I just did something impossibly crazy. Yesterday, shivering and soaked to the skin, I cried ugly tears while rolling across a finish line after pedaling 180 miles in the Trek Across Maine. People under umbrellas shook cow bells, blew horns and cheered. And I cried.
I actually started fighting tears 5 miles before the finish. It’s hard for me to hold back emotion.
It was an absolutely brutal day with temperatures only in the sixties and steady rain falling as a gift from Tropical Storm Bob’s last hurrah. Nearly two inches of rain pounded us while we pedaled.
The weather reports the night before told us it was coming. Our team, my friends, sat and talked about safety and alternatives to riding Sunday. I was quiet. The talk centered on the possibility of packing up and going home, skipping the final 56 miles and maybe making the miles up on a Monday ride.
Back in our dorm room, I laid out my rain gear for the next day and transferred my number to my jersey and told Robin, “If everyone goes home, I am still going to ride. I have to finish this. I’m riding.”
She gave me her “we’ll see” look and said we could decide in the morning when we saw the weather. I nodded but was determined that I was riding no matter what.
Part of my team was laughing and talking in a common room around the corner so I went in before turning in for the night to thank them for being part of this achievement with me and to tell them, no matter what, I would finish the next day.
My good friend Karen looked at me with the look of determination I’ve come to know well and said, “Oh, we are DEFINITELY riding tomorrow.” She took my attitude up a few notches with that. I did not want to ride alone. I knew I needed help.
We woke to what we expected. The rain was steady and the temperature was barely 50. My prayer was simple while I got dressed, “God, give me the strength. I know this is crazy.”
People told me I looked like I was dressed for surgery. I had clear, wrap-around safety glasses on to protect my contacts, a bright, blue shower cap pulled over my helmet, a translucent whitish rain coat that looked somewhat like a lab coat and bright yellow baggy rain pants with booties pulled over my cycling shoes. When I looked in the mirror I saw the people who stood around my bed at Lahey Hospital three years ago looking like this just before my transplant. I did look like I was prepared for conducting a surgery. I felt the irony.
It wasn’t long into our 56 mile final day that I became very aware that the money spent on the coat and pants was a total waste. I was soaked and shivering. The shoe covers that were supposed to keep my feet warm and dry instead acted like two little beach pails collecting all the rain they could. They became heavier and heavier with each mile until I ditched them at mile 30.
Still, I made it to the first rest stop mentally strong. We were accomplishing this feat together and most of the team had decided to brave the weather. We joked about the rain, filled our bottles and headed back out with 15 miles done.
By the next rest stop, things had changed for me. My chain had come off a few times, I couldn’t feel my toes and my phone mapping program stopped tracking my progress. Its little blue dot showed me that I was somewhere in the ocean off the coast of Africa! Really, that’s what I felt like. I did my best to put on a smile for my waiting teammates but I was hurting. My check-in text to Robin waiting at the finish line was brief, “30 mile stop. Dying.”
We had 26 miles left to go. 26 miles. Up, up, up, up. I was so tired of hearing, “Coming on your left” as cyclist after cyclist climbed past me.
“Maybe this was a dumb idea. Maybe 160 miles is enough,” my self-talk started shifting. “The next time I see a support vehicle, I’m taking it. At least I tried.”
But then people who passed me started talking to me on their way by…
“Keep going man, you got this!”
“Three years with a transplant? You rock, Scott. Keep it up. Not much further.”
One after another … PUSH … PUSH … PUSH.
I thought, “Man, I must look like I am about to die” and then I heard that voice. No, I didn’t hear the voice of God or anything. I heard the voice of Zabenko somewhere back behind me while I was crawling to the crest of another hill from Hell.
“Woohoo Scott! You got this, buddy! Keep going!” Karen was back there telling people about me, telling them my story and asking them to encourage me on their way by.
She came up behind me and stayed with me. And then Kim came for awhile and said, “follow my cadence … just keep your eye on me.” And then when I was about to kill Karen and tell her to shutup, Russ showed up on the scene making me laugh with, “Let’s go, Batman! We’re almost there!” (My friends know that I am Batman.)
So many people are alone in life. I thank my God every day that I have so many good people in mine.
Though my phone still had me off the coast of Africa, we came to the signs for the staging area where faster riders could wait for slower team members so they could cross the finish line as a group. Yeah, I was crying rolling in but I hid it pretty well.
We got organized and headed for the finish, cold, drenched and tired.
My teammates made me ride in at the head of our pack. I called back for Megan to ride next to me. She was my inspiration for this attempt. She was our team captain.
As we rolled under the finish line banner, I looked at her and tried my best at a thank you smile but it was more of an ugly, lip-quivering, crying face. We did it. We really did it.
Throughout the weekend I teased Karen because every time we came to a gorgeous view or met wonderful people or tasted fresh watermelon from strangers cheering us on at the side of the road, she would enthusiastically say, “This is what it’s all about!”
For me, it is all the people who have pushed me along, encouraged me to keep going and have been there for me when I’ve had nothing left. It’s why I hug tight. It’s why I’m not uptight about schedules anymore. It’s why I talk too much and laugh loud and why I sit on the driveway making chalk drawings with children.
Relationships. That’s what it’s all about.
Now, does anybody want to buy my bike???
Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second most important is similar: ‘Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.’ Mt. 22:37-39