Monday, June 22, 2009
That Which Doesn't Kill Me Makes Me Livestrong
The Seattle Livestrong ride starts at 7:00 AM, so rather than get up insanely early and ride the twenty miles in from Issaquah, I spend the night at Bike Works and just get up stupidly early to ride the six miles to Seattle Center. I'm not feeling perky on the ride over, something I attribute to a lack of morning coffee. Fortunately, the Livestrong ride is astoundingly well supported and the folks at Starbucks and Bear Naked Granola are at hand to raise caffeine and blood sugar levels into the functional range.
I'm actually kind of nervous about this ride. Hundred plus mile days are practically routine for me, but to make things challenging, I decided to do this on my single-speed Shogun. Actually, that doesn't make things too challenging except for the fact that this ride has a time limit, all riders have to be done by 3:30 PM. My natural pace is slower (I am called the Mountain Turtle, after all) and with the single-speed, I won't be hanging with the fast packs on the flats or descents. And the ride has at least one wicked climb, the monstrous suburban ascent up Cougar Mountain through the Montreux neighborhood. Still, it's good to stretch outside one's comfort zone and I'd promised Elden and all the folks who pledged that I'd do this ride.
I can't stress enough what a great cause this is. The Livestrong folks focus on folks with cancer and families touched by cancer. I remember the old days when cancer was viewed as a death sentence, you get cancer, you die. That's not the story any more. You get cancer, you fight. A lot of folks have had this fight forced upon them, some of us are lucky enough to get to pick this fight. A lot of the riders and volunteers here today are survivors, many are still fighting. Some astoundingly fit folks have survivor bibs on their backs, others have "In Honor" or "In Memory" bibs. Everyone here has a story and everyone is fighting for this cause.
I'm here as part of Team Fatty, Fighting For Susan. Since we raised the most money of any team (over $140,000!) we get the lead spot out of the chute. We all sign the Team Fatty poster for Susan and Elden and give. Elden is back in Utah taking care of Susan now, but they are both here in spirit. The words "Win Susan" and Fat Cyclist jerseys are everywhere. Even though I'm part of Team Fatty, I've never been much for lycra, so I'm riding incognito in an old wool Molteni jersey.
After inspirational speeches and the national anthem, we take off at 7:00 AM. we have a police escort and a lead car and still manage to get lost! In our defense, I think it was the lead car that got confused, but we quickly got back on track.
It's very neat having the police wave us through red lights and route us onto the closed express lanes of Interstate 90. We blast through the tunnel and onto the bridge. I'm snapping pictures and having a great time. The weather forecast is completely mixed, calling for sun, clouds and a chance of rain. As I'd told one of the out-of-town Fattys in the starting gate, "yeah, but Seattle rain is usually so light you barely notice it." In the story-telling biz, this is called "ironic foreshadowing" and this is also why I should never think of working as a weather forecaster. But I'm getting ahead of my story.
We roll off the freeway and do the scenic loop around Mercer Island. Families have set up little cheering sections along the route and the positive energy on this ride is amazing. Not a single angry car honk, just lots of thumbs up and "way to go!" expressions. At the stop on Mercer Island, I grab some food, stow my jacket and long pant legs, Tweet from my Peek (there's a 21st Century phrase for you!) and take a bunch more pictures.
We roll off Mercer Island via the East Channel Bridge Trail, through a bit of south Bellevue, up though New Castle and out into the May Valley. More cheering fans along the route and up at the top of one of the climbs, the Devil himself is there urging us onward.
We're practically in my back yard now. We navigate a bit of construction gravel in the May Valley and then head south on the Issaquah Hobart Road. After another quick stop to fuel up, we climb Tiger Mountain. I'd told various folks that the Tiger Climb would be easy because it's fairly gentle, but on the descent I'm sorry to see flares, an ambulance and several crashed bikes. There had been some rain on Tiger and the several riders crashed out on the slick descent. (As of this writing, 24 hours later, I believe that two riders were sagged to the finish and one rider taken away in the ambulance. I don't have any further details.)
The various loops of the Livestrong Ride overlap and if hundred mile riders aren't through the Issaquah stop by 11:30, they are routed onto the 70 mile course, skipping the loop around Lake Sammamish. I'm more than an hour ahead of the cut-off when I send my 10:23 AM Tweet from Issaquah. The route passes within about 100 feet of my home, but I turn right and head up the Plateau.
We have some of that light Seattle-style rain on the climb, which I find totally welcome. Some riders stop at the top to put on rain-jackets, but I bet rightly that the rain is just about done. It stops by the time we're back down to the Parkway along the lake.
I'm much better at remembering bikes than names, so I mentally tag other riders with monikers like "Green Davidson Gal" and "Recumbent Guy." I've been leap-frogging with Recumbent Guy all day, since we have almost perfectly opposite performance profiles: he can go like hell on the flats and the descents while I tend to scoot ahead on the climbs. He's used the fairing of his 'bent to good advantage, showing memorial pictures and a WIN SUSAN sticker.
Recumbent Guy and I leap-frog on the Sammamish Parkway and in one of our overlapping times he mentions that he's been having some cramping problems. I think but don't say "I never cramp" (if I had it would be yet another example of ironic foreshadowing!) and instead recommend that he be sure to load up on electrolytes and liquids at the next stop.
There are Pom-Pom girls and Nuun electrolyte solution at the Marymoor stop. The Nuun folks are giving away water bottles and while I have a hard time passing up freebies, I don't want to carry any extra weight up the Montreux climb. I swig some Nuun and grab a Powerbar which I'll chow down before I hit the big climb.
I ride with a couple of Fattys on the ride south along Lake Sammamish and one of them helps pass the time by recounting a particularly harrowing bike crash story ("the driver of the second car looked at me through the windshield and the bloody airbag as I rolled over his hood...") Again, the single-speed rhythm keeps me from riding with these guys for too long and we drift apart on the low rolling hills.
The Montreux climb is just about as bad as I thought it would be. It's about noon, the sun is out and there seem to be just about as many walkers as riders climbing this beast. Several folks managed to have flat tires partway up, a great strategy for getting a bit of a rest. I'm grinding up, passing several folks when I hit what I know is the steepest pitch. A lovely woman on a bike (I think she's one of the volunteers) is encouraging riders up and the Devil is there saying "only 150 feet to the summit!") Just when I think I've got it made, my right leg cramps.
I never cramp so my immediate reaction is "what the hell?" My right calf muscle has gone tight and will not unclench. I hop off my bike and walk ten steps, working the kink out. My mind is racing...why the heck would I cramp? Then it hits me, what is different about today isn't the pace, although it's somewhat faster than what I'm used to.
It's the food. Specifically, the drink. On long rides, I drink milk. Gallons of milk. Cows full of milk. And/or lattes. Today I've had black coffee, water, Gatorade and Nuun. No milk. No calcium.
I get back on my bike and get the pedals turning again. I'm past the steepest part of the climb now and I pass a woman who is pushing her bike up the grade. "It's a nice day for a walk," I say, "I know 'cause I was walking back there."
"It is a nice day for a walk," the woman says, "It's also a nice day for a punch in the face and if I meet the guy who designed this course that's what he's getting!"
I pedal onward.
The terrain tips down to join Lakemont Boulevard and then goes up again. I see a gas station, swing in and get the elixir of life, a pint of Chocolate Milk. I swig down half of it and stuff the bottle in my jersey pocket.
The ride is pretty much in the bag now, I've got plenty of time to get to the finish and it's mostly downhill or flat from here. I skip the New Castle snack stop but fuel up again in Renton.
The sky looks pretty dark now and it seems to be getting darker by the minute. Just south of Seattle, the air is split by a big clap of thunder and the sky just opens up. This is not gentle Seattle rain, this is the garden hose of the gods being directed straight at us. The giant raindrops turn to pea-sized hail and riders cower under any available shrub, tree or porch while hastily pulling on rain jackets. I manage to take a few photographs. "Look miserable," I say. "Not a problem," my fellow rider replies.
The storm passes as quickly as it came and as we roll north to Lake Washington Boulevard we see dry pavement and people in dry shorts and t-shirts. The heavy weather never hit north of Seward Park.
While I could forgive the course designer for the Montreux climb, when we turn up Yesler with it's 17% I'm ready to get in line behind the face-punching lady. There are at least a dozen better ways over the big Seattle ridge (and even a tunnel just for bikes that goes through the ridge) but nothing says welcome home quite like going up a cliff at mile 95 of a century. And the descent down Yesler is probably sponsored by Koolstop.
At 2:42 PM, I roll into Livestrong Village. Like some other riders, I get confused and go through the "Survivors" chute. While I survived the ride and am bald today, I'm not a cancer survivor, just a big fan. I realize my error and wave away the rose they try to hand me. The most amazing thing about this day was seeing those strong riders, the true survivors, who have fought back and live strong.
I feel blessed to witness all the amazing support in all its forms -- people who have given their time, talent, money, enthusiasm, and effort into making this an event that not only raises money, it shows people that even something as evil and mean as cancer can be beaten back by people who care and fight. Team Fatty raised over $140,000 and the Seattle event raised over one million dollars. I've never been more inspired to ride my bike. Thanks to everyone who carries on the fight.
Keep 'em rolling and keep fighting,