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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shoulda got on that bus

Me (in pink) while I was still smiling and heading for Cap de Formentor. That's Tracy behind me playing charades with the photographer. Photo by William Fu.

In a state of utter depletion on a thin ribbon of highway between Alcudia and Cala D'Or, Mallorca I learned a lot about restraint, humility, privilege and gratitude.

But it's easier to be philosophical in hindsight. At the time, I wanted to get off my bike and throw it at the pace leader, but I didn't for a number of reasons:

1. I really like his wife and very much wanted to remain friends with her.

2. The last functioning rational neurons in my brain recognized that this impulse was ridiculous and would cause me a lot of problems later. See #1.

3. He was too far in front to hit.

We were about 100 km into a 140-km ride. We had ridden a 60 km mountain stretch from Alcudia to Cap de Formentor to a soaring lighthouse overlooking the northernmost point of Mallorca.

I made huge progress. The downhills, which had scared the bejeezus out of me days earlier, were exhilarating, even with their paucity of guard rails and sniper winds that threatened to blow me off course. The uphills were protracted and grinding, but I had granny to help me out.

Our bus was waiting for us at the municipal sports centre where bikes would be loaded and riders who wanted a lift could be conveyed in comfort back to the hotel.

I had thought I'd take the bus, but after hearing that so many people would be riding the mostly-flat, wind-assisted 80 km back at an "easy pace", I thought what the hell?

Hell indeed. In the first 20 km, I knew I was in trouble, I downed a sports gel (and I hate those), some dried fruit and glugged water.

"Ease up!" I yelled. The pace slowed for two minutes and then resumed. All I kept thinking was, shoulda got on that bus, shoulda got on that bus...

I got quieter and quieter. Brad, one of the riders in our group, knew I was getting into trouble.

"So, what was your favourite subject in high school," he asked?

"History," I said and we spoke of our areas of interest. For me, The Great War. For him, World War II and Rommel's North African battlefront to be precise.

I knew he was trying to keep me from lapsing into bitter silence. As I faltered more, he started pushing me uphill.

On a gradual uphill, I dropped off the group like a rock, crying quietly behind my sunglasses. I couldn't even pretend to hold on anymore.

Then, Lori swooped in and offered to lead me back at a slower pace. I didn't want to stop for coffee or beer or anything for fear I wouldn't get back on my bike. As we cleaved off the group, we were joined by Jen who felt it would be easier for me to draft off the two of them.

And I made it. My nursing team: Lori, Nadia, Jen and Brad, kept me at a pizza joint near the hotel and jammed Coca Cola and water into me, refusing to let me crawl home and sob in the corner.

In my hotel room, my friend Susan served me hot, sweet milky tea and brought me food, while I huddled, shivering under the blankets.

It was difficult and embarrassing, hitting the wall like that, but it was a privilege to suffer because I overdid it on a bike trip. I have two friends facing cancer and a husband with serious heart issues. I know that now, but at the time my thoughts were pretty infantile.

And I'm grateful to the people who helped me out and to the other cyclists who later shared their tales of hitting the wall or "bonking" on long rides.

And the pace leader? Well, he's my friend, too. The way I look at it is that it's flattering to have him think I could go that fast. But my aerobic base kind of sucks and I probably should have gotten on that bus.

But I'm glad I didn't because now I can say that I've ridden 140 km in one day.


  1. And there is a sick and twisted pride in saying you've 'hit the wall' or 'bonked'. Most real athletes have. Or maybe just the type A ones... Regardless, the best stories come from the temporarily crappy times. And you will never forget that day... or us! :-)

  2. You're absolutely right, Jen. The best stories come from tough times. And I'm not going to forget you. What wonderfully supportive people. Thanks for your help that day.

  3. I am so impressed that you did this trip. Always good to have friends to help pull you through when the going gets tough.

  4. Thanks, Suzicate. The great thing with endurance sports, at least in my experience, is that all you have to do is persevere. Just keep doing it and you'll get better.

  5. holy crap! i was impresed that i was doing 20 (10 to and from work). that is incredible!

    awesome that your travel mates were there to help you through it and get you to the oterh side where you could get some perspective. congrats!

  6. Hey Julie, those 20km a day really add up. Consistency builds endurance.