My long swim was in the form of a metric century bike ride on Saturday in Kansas City. It was the inaugural ride of the event organized by Paul's boss and my former Burke High classmate, Matthew Mellor. Matthew was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia 3 years ago, and thanks to research that developed a new pharmaceutical, he is cancer free. So this ride was a fundraiser for cancer research and to show support for those who have been affected by cancer in one way or another -- basically, everyone.
I've been looking forward to a long ride this summer, but also dreading it because I haven't been on my bike much. I've either been swimming or recovering from swimming. All the way down there, Paul and I had a recurring conversation:
Me: I really haven't put in much bike time this summer.
Paul: Well, just do the 30 miler then. That's still a good workout
Me: Yeah, I should probably do that.
Paul: Sure, that way we can sleep in a little too.
Me: Nah, I'll do the 62-miler.
Paul booked a nice room - on the "preferred guest" floor of the Sheraton, which used to be a Hyatt-Regency. The last time we were there was our honeymoon -- a scant 25 years ago. It's still beautiful and our room had a gorgeous view of the downtown skyline. I wished we'd had more time to enjoy it.
We brought the bike and our stuff to the room, then set off to the Plaza to see what we could find for dinner. We had planned on Figlio's, our favorite Italian restaurant on the corner by the big fountain and park. But, sadly, it's being remodeled. I hope it's not another chain. The world has plenty of PF Chang's.
We took in the sights of the Plaza as we walked to the Classic Cup for dinner -- people enjoying a horse-drawn carriage ride, a talented singer belting out some R&B tunes, window shoppers and couples and families checking everything out. I love the Country Club Plaza and it'll always be a special place to me even though there are now trendy little shopping centers all around KC. I don't think I've ever actually purchased anything there, but it has a charming atmosphere that I enjoy.
After a delicious dinner of roast chicken and risotto with kale (I love kale. I really do.) and Paul's spicy shrimp dish, we headed back to our hotel room and had lights out by 10 p.m.
The next morning, fortified with a Starbucks latte and a big slab of lemon poppyseed cake, I loaded up my gear and we drove to the start of the ride, just a couple of blocks away.
I'm not sure how many cyclists there were, but it was a good sized crowd. I love the sound of cycling shoes clipping into pedals (even though I am still a hopeless dork when it comes to the ironically named "clipless" pedals. It always takes me a few tries to get the stupid cleat in place... which will come to haunt me later).
The route took us through some cool areas of Kansas City before turning south toward the rural hinterlands. I was surprised to find that I was with a group in the middle of the pack. I'm usually the last straggler.
At the first sag stop, I met one of Paul's co-worker's whose name escapes me. We ended up chatting longer than I intended and I missed my group's departure, so I just left on my own a little while later. About a mile from the sag stop, there was a round-about, but I couldn't see any markers indicating which way to go. It was like the yellow brick road .... lots of options, but I had no clue which direction to head. Eventually I saw a small group of cyclists take the western turn, so I followed and joined up with them. After a couple miles of riding and chatting about our jobs and stuff, I asked the guy next to me if he was riding in support of someone or if he knew Matthew Mellor. He said, "Um, no, this is the route we usually ride on Saturday." Shit. Turns out, I biked about 6 miles off the route, but these folks kindly road with me to the point where I could get back on track.
The scenery along the south part of the route was gorgeous - lots of hills, trees and farmland. Cycling is so much more scenic than swimming. I was soaking it up and having fun - especially riding downhill. I'm not a very good hill climber, but I must have some sort of low center of gravity or maybe it's my swimmer's padding that helps me sail downhill faster than a Jamaican bobsledder.
Finally, after a couple more phone calls to Paul to see if he could help me navigate, I landed at the next rest stop. Let me tell you, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is as heavenly as wedding cake when you've been riding 3 hours increasing heat.
I was watching for the small, dark red "62" marks at every intersection. Sometimes they were there, sometimes they weren't. I frequently zipped through an intersection and would see that little circle as I rolled over it, then have to curve back and make a turn. The day was getting hotter and so was I.
Cycling back into town wasn't as much fun as cycling out of it. There was a lot of traffic, stop signs and relentless sun and heat coming off the pavement. I got lost again and called Paul, sharing my exasperation and frustration with some colorful commentary on his voice mail. I told him I was getting a little dizzy, but would keep going unless I felt it was unsafe.
Finally, I got onto the right street again and headed into some neighborhoods with tree shade. The cool patches brought some much needed perspective. Getting all pissy about the heat and my inability to find and follow the way markers was a choice. Deciding that it was a beautiful day for a bike adventure was a better choice. So I cooled my heels, decided to be grateful for the opportunity and focused on the lovely homes I was riding by.
That worked for a good while, until the last 5 miles or so, when I had to descend a black diamond level hill full of traffic pulling out into the street. I was surprised smoke wasn't billowing from my brakes as I tried to slow my freefall down the mile-long hill. And when I finally made it to the turn onto Southwest Parkway, the road was being resurfaced. Really? I'm melting into my seat and I have to deal with cobblestones? Arrrrrgh.
But wait, it gets even better. After surviving a couple miles of riding over a cheese grater, I'm huffing and puffing, with sweat in places I didn't think possible, up a small hill to an intersection. When I get there, I see a lady in a car in the opposite direction. I get to the intersection first and look her in the eye as I start pedaling to make sure she sees me. She looks right back at me, then turns left right in front of me. I had to brake hard to stop and didn't have time to get my foot out of my pedal, so took a dive to my left, landing on my left knee and elbow. I was so, so, so pissed off. How could she have done such a stupid thing? She was looking right at me! And I was too exhausted to get my foot out of my pedal. I was trying to twist it out, but I couldn't get it. I was willing myself not to cry, somewhat successfully. Fortunately, Paul was right behind me and helped me get my feet unstuck, along with another good Samaritan who was kind enough to stop.
So now I'm hot, covered in sticky salty sweat and street grit, I have a big bleeding knot on my knee and I'm all shaky from the fall.
No way in hell I'm stopping now.
I got back on the bike, clipped in after a dozen tries, and headed toward the finish. I made it through the center of Kansas city traffic to the finish zone and felt fantastic. I do love the finish of a race - or event. And I wasn't even the last one! Total time was 5:45.
As soon as I slid off my bike, Matthew was there and I kindly let him know that I'd checked this off my list. And, as these things always go, after 15 minutes with an ice bag on my knee, I was thinking of what I'd do differently next year. That's the way these things tend to go and how I get myself sucked into bigger and crazier events.