My legs were burning with the steepest seemingly never ending climb I didn't think about the fun part. Riding a bicycle on the Blue Ridge Parkway for the first time is like learning to walk. The first ten miles were all the same steep climb with moments of beautiful vistas off either side. My mind noted how mountain vistas seemed to be getting wider. I could see more. My mind didn't register I was gaining elevation, thousands of feet of elevation. Every now and again there would be a short descent into a gap. "All of that work for THAT," I remember thinking.
Cancer is like this. You work hard to stay alive and then you stay alive. It almost seems like an anticlimax or the very definition of an anticlimax. You don't die. Hey there is a slogan we can rally the troops behind. Actually, that is precisely the slogan we need to rally behind. Cancer kills more than half a million annually. Dennis Hopper makes it through his life and loses his battle with prostate cancer. That is what kind of enemy we are up against.
I was prepared for no pay off or for a pay off so small it didn't seem in proportion. Work, work and work some more to get a little ride into a gap earning the right to work, work and work some more. If this sounds like life my words are doing their job. Surely this is the prototypical experience for most of our lives. Life never comes easily or without costs. We just think it does. Buddhist monk, one of my favorite writers, Pema Chodron says change is life. Start where you are, start now, she says.
The problem with having philosophies is sometimes you get trapped inside them or does it just seem so. I preached go "early and ugly" to my e-commerce team because the costs of waiting were far greater than those associated with imperfect beginnings. Looking at pictures on Martin's Ride today as we loaded to Martin's Ride Flickr account I realized I needed to lose another 30 pounds before we attempted this monster ride across America. There is always another later time to do something or NOT to do something. The second part of this sentence contains the trap. Delay zaps momentum and will. If I thought long and hard about Martin's Ride I would be writing this email from my bedroom not across the street from Harrah's casino in Cherokee, North Carolina after riding 30 miles of Hell yesterday and 230 miles total. Let me correct that. Yesterday was fifteen miles of hell and 15 miles of pure ecstasy. We rode up and FLEW down.
Here is the upside of being too fat - you descend like a bat out of Hell. My dad told me the formula today and it did what most complicated math does. It washed over me like German philosophy. So if there is an upside to acting NOW and we just discovered an upside to being fat then surely there is an upside to anything and everything. I don't claim to understand or realize this idea all the time, but flying down the Blue Ridge Parkway at 45 miles-per-hour strange things fly into your brain.
Brains are funny old birds. Put a brain in a life threatening situation, and let's not kid ourselves flying down a mountain at 45mph is life and death, and it rises to the occasion. I wouldn't be here writing this if the old brain couldn't fire some synapses. My brain was flying when I saw my first 360 degree sign. Jeremy taught me how to take high speed turns. You put your leg on the side of the turn up centering your weight over the bicycle. Ever see Tour riders with their knees out on descents? They are centering their body on the bike and probably going twenty miles faster than moi. Forty-Five mph is fast enough to get a significant buzz.
I was never so thankful for a bunch of German nerds as flying down that mountain. German engineers make my Ultra GatorSkin tires and they stay where you put them (Read my comments about GatorSkins in our Sponsors area). I set a line and started making decisions very fast. One decision was to stop looking back for traffic. Forty-Five mph is the speed limit for the Blue Ridge Parkway so they could just follow the fat guy on the bike descending like a lunatic. At one point I started laughing out of poor joy. Imagine driving a car behind someone on a bicycle going faster than you and laughing his head off.
There was no time to be scared and braking after thirty-five mph is more dangerous than letting the Blue Ridge Parkway's natural speed barriers, i.e. another ascent, slow the bicycle down. That was my thinking after seeing the first 360 degree turn sign. It was a comforting thought. I won't die or get going much faster because we are bound to go up hill again. Then I saw the second 360 degree turn sign. This time there was a little guy on a bicycle falling off the face of the earth. I touched the brakes and nothing. I heard the brakes kind of laugh. "Sure NOW you want our help," the snarky reply came back. I learned my lesson. I was in this alone my brakes having fully abdicated. My brakes had left the building.
No worries my fully adrenalined brain said in an even and calming way. Remember where you are. Another hill is around the next bend. NOPE, another 360 degree turn sign was around the bend. Panic set in but only for a quick moment. Quickly dopamine shot into my brain calming Mr. Panic. "Easy there big fella," Mr. Dopamine said, "Everything is cool just enjoy the show." Panic used to save us from being dinner when Dino the Dinosaurs walked the earth. Descending a Blue Ridge Mountain at 45mph and panic is about as helpful as brakes who, like Elvis, have left the building. I concentrate on leaning into the third 360 degree turn lowering my head to get another three miles an hour. "In for a penny, in for a broken neck," I remember chuckling to myself as I lowered my head. Wind came faster and felt assuring and good.
You don't sweat when you are flying down a mountain. Its cold no matter how many layers you are wearing and how hot it is in the valley. Your body cuts off all superfluous activity pumpsing blood into your eyes and brain. This is a rush no drug can deliver. Mr. Panic starts to chant, "Where is the F***ing hill," only to have Mr. Dopamine let loose another spray of "feel good" medicine. I draw a quick mental picture of Mr. Dopamine. He has long hair dressed in a flowing robe and his fingers are pursed in okay o's. Everything is cool and even if it isn't what can be done about it now - absolutely nothing. Recriminations can start later. Right now I'm hoping I don't eat a bug while looking for the fourth 360 degree turn sign. Surely I will reach terminal velocity soon and just disappear. The movie Vanishing Point, the old good one from the sixties, flashed into my brain for a quick second before rounding another bend and seeing the inevitable - another steep Blue Ridge Parkway hill. Two hours of ascent gone in ten minutes of descent and all terminal velocity momentum now gone in a minute and a half. Mr. Panic breathes a long sigh and Mr. Dopamine gracefully exits saying, "until the next time bubby."