I'd always wanted to ride a bicycle across America. Dreams are fascinating, unincumbered things. In the summer of 2010, it was time to make one of my lifelong dreams a reality. A great team was required. Jeremy fixed my bicycle, and he was interested because his wife was working on her Ph.D. Brian, a college student I helped with his Bates College essay, was interested in having a unique adventure. I met Karen Cochran at the Duke Cancer Institute somewhere along the way. Karen helped make riding to raise money to cure cancer a reality. Here are a few stories from a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
- Riding as a Job - when dream becomes reality and riding fifty miles a day is your job.
- One More Beautiful Thing - easy to take beauty, friends, and family for granted.
- Sixty-Five MPH on a Bicycle - my brakes were burning and my Garmin said 65MPH.
- Almost Drowning - after a long day's ride on Topaz Lake almost killed me.
Riding as a Job
Recently, a friend walked the Appalachian Trail. At the beginning of his third week, I asked if walking was a job yet. Yes, he confirmed, walking was his job as riding a bicycle became mine during Martin's Ride's 3,300-mile trek across the country. When you do something you love every day AND miles need to be ridden, the aesthetics change. I'll probably never be as good a rider again because expertise increases when you do something every day on difficult, varied terrain.
I remember Jeremy looking at me funny at lunch the first day. We were riding with several Duke cancer doctors. We stopped at a greasy spoon on the backroad to Greensboro, where Karen made reservations for us at The Proximity Hotel - an amazing hotel. My big lunch KILLED my afternoon ride. Nutrition was something I learned thanks to my exercise physiologist sister Caroline. I wouldn't eat a big lunch again until back in North Carolina after Martin's Ride. Caroline would join Martin's Ride for three days in Colorado, and those were some of my easiest rides. Despite my sister's diminutive size, her skills on a bicycle meant I could tuck in behind and do half the work.
First Day Lunch With Duke Docs and my last big lunch for several months
One More Beautiful Thing
Taking natural beauty, friends, and family for granted is easy. At first, we stopped, took pictures, and marveled at every vista, overlook, and newly discovered beauty. Slowly it became harder and harder for beautiful, amazing, arresting things to gain the attention they deserved. Jeremy insisted on visiting National Parks. Initially, I was opposed, but Jeremy was going home if we didn't. We visited twelve national parks. Zion, Arches, and Bryce were my favorites.
Jeremy realized our need for daily progress meant it would be easy to ignore one more beautiful thing. When forward progress stopped and exploration was the single goal for the day, national park beauty came rushing in, making the next day's ride easy, more inspired, and less hectic.
Sixty-Five MPH on a Bicycle
My Garmin was almost impossible to read. My brakes were burning. I could smell brake pads cooking, and the brakes weren't slowing me down much. Coming down Martin's Ride's highest mountain - Mt. Monarch in Colorado 13,300 feet. My team doubted I could make it to the top. They parked our RV halfway down the mountain on the side I was riding up. "For when you have to give up and come back," Jeremy said, knowing it would make me mad enough to get to the summit.
Jeremy didn't know I had a plan. Every hour I'd stop, down some Perpetuem from Hammer Nutrition (lifesaving energy drink my sister told me to use), take a picture and ride. I would never have made it to LA without my sister's nutrition advice. Stopping to take a picture made me relax. These little breaks helped heal the hardest part about climbing for hours on a bicycle - the voice in your head. The only way to climb 13,300 feet on a bicycle if you're not a pro is to stay positive. But there's a problem. Climbing is slow and negative thoughts creep in, and that's why my plan was so important. I'd ride hard knowing a break was coming, so there was something to look forward to and focus on achieving. Negative thoughts still came, but they couldn't achieve traction.
I received two rewards for climbing Mt. Monarch. First, I got to call Jeremy and Brian and ask them to meet me at the TOP of Mt. Monarch for some fudge (there's a store at the top). Second, riding more than sixty miles per hour coming down from Mt. Monarch's cool air into the valley's humidity was another reward. Coming down required a plan too.
When my arms couldn't take it anymore, I'd pull into a truck turnout, let my brakes cool off, drink, and take a picture. Images coming down the mountain were shaky and useless, but those few moments helped gather my wits and get back into the traffic. I watched my Garmin so my speed didn't get crazy (again). Climbing Mt. Monarch that day in late July was a great day.
We were staying at the Topaz Lake RV Park. Half of Topaz Lake is in California half is in Nevada. We were on the California side. It was a long hot day of climbing. The worlds' loneliest and flattest highway, Highway 50 in Nevada, was a distant memory. Martin's Ride was only a few days out of LA, and "exhausted" doesn't begin to cover how I felt. "Just kill me now" is a better, more accurate description. Labor day was only a few days away, so the Topaz RV Park wasn't crowded. Most of the boats were gone, so I walked alone out to the end of the dock. Dipping my legs into cold Lake Topaz sounded like a great idea.
Docks at Lake Topaz use boats as moorings, but there weren't any boats. Later, these rational thoughts would occur to me as I tried to figure out what went wrong. As I dipped my legs into cold Lake Topaz, the dock flipped up, dumping me headlong into the water. It happened so fast that my head was underwater, and I drank Lake Topaz before realizing what was happening. I was drowning is what was happening.
Every attempt to climb back onto the dock was frustrated by the dock's lack of mooring, by the absence of boats. Jeremy and Brian were warm and watching something in the RV as I drank a gallon of Lake Topaz. I used my Mt. Monarch lesson to slow down, think, and try not to panic. The water was well over ten feet, and I was way out, so walking back wasn't an option.
I had to gain purchase on the dock slippery unmoored dock. I kicked hard and threw myself into the middle of the dock, thus avoiding the rickety end. Then I slid back into the water, but I knew the solution - kick hard, then grab the middle. After three tries, it worked. I squished and squashed my way back to the RV, remembering my iPhone went into Lake Topaz with me. "Why are you wet" Brian asked. "It's a long story for another time," I said, climbing back into my bed at the end of the RV and pulling the privacy curtain. I dreamt of lifeguards, sturdy docks, and walking in the ocean near the Santa Monica pier.
Looking for more Martin's Ride pictures? Martin's Ride on Flickr.
What's the longest bicycle ride you've taken? Share and I'll add your story to this page. Thanks. M.
e: martin (at) martinwescottsmith.com