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Friday, June 21, 2013

Trek Across Maine 2013

 It is hard to be brief about the Trek Across Maine and today will be no exception.
I have been unable to start this post until now because there is so much to say that sometimes it is easier, in the short term at least, to say nothing at all. 
We dropped the girls off with Sandi's mom late on Thursday morning to allow ourselves time to pack and organize before boarding the bus to Sunday River at 2.  There were tears from Ella at departure and it wasn't without guilt that we drove the mile down the road to Finelli's (most amazing) Pizza and had a slice of pizza and beer.  Hey, we were going to go so we might as well have fun while doing it.
The Trek divides 180 miles over three days of riding.  Friday is the longest mileage (67) and the least steep terrain.  Saturday has less miles (58) and more hills.  Sunday is the shortest miles (55) and the most hills.  While the weekend forecast looked stunning, Friday was calling for showers and had me checking my weather app compulsively. 
Then finally it happened... Friday's icon turned from showers to clouds and eventually to sun.   And would you take a look at the perfect temperatures for riding?
I know others wouldn't agree, but for me the hardest part of the Trek is the 3 hour bus ride from Bangor to Sunday River ski resort in Western Maine.   I am very prone to motion sickness and the only way to prevent it is for me to drive.  I wasn't thinking the bus driver would be into this so I tried to sleep as much as I could.  Even turning my head to have a conversation is bad news for me. 
Sandi and I would be riding as part of the 21 member Gold's Gym Team.  I had ridden as part of this 10 person team last year (click here for that post) and we were all novices but we had so much fun. 
Thursday we had a team dinner and some team bonding at Sunday River and were in bed fairly early. We were at the starting line by 7, the atmosphere abuzz with excitement and nervous energy.  Day one is the only day that has an actual start line (done in heats to prevent cyclists from being too crowded) and the president of the American Lung Association was there to thank us and see us off.  Every single volunteer thanked us for what we were doing. 

Here's a map of day 1.  I truly didn't even get into my lower gears until after mile 50. 

 And we were off.  Apparently the significant downhill leaving Sunday River is the scene of many a cyclist pile-ups.  It was a little painful to ride my breaks but the fear of ending up in the ditch was enough to make me do it.  The morning air was chilly but a beautiful day was preparing to make a debut across the sky.
The whole time we rode I kept looking over my shoulder at Sandi thinking, wow, she is still right there...and a few miles later I would think the same thing and gratitude would wash over me that we had this time, this ride, this opportunity to something so cool and be together, working as a team every step of the way.  I feel like we have barely been able to string together more than a handful of hours at a time since she started school 22 months ago.
At every rest stop the I would thank the volunteers and they would, as last year, say, "No, thank YOU."  But I felt like I just couldn't make them understand.  I had the privilege of riding my bike while all they got to do was hold traffic signs or portion out Dixie cups of trail mix and animal crackers.  They totally seemed like they were getting the raw end of the deal. 
Neither Sandi nor I liked being in the throngs of cyclists, especially over the early, highly trafficked parts of the road.  We peddled hard and got in and out of the rest stops efficiently and soon found ourselves ahead of the pack, sometimes not passing anyone for a mile.  That is way more our style.  We flew along, enjoying the scenery and each other and when we rolled into the University of Maine at Farmington I was kind of sad and wished we could keep riding.  
We had made such good time that there were only about 10 cyclists there but the volunteers were cheering to beat the band. We stowed our bikes and went to get our luggage.  The volunteers were still unloading it and I jokingly said to one woman, "Wait, are you saying that we beat our bags here?"
She looked at me, slightly annoyed and said, "We were delayed an hour because of the accident."
This gave me pause.  We had seen a couple of state troopers fly past us with their lights and sirens blazing but we just hoped it was not Trek related.  Then she continued.  "A cyclist was hit by an 18-wheeler and died."
Oh no.  No, no, no.
Sandi and I kind of slumped to the ground, our previous flight up on cloud 9 abruptly over.   This could not be true.  We got our phones out and saw that our screens were filled with texts and calls from family and friends asking if we were okay.  Quickly, we began to collect any information we could and the Bangor Daily News had already published an article with the general detail of how David LeClair had died only 10 miles into the Trek.  Never in the history of the Trek had a cyclist every died. Apparently David was drinking from his water bottle, lost control of his bike and fell, hitting his head and ending up under the rear tires of a tractor trailer truck. He died instantly.   It was an accident in every sense of the word. 
I was riddled with relief, grief, guilt and fear.  Our finish line celebrations and the entirety of the Trek atmosphere was significantly dampened by this staggering loss.
The sun was shining bright, the DJ blaring a steady stream of high powered music and we cheered heartily for all the cyclists that made is safely from Sunday River. Somehow their safe arrival was even more cause for celebration than it had ever been before. 
As usual, the acknowledgment of the fragility of life is one that can cut you off at the knees.  It was difficult to move forward with any sense of lightness.  Organizers gave out red ribbons for people to wear in memorial of David and we vowed to be on the road as early as we could and to be even more careful about cars and passing other cyclists.
Day two dawned cloudless and crisp.  We were ready to ride.  
At about mile 5, as we were passing people and trying to find an open piece of road, we noticed there was a guy with an L.L.Bean jersey tagging along.  We turned and introduced ourselves to him (his name was Bruce) and he said he liked our pace.  So we got to know Bruce over the next many gorgeous miles of country roads snaking rivers, falls, gorges and endless acres of trees.

It turns out Bruce is one of those genuinely nice guys and we had a great deal of fun riding fast with him.
Leaving early meant that we got to the rest stops before they had been decimated by the thousands of hungry cyclists that pour through.  On the tables were neat rows of cups filled with animal crackers, chex mix, gorp and baby carrots.  There were juicy oranges and peanut butter banana sandwiches to make your mouth and body happy.  When the rest stops are crowded, I feel like a child in bustling group of adults with elbows flying at my eyes as I try to snake through the tall men to get a granola bar. 

I decided that leaving early was not only safer for riding (less traffic, less cyclists) but that I also really dig the tidy buffet of the untouched rest stop.  

Our friends Chris and Brenda, veteran Trekkers, were doing the Trek for the first time with their seven-year-old daughter, Emily.  I think this is amazing and inspiring and I admit a few times I thought better them then us.   I greatly admire the selflessness and parental generosity that go into peddling your child up large hills for hours at a time. 
Here they are coming into Colby College at the end of day 2:

After the fatality on the first day, which they passed just after the crash occurred, they were slightly panicked by the dangers of the road.  They got smart, very smart, and decided it didn't make sense to try to ride the entire course.  If it was meant to be fun, they would keep it fun.  They had a pit crew in the form of Brenda's father and they wisely skipped segments to shorten the day or lessen the danger.

What good moms.
I don't think I have been able to spend this kind of uninterrupted time with Sandi for about 2 years.  It was incredible to have her so close by, to talk to, to hold her hand or just to be near with no one else competing for her attention.  Well, except when we played duck, duck, goose with Emily but that was just fun.
 And check out this cool t-shirt:
In my opinion, day 2 has it all going on.  It is the most scenic ride of the three days and the afternoon spent at Colby College is the super fun.  There is pizza and ice cream at the finish line, live music and tent city.
Tent city occupies the sloping lawn that abuts the road leading to the finish line.  You have to have a large enough team that raises enough money to qualify for a tent at tent city.  This year Team Gold's Gym had a tent!!  (This basically means a place to hang out for the afternoon while people socialize, lay in the grass and play Frisbee.)  Due to several layers of organizational mishap, it looked like all we were going to have at our tent was us and the bottled water we got at the finish line.  Other people had grills, camp chairs and coolers full of beer.  The L.L. Bean team had a caterer.  Gritty's had beer coolers with actual taps on them.  
Then, by some miracle, two of our team's support people showed up with coolers full of beverages.  We had some snacks that Rachel, our captain, had purchased for our team and given out on the bus ride to Sunday River.  Once the finish line was closed, volunteers came and delivered us two large pizzas.  We were willing to slum it, but we didn't have to!  Our team is full of fun, spirited people who didn't need chairs or grills to have a good time.  This was the afternoon I fell in love with our team.
The American Lung Association had this brilliant social media campaign going where they wanted you to write why you ride.

After dinner, we went to a presentation called The Spirit of the Trek.   People from the ALA talk about how the Trek began and honor some of the its most seasoned veterans.  (There are some people who have done the Trek for 25 years!)  Two of David LeClair's teammates from Athena Health spoke about David and his short, but magnificent life.  Then they showed a video about the history of the ALA and what the funds raised in the Trek are used for- specifically research and education.  Seeing video of kids discussing what it is like to live with asthma and seeing pictures of their inhalers, the same ones Maya uses, thinking about Maya's airway crises, made me realize what this ride is about and why it is so important for me to be a part of it.  I cried through the whole thing.
The end of day 2 closed with drinks and live music at Colby.  Sandi wasn't so into dancing and I couldn't see myself going to sleep without one dance so I joined a group of women I had been watching all weekend-  The Awesomes Team- and danced with them.  They are so awesome they didn't mind.
Day three dawned bright and clear.  This was the day for us to wear our team jerseys and ride into Belfast together- or at least as together as our wildly varied paces would allow.
We had run a bake sale to fundraise for these jerseys as well as using them as ways to attract business donations to our larger fundraising goal.  If a business donated $200, we would put the logo on our team jersey.  Our friend, and Sandi's relative, Albert,  sponsored us with his Lobster Select business.  Looks pretty spiffy on here I think.
These jerseys were super cool looking and I was proud to have one.  However, the sizing ran much smaller than I had allowed for and I had a hard time pouring myself into my usual medium.  I felt slightly indecent and wondered if I might have a seam failure during the ride.  The only thing that allowed me to wear it was the awareness that cyclists take numerous liberties with fashion - from long socks, short jerseys and padded shorts- and that I was among friends. 

Here is a shot of Sandi wearing it:

Team photo!

Day three: get ready to climb. 
 Day three was as amazing as the others.  I could feel Sandi's exhaustion catching up to her.  We had peddled the other two days hard and she had, after all, only trained for 10 days.  We climbed and we climbed and we climbed some more.   Sandi was a rockstar on that bike and I couldn't have been prouder of her. 
As we got closer to Belfast, I was both excited and sad.  We had made it but I didn't want our amazing weekend to end. 
About two miles from the finish, cyclists can stop at a staging area and wait for their team members so they can ride to the finish as a group.  While we waited, I ate the best piece of watermelon of my life and discovered that my $100 bike shorts had met the fate of all my favorite workout bottoms.  I had blown a hole right through the inner thigh.  If I hadn't been so bummed about having to replace them, I would have been proud.  Friction is an undeniable part of endurance exercise and even synthetic fabric is not immune.
Within an hour and a half all the people that we knew would make it by noon were there and we set off for the finish line.   As we were leaving the parking lot, the road was lined with cheerleaders ringing bells, whistling and thanking us for riding.  As we wove our way through the side streets of Belfast toward the harbor, there were countless residents out in their lawn chairs cheering and thanking us as well.  I saw a man hooked up to oxygen and felt my eyes well with tears.  The Trek is an awesome ride but it is so much more than that.
Our team:

It is hard to capture the feeling of the Belfast finish line.  It seems impossible that people could be so happy for you to complete a ride that seemed like a gift all along. 
Sorry there are so many pictures of us looking happy and relaxed.  Actually, no I'm not sorry at all.

Rachel, our wonderful and devoted team captain, and her hilarious partner Robert.  These two are the heart and soul of our team.  Thank you for all you did for all of us!
As always, when you get in safely, you must check off your number.

We could  hardly wait to get our girls back in our arms.  How grateful we were to Sandi's family for taking such good care of them so we could be gone for four whole days.   The Trek raised nearly $2 million and I'm proud to say that we were a small part of that.
What is the very best thing you can do with a medal that you earn for riding 180 miles? 
I think you know.

In case you're wondering, we've already signed up for next year. Who wants to join us? 

1 comment:

Kirsten said...

I'd love to do something like this next year--my son and I have asthma and we also love to ride! I'd like to look into the training for 180 miles. I live in WI, but we visit Maine in the summer. We've not met but I "know" you through Emilie. :-)

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