Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Epic Bike Ride of 2011: Joie de Vivre

Sometimes I find that life just grabs me and slaps me in the face hard as if to say, "Wake up! Experience me! Live!". I find that those moments are rare, making them all the more special. Moments that sneak up on me when I least expect them and surprise me with emotions that had been sleeping in the corners of my mind.

I rode my bike in the rain today and it felt good. Cleansing. I tasted freedom in the streams of water hitting my cheeks. It came at the end of a long ride when it was most needed. I had been pushing hard and was tired and alone when the first drops came. They disappeared almost as quickly as they arrived. When my friend Anne pulled up next to me they had already receded into the clouds. We had a few moments to visit and then she pulled forward, ahead of me, as we focused again on our ride.

It had been a long day of juggling kids, work, and exercise. The afternoon overflowed with training - a long swim and now it was ending with a long ride. We set out together each with our own program, each with our own goals. The sky was gray and muted dark and the wind blew leaves across our paths as we rode. I loved these rides, even though they were challenging. It was time I got to spend with my thoughts, and also with my friend.

We rode solo for most of the ride, each keeping our own pace and working our heart rates in the zones they were meant to be in. We were quiet, focused on our task, pushing hard throughout the main phase of our workout.

Our pace began to slow as we entered the last quarter of our ride and we rode side by side for a while talking about nothing in particular... the stray dogs along the street, training, and plans for the week. The air was beginning to cool and the light was fading as the clouds rolled in around us. The question of whether we would make it back to the cars before the sky opened up on us was never verbalized, but we both were thinking it.

Anne pulled ahead as the first drops began to fall and I tried to keep close to her wheel but was tired. I could see the asphalt darkening as the water came down harder, puddles forming quickly on the road. I ducked my head and stayed low trying to shelter myself from the cold rain as it fell. As we pulled onto River Road I realized I had become invisible. I wore all black, rode a black bike, and had no lights to identify myself as a cyclist. My brightly colored Road ID bracelet had been ordered but not received so when the semi trucks that were flying by eventually hit me and tossed me into a ditch I would have to rely on Anne to identify my remains... if she decided to brave the weather to come back for me.

About two miles from our cars, the weather picked up, pummeling us with hard rain. My glasses were covered with droplets preventing me from seeing clearly. My socks squished as I pedaled and I thought about how the soaking would help to get the stink out of my bike shoes if I remembered to dry them out well. I caught a glimpse of Anne's teal jacket make the turn onto the last road to our car and knew that she'd make sure I made the turn safely as well. I could tell she was slowing to let me catch up so we could ride the last bit together.

Cars flew by kicking up road water onto our already soaked bodies. I howled out in a combination of discomfort and glee, "Woo Hoo!!" And threw a cheesy grin at the truck that sped by. I managed to catch up to Anne and cut the wind with my yelling, "I know this is miserable but it's awesome!" It was in this brief moment that I "got it". I understood why people pushed their limits, tested their thresholds, and sought adventure. Your emotions become heightened and you feel everything. It was the mixture of pain from the pelting rain and joy from the refreshing water that made me feel alive. Anne's smile told me she agreed with my unspoken analysis. She turned and pushed forward through the beating rain and I followed.

Suddenly the rain moved horizontally as the wind picked up dramatically. I watched as Anne's bike began to swerve and she unclipped one foot from her pedal as if to balance herself like a tight-rope walker. Debris began to pummel us and the wind was impossible to ride through. We unclipped and started to push our bikes through the rain to no avail. Anne spotted a nearby oak tree on the side of the road and pointed as she yelled to me, "Over there! Go to the tree!".

Our bikes slid down the side of the ditch and we disrespectfully dropped them on their sides as we tried to climb up the incline to get to the safety of the tree. I looked at Anne and saw a combination of sheer terror, pain, exhilaration, and joy in her eyes as we laughed at each other sliding along the wet roots of the tree with our bike shoes in an attempt to block the wind by hiding behind the trunk of the oak. As any adventure seeker would do in similar circumstances, we thwarted the advice of educated weathermen and hunkered down by the tree, rather than the nearby ditch for safety. Anne, knowing me as well as she does, immediately yelled that this was excellent blog material and that we needed to take pictures!

The rain never really let up, so eventually we decided that if we didn't make a break for our cars we would freeze to death, as no one was coming to our rescue. I had been tempted to try to spoon with her in an effort to keep warm, but thought that unless we were to have to sleep under that oak tree it might be too much for the circumstance. Instead we took our chances and slid back down the ditch picking our bikes up in the process. We fumbled getting re-clipped as our cleats were caked with mud and the rain continued to blind us. As usual, IronAnne pulled out ahead and never looked back, but I felt relatively confident that she would come look for me if I never made it to the van.

By the time we loaded up our bikes and wrung out our shirts the rain had slowed and the sun started to peak out from the clouds. We were elated, energized, and amused by our adventure. It was the best ride of the season and will be referred to from this point on as The Epic Ride of 2011.

My phone stopped working, my clothes got soaked, my bike may end up rusting. I nearly got killed by a semi. I disregarded safety rules by hanging out under a tree in a potential tornado. I had one of the best times ever. I experienced life... and I got to do it with my best bud.

Let's see if we can top this adventure!


  1. EPIC coug EPIC!! Loved every stinging droplet of rain. Reminded me of the freezing rain of '88 on my way to school.....only my hair wasn't breaking off in icicles.

  2. Epic blog post for an epic bike ride. Good for YOU Janie! Keep bringing the joy everywhere you go.