It was mile 43 of a 56-mile ride and I was very slowly climbing up a hill on a sunny 90-degree Southern California day. Next to me was Megan Olson, a team captain for the Leukemia and Lymphoma's (LLS) "Team in Training" program. She was prodding, cajoling and encouraging me to get to the top of La Tuna Canyon after I had already spent hours riding the hills of Mulholland Drive high above Los Angeles.
Megan, of course, was riding effortlessly. I was out of breath and thinking I was going to keel over any second. Meanwhile, my brain was telling me to "shut the eff up" and stop being such a wimp. My brain would then remind me of how cancer patients are more than willing to endure agonizing treatments just to get a shot at life. That same brain instructed my legs to keep pedaling. My tired legs obliged.
I'm training for a 122-mile bike ride in Las Vegas in September. While trying to get in shape I'm also fundraising for cancer research, specifically for LLS. In exchange for excellent training and coaching, I'm tasked with raising money. I'm riding in memory of my friend, Gregg Gallagher, who passed away from cancer last year, just five months after being diagnosed.
Then, earlier this week, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, so the event, to me, has taken on even greater meaning. In my mind I'm training and will be fighting against all forms of cancer during this ride.
When I finally made it up to the top of the hill that day, I had cold water thrown at me amidst the cheers of some of my TNT teammates who were waiting for me. I survived that five-hour ride in the saddle a few weeks ago, and other subsequent ones, and I jokingly thanked Megan for relentlessly bullying me all the way up and not letting me just drop my bike, find a shady spot along the side of the road and take a nap (my fantasy during that stretch of the ride).
I joke that I am redefining the word "fun." It's now synonymous with the torture, pain and suffering cyclists encounter while climbing hills. I've grown to love it, weirdly enough.
And to think that my road cycling obsession began so innocently.
My boyfriend and I live two blocks from the ocean and the sight of the spandex hordes riding up and down Pacific Coast Highway is as common as all the folks pedaling around Old Town Seal Beach in their beach cruisers wearing flip-flops.
We bought hybrids, along with a trailer for our young autistic son, and would take leisurely family rides on the Long Beach bike path with a view of the Queen Mary or up the San Gabriel River Trail. The first time we rode the entire six miles to El Dorado Park, I remember thinking, wow, we're really racking up the miles now!
The spandex crowd intrigued me because they were so weird with their crazy outfits and their fancy, super-skinny bikes that would zoom past us in a blur. And it was clear these guys and gals weren't messing around. They were serious riders with serious expressions. In stern voices they would authoritatively yell "to your left" as they sped past us on the bike path.
They made me feel slow and plodding in my hybrid bike, a cross between a cruiser and a mountain bike. I did not like feeling slow and plodding. I wanted to be fast and sleek.
When my boyfriend suggested we ride in the 31-mile Tour of Long Beach, which benefits Miller's Children's Hospital in Long Beach, I thought he was nuts. That would take us all day! It's amusing how that seemed so daunting to us back then. But I was game, we did it and it was fun (the kind of fun without any hills involved).
That ride was the beginning of my point of no return, or AKA, mid-life crisis. So, I could ride 31 miles? Wonder what else I could do?
Days later I heard about the Las Vegas ride. It will take us from the Vegas Strip to the Hoover Dam and around to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The last 20 miles of the ride consist of steep hills. It sounded absolutely insane. I knew I had to sign up.
We were fortunate enough to benefit from a charity called Bicycle Angels. They loan out road bikes to poor schmucks like us who don't own road bikes (yet) but still want to participate in charity rides.
I'll be honest about the training for this thing. It's tougher than Navy boot camp. But then again, I was about 25 years younger and "in shape" just by virtue of being a teenager.
Blame it on my stubborn personality and military background. I was stationed with a bunch of fighting Seabees where "can do" is more than just a motto. "No" and "failure" are not options for this middle-aged lady whose brain thinks she's still 18 but whose body has moved on from that age long ago.
I've been thinking of this Friedrich Nietzsche quote a lot recently: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." I've also been mulling "mind over matter" a lot too.
I'm counting on that kind of thinking to get me up those hills. Wish me luck.