Sunday, November 24, 2013
I leave the truck door slightly ajar so the dome light will stay on. I put on my cycling shoes and peel off all the extra layers of warmth before re-entering the rain. The streets are slick and dimpled with raindrops. Light from the streetlights gives the darkness a shimmering aspect.
As I unload the bike, I feel the first cold drops run down my back. Surrender to being wet, I say to myself.
And I will be wet, totally wet, until afternoon. But I won't be cold because I will be working, making my own heat, a rolling furnace.
I hop on the bike and it feels good and right. We fly down Sixth Avenue toward the start of El Tour de Tucson. I roll through rivers of runoff. The spray traces the stripe up my back that will be filled in as the day goes on.
I am riding with Team Colleen. We are domestiques for a stage four lung cancer patient, Micheal Ferlen. He will be on a tandem with Darien Newman, a super strong captain. Michael is no slouch either. Before his diagnosis, he finished a full iron man -- 2.2 mile swim, 110 mile bike, and full marathon. He is a tough dude.
We meet and line up in the rain in the platinum group. Others -- Reg, Scott, Ben, John, Todd, Elliot, all gather to finalize the plan. These are elite cyclists, and I don't really belong in the group. They are professional, some of them champions of state, or even world, in their disciplines and age groups. I will do my best to hang.
We will ride out fast, but not so fast as to contest the front, where crashes are more likely.
The start proves to be fast and the rain covers the roads with a glistening film. Rooster tails of spray fly off the rear wheels. We have to ride to the sides to avoid water in the eyes. I lower my glasses so I can see over them but under the brim of my cap. I taste grit and get it in my eyes. But we roll and protect the tandem as groups jockey and settle into a rhythm.
Scott and John lead while the rest of us keep open space around the tandem, blocking other riders who might crowd it as we roll south into the wind. Michael hunkers down and jams on the pedals as we move along at 20 -- 24 miles an hour.
After forty miles or so, we pass the Saguaro National Park and head down Freeman Road. The tandem is a rocket on the downhills and we follow it in a tight line, cutting wakes through runoff, rooster tails flying off the wheels.
Then we turn west on Speedway. After several water-filled dips, John hits a hole and goes down. I wobble when he bumps me but don't lose my balance. Todd, too, hits the deck, hard. Michael and Darien and several others are ahead and keep rolling.
Several of us stop to check on John and Todd, who are up but hurting. I see torn jackets on elbows, shoulder, and hip. Hands work; elbows bend; wheels still turn. They decide to continue, but slowly for a while. The rest of us -- Elliot, Ben, and the other John -- chase the main group. Ben and Todd catch the tandem at the Sabino crossing, but I fall off the back and don't see them again.
I ride hard and alone for the next 40 miles. Just as I top the climb on Tangerine, my chain jams between the cassette and the frame. The lock-ring for the cassette is stripped and unfixable. I can't ride, can't walk, and am stranded. I look at the seven mile long downhill ahead and know that it will have to wait another day.
My day is finished when my rear wheel seizes up about 82 miles in.
After some well chosen profanity, I give it up and begin to shiver. it gets worse over the next hour. I want to keep moving, but have a broken bike and shoes that are useless for walking in the mud.
Friends Kathleen and Tim drive by on a mission to deliver hot chocolate to stranded riders, see me, stop and offer me a ride.
I heard that Michael finished, that John is OK, and that the rain only made the ride more memorable.
I am left with knowing that I did what I could, that I am grateful to friends, and that I stay warm as long as I am moving.