A Note from Fatty: You may remember that Paul Guyot guest-posted for me while I was in France; you may also remember that mostly people were interested in having me take my time in getting back. Well, I’ve asked Paul back, to give me a report on his (and Team Fatty’s) Austin LiveStrong Challenge experience. Tomorrow, we get back to the “I’ve Never Suffered So Much” posts.
The weekend before last, my wife and I traveled to Austin, Texas for the 2011 LIVESTRONG Challenge event. I was to ride in the 90-mile ride Sunday and my wife – at the last minute – decided she would participate in Saturday’s 5K run/walk. It was the first Livestrong event for either of us.
While I had registered for this ride early in the spring, the event took on much greater significance this summer when we lost my wife’s mother to cancer. After being a caregiver to her husband who was diagnosed with liver cancer two years ago (and given 6 months to live), my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer in April and by July she was gone. Meanwhile, my father-in-law’s cancer is in full remission.
On Saturday morning my wife was feeling a bit nervous since she had done zero training, and despite the fact it was only 5k, my wife hadn’t run any farther than across the kitchen floor after a toddler since high school. She was planning on walking the whole thing, which was fine, but when we got there and became part of this giant sea of people wearing yellow.
Photo by Tim Elliot
Over two thousand people were there, because they had either beaten cancer themselves or else had gone through exactly what we went through – it was emotionally overwhelming, and as the race was led out by pedicabs carrying children suffering with cancer my wife turned to me and said, “I’m going to run.”
And run she did.
A woman who is self-described as “not a fan of exercise” took off with 2200 participants and ran. Holding a necklace in her hand that her mother had given her, she ran the 5k in just over 30 minutes, finishing so fast that I wasn’t even at the line to get a shot of her… something I will regret until my dying day.
Afterward my wife was inspired and invigorated, saying she felt her mother with her the whole time. Again, we’re aware this was barely over 3 miles, but the significance of the accomplishment was huge on many levels. It was a fantastic way to start the weekend.
We celebrated with some Austin-based family friends by having a wonderful brunch where I decided to try Duck Gumbo. As in, classic cajun gumbo with seared duck in it among other things. I’ve rarely had duck in my life, and never had anything like duck gumbo.*
* = foreshadowing
We then traveled to Mellow Johnny’s and the Livestrong Village to spend money and see cool stuff. LIVESTRONG gave me a very cool swag bag because of the fundraising I had accomplished. Let me pause here to THANK ALL OF YOU who donated and supported me.
Then we met Levi Leipheimer. He signed a calendar to my son Bucky and he confirmed that he does read Fatty’s blog, and will work hard to try and get back to #1 on my son’s list of favorite cyclists. In trying to think how to describe Levi in the short time I spent with him, all I can do is quote my wife who simply said, “What a really great guy.”
Though, I did see him later putting the valet in a headlock when his car wasn’t brought around quick enough, but we all have our idiosyncrasies.
Saturday night we attended a dinner at the uber-cool LIVESTRONG HQ. We got to hear Lance and Livestrong CEO Doug Ulman talk about the amazing things Livestrong is doing. One of the best moments was when Doug announced that will not be public for a couple of weeks – but rest assured, it is VERY COOL and awesome for Livestrong.
MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO HORROR
With all this happening I was surprised that, despite the wonderful atmosphere and even despite the fact that David Blaine did some closeup magic for me (and signed the 7 of Hearts he pulled out of my…), I wasn’t feeling so good. I did not eat anything at the dinner because my stomach was starting to feel like an episode of DEADLIEST CATCH. As we drove back to our hotel I started to feel worse and worse.
Was it nerves? Did I have some sort of anxiety about my ride? I had recon’d part of the course during the day and was not pleased by what bad shape the roads were in and all the cattle guards, but come on, that couldn’t be it… what was it?
I discovered what it was over the next several hours – most of which were spent driving the porcelain bus… worshiping at the porcelain alter… bobbing for apples in the porcelain well.
I love and respect all of you too much to go into any detail rather than to just say there was duck gumbo involved and two exits with no waiting. When the carnage finally stopped around 2am, I crawled into bed thinking the last thing I want to do is ride my bike. Ever again.
But I awoke four hours later and while I could tell I was dehydrated, my stomach pain was mostly gone, my headache was mostly gone, and I knew I had to at least try. I drank two bottles of water and ate two Honey Stinger waffles and headed to the starting line.
Over 3300 riders were lined up with Lance, Chris Horner and Ben King leading the pack. The weather was perfect and we rolled off promptly at 8am. I had no idea how far I would go, but I wanted to at least do something. Even if I only rode the 45-mile ride, or managed the 65, it was better than not riding at all. I still had a headache and my stomach was sloshing back and forth from feeling okay to feeling completely nauseous. And I was sweating. A lot. But that’s good, right? Sweat it out and all that?
Um… I love Livestrong. I love Lance (I even have a rant about him and all the controversy/investigation, etc. that I’m happy to share with anyone over a beer, or if Twitter allowed 1400 characters). I love Doug Ulman. I love fighting cancer. I love charity rides.
But seriously, cattle guards? This ride not only included more chip seal than Erik Estrada’s tummy tuck, but we were forced to ride over cattle guards. Bottle-ejecting, cleat-unclipping, hand-numbing, teeth-jarring cattle guards. Like 15… or 50.
Thankfully, my Fat Cyclist water bottles by Specialized/Twin Six stayed secure, though I did have to pick a few teeth up along the way.
MUSIC IS THE BEST MEDICINE
I have never ridden in a group ride with an iPod. I’ve only used one when riding alone on car-free dedicated bike trails. But I will tell you right now the best decision I made all weekend was putting my iPod in my jersey pocket. I love Twin Six, but guys, PLEASE add an iPod option on your next Fat Cyclist jersey!
Only eight or nine miles in I was in that “There’s way too many miles left — I can’t do it” mode, and I was blaming it all on my duck gumbo fiasco. Then I remembered my iPod was in my jersey. I plugged in one ear and turned it on. Isn’t music a great thing? Before long I was feeling so much better. I rolled past the next rest stop – excuse me, “Power Station” – and was starting to really enjoy myself. The weather was great, I was on my bike, I was with thousands of others riding for those that can’t, and I was not feeling nauseous… what’s not to feel good about?
I was cruising along, eating every half hour, drinking every 10-15 minutes, and I started passing people. Wow! I can do this! At least the 65-mile route for sure. Yes, I’m sweating like Michael jackson in a Toys-R-Us, but I’m happy. I rode on.
POINT OF NO RETURN
Then decision time came. I rolled up to the turn off for the 65. If I turned right I would do 65 miles – not bad considering the night I had, and better than I thought I’d be able to do. If I went straight I was committing to the full 90. And right then I had one of those threw-up-in-my-mouth-a-little-bit moments. My body obviously telling me which way it wanted to go.
And I have no idea why, but at that moment… I went straight.
Riders who’ve done this ride will tell you that one of the tougher stretches is between 40 and 55 miles – when you are way, way out from civilization, there’s no one cheering you on, and you’re riding mostly uphill. At one point I dropped my chain at the base of a climb. I got back on and was struggling up the hill when a rider came by and asked how I was doing.
Let me pause here to say that I love cyclists. You are all so kind and the community has such an all-for-one-one-for-all attitude.
I told the guy I was okay and he smiled and said, “This part’s tough, but once you make it to Blanco, you’re home free.”
Then he dropped me. I wondered what Blanco was as I watched him disappear over the horizon. I was suddenly very alone. No riders in front or behind me. Just me and The Goat and a lot of wide open spaces… and a stomach that every 10 minutes or so spoke to me like Linda Blair did to the priest in that one movie.
At 52 miles I stopped at a Power Station run by some folks in jerseys that said TEXAS 4000. I am officially declaring the Texas 4000 people as the nicest humans on the planet. And they make the greatest peanut butter and jelly sandwiches you will ever eat.
They gave me a cold wet towel, they told me I was doing great and actually sounded like they meant it. They told me the hard part was over (okay, they lied about that) and they were just so positive and supportive I didn’t want to leave their station. Thank you Texas 4000 Power Station!
THE BLACK HOLE
I’ve heard it called The Black Hole… heard it called The Wall and Death Valley… what do you call it? You know what I’m talking about – that point in a ride where you think you’ve given all you’ve got. You’ve done your suffering, and now you just want to go home and sleep, but you still a lot of riding left.
Around the 70-mile mark I entered the black hole. Weakened from my duck gumbo fiasco I was barely hanging on, my average speed was down and I was being passed by all those riders I had passed earlier.
I was being passed by everyone. Like, everyone. Riders from next year’s 2012 LIVESTRONG Challenge were passing me. I would see these SAG wagons go by and they all looked so comfy and air-conditioned. One of them could just pick me up and take me back. No shame in that. I rode over 70 miles. I was sick the night before. I did my fundraising. Time to go have my family say “Good try, Daddy. You did your best.”
Then I thought about Ken Chlouber and his incredibly inspiring words to the Leadville participants each year:
You are better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.
I can’t do Leadville. Not yet. But I knew right then and there that I damn well was going to finish this Livestrong ride, sick or not. People fighting cancer don’t have the option of a SAG wagon. They have to keep going. No matter how bad the pain is.
I kept pedaling. And after a bit that most glorious of cycling phenomenons happened – the suffering began to feel good. It feels good because you know the reason you are suffering is because you are not quitting. Suffering = not quitting.
The more I rode, the harder I pushed. The harder I pushed the more I hurt, but I began to get faster.
I got to the final power station and refilled my bottles and asked the woman there how much farther, figuring it had to be between 10 and 12 miles.
“Six miles,” she said. Six miles? Can’t be. “Yes, six miles.”
She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my entire life.
I did the math and realized we weren’t going to be riding 90 miles. It was going to be more like 83 or so. But it didn’t matter if it was 83 or 153. I had six miles to go. I was doing it. I jumped back on The Goat and rode those last six miles as fast and as hard as I’ve ever ridden anything.
I came up over that last hill and saw the giant LIVESTRONG Finish line and all these people cheering. I raised my hands in the air, blew a kiss to my mother-in-law and grabbed a yellow rose as I crossed the line!
Only then did I realize I had ridden across the “Survivor” side of the finish line and taken an unearned rose.
But I finished. And it felt great. I felt great. My stomach and head felt great.
My wife and I honored the memory of her mother and joined with thousands of others who refuse to give in to this horrid disease. We will all continue to Fight Like Susan – for her and for my mother-in-law Joan and for Dustin’s wife Michelle, and for all the others we’ve lost and all those that we are going to SAVE.
We are all better than we think we are. We can all do more than we think we can.
Never quit. Never give up the fight.
Thank you to Fatty and Team Fatty for leading the charge, and I can’t wait to see you all next year at Davis or Philly or Austin or wherever we all decide to fight.
PS from Fatty: If you’ve enjoyed reading Paul’s guest posts (and I know you have), you’ll be interested to know that Paul’s got a selection of short stories for sale over at amazon.com, in Kindle format. I bought them, and planned to read one story a day over the course of four days. Instead, I wound up reading all four stories in one sitting. His stories kinda grab you like that. So, check them out here. (They’re also available for the Nook.)