Metaphor Mountain

I knew early on that this would be a different kind of ride. The entire experience - the purpose behind it, the distance, the setting - was big. Overall, it was an amazing weekend and an incredible ride. I'm so proud of Anna. I'm so impressed with us. We raised over $3700 (and still counting!). We rode 100 miles in one day! Overall, it was a great experience. I'm so happy to have been part of the Team in Training experience - even if slightly from the edge (gotta carry on that outlaw tradition, ya know.).

After the Team in Training Inspiration Dinner. We were..well, you know.

I'll warn you early on that this is a different kind of race report. The entire ride was an emotional one for me. As you know, Anna and I tackled this ride in memory in Mama. She would have been 65 this year and of course, she was on my mind on every mile. I remembered bits and pieces of her, including the way she'd check us out of school for picnics in the park, the time she was chased and bitten by a swan at Airlie Gardens, the time she dressed up as Madonna for a tacky party (this while I was singing Borderline out loud). It actually fun to have those thoughts pop up. When the going got tough, I thought of how she endured chemo and radiation and a bone marrow transplant. Those thoughts were not as much fun, but the emotions kept me going. They helped me persevere and finish those 100 miles!

Loss is normal. It is a big part of every life. Loss is a part of life as involuntary as a heartbeat, as inevitable as nightfall (Hope Edelman). I lost Mama in 1995, when I was 23.  Shortly after that, I lost my grandmother. Six months after that I lost my grandfather. My other major loss was the ability become a mother. I've lost great loves and great jobs; pets and friends and every day I lose my keys.  You may know loss already, too.  And if you don't know it - you will. If you do - you may realize like I did that grief feels a lot like a century ride in the mountains of North Carolina! Here's what I mean:

There are a lot of ups and downs. I was thrilled at packet pick-up when I heard the locals say, as they were reviewing the course map, that it looked really flat. This ride - though billed the flattest ride in the mountains - was roly poly. We faced 4,044' of climbing. It felt like we were either going up or going down. Even on the flats, we were often riding against the wind or with it.

Elevation Profile for Fletcher Flyer

Grief is like that, too. Some days are up. You will remember something that makes you smile. You find yourself laughing and singing out loud. You will feel like you are two steps ahead of the sadness and denial and bargaining. And the next day, you will take one step back. You'll hear something that makes you cry or everything will make you cry.

There will be moments of utter beauty.  We rode under clear blue skies. The mountains lived up to their Blue Ridge name. There were actually bubbling brooks. We were even chased by a peacock in full plume (see swan reference above)! Before we hit mile 25, he was waddling down a side road toward the train of cyclists pedaling by. He yelled at us - and made it clear that we were to steer clear.

There is a lot of grayness and bleakness when you lose a friend or a mom or a child or a way of life. Sometimes, though, there will be moments of clarity. Moments when colors, or sounds or tastes will knock-ya-near-naked. In the years after Mama died, I would notice sunsets that I swore were more vivid and longer-lasting than ever before. Music sounded sweeter. Chocolate tasted better.

You will find people that know your struggle. There were close to 800 people signed up for the Fletcher Flyer. There were hundreds of people who experienced the hills, the hunger, the cramping, the heat of the day. We were passed by local riders that would encourage us. We latched onto a peloton that pulled us for nearly 10 miles.

Early in the ride, I had a wonderful local rider pull up beside me and ask about Mama. He had seen my honorary bib on the back of my jersey. He told me about losing his dad and that it was such a hard time because it was such a quick diagnosis and sudden loss. We rode with other amazing survivors in the Team in Training groups from Georgia, Maryland, D.C. and North Carolina. Each one had a story to tell. There were similarities and threads that connected our experiences with theirs.

Honorary Bibs I made for Anna and myself

There will be friends and family who know what you're experiencing. The most comforting -- but hardest to believe --  fact about grief is that you're not the only one in it. You may not need to call on these people at all, but trust that you can. They will be able to say, yes, this is normal or, I felt that, too! They won't be able to change what happened and they won't be able to change how you feel about what happened, but they may know how to navigate those previously mentioned ups and downs.

There will be those that hold you back.  Right after mile 60, Anna and I caught up with a group of riders from D.C. We stuck with them for nearly five irritating miles. They sped up on the hills and they coasted on the flats - which was a little backwards. When we called out "car back", they doubled up in formation - opposed to the safer single line pace line to let cars pass on the left. They didn't communicate and often passed us/each other without warning. They seemed to play leap frog and wouldn't let us pass. We joked later that they rode like D.C. drivers drive.

Get Outta My Way!

People can hold you back when you're grieving. Especially if they're grieving, too! Birds of a feather flock together.....Misery loves company...etc., etc.! People can bring you down with careless words or actions and suddenly you feel all that grief like an avalanche on top of you.

Down on Your Luck  I'm not normally superstitious, but about two hours into our ride a black cat crossing the road. Anna was behind me about 50 yards and was yelling: no kitty, kitty! Go away! The kitty did not go away. This is really a side note, but it is simply foreshadowing for the rest of the story........

Plus, when you're grieving, you may feel down on your luck. When I faced my infertility complications several years back, I remember a phase when NOTHING went right. We lost Magnolia, our Chesapeake Bay Retriever, I was frustrated with my business and lost some solid clients and it seemed like everyone was having babies left and right! I didn't necessarily feel that it was Lady Luck's fault....but there was certainly a pattern that when it rains, it pours.

You will find people who will save the day. A few miles after we dropped the D.C. crowd, I busted a flat. It was the back tire which is always the hardest to change. I was frustrated and apologetic to Anna. It was probably the hottest part of the day and we had been gaining so much ground. Anna called the TNT SAG (team in training support and gear) and within two minutes Javier was pulling up in a minivan with mardi gras beads around his neck and a pump!  He changed the flat in minutes and off we rode.

Killing It.

There were many along the way to save my day -- even in the midst of my worst moments. Most appeared as friends (old, new, borrowed, true) and family - who would call or write or tell funny stories or take me shopping. Some appeared as acquaintances - therapists, pastors, authors. My family was a huge support - especially my dad and Anna and even my in-laws! They showed up in unexpected places with beads of wisdom. They patched me up and sent me on my way. (ahem - okay, I went a little overboard with the metaphors, here.)

There will be pitfalls and pitstops. At the next hill, I realized that something was not quite right with my chain. Javi had had a little difficulty mounting the back wheel and it caused my chain to slip. The granny gear that I had relied on for so many miles was nearly useless.....so was the big chain - my power gear. Whenever I tried to switch gears, the chain would jump the track.

I cussed 10 times, cried 7 tears and counted six miles before we crested a hill and spotted Colin and Parker with signs and cowbells! They were welcoming us to mile 80 and  one of the last pit stops of the ride. They had made signs for us and cheered us up the hill and into a church parking lot. We posed for pix and Parker sprayed us with sunscreen.

Support & Gear Stop No. 5. Colin, Parker, Sweet Tea and Potato Chips.

Volunteers offered us freshly-made PB&Js, sweet tea, fruit punch Gatorade, chips and brownies. Best of all, I met Matt from Liberty Bikes in Asheville. He fixed my wheel and my chain and all but gave Lola a full tune-up. He even rode Lola around the parking lot to check out the chain. We felt refreshed and prepped for the last 20 miles.

The pitfalls will come. Those unexpected difficulties will happen. You will be going along and suddenly - BAM! - a change will happen to remind you how unfair it is that you lost him. An anniversary will come along and the sadness or anger will resurface all over again. You will see someone on the street that reminds you of her and want to call her on the phone.

The pit stops are ahead. Like NASCAR, you can pull over on the side of the road and catch your breath. You'll watch a movie or hear a song and it will uplift you instead of hurt your heart and soul. You'll go to church and hear the perfect message or you'll be with friends that remind you you're alive and well. You will be refueled, recharged and refreshed and ready to ride on.

You will want to quit. Two miles later on a hill and at a pretty good clip (my Garmin says 15mph), I felt an odd bumping. I looked down at my front wheel and yelled, NO FREAKING WAY! My front tire was flat. With a one-foot wide shoulder and a drop-off to my right, my next best option was a driveway on the opposite side of the road. As I slowed and turned left, Lola got all wobbly and I found myself skidding --  wheels first -- down the mountain in the other lane. My next words were: Now I want to quit. 

As soon as the words crossed my lips, I knew it wasn't really true, but it felt good to say. Anna reassured me that we couldn't quit now, we really were too far into this and she got to work on my bike tire. I stood around looking kind of stunned and felt the sting of road rash on my shoulder and the bruise forming on my left hip. Well, then, I only kind of want to quit. In minutes, another TNT hero - a coach from Maryland - stopped to help. He was a pro at the tube change and found the spot that caused the pop - a tiny piece of glass that had worked its way through the Gatorskins and into the tube. He patched my tire with a dollar bill, re-inflated my tube and attached my wheel and in no time we were on our way again. 

When you're in the dark and twisty loneliness and utter mad-sadness of losing something so important to you, you might form the words: I want to quit. Don't.

You will get through it. Those last 15 miles were not easy. I was hurt. My road-rash stung in the wind. My left hip was bruised and scraped. My aero-bars were damaged. We were tired. We were sunburned. We were slower. We skipped the very last pitstop because, as Anna said: get me off this freaking bike. There were never-ending turns and the last few miles were slightly uphill. Then, we heard it. Muffled cheers and cowbells. Whistles. As we pulled into Fletcher Community Park, Anna and I finished together. We saw her friend Amy, her boys, plus Colin and Parker. We pulled in side-by-side and I put my hand on her back as we crossed the finish line and said uttered a teary but triumphant: I love you!

I could not have done it without Anna. Oh, and I couldn't have done the ride without her either. Seventeen years after our loss, we still rely on each other to remember Mama and encourage each other in the ongoing journey.  We rely on faith, too. There is hope and healing that God and His timing provides to our hearts. The sting and soreness is still there from time to time -- on Mother's Day, my grandmother's birthday, or whenever I hear Ave Maria. More often than not, though, I feel comfort and stability and joy and gratitude. I know that it is love.

Day After - Notice how we are sitting down for this picture.

Ouch. Road Rash. Sunburn. Hole in my Jersey.

Showing off again. The Booty Bruise is Unfit to Print. But, it's not as bad as THIS.


Double Trouble

My second race in May was the Clemson sprint triathlon with my niece Lydia! Way back on her birthday in January, I asked if she'd do the run portion with me. She's been running for a few years and has had great 5K races in the past. We trade texts from time-to-time about workouts and runs and we share music mixes with each other. Plus, she was the only student in middle school asked to run on the high school cross country team! So, naturally, I wanted her on my team.

The long weekend was a blast. We traveled by motor coach - borrowed from our cousins, Kipp and David. We stopped in Simpsonville, S.C. to visit with longtime friends Todd and Jennifer and then headed to Central. We arrived on Friday afternoon and shortly thereafter went to scope out the race site. Ace, Rod, Dottie and I headed to the Clemson YMCA. Later, Karmin and I took off to Lydia's school to pick her up from volleyball practice and after that, we piled back into several cars to hit packet pick-up and pre-race pizza! Yum!

That evening, Lydia and I coordinated race outfits and talked about race jitters. We made a plan and the next morning, Ace, Rod, Dot, Lydia and I slid into the mini-van and headed to the race site. It was Rod's and Lydia's first triathlon experience so we did the normal walk-through: we headed to transition to find our spot in the bike racks, we headed over to pick-up the chip, we bypassed the long line at body-marking and marked each others arms and legs. Plus, we wrote DOUBLE TROUBLE on our forearms. I donned my wetsuit and we were ready to go!

Fast AND Cute.

Our cheering section was in place and ready to spur us on. Dottie, my mom-in-law, was Ace's apprentice for the day. She spent much of her time shadowing him in his role as GAS [gear and support] man. She learned how to body mark, where to apply body glide and how to transport bikes, bags and bites to eat. Plus, she invented the BEST catchphrase of the day. It was great to hear her shout: Draft off Jesus! several times during the race!

Team Double Trouble

You shall go out with joy......the mountains and the hills will break forth in singing!

The race was great - I was pleased with my own performance and even more excited about Lydia's. She had an amazing run.  My swim was great: calm waters and fairly uncrowded (despite being lumped in with all the females 39 and under,). My time in the water was 14:28 - right on target. My least favorite part was the swim-to-bike transition! We had to run up a steep hill and around behind T1 to get to our bikes.

Swim 750 meter + Run 300 yard uphill!

And....she's off!

My bike ride was so much fun. My original goal was 35 minutes, but on the course drive-through the day before, I switched it to 45 minutes because of the hills. In the first few miles, I was nervous. I couldn't catch my breath and the first hill was tough. I knew there were harder hills to come! But, by mile three, I was in a good zone. I passed a few people and by the time I got to the steepest hill I knew I could make my goal. On the next downhill, I reached an all-time high: 34.7 mph! At that point, I realized I might be able to make the 35 minute mark! My time: 37:05! I was pleased that I pushed it as hard as I could. I was also pleased to hand-off the chip for Lydia's run!

And....she's back.

Lydia was great - she ran the entire way (which was amazing because of the steep hill she had at the turn-around) and she had enough for a kick at the end. She was disappointed at first because our two timers (Ace and Rod) has misjudged the clock. When she finished, they announced that her time was about 31 minutes. Her goals was to finish in less than 26! We found out later that her official time was.....wait for it.....27:26!!! Four minutes faster than her unofficial time.

Lydia headed out on her run. Dottie with her Clapper!

Check out her kick a the finish! She totally dusted the guy in the yellow.

We finished fifth overall in the relays and I think we were the first all-girl team across the line. The other teams were co-ed and didn't count. My favorite part of the race might have been on the way home. Lydia and I shared her iPod and danced in the back seat of the van to Pink. There is nothing like adrenaline and pride and music to make me giddy.

Look out! There's double trouble catchin' up to ya!

We had a huge grill out that afternoon. Marina helped me hula hoop, I watched Jessica make an amazing tee shirt quilt and Lydia and I looked at pix from the race. Later that evening we had a NERTs tournament and I watched a highly dangerous game of spoons. One of the best tri weekends, EVER!

View of the Annex

Post-Lunch Chill-Out

Post-Dinner Tackle Spoons