It was around 2 p.m. when I got the first call.
I had just dismounted my bike at the third rest stop along the New York Century Tour, my first ever long-distance tour. I was about 60 miles into the 100-mile event when my cell phone rang.
I hadn't seen the two friends I had started the tour with in miles and I had been riding alone for a good chunk of time. It was nice to hear a familiar voice.
It was Mrs. Keith. She and the kids decided to come up to the city and hang out at the finish line to be my cheering section when I crossed, but she was in traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel and feared I'd be done before they got there.
Turns out there was no worry about that.
I've been looking ahead to bike tours lately, trying to plan out which ones I'd like to do this upcoming season and how that meshes with the typically jam-packed Brown Family schedule.
Already the Five Borough Bike Tour is out because of a far more important family obligation. But I'm absolutely going to leave the NYC Century Tour on, since that happens around my birthday at the end of the season and because I had such a great experience with it, difficult as it was.
I also am leaving the Ronald McDonald House Metric Century Tour. Last year, this happened two weeks after the NYC Century and it was my final tour of the season. It also was the inaugural run for this tour. The Ronald McDonald House had never run it before, and they did a beautiful job of it. I think there were only 15 or so riders who completed the whole 100 kilometers (66-ish miles), myself included. I'm hoping this year there will be more riders.
But I'm looking for more, so if anyone has suggestions, I'm open to hearing them. Ideally, I'd like to start slow and early, with a 40-miler or so in the spring/early summer and then hit progressively bigger rides as I go along, maybe even something longer than a century.
I got the second call about two hours later. I'm not sure where I was, but I answered while riding, which is probably not recommended in NYC traffic.
Mrs. Keith was trying to be as gentle as possible. Just checking, you see. Where are you? How are you holding up?
I may have been still in Queens at that point, I'm not sure. I must've been, because I was still optimistic. I remember telling her that I was near the 75-mile mark and that I shouldn't be more than an hour or two.
That was before the Bronx. Ohmygod, the Bronx. Long, lonely stretches. And hills. Lots of hills, which is exactly what you want 80-some miles into a 100-mile tour. Hills.
That's when I began to doubt whether I could go on. I really wasn't sure I could do this. I hurt all over and I was exhausted. I had been awake since 3 a.m. I couldn't focus on which direction to go. If it wasn't for fortuitous meeting with a kind New Yorker who knew the way, I might not have made it out of the Bronx at all.
The third call was anxious. The kids were bored out of their minds and starting to tap dance on Mrs. Keith's last nerve. I could hear it in her voice, though she was being as gentle as possible and never said anything to indicate impatience.
I had 12 miles to go. I really wasn't far. I was in the home stretch, promise.
It was starting to get dark, Mrs. Keith said. The tour officials were packing up.
I know. I'm nearly there.
I may have been the last rider to cross that finish line. My family, who had been waiting for me in Central Park for hours and hours greeted me warmly.
And Mrs. Keith who had taken the day off, packed up the kids, drove to the city and hung out in Central Park all freaking day long for no other reason than to be there for me and my sweaty behind, gave me a huge hug.
I'm proud of you, she said in my ear. And despite that I wasn't exactly my freshest after 12 or so hours on a bike, that hug lingered, letting me know she was serious.
It's among the myriad reasons I am a luckier man than you. And it's how I get up in the morning and how I'm able to do these long rides -- because no matter where I am, I never ride alone.