In the middle of September 2012, I found gold in the Oklahoma hills.
Solid, liquid-soul gold.
I found it on the MS150 bike ride, which followed Route 66 from Tulsa to Oklahoma City.
I had to unearth dark thoughts that stopped me from hitting the veins of gold, so I could learn, then savor and now share the nuggets of new understanding with you today.
By riding beyond what I imagined personally possible, I met my own true nature. Given that my longest training ride this year had been no more than ten miles, from my house, on the awesome biking path, and along the River. I seldom pushed myself, just enjoyed watching our city thrive as new construction enhanced biking.
From the start, I signed up with the hope to ride ten or maybe even 20 miles each day and then grab a volunteer-driven “sag” wagon to haul me and my bike to the final stop. I was so sure this was my plan, that I even called the MS150 coordinator and asked how I could help once I ‘quit’ for the day, since the notion of riding more than 20 miles a day was all I could hope to achieve.
I see the hill in the distance. It is day two. I have rested and caught a sag wagon only 13 of the total miles. I started out exhausted, sure that I would only be able to ride ten miles. Yesterday’s 40 miles had taken a huge toll on my body. But the first ten were manageable, so I rode another, and another before I rested a couple of stops and hitched a ride for 13 miles and then got back on my bike to ride again.
The finish line at the Oklahoma State Capital is 8.8 miles away. By the final rest stop I have arrived spirits sunk low with despair. It seems impossible to continue. Jim smiles, rubs my calf muscles, listens to my story of impossible hopelessness with a calm and supportive ear. A volunteer gives me ice-cold towels, I drink Gatorade, fuel my body with snacks. The volunteer at this stop tells me how he has dealt with his own MS, using food and yoga.
Lifted by the drink, food and total lack of judgment from others, I think I can cross that finish line. We push off and head down the road a bit until I see THE HILL, and I come to a dead stop.
Straddling my bike, I evaluate the situation, my sweetheart standing by my side, even though he has trained almost every day for a full year for this ride. Jim has biked ten miles almost every day no matter the conditions. Drizzling rain, triple digit heat (we were the hottest place on the planet this year for a few weeks and I’m not kidding about that weird fact) but still he rode. There were days he bundled up in winter gear and rode his bike, having to thaw out in a warm tub after his ride. Nothing stopped him, even my mothering attempts and pleading words of caution. I didn’t get the suffering and pain, St. Johns has a beautiful gym for inclement weather. But he was TRAINING for the MS150.
He lost weight. He looked fit. He started eating more vegetables and fruits. I watched. I observed. I went to the gym to exercise, and Jenny Wren taught me a great interval training 25 minute workout which we did together three times a week, but biking? No, I wasn’t into it, I rode now and again.
I had a plan. I wasn’t going to try very hard. I had excuses. I have MS. I didn’t train. I had REASONS to quit.
He easily could be on his bike far ahead of me, with the fast and the first. He’s earned the speed, endurance and mental ability through training relentlessly, dedicated to riding 150 miles for MS.
More than a year ago, MS had my butt in the hospital bed. And he was just as dependable when I was flat on my back, so why am I still so surprised that he loves me as much as I love him? As a coach, I know this is part of my journey to self-love, being able to imagine that another human being wants to walk with me side-by-side. Jim makes that easy by showing up again and again, on a bike or by a bed.
Here he is again, this time we are up and on our feet in spandex (lord help me) and he stands beside me, forfeiting the right to ride with his athletic peers so he can encourage, protect and accompany me as I bike forward, rest often and all at a turtles excruciating slow pace. In fact, we discovered it is possible to move only four miles an hour and not fall over on a bike.
So we stand, side by side, together until we finish.
But I am alone with fear.
In front of me there is a long flat run of country road, then the ascent. Other cyclists climb, the strong ones that left early and fast. My son and his friend are in the strong pack that eats up the miles with whirring wheels. I lost sight of them as quickly as the day began. Chris finishes in three hours what will take me six. For miles we stayed in the center of the crowd, but finally as I tire and frequently stop to rest, we are left behind with the last wave of riders.
The other riders already on the distant hill remind me of insects moving in a line to the horizon where they appear to fall off the edge of the earth. I have the thought that it is impossible to master that hill, that it is too high, too far away, to daunting. I’ll fall off into nothingness.
My legs are burning, feet are fluctuating between electronic sensations of numb and fire, my calves are pulsating, each contraction of my thigh muscle is joined by a tight neck, aching arms, and the thought, “I can not possibly ride up that hill” and with that thought I feel the full force of fatigue.
Not just in my body, but in my spirit. I am drained by the thought, unplugged from the energy source of hope.
Fear wears a thousand different veils. It sounds like pain. It feels like defeat. It smells like impossible. It tastes like dismay.
Hope rises up. It pulls back the curtain of “NO WAY” so a shaft of “YES, THIS WAY” lights up the body and spirit. It is stronger than fear, and where fear is poison ink messages, hope is the catalyst for potential beyond known measure.
I decide to not focus on the hill. It is far away. I am here. On flat land.
Clicking my shoes into the pedals, I decide I can move forward, for as long as possible. I determine I will rest when I need to rest, but now I will move forward, one circling pedal at a time.
I listen to my body, and ask it what small change can I make?
Answer appears, I can shift to find a place of less resistance, if only by a whisper. I mentally scan my body, seeking a spot that is not in pain. I find the front of my ankles. I ask them if they would be willing to absorb the pain, ease the other aching muscles. By focusing on this tiny measure of human flesh, I find relief.
I sing, “doe, a dear, a female dear, ray a drop of golden sun,” Over and over again, wondering why I can never remember what goes with La.
I cry out in a big out-loud voice, knowing no one can hear my own self-coaching 101, “Just keep pedaling, just keep pedaling, just like life, just like life, you can do this, you can do this…”
Before long, I found myself at the bottom of the hill, and surprised to notice that the hill seemed smaller now. In fact, it appeared POSSIBLE.
I wondered how many times in life I had wasted time worrying about distant problems, big hills of bills, or kids with problems, broken hearts, or scary health diagnosis that I faced with worry and fearful thoughts.
Sure, sometimes it is a big hill we have to face, some sorrows, experiences and fears are mountains to be scaled.
It requires gear-shifting, body leaning forward, big muscles engaged. Sometimes it requires stopping altogether and walking instead of riding to get to the top.
That is exactly how it can be in life. We have to shift internal gears, lean forward into the future and engage our biggest muscle, the heart. Sometimes things can be so painful we have to stop and rest, and find another way to the other side of the mountain of concern.
I thought about fear and how it drains the spirit and tricks the eyes into believing a hill is a mountain of impossible.
Hope fuels the energy of forward movement. Hope is blind to the answer of exactly how, but clear-eyed and faithful about what IS POSSIBLE.
I am thankful for this experience. Thankful that with MS I am learning again and again what IS POSSIBLE.
I am thankful for the MS150 staff and volunteers who made it all happen (lord knows how they do it). I am SO THANKFUL for all the donations, Lee’s Bicycle shop and team that gave me an emergency tune-up at the 11th hour and made riding with a team fun, and owner Adam & pretty Elaine for greeting us at the finish line. I am filled with gratitude for the support of friends and strangers along the way who encouraged and inspired me as they faced their own challenges. Like Chris Ford, who sagged with me a few rounds and showed me how to stretch my heel, he has done this ride like 18 times or something, and now it does it with Parkinson’s. He is such a cool guy, check out his shirt in the picture below, he has quite a story of triumphant after adversity, and the shirt makes a perfect show and tell.
I want to shout out to all my FB friends who cheered us on as I posted along the way. You all made me want to rise up. This is the power of social media, like getting to call dear friends up and let everyone know what is happening all at the same time, a great big awesome ‘peeps’ show, and we live in an amazing time to connect one to the other through the sheer power of social media.
I am grateful for my family, my fast-riding and brave son Chris and his persevering and smart friend Joel.
And my appreciation is bigger than any mountain for Jim, who gave up his own optimal experience to make sure I could finish the ride. He showed me the face of love.
But most of all I am thankful for HOPE, which is kryptonite to fear. And for pain and suffering, which gave me an exquisite insight into what IS POSSIBLE.
Because Lance, hope is bigger than fear. And you got it right, it was never about the bike.
“Suffering, I was beginning to think, was essential to a good life, and as inextricable from such a life as bliss. It’s a great enhancer. It might last a minute, but eventually it subsides, and when it does, something else takes its place, and maybe that thing is a great space. For happiness. Each time I encountered suffering, I believed that I grew, and further defined my capacities – not just my physical ones, but my interior ones as well, for contentment, friendship, or any other human experience.”
― Lance Armstrong, Every Second Counts
MS150 2012 Photo’s