Thursday, November 13, 2008

Getting by With a Little Help From my Friends

We got an update on Pat over breakfast. He's still in the hospital and will be spending at least another day there. Trish is staying with him and she's still sick. Their vacation sucks. Apparently the ambulance that took Pat to the hospital yesterday got lost along the way and had to stop to ask for directions. 
Starting the day with this sort of news in mind helped keep things in perspective. For example, when I took my bike for a test spin in the parking lot before the race start and wiped out because I couldn't get unclipped from my pedals, I knew it wasn't the end of the world (even though I knew the two new holes in my hands would fester under the filth of my mud and poo saturated bike gloves for the next three days). 
My recollection from last year was that Stage Two was the 'easiest' stage. 'Easy' is a relative term, as the 76 kilometre stage includes over 4,000 metres of climbing. For reference, I think the Cochrane Hill is about 150 metres of elevation gain; so, imagine doing that about 30 times - a day after spending almost 12 hours in the saddle). You just can't find climbs like this in Canada; it's so steep in sections that you have to zig zag from side to side just to keep your wheels moving. Every time you see a switchback coming and imagine that you might be at the top, it would turn into another stretch of climbing. No relief at all. These are hills of infinite suffering. I saw a lot of people pushing bikes up the paved roads, but I rode whenever I could. There was no apparent speed advantage to this choice; it really came down to a personal desire to demonstrate my superiority over a course that tortured me so much in 2007. 
I kept a steady pace and was thrilled when I caught Gerry at the first three aid stations. I have such a high regard for him as a cyclist that I feel a sense of accomplishment just to keep him within sight. A tico (local rider) rode with me for a while. His english was about as good as my spanish, which meant the conversation was extremely superficial and included a lot of laughing and head shaking as we each repeatedly dug into our vocabulary and came up empty handed. The laboured conversation was a good distraction, and the fact that he was a stronger rider than me kept me pushing my limits. I was particularly thankful to have him around when my chain broke on one of the climbs. I'd never broken a chain and did not have the skills or tools to fix it, but Carlos had me back on the bike in no time. Saved, again, as a result of the kindness of another. 
Last year, this race was about independence and radical self-reliance. This year, I think it is about interdependence and the kindness of humanity. Two stages and two rescues. I'm trying not to think too hard about what might be coming on days 3 and 4. I finished the day with a good massage. I used to think that there were only good massages, but I discovered today that this is not the case. The massage table next to me collapsed while a guy was getting massaged, sending him head first into the ground. He appeared to have escaped relatively unscathed, though I'm not sure he'll ever be able to fully relax during a massage again. 


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