek, steeled for the worst, flashbacks of his fall pulsing through my brain.  I remove his helmet, clear his neck, examine his shoulder and ribs, pour the last of our drinking water over his wounds, and find…nothing!  I officially pronounce Derek one lucky mofo, and promise to dress his scrapes and bruises after he showers.  I apologize to Laveta for rhino-charging her, and we agree that Derek is certainly worth chasing each other across the savannah for.  After giving his team (and the poor medical director) the scare of a lifetime, Derek is back upright for a strong finish.  I seriously need a beer.  Or at least some of that water that I just poured all over Derek.

5:44PM:  Chesapeake College – the Ride is over, AT LAST!!  YAY!!!  No – wait, the Ride is over for the RIDERS.  Except a whole mess of riders aren't even in yet.  And in either case, for me the fun is just beginning... 

6:32 PM:  Last rider in - I feel my anxiety level plummet.  Plus she looks awesome!!

6:51PM:  Look at these people.  Seriously, look!  Ride for the Feast is the most amazing event ever, and it's because of the people.  Our riders and volunteers alike are here because we care about Moveable Feast - more than any other charity event I know of, the Ride is about the cause.  Ride for the Feasters want to feed people, fight disease, and foster hope...for REAL.  Yes, there are some great athletes here, probably some for whom this is just another distance event.  But most of us are just regular people, fully prepared to have our asses summarily handed to us by riding 140 miles.  We're here because we want to feed someone for a year.  Or to make a small sacrifice in honor of someone we've loved and lost.  Or to show a disease that we've kicked its ass.  Or because we want to remember that our struggle to keep pedaling is nothing to the struggle to keep hope alive for someone who's sick, poor, and alone.  Which is what Moveable Feast does.  What WE do, every one of us who's part of the ride.

8:40PM:  All right, I may be awesome, but I'm ass-tired.  I’ve had anaphylaxis in the women’s locker room, GI bleeding on the lawn, a herniated lumbar disk propped up under a tree, and one unfortunate rider with ulnar palsy trying unsuccessfully to hold a fork at dinner.  Everyone’s bandages needed changing, icepacks were melting, eyes gone googly again.  I’ve busted out the bedside manner to explain to more than a few people why they can’t ride tomorrow, running the full gamut of the gentle to firm continuum.  I’m pretty sure the crickets are chirping, “when can I take more ibuprofen?”  I want a hot shower and a cold beer more than I’ve ever wanted anything.  The wounded have all been triaged, and the battlefield is clear.  I’m blessedly off to my hotel…

9:06PM:  WHERE IT TURNS OUT THAT I DO NOT ACTUALLY HAVE A ROOM!!!  My reservation was cancelled.  Why?  No idea, but there’s a cancellation code right here, so it must be legitimate.  And by the way, there are no vacant rooms, in my hotel or in any other hotel in Easton.  Or Cambridge.  Or Denton.  Fatigue forgotten, I become a viper, coiled and hissing, moments from sinking my razor-sharp fangs into the Econolodge guy.  Having witnessed the transformation, Wayne courageously invites the viper to share a room with him and Sarah.  Poor, foolish things.  Miraculously, despite my indiscriminate desire to sink my fangs into something or other, I manage to avoid biting either of my saviors.  Showered and beered, we somehow all survive the night.  And wake up bright and early for...DAY TWO!