Did you know that Florida had hills? I just learned this fact by biking over all of them.
This day was weird. So weird. After a flat first five miles, the hills kicked in and we were on a rollercoaster with barely any breaks, just ups and downs. Sure, there are those who scoffed, “you call those hills?” but to answer that, YES yes I call those hills oh god.
The morning started out really hard for me, and most of my group dropped my slow ass. Meegan kindly stuck with me, moderating her pace and telling me how your mind is ready to quit before your body truly needs to. She led, and I counted down from ten to get through the hills, figuring each one and its attendant pain were finite. But then I reached six counts of ten
Lunch was the well-suggested mix of shredded iceberg, croutons, and ranch. After using a bathroom with the Ten Commandments painted on the walls and the Smurfs on the outside, it was back to the road and its hills.
The first hill felt like death gone nearly vertical. “I need this road to calm down topographically,” I thought and perhaps grumbled to everyone.
I realized I faced a choice: get in the van or continue. Since I didn’t want the van, my decision tree branched further: keep chugging along like the little engine who hated life, or push forward and gain every inch of momentum I could and finish. these. hills.
I went to a real deep self talk place, much of it out loud, and sped the hell up. I don’t know how I did this. It must have looked insane to everyone else, me who crawled through the morning suddenly crushing the hills like a maniac. But this was the only way I could see getting these hills done; slowing down or shifting to a lower gear just made it harder as it reduced my momentum and force from each stroke. I channeled my inner Marshawn Lynch and segued into beast mode, chanting Lakutis along the way. Like the movie Breaking Away, I broke away and led the pack through the rainstorm that shattered the heat. I had hit the wall, bounced off it, and come back as the Kool-aid man.
But I couldn’t stay in an adrenaline-soaked fugue state forever. I reached a sudden precision of fatigue, and unsafely veered off the road, unable to bike another downstroke. Meegan and Sarah followed and we found that I couldn’t quite breathe without hyperventilating or keep my eyes open. Meegan talked me through slowing my breath and opening my eyes. Sarah first thought I was having a panic attack, then we talked through how much water I had drank throughout the day and apparently “enough” means something different to everyone! I had eaten and drank more than the day before, but since that baseline was lower than other people’s, that probably wasn’t enough.
Right as we were dealing with getting me right, lightening struck. We took shelter in the house office next to us. Then Meegan heard from a trucker that a cyclist had been hit. Sarah bolted onto her bike to reach the person while Meegan and I headed into the house for shelter with the woman inside, Martha. As I sucked down all the water, Gatorade, and Powerade she pushed on me, Meegan got to work, making the best of a rainstorm/dehydration situation to Donation Magic (DM) wings from a local restaurant Martha suggested she call.
We heard through the group text that the accident was minor. I started to recouperate and we resolved to head out again. But just as we were saddling up, Sarah J. arrived with Sarah W.’s dad in his police jeep to take me the rest of the way. I had nothing to prove but safety, so I went with him. The 7 miles we drove felt long, and I started to feel woozy again.
Our host is a nonprofit that provides bicycles to people who need transportation, but it’s also kind of one guy, a warehouse, piles of bikes and their parts, and a few dogs and a cat.
I sat around feeling strung out and tingly. Showered in an outdoor tub with Katie S. and felt an urge to cry that seemed analogous to the itch to sneeze. Cried a bit and talked with Jack. Then Sarah told me I had been biking pretty unsafely for me and the group by pushing myself to breaking points and not signaling enough. There’s so much to adjust to– this level of exercise, the hours, lack of sleep, new food, the heat, the pace, the group, day in and day out of pushing myself past what I’ve ever done before– that despite trying hard in every direction, stuff is falling by the wayside. I felt sad because here’s another thing I didn’t even realize I could mess up that I am, but I know I need to be safer and am trying every day to get better in everything, signaling included. Today I just warped into survival mode, where the only thing that mattered was getting myself through the hills because it wasn’t guaranteed, so going to double down on communicating with other riders tomorrow in flat land world.
Sat around for a long time talking with Scot, the guy who runs the nonprofit. He’s 50 and used to race and coach professionally. He asked if my name were Frank because I’m Frank I guess, which I took as a sign that I had regained energy because tired me has a very minimal personality.
Eventual Roy was ready to head out to celebrate his birthday, so walked with him and the other stragglers to a bar. I decided this summer to drink beer because I’m doing all this exercise and it seems appropriate, so I got a dark, coffee-like one. Christina asked us if we’d rather find the love of our lives and live with them isolated in a plantation, cut off from the outside world besides family visits OR live normally but know that you’d never find love. I mostly wanted to know how nice the plantation was and how the finances were gonna work if I were cut off from other people.
After singing to Roy at midnight (joining the 25 crew, which is surprisingly a plurality if not majority), walked back with Christina and Rob.
Scot saw me looking at the couch appraisingly and asked if I wanted to sleep on it. I told him that was my dream in life (I have been updating my life goals on a daily basis) and he told me it opened and gave me a sheet and pillow. I group texted the people still at the bar that they could bed buddy with me, but apparently when they got back a cat had staked out the spot.