Thursday, October 16, 2014

Out of Many, One*

I was standing in line for my flight in Cincinnati with members of my new team from Southwest Ohio when I felt someone behind me touch my back and then hug me.  I turned around to see Erin, a fellow JDRF rider who lives in Massachusetts, standing there, as if out of nowhere, like a brilliant JDRF apparition.  In my moment of shock, I shrieked a loud, “what are you doing here?” trying to piece together the question in my mind, “Why would Erin be in Cincinnati?” And even more disturbing, for a moment I wondered where the hell I was.

Suddenly, this friend from afar was occupying a space we don’t typically share.  And this was no passing-through-moment people talk about when they encounter friends in far-away places, I knew we were standing there for the same reason, to travel to Death Valley together for the Ride to Cure.  Even still, it felt for a moment as if I was stuck in a disorienting dream.

I met Erin two years before as a member of the Hope on Two Wheels ride.  That year, I had accidentally stumbled onto the crew for a 16-leg team ride from New York City to Bethesda, Maryland to raise awareness about type 1 diabetes and JDRF. I had also seen her at Burlington, VT for the JDRF Ride to Cure for two years in a row, and I had ridden with her on the Hope ride last year.  So I had seen her for a few brief, busy days over the past three years.  I shared the back seat of a van all day on the hope ride, watching her test and retest her blood glucose levels as she made her way through the 12 hour, 110 mile team ride.  Am adult about my age, she had been newly diagnosed with t1d, and was still learning how to manage.  She had also just come back from a cycling camp for t1d athletes in Colorado, ready with new strategies both as a person with t1d and as a cyclist.  I learned a lot from her in that van, as we rode together in the pouring rain, and later in the pitch-black darkness as we made our way across three states between two youth diabetes camps.  And I was in awe of her.  (I still am.)

I realize now that what startled me back at the Delta gate was that I was just remarking to my Cincinnati teammates that I had not yet felt that the Cincinnati airport felt like home.  Only having moved a year ago, this was only my second flight from CVG.  I was still remarking about and feeling occasional disorientation in Cincinnati, and here was Erin, from Massachusetts, probably the last person I expected to see in my still-rather-unfamiliar “home” standing in front of me as if it were the most natural thing.  My worlds collided in that moment; I was so stunned that I failed her introduction to my teammates.  I stumbled on her name so long she had to provide it for me.  And in the midst of feeling the shame in that, I missed my opportunity to provide the return introduction.  Luckily, I looked up just in time to realize they had taken matters into their own hands….. of course , they had my back.

On the flight between Cincy and Vegas, I reflected on the experience of watching the Facebook feed about the ride earlier in the morning.  It was blowing up with announcements and posts and “check-ins” from people all across the United States making their way to the ride.  (Really, primarily from the east coast and Midwest, as it was too early for my western region friends to be awake.)

I felt something rumble inside of my chest watching the news feed bloom into one big online gathering: a convergence of purpose I hadn’t seen.

I realized (perhaps not for the first time), that we are, in fact, one big team.

And now, Erin, making her connection through Cincinnati of all places, and on my same flight to Vegas, confirmed this for me even more. It was as if the universe was saying to me, “Of course, silly.  Erin is from Massachusetts, but she’s on your team too.  Why wouldn't she be here in this moment, on this plane?”

We are riding our individual bikes.  We raised money for our individual reasons.  We all have our individual reasons for doing this, our individual goals for ride day.  We have our reasons for coming for the first time, or returning, to Death Valley or anywhere else we ride this season, but…. one thing is certain, we may be from Ohio or Massachusetts or New Jersey or Pennsylvania, or Michigan, or South Carolina, or Florida, or Tennessee, or Texas, or Wisconsin, or Minnesota, or Washington, or Canada, but…..

we are one team.

*e pluribus unum

Sunday, March 23, 2014

shaken, not stirred

keep pedaling.  keep breathing.  keep pedaling.  keep breathing.  don't look ahead.  just don't look ahead at what's coming.  stay here.  right here.  keep pedaling. 

out of pure necessity, i have adopted this mantra since moving to cincinnati 7 months ago.  it's hilly here.  way hilly.  and the hills are longer and much much steeper than anything i have ever ridden on a road bike.  every club ride or casual sunday ride, like today's, challenges me in new ways.  every route i've done shows me not only new roads, but new terrain. 

and i am reminded of something important.  i am reminded that riding hills is mostly (mostly) a big fat head game.

in my first month here, i looked ahead at what was to come: the steep pitch these hills take suddenly (sometimes upwards of 18% or more), the sharp curves and switchbacks that usually hide more steep pitches beyond them, the deceptive flat sections that really are just long uphill grinders.  i looked ahead, and what i usually thought to myself was "oh wow... there's no way! no way!"  and i would gear down, stand up, breathe hard, and kill myself to get to the top, the whole time trying to get my brain to shift to a "it's not that bad, i got this" mentality.  easier said than done. 

today, 8 months later, these hills haven't gotten shorter, or less steep.  they haven't become more forgiving.  but perhaps i have. 

today, i remembered - even though i struggled to not simply topple over on one long, steep climb, which had me pedaling at maaaaybe a 4 mph pace (i couldn't really look at my odometer) - that this game, this dance with these hills, is all about mental power.  i had the power to make it up those hills.  my legs were "fine," even if my lungs were not. 

but my brain?  even worse. 

it was a mental challenge to keep my brain from telling me that i couldn't possibly do one more crazy pitchy section, i just wanted that damn hill to back off.  what's more, i watched my riding companions, all seasoned veterans of this terrain, fly up ahead of me as if they were jet-propelled.  the distance growing further and faster between us, my breathing becoming even more labored and now turning into something just shy of hyperventilation, i kept pedaling, my brain ping-ponging between willfulness and doubt.

i clearly have some work to do.

but.... i learned something new today, as i almost always do when i get back out on the bike.  i was reminded that i am in a new place.  that this is new terrain.  and therefore, it's going to take a new mentality, a whole new mental approach, to ride here successfully. 

and so, the point of my writing?  to remember that a change in terrain is nothing but fantastically good - maybe even key - for a change in perspective, how one defines strength, how we approach the unknown. 

i realized that while i knew where i was, i really still didn't know how to be here.

and i know it'll take a lot more time for that lesson to sink in fully (much to my chagrin, because i'm endlessly impatient).  but i also was reminded that this new place of mine is also going to teach me things i never knew about myself about my riding, my brain, my bike, everything. 

i think maybe we all need to shake it up - and be shaken up - once in a while. 

lookout at devou park in kentucky (at the top of a long climb), looking northeast to downtown cincy.