Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 15: Idaho Falls, ID, to Jackson, WY

Today's Scheduled Mileage: 92
Miles Cycled: 6.30
Average Speed: 11.9 mph
Max Speed: 17.6 mph
Average BPM: 124
Max BPM: 143
Calories Burned: 186
Moving Time: 0:33
Blog & Ride Details

I was supposed to cycle to Jackson, Wyoming, for Paige Bowers, who sponsored Day 15 of my ride across America. It was projected to be the hardest and most fulfilling day of the tour, with climbs to Pine Creek Summit at 6764 feet and Teton Pass at 8431 feet. With grades of over 10% - nearly 14 and 15% according to some of the riders' GPS computers - Teton Pass is the climb with all the bragging rights. If you wanted to know what you are really made of, today was the day.

If you think nothing could suck more than climbing mountains on a bicycle, having to ride in one of the SAG vans is even worse. And if you think there is nothing worse than riding in a SAG van, watching your bicycle ride away on top of the mechanic van is even more excruciating than that.

Today, of all days, my Achilles Tendon flared up while I was on my bicycle ... within the first 10 miles. I had only been in the saddle about 30 minutes. Over the past week (specifically since Day 6), it had been sore in the evenings and tight in the mornings. Jim adjusted my cleats, my seat was lowered slightly, and I loosened my pedal clips. But it had not been painful during rides ... until today.

I pride myself in not crying at movies and weddings, but hearing the ride leaders tell me that I was in no condition to ride today and possibly the next day or two, I burst into tears. Sometimes - not always - but sometimes ... I cry when I hear things that I don't like to hear when I know they are true.

The ride leaders were supportive, but realistic. They warned me about previous riders who were unable to complete the tour because of issues with Achilles Tendons. The normal recovery time for severe tendonitis is 6-8 weeks ... so out here, on the road, where time is more finite, the difference between bravery and foolishness is a slippery slope.

The crew is taking excellent care of me. Mike called an athletic trainer at the University of Tennessee, who is a close friend of his and former ABB rider, for some treatment techniques. And Michael, a physical therapist and current ABB rider, provided additional treatment this evening in my hotel room free-of-charge. If anyone else is in pay-it-forward debt like I am, please visit Michael and Matt's fundraising website for the Huntington's Disease Society of America.

When I arrived at the hotel at the end of the day, my face was still puffy and red. My eyes were swollen. I looked in the mirror, washed my face and did what I do whenever I want to feel pretty or I'm feeling vulnerable. In this case, it was the latter. I put on a little makeup. After dinner, Rick asked me if I had gotten sick today: "I saw you in the van at the first SAG stop, and you did not look too good."

"That's because I was pouting," I replied. "I was feeling sorry for myself and needed a minute."

In the interest of full disclosure, I took more than a minute to wallow in self-pity. I began crying before I even pulled my bicycle over on the side of the road. I cried while Andrew gave me a pep talk on why I needed to sacrifice today so that I could make it to New Hampshire. I cried while Karen loaded my bicycle into the SAG van. I cried while we drove up the road to the first SAG stop. I cried while Mike took off Maddy's front wheel and hitched him to the roof of the mechanic van. And I cried again when Mike told me that I need to take more than just one day off. And when the mechanic van left the first SAG stop to provide support to the front riders, I cried some more as I watched it pull away with Maddy attached to the roof. It's a wonder that my eyeballs didn't fall out somewhere in Idaho.

It was hard to stay in a bad mood for longer than a few hours on a day like today, with people like these. The perspective of all the riders from the van is incredible. Our group gets spread out over dozens of miles. By bicycle, everyone seems far apart. But by vehicle, there are more and more riders around every curve and bend. And everyone is pushing. From where I sat in the front seat, I saw just how amazing we look out there.

With my foot elevated on ice on the dashboard, I rode with Karen back and forth, up and down the mountain passes, as she carefully monitored the riders' progress, and I was amazed by how the entire ABB staff worked like a well-oiled machine, constantly communicating with the sweep riders and by radio between the SAG van, the mechanic van and the box (luggage) truck, updating each other on the whereabouts of each rider, making fairly accurate predictions of when various groups or individuals would pass particular landmarks. If you're ever in doubt about whether or not you are in good hands with this crew, sit in the SAG van for a day.

As impressive as it was to see the stronger, faster riders attack the mountainside, the most admirable of all moments was when 62-year old Ellen appeared at the summit of Teton Pass. She was the last. The top of her head appeared first, bobbing as she walked forward with swift, strong strides, boldly wheeling her bicycle the last few feet. As the ground leveled out, she swung her leg over the saddle and pedaled toward the overlook with a huge smile on her face.

This is what she saw.


Being there to see her accomplish that feat softened the blow of not getting my own shot at it.

That's the thing that sucked the most about today - not being able to know if I could have actually made it over Teton Pass. I would have preferred to try and fail than to not even get a chance to try at all. Karen seemed sure I could have done it if my Achilles Tendon weren't inflamed, and Jim (our mechanic) later told me, "With the way you've been riding the past week, I know you can do it once you're better. You have already gotten so much stronger."

Whether they were patronizing my ego or not, the truth is that you never really know what your limits are until you really get out there - especially in cycling. The only way I'm ever going to know if I could have reached the summit of Teton Pass is to do it. So today, as I proudly watched my fellow cyclists climb to 8431 feet, I made a vow to myself. I made a command decision to meet ABB in Idaho Falls next year and climb Pine Creek Summit and Teton Pass and descend into Jackson Hole on my bicycle. It's a technical descent - not one to be taken lightly. The father-son tandem (a.k.a. Michael and Matt) blew out their rear breaks on the downhill and had to pull over. But I need my shot. The view from the SAG van today just wasn't the same.

After I made my decision to return next year and cycle over Teton Pass, I began thinking about how we all left Astoria, Oregon, two weeks ago today and how this group has already begun to feel like my family.

At the first SAG stop, Jay popped up in the passenger window of the van with walrus teeth made out of Fig Newtons and then introduced me to Billy Bob Nana, the happy banana who would help keep me company for the day. As I began to laugh and cry at his ridiculous gestures, I swear I heard Dolly Parton's voice in my head: "Laughter threw tears is my favorite emotion."

That's the kind of corny "ish" that happens when you have a photographic memory of random movie quotes.

Beth brought Buddha to visit me in the SAG van at a convenience store just before the first big climb. After posing with my foot, The Bad Pennies told me that every fourth pedal stroke would be for me. Texas Tom insisted that it would lighten his load and really help him out a lot if I ate the other half of his chicken wrap. Sarah told me a story of a sports injury she had when she was younger, and then a tear rolled down from under her sunglasses as she said: "I know how you feel sitting in there. Today, we ride for you."

And just before RAP, Deb - one of the ABB staff - sat down next to me and said, "I'm going to tell you a story that I don't tell often."

Deb first did this ride in 2002. Over half way across the country, she was crowded off the road and broke her collar bone. What made the story funny to tell later is that she also landed in poison ivy when she fell. What made the story relevant to me today was that she, too, came back the following year and completed the ride from where she left off.

I was so moved and inspired by Sarah and Deb's stories, but Toronto Mark really made my day when he reached into the passenger window of the SAG van at the top of Teton Pass, took my hand, nodded toward the 10% grade climb behind us and said: "This don't mean shit."

So many of the other riders told me that they were riding for me today. So, Paige, I know I was supposed to ride for you into Jackson. Instead, there were many riders cycling for me, thus cycling for you.

More images from Idaho Falls to Jackson:














Click here to view my entire photo album of Day 15.

Video of the descent from Teton Pass taken by Jeff:

The Ride Leader's Official Report:
Across America North:

4 comments:

Monique said...

I'm sorry, i got emotional and then I saw the picture of the banana & couldn't help but lmao. Then the pic of your foot w/the Ellen flag...omg, hilarious. I hate that this has happened but i'm oh so grateful that you are with these people. You are truly in good hands :)

Katie said...

I wish you could make it to Niagara Falls so that you could meet them all.

Monique said...

I know :( Hopefully i'll have some good news for you that weekend though! (wink wink)

Mercedes said...

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