by John Summer, Ride Captain
I finally made it back There. Right now I am finishing a week long ride. I was pretty sure I would return There when I started six days ago, I just did not know how I would get There. The first three days of this ride have been rough. I thought I was ready for some climbing but by day three, I was toast. I was almost There. I thought for sure day four would be the day I got There. That was our “rest day”. That meant you could stay at camp and enjoy the day’s entertainment or you could ride the longest route with the most amount of climbing scheduled all week. I was one of the first ones out; I wanted to get There, but I was also nervous.
Before I go further, let me tell you about this place I call There. There is not a physical location. You cannot find it on the map. There is a scary, silent place. Even though this place is ominous in so many ways, I often set out to get There, anyway. There is actually only a place in my head and I get There only when I have pushed myself past my own mental and physical boundaries. There is uncharted because it is hard to reach. Every time I reach it, There gets a little farther away the next time. I cannot stay There long. As soon as I get There I have two choices, turn around and go back or keep pushing on. I always choose the latter. When I do, things get quiet in my head and I really am all alone, regardless of who might be on two wheels behind or in front of me. A desire to survive takes over everything and while I usually have tunnel vision when I get There, things still seem sharper than before I arrived. I love this place but it scares the Hell out of me.
Day four was not the day I returned There. I knew I was in trouble the day prior so I got a massage from the therapist at camp, something I have never done. I loaded up at breakfast and while the start was slow, I felt better the longer I pushed on. By the end of the day, I have paired up with a couple of riders and I am powering over the same hill going into camp that I thought I was going to die on just the day before. I felt good and the fear of returning There had almost completely left me.
I had no idea I would be riding through There when I woke up this morning. In fact, this morning was the best I had felt since the beginning of this ride. It is day six and I have been riding with two guys on and off for the last couple of days. Just as we are about to get started, one of them, Fred, tells us that because a cold front with a lot of rain is coming our way he intends to do the last two days’ routes today in order to get back to his car. Without hesitation, I asked if I could tag along. That was my first step towards getting There.
We knew we would end the day wet, we just had no idea how much of the day would be spent riding in the rain. Two days of riding in one is going to make this the longest ride ever for me, but I don’t tell my fellow riders this. Rather than take it easy and conserve, these two are in a hurry. We get to the first camp still dry, but in record time. I think that is the fastest metric I have ever done and I got one more to go! As soon as we roll out to start the second leg, it starts to rain. Now, we have been riding in the rain for over fifty miles and all Hell is breaking loose around us. We just rolled into our third gas station trying to get directions. The rain is so relentless that roads are getting flooded and we have gotten off course. We think we are only twenty miles or so from where we need to get to but no one seems to know of the town we are trying to get to. I started to realize I was on the outskirts of There when I see my peripheral vision is getting smaller. I also think my hearing is getting worse because the sound of water splashing from the passing cars seems deadened. Like it or not, I am going to be There soon.
I am not alone. I look at Fred and from the look on his face, he sees There on the horizon. Finally, somebody knows of the park where our cars are parked. The good news is we are not that far off course. However, our route is flooded out and we cannot go that way. The only way to where we need to go is via a three line divided highway from Memphis to Millington! The guy telling us this news is shocked when I asked him how far it was. “You can’t ride your bikes on that road and besides, it’s a haul, a long haul!” he says. I replied “We have already ridden over a hundred miles today and we aren’t stopping now”. Fred asks, “How long is a haul?"
My Garmin had enough and shut off about fifteen miles ago. I am in the lead and I am riding straight into the scariest storm I have ever witnessed on a bike. Every time I see a sign that says “Next Exit 1 mile” I know that means one more climb over an overpass and I pray the next exit is ours. The storm is pounding us so hard I just wish for a policeman to pull us over; it is illegal to have a bike on a highway like this in my home state. I cannot see a damn thing! I cannot simply turn around and go back because we have come too far. However, I am afraid I may not be able to push through this time. My body is done and my head is spent. Fear is creeping in but in an instant, that primordial desire to survive takes over. I turn to Fred and he is saying something, I think he wants to call for a SAG. Instead, I pick up our pace a little. I start yelling at Fred, at the traffic, I am screaming at the storm and all of a sudden, I feel fantastic! My body aches in places I have never hurt before but I am on top of the world! If you could drive by and see me right now you would think I lost my mind. That would be wrong, though. I haven’t lost anything, but rather it seems like I found something. I continue through There and now I see what has been on the other side of my own limitations!
I almost kiss my car as I roll up to it. Even though I am wiped out both physically and mentally, the high I am feeling stays with me while I drive all the way back to camp to pick up my bags, and then on to Nashville to a hotel. I spend the entire drive marveling at the fact that I just rode through There. I know it will take even more for me to ever return There again. Even though just talking about this place sends a shiver up my spine, I really cannot wait to go back.