After almost ten months of training, the race was everything I hoped it would be: challenging, emotional, inspiring, bloody hard, rewarding and above all fun. I want to thank all of you who followed my progress, encouraged, donated, supported and applied the necessary audience pressure to illicit a worthy performance on the day. And I want to thank Nancy in particular for being my constant companion, friend, and teammate without whom I would not have made it to the start line, let alone the finish line, almost literally as it turned out.
We flew into Austin on Saturday afternoon leaving just enough time to put the bike together, make sure it all worked as planned after its precarious voyage by air in its padded sarcophagus, and then head for dinner. Nancy put the word out on Twitter for restaurant recommendations and we managed to get a table at Z’Tejas for delicious chicken fried steak and empanadas, and then ice cream at Amy’s complete with cool hats and scoop twirling. We would have hit the Elephant Room for Jazz had it not been for the 5:30am start the following morning.
And so Sunday began in the dark with coffee and muffins and a 25 mile drive to the start line. With about 5 miles to go traffic was barely moving as the 4,000 people tried to get to the parking lots around Dripping Springs High School where the ride began and finished. 45 minutes later and we were still a couple of miles away and it was clear I would not make it to registration and the start line in time unless we changed out plan: we pulled into a gas station, I changed into race attire, put the bike together and headed for the start line, thankful that Nancy could deal with the car while I peddled on alone.
By the time I found the registration booth, picked up my race number and made my way to the 90 mile start line it was already after 8:00am, but fortunately things were running a little behind and I had a couple of minutes before the gun to take a deep breathe and take in the fact that, more than four years after I first decided to attempt this ride, I was finally about to start. A few words from Lance Armstrong and senior members of the LAF and we were off.
The course took us into beautiful rolling farm land and we were admired by grazing Texas Longhorns as we picked our way carefully over numerous cattle grids. It meant traffic was minimal, but the road surface was for the most part very rough compared to my training rides. It was colder and windier than forecast and I was glad to have leg and arm warmers as I began to settle into a rhythm and pace I felt I could sustain for six hours. Cleverly designed, the opening miles of the course were shared by the various distance routes, 10, 25, 45, 65 and 90 miles so as each loop peeled off there was a chance to choose a shorter ride if I did not feel that much time in the saddle was possible after my illness of the last month.
At 35 miles there was a feed station at the turn off for the 65 mile route and I stopped to consider whether I had the stamina to go the full 90 miles. At 35 miles I felt good, but the tough part given the break in my training would not be the first or second 30 miles but the last. I ate and drank and pondered the signs: 65 miles to the right, 90 miles straight on. And as I got back on my bike the longer route just felt right.
From mile 35 to 55 the road climbed in a series of steps and as I crested each another would appear ahead, the wind was in my face and like Zeno of Elea for each mile I traveled my speed seemed to halve making my goal remain just as far away. It was all too reminiscent of the Col d’Aubisque 4 years ago, the 3,901 foot climb whose summit was 68 miles into the 111 miles stage of the Tour de France I tackled and prevailed – that’s right, I reached that summit and covered the remaining 43 miles of that course and I only have 35 miles left to reach the finish line today. And so the internal dialogue continued until I suddenly found myself sweeping right at a junction, the wind now at my back, the road surface smooth and welcoming and the tribulations of the past hour forgotten.
I covered mile 55 to 65 in relative comfort and as I approached the penultimate feed station at mile 75, riders on the 65, 45, 35, 25 and 10 mile courses began filtering in from the right. By the time I reached the feed station a crowd of happy cyclists were gathering to refuel and enjoy a few minutes of live music and camaraderie. In addition to the energy bars and drinks there were margaritas and Fat Tire on tap! It might have been an unorthodox approach to the final 15 miles of the ride but I highly recommend it: a modest measure of New Belgium’s Amber Ale and I covered the final miles at greater speed and in better spirits than any other part of the course! I covered the final 3 miles at a little over 25 miles an hour to cross the finish line in 5:33:06.
And at that moment the day was no longer about me: the personal challenge bowed before the greater battles fought by friends, relatives, loved ones, strangers in whose name, honor and memory each of the 3,600 riders rose to the challenge to Ride for the Roses. My thanks to all of you who shared the journey with me, who donated to the cause and shared stories, memories, pictures and hopes. My hope is that you will come with me again next year as the challenge of cancer is far from over.