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Published: September 25th 2012
This was before setting off yesterday
This is our second night in Lewistown, Montana. We find ourselves accompanied friendly English setters, sautéed sharp tailed grouse, and lots of dust. Our two protagonists, also known as “the athletes,” have ridden 180 miles since Great Falls. And as befits the purpose of this Corps, they have made significant discoveries.
Yesterday I rode with the athletes. Fred rides lead, and I quickly discovered how foolish it is to attempt to keep up. My father, girt in “hunters orange,” set a more congenial pace. So initially I stuck behind him. But this was hard to do because he was so slow. And why ride your brakes down the hills -- he just sucked all of the fun out the best thing about riding -- the coasting. So I took off, and Dad became an orange spot gradually receding until eventually disappearing entirely behind the horizon.
The weather was cool and I rode the first forty miles in isolated ease. The cows took a break from eating grass and looked up, puzzled, whenever I passed. I noticed what biking does to the body – exhaustion is confined to the quadriceps. I noticed mine burning and my
I join them
I forgot that I also wore orange.
pace slackening around the time the hill hit.
The hill brutalized me. My Dad later told me it was 2.2 miles. It was long. It was steep. But that wasn’t what made it cruel. I reached the summit in the lowest gear possible, traveling at 4.4 miles per hour. For a long time, I had grunted, gorrila-like. Grunting had been a conscious strategy to fight exhaustion and retaliate against the hill, like Sharapova’s shrieks. But slowy the grunts grew quieter and switched to moans. I had no fight left in me. Moaning was just an involuntary response to burning legs and the prospect of defeat and failure. Then, while bouncing over gravel and all across the road, prepared to coast, I came to the slow and painful realization that the summit was not the summit. It was just a less steep part of the hill, which simply turned and rose again, steeper than before. It was the deception that made the hill cruel.
When I did get over that hell, I still had 13 miles to go. I had no legs to ride them with. Only a broken down will. So I rolled on
down the road, which flattened, denying me a real downhill, before breaking into rolling hills. I rarely broke 10 miles an hour.
I stopped frequently and looked back. And there, off in the distance I saw that orange dot, growing larger and larger. In front of me lay another demoralizing hill. I could keep riding, knowing that without a doubt the orange athlete would overtake me on the hill. Or I could sit and wait for him, knowing that he’d gallently ride the rest of the way to our lunch break with me. I waited.
My Dad arrived and told me about the coyote. While I intrigued the cows, a much more fascinating creature had developed an interest in my Dad. This coyote had followed my dad trotted toward him. Then he just sat there, beside my Dad, curious. We also saw a couple of rattlesnakes. Crushed ones, on the side of the road.
I survived and made it lunch, after which I happily took my place in the truck while my mom took my place and joined the athletes for the final 15 miles that featured another monster hill. She
stayed a short distance behind Fred.
This morning before setting out my father kept telling us – “I have to go slow. That’s the only way I can make it.” To me he hit the wrong note, as if trying to justify his slowness.
At the starting point 26 miles outside of Lewistown, my father noted that his rear brake was gripping the wheel. Not so tight that it didn’t move, but enough to make noises and prevent the wheel from spinning freely. Thus we discovered why dad had been riding gomer style. He was braking all the time. There was a bike mechanic in town, but the guy in the yellow jersey – he decided against hunters’ orange – would have none of it. He rode with the brake on. It seemed unnecessary and a little defiant, maybe even not so smart – but it was all part of the stern code of honor to which these heroes hew.
Fred set out behind my dad but soon overtook him and resumed his furious pace. My dad, hobbled by that bum wheel, plodded on. I drove myself to a Christian-themed coffee
It hurt me.
shop and drank lattes amidst knick-knacks declaring “the family that prays together, stays together.” Later I had a meal-sized salad and wandered about Lewistown reading historical markers and ducking into thrift shops. Luckily the Lewistown bike mechanic, who my dad dubbed “a real cyclist” fixed the break along with my dad’s malfunctioning gear shift. He and Fred did another 35 miles. They are keeping to their 60-mile a day pace.
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