Sometimes, its the "easy" days that are so incredibly difficult.
We've come nearly 1300 miles on our bikes over the last 3 weeks - that is, in 16 days of actual cycling (we've had a few days off). We've been through a lot in that time. Many of us have taken small falls, one even resulted in an ER visit and a few days off, but nothing too serious (in hindsight). We've had broken bikes, mysterious allergy problems, injuries, and sicknesses. We've been exhausted every day and grateful for those supporting us - whether from the van (Mother Falcon) or those who stop along the way to offer water or support, or the churches and communities who host us and encourage us and offer us food, hospitality, and places to stay. The long, sometimes treacherous days on the road have certainly brought us close together, and more and more each day I realize how much I need my team to make it through.
Wednesday was one of the hardest days of the tour. Our longest day yet at 111 miles, we began by climbing to the top of an 8,650-foot mountain - in 16 miles! Which meant it was one long, long, climb. In hindsight, I'd say it wasn't that bad, but I'm not sure if I'd be lying or not? Fortunately, the rest of the day did bring with it a lot of downhill (though they definitely lied when they said it was all downhill from there!), and it was great to ride with Brian for the first time and get to know him a bit better.
The fact that this was a long day is important because every thing is relative. We were excited to get up the next day and have a "short" ride - only 65 miles! The best part - it was two days in a row - today was only 70! 70 miles, by now, is an easy, short, fun and sometimes even relaxing day. See? Its important to know context, because my longest training ride before this journey was 50miles, and that was one tough (all flat) ride!
After experiencing some knee pain yesterday in the climb, I volunteered to be "sweep" today so that I would be forced to take it easy (sweep = last person riding for the day so we can all stay together, sweep carries extra tubes, tools in case of flats, etc). Fortunately, I discovered it was an absolutely PERFECT day to do so! Riding with Lisa Ralph, we took our time on this amazing route with no headwind and paced around 19-20mph to the first stop - the Texas State line! The day continued much like this, full of story-telling, question-asking, song-singing, riddle-telling great times. Really, truly, this was one of my favorite rides of the tour. It was great to ride because I wanted to ride, to enjoy the company of a friend along the way on an open (smooth) road, and to remember how much I really do like my bike, and that is party of why I signed up to do this.
Why, then, was today hard? Everything I just stated was true, so it shouldn't have been.
Unfortunately, I am guilty of thinking and analyzing. I am easily frustrated by important factors that were missing to keep the day so perfect. I found myself impatiently struggling with things beyond control of those I encountered. When 5 gallons of gatorade were spilled, for example, it was clearly not intentional, but that did not keep me from getting upset when the crew offering us support ran out of water, and had none to offer when I had run out with just over 15miles to go. Likewise, I struggled to recognize the sacrifice the support team made when they sat outside under a tree waiting for us, to encourage us a few miles out...offering ice in hopes it would melt to hydrate us. I was frustrated instead because I hadn't seen the van for 22 miles instead of the 15 I thought it would be... I could only focus on my own needs - water, food/a banana (I was hungry & cramping up!), a first aid kit for my silly finger that was bleeding all over (I cut it this morning... nothing serious, but it wouldn't stop bleeding as I continued putting pressure on it over the bike all day).
Despite the amazingness of the company that I was blessed with to make this day great, I allowed myself to be burdened by these factors working against us, which we had no control over.
This "easy" day proved to be one of the hardest yet, because I was fighting with myself. I was fighting against what I was feeling, what I was thinking, and what I wanted to be thinking and feeling. I had to fight and finish regardless of the pain, the hunger, the thirst- even the mild dehydration. I had to fight because I had to remember why I was doing this to begin with.
I'm not riding my bike because I ever dreamt of cycling across the US for fun. I'm riding because it is a tangible way I can work for awareness, seek support, and raise funds for people who don't have the liberty to make such choices. I am cycling because people in Marsibit, Kenya who are thirsty have to walk for longer than I cycled today to get water that is dirty and disease-ridden to drink. I am cycling because while I complain of cramping or sore knees or bloody fingers, they are struggling with real diseases and illnesses that they can't see a doctor for... because there are no clinics around. I am cycling because I am blessed to live a life of choice, and most of the time, if I choose to go hours without having a cold, refreshing beverage, it is a personal chioce. I am cycling because I desire for others to have that choice, too.
I hope I can remember this more, so that frustration may not overcome me, but compassion, love, purpose and intentionality will.