Now for the long-awaited summary of the CowaLUNGa ride.
Saturday dawned. For that I was grateful, but things went decidedly downhill from there. There were no tragedies to the day, but there were some minor hardships to be endured.
After check-in but before the official group start, there was an opportunity to have a team picture taken. It was at this point that we discovered that one of our teammates would be a no-show for the ride and another two had decided to be one-day riders. This left just two of us to complete the three day event. I’ll not fault a soul amongst them, but I’ll hesitate to join the team again. I’m more of a solo rider anyway, so perhaps it was meant to be.
The day was warm, but not exceedingly so, since the heat wave of the previous week had been broken by a series of storms and a resulting drop in humidity. The sun was bright, but overpowered by scattered clouds. The Guns & Hoses team had the high honor of leading the riders out, and few of them were seen again by those of us riding an “average” speed. Another team performing above and beyond the norm were the aptly named Speed Racers (whose named was gleaned from the jersey that happened to be on sale at that propitious time).
Christie (my one teammate) and I had ridden together through stages two and three the year before, and we rode out together this year. It was apparent to at least one of us that this year was not going to be the same. A small clue here: It was plain to me since I fell behind early on.
There is a large mental element to cycling, and it is plain from the very start of a ride what capabilities a rider will be able to bring to bear. A cyclist establishes their performance for the day in the first 10 miles, and I was no exception. Christie was riding much stronger than I, but since I’m not a competitive individual as a rule, I settled into what I could manage and set the interior odometer for 65 miles. My mental state sounded something like this; “Doesn’t matter how you manage the miles, this is the distance you are going. Dial it in and ride. This is when you will require fluids and this is what food you must consume. There is nothing else to consider except turning the cranks.”
I made one critical error. This year, I’d spent time on the bike doing solid miles for training, but I’d cut Gatorade out of the equation. I didn’t like the effect the sugar had on my system, so I decided to do without. I did the same thing on day one, and although I never bonked (completely collapsed by the side of the road in a gibbering heap), I did experience a failure of my energy level. By the last rest stop, I’d realized the error of my way, ate a bag of potato chips, drank some gatorade and spent some quality time staring at the heavens from my back. All of these unlikely exercises gave me the energy to not only finish the day, but ride “the hill” from beginning to end without a pause.
Every ride organizer seems to spend some degree of their valuable time finding “the hill”. I have faced “the hill” on day one of the CowaLUNGa ride six times, and I have ever only climbed it without stop 3 times. This was one of the years I was able to manage it. I wish, now, that I had spent some time noting the sacrifices I’d made along the way on those three occasions to see if I rode them similarly to this year.
It was with a great deal of satisfaction that I completed my check-in that night. I was not confident that I would complete the other two stages of the ride, but I was confident that I would be able to apply myself without concern for the final outcome, and let the chips fall where they may.
That night Sheila Davis spoke to our huddled band about her experiences completing 16.1 miles for the day despite being in the middle of chemotherapy treatments. She also spoke of next year, and the joy she would feel completing the whole distance whole.
There are few things in a person’s life that speak to their soul from the outside world. There are experiences that can not be shared, but they can be heard. There are experiences that can be felt first hand, and can feel like they are the depths of the abyss, but when you step back they are nothing. Realizing all of this, there is nothing to do but exist and be thankful for that much.
These pictures were taken the morning of day two at Conference Point in Williams Bay. The sunrise was taken from just outside our cottage, and the cottage I stayed in is the one on the right. These were the only pictures I took on the ride.
Day two started sunny but quickly turned cloudy. For that I was grateful, and I stayed dry until the first rest stop 15 or so miles into our 68-mile day. From that point forward, it rained. Sometimes there was lightening on the horizon, and a leveler head than mine (namely Christie’s) questioned whether or not to take shelter. I felt more alive at this moment than I had in a very long time. I told Chistie that I felt very connected to mother Earth, and although I didn’t mean it as a joke, she laughed. I knew that for all her appreciation for things religious, peaceful and pure, she didn’t understand what I was saying and couldn’t find value in it. I told her to do what made her comfortable, but I needed to ride.
We parted company at Gillettes Country Store and gas station. I stopped there briefly, and the owner of the establishment offiered me his seat despite the fact I was dripping water and the seat he offered would absorb every drop. He’d just finished telling me about his two knee replacement surgeries (which he’d repeated after the technology had advanced some), and a hip replacement surgery (all due to his rodeo days). I thanked him heartily for the rest, but insisted that I continue lest I stop where I stood frozen from the rain and cold. Christie stayed and had a cup of coffee, and I was comforted that she would have someone to ride with since Gilletttes was a pretty regular rest stop for the rest of the CowaLUNGa crew.
I was further comforted when she passed me at the final rest stop, and I didn’t see her again until I crossed the finish line at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. I believe this was the point that she decided she would sleep in the next morning and ride in the heat of the day so she could stay warm. This was a line of action I was firmly set against and to some degree she knew it. I’d had a much stronger day in the cold rain, and I believe it was apparent to her that we were separate riders this year.
3 am on Monday morning I was awake and staring at the ceiling in the dorm. The air was still and stagnant, and I remained as still as possible until 5 am, at which time I could no longer remain still. I moved as quietly as possible, but I was ready to ride by 6:30. Unfortunately, breakfast wasn’t available until 7. I waited, and talked to Chris--one of those young men for whom a place on a professional cycling team is not out of the question. We ate together, and he blasted off a good 10 minutes before I was finished sucking down a cup of coffee (a sacrifice I was not willing to make to m y cycling). He would end up finishing the ride in about three hours (about two and a half hours before the rest of us started to trickle in).
The sun was in our favor again, and there was a light cool wind. The third day was by far the best day of riding for me. Christie had decided to get a late start, so she let me go on my merry way. I spent the day playing catch up with the Speed Racer team. They would come to a rest stop, and I would arrive within a few minutes, and they would leave a few minutes before me. It repeated this way all day long. This caused Joe to tease me at the last stop, “Nan, are you stalking us?!” To which I replied in my most fiendish voice, “yes, are you frightened?!?” I was met with gales of laughter at that point because they’d been lulled by my previously quiet demeanor.
Sheila rode 20 miles that day, and team Speed Racer (of which she was a member, gave me one of their gift certificates for a free sundae at the Wholly Cow Custard shop), even as I overheard them say, “she could be good if she just lost 20 or 30 pounds.” It could have been me they were talking about, maybe not, probably was. I thanked them heartily for the cerificate, ordered my sundae and proceeded to eat just enough of the custard to accompany the fudge and whipped cream while Sheila and I waved goodbye to the Speed Racer team.
I crossed the finish line feeling strong and very grounded. There were hours to pass before the bus headed back to Gurnee Mills, but one more CowaLUNGa was under my belt, and no one had turned the cranks for me.
Overall, I am very pleased with my performance during CowaLUNGa, and more importantly, I am very pleased to report that through the generous spirit of my sponsors, the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago has an additional $1,280 with which to do its work.
Thanks for reading!