Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Three in a day!!!! Yeehaa!!!!!

A little bit ago a good friend of mine and I were talking. We both had our problems and were talking about them. Then after we stopped talking, I got to thinking. And this is what I came up with.

In 1991 I was in the Tour of the Adirondacks stage race. My job was to work for ou rteam leader, as I had nohope of winning overall. Like in the Tour de France, when you see all of Lance's team doing all the work for him. Anyway, it was the second to last stage, and I was pretty happy to still be there, for if you finish too far behind the winner each day, you get eliminated on time.

This typical Adirondack day was rainy and cold. Something like 55 degrees in Lake Placid when we started the stage. We went out to Wilmington along I think it's Rt 86, then made a left in Wilmington to go up Whiteface Mountain. Grinding away, past North Pole, NY, soaked to the bone, I knew it was going to be a long day for me. I'm not the best climber, so I was suffering. but there's always a descent after a climb, and on the descent I took all kinds of risks and caught back on to the main group. After riding on a bunch of back roads, we passed through Saranac Lake, and began a serpentine route back to Lake Placid.

Going through Lake Placid again, the temperature in front of the Olympic I ce Arena now said 52 degrees. In July. How Adirondack. We again went to Wilmington, and made that left up towards Whiteface. Our suffering was just beginning. An attack came, and I couldn't do any more, and began losing ground. Lots of it. I was spent. Soon I was in a group of about 15 or 20 stragglers, and behind us, the broom van. The broom van will never pass you, but you can always get off your bike and pile into it and abandon the race.

A motorcycle ref came back to us and told us it was 38 and freezing rain at the summit. In July. Think about that. We were finishing at the summit by the restaurant up there. If you've been up there, you know what I'm talking about. And if you've been up there, you know how for miles the toll road is a steady 8% or 8.25% grade. One by one the guys I was with got off their bikes. Soon it was 5 of us. Then 3. Then me.

I wanted to get off. My face was frozen in ine expression of pain. I couldn't close my lips around my water bottle nipple so I had to tilt my head back and spray my drink down my throat. My fingers were purple, I couldn't feel my feet, and my bike had tiny icicles hanging off it in spots. Still I kept riding. I couldn't bear the thought of giving up. I didn't want to be on the sidelines the next day in the final stage. I didn't want to be labeled a quitter, or feel the shame from having quit. I was afraid that once I quit, it would be easy for me to quit other races.

I kept pedaling, kept thinking of my team needing me the next day. Soon I could see the summit. Another 15 minutes and I'd be there. Finally I was near the top. It was amazing. Every one of my teammates was along the road for the last half mile screaming at me to keep going, to push it, as I was in danger of being eliminated. People I didn't even know were yelling at the top of their lungs all the encouragement they could muster. Other teams were running alongside me, yelling, waving, anything. Spectators were clapping in their mittens and yelling, some even threw warm water on me.

I came around the final turn, where the parking area was filled with vehicles and people. I have never heard so much noise in my life. You would have thought I was winning a mountain stage of the Tour de France. Cowbells rang, whistles blew, horns honked, screaming, yelling, clapping, it was deafening. I rode to the line, giving it everything I had, and when I finished I had to be caught by someone. I don't know who. In an instant I was having my feet pulled out of the pedals, my helmet was off my head, a towel was on my shoulders, and I was carried to under the restaurant, out of the rain.

My clothes were taken off, I was being dried off, cleaned up, and redressed with clothes my team had brought up. I was wrapped in a big warm blanket and some nice woman was holding a cup of hot tea to my mouth. then a USCF official came over to me. "Congratulations, you made the time limit with one second left. See you tomorrow." I had done it. But not without the help of hundreds of strangers. A few minutes later a guy by the name of Tyler Hamilton came over, shook my hand, and said "I would have gotten in a warm van. You did a great job. Congratulations." He won the race overall.

The next day I suffered, as my legs hadn't recovered. I finished last overall. But I finished. I was proud, as was my team. Then I heard the story. Apparently, race officials were telling the announcer at the finish who was where, etc. Soon it became apparent that I was the last one on the course, and I was in danger of being eliminated. Each official I went by was radioing my time deficit to the announcer. Once everyone else had finished, the announcer told the crowd of my plight. As I neared the summit, I had stopped losing time, but was right on the bubble. This was when the announcer asked the crowd to help me out by making as much noise as they could and by running next to me to encourage me. It made the difference. I thanked as many people as I could, and the announcer, too.

So what the hell has this to do with anything? Well, I look at it this way. I didn't give up even when it would have ended my suffering and been easier. Lots of people I didn't even know went out of their way to help me and take care of me after I finished. A perfect stranger. If we can do this for some poor kid on a bike near hypothermia, we can do it for a lot more people. And that makes me smile and brings a tear to my eye.

4 comments:

LostInTX said...

You are so amazing... every day.. you know what happens.

I'm glad you didn't quit. Your strength in character, endurance, and determination are astonishing.

LostInTX said...

Oh, and BTW.. it's YEE HAW . If you're going to be coming down here you need to get it right. LOL

Lora said...

That's tenacity for you! And that was a fabulous post.

Capybaras United said...

Good story!