|Sunrise at the staging area|
I pull over at the first rest stop to fill my water bottles and grab some food. Over the next few hours I know I'll burn nearly 5,000 calories, so I have to to eat every chance I get. Rest stop food on this ride is great - PB&J's, bananas, orange slices, trail mixes, power bars, gatorade and water. Okay, it isn't haute cuisine, but it tastes just as good. I think about the start of the ride, when a doctor got on the microphone and made the shortest but most important speech of the opening ceremony: "Sunscreen, eat, hydrate." I smear on some more specially-formulated sunscreen that I bought the day before at the Livestrong village - it carries some organization's ranking as the best on the market. It goes on like toothpaste, looks like warpaint. Feeling sunscreened, fed and hydrated - and so very virtuous - I clip in and start cranking. The crowd has thinned out some now, and I can get into my groove without risking a pile-up.
|(photo by Matt Yerkes)|
|(photo by Matt Yerkes)|
|Dedication wall . . . In Honor of . . . In Memory of . . .|
I arrive at the 37-mile rest stop, where riders who want to go 90 miles must get to within three hours of the start or be diverted to the 65-mile course. I'm there in plenty of time and graze the food tables for a while before starting off again. I know that the next 30 miles have some long grades to climb, and the roads are not the best. At least they weren't in prior years. Let me pause for a minute and tell you about chip seal, or chip and seal, roads, in case you are not familiar with this farm country version of a road surface. First, a thin layer of asphalt is laid down, and then it is covered with fine gravel and compacted with a roller. I quote from Wikipedia: "The rough surface causes noticeable increases in vibration and rolling resistance for bicyclists, and increased tire wear in all types of tires." That is a good, basic description. The adjectives "tooth-rattling" and "muscle-numbing" also come to mind. Not to mention what the incessant buzz does to your more sensitive parts. The first 37 miles of the ride have been more or less all on this surface, and the prospect of another 53 miles of it is something I put out of my mind. Imagine the thrill I feel when shortly after taking off again I reach an intersection, and the road I turn onto is freshly paved with beautiful, serene blacktop. I hear the other riders within earshot moaning in almost sexual bliss, as I just have, as they hit the glass-smooth surface. Pickup trucks and cars roar by on this main road, but they give us wide berth and I don't care at all about the noise or the buffeting as they pass. This road is a gift. It lasts until we are 65 miles in.
|Haulin the last 25 on chip seal|
I begin to recognize the scenery again, as the last part of the course retraces the roads where it started. It's in bright sun now rather than the cold fog, and I'm riding it in reverse, so the climbs are now descents, and the descents are now climbs. And now I'm nearing the end, and not facing the whole course as I was this morning. My legs are complaining, but I know I'm nearing the end of the course. I come onto an electronic highway sign that warns drivers of a "Special Event Ahead," and shortly past that I see the crowds and the finish line. It's an inflated archway over the road. I enter the chute. Local high school girls in Livestrong T-shirts and skirts jump around like cheerleaders (maybe they are!) and an announcer welcomes me across the finish line, telling the crowd my name and that I come "all the way from Connecticut." "Not very many riders from New England," he comments, as I turn out of the chute towards the cool-down area. I coast to a stop, unclipping my shoes and straddling the bike for a second while I get my bearings. A woman points me to the cool-zone, a little inflated structure with mist-sprayers that you go through like a car through a car-wash. A girl on the other side hands me a small towel soaked in ice-water that I drape around my neck, and this feels impossibly good, even better than the smooth road did. I greedily take another icy-cold towel for my face. I have that complete, mind-body giddiness of accomplishment and exhaustion and relief and pleasure. (Yes, I know what that sounds like, and this is the next best thing.) I open my eyes, and I'm back in Roger Hanks Park.
I won't feel the ache in my legs for another two days. I'm on a cloud after the ride. We collectively raised over $2.4 million for the cause. I rode my best time yet. Everything feels like the best - the cold towel around my neck, the food, the drive back to town, the Austin skyline in the late afternoon light, the long hot shower, the first sip of a cold long-neck, horsing around with my son, the spicy ribs, the cool sheets I fall asleep between.