STAY STRONG SMALL SOLDIER
The MS Ride was this past weekend, which is not MST3K, which is AWESOME, but sedentary, which the MS Ride is not. Sedentary, I mean.
Now, as alert Power Love readers know, I am Training for Bicycle Racing. This is a methodical and maddening process by which I ride my bicycle for hours and hours at the risk of getting rained upon and having my fake tan wash off. As every serious cyclist knows, you cannot Train without a fake tan.
Thusly, I loaded up on the tanning lotion, making me a full 10 pounds heavier (in cycling circles, this is known as Strength Training), and headed out to DeKalb, Illinois, with my sights set on Training for Many Miles. La Shiow and La Perkins are the humans I attended the Training Event with. These two laugh a lot and have very good senses of humor, which was unnerving because as you know, I am a Very Serious Cyclist and there is no laughing in Cycling. Also, I never learned how to laugh. I can pick my nose like a champ, though, but that is a post for another day.
DeKalb, Illinois, is the place for all things farm-like and Northern Illinois University, which apparently really likes huskies. That makes sense, being out in the middle of the Midwest and all, it’s the ideal location for a husky. Especially in summer.
Our ride was to be a two-day affair, 100 miles on Saturday and 80 miles on Sunday. If this is making you develop saddle sores just by reading about it, you have the potential to become A Very Serious Cyclist. Or a mental patient. Which is redundant, I know. On Saturday morning, we rode through a dumping, gray summer storm, which was rather refreshing, although somewhat blinding. Then later on Saturday morning, we rode through yet another dumping, gray summer storm, which was annoying because, hello, we got it the first time, m’kay?
Luckily, after the rains left, the 25mph winds showed up and brought their friends, the 40mph wind gusts. What jolliness this was! If you’ve never tried to ride many miles on a bicycle into a 40mph headwind, may I suggest you get up from your computer now, walk into the nearest wall, continue to walk into that wall despite the fact that it’s getting you nowhere, and then repeat. On the upside, the sun was out. And there were these graham cracker sandwiches with peanut butter and jelly at all the rest stops and also, BON JOVI playing at most of the rest stops. Through speakers, of course. Not live. Gawd, could you imagine live Bon Jovi at the MS Ride? It would be, like, AWESOME, but only if it was the 80s version of Bon Jovi, with the hair and the tight leather pants and the jean jackets and the howling, “Lay your hands on meeeeee!” and the fights in the press about how Motley Crue is a bunch of posers and Motley Crue biting back with some words of wisdom about how Bon Jovi is a bunch of Bruce Springsteen wannabes and then Poison would pipe up and be all, “Dudes, where’d you get those headbands?” And then Ratt would be, “Duh. Sunset Boulevard, dollar store.” And then Cinderella would be like, “Should we change our name?” And Faster Pussycat would say, “We have the coolest name, but we are much maligned. Is anybody using this syringe?” And then Guns N Roses would kick everybody’s ass. With cans of Aqua Net.
Where was I? Right. Training. Anyhoo, as I lollygagged through the farm country of DeKalb, I started to realize that there were other humans riding their bicycles that were not Training for Bike Racing. I saw one dude, with gray puffy hair, wisps of it sneaking out of his helmet, which was slightly askew on his head, wearing a t-shirt and shorts with pockets and heavy compression socks and gym shoes. I am familiar with compression socks because they stop your legs from swelling, which is what happens when you have an uninvited blood clot in your leg. So I wondered about gray-haired dude with the compression socks, because it was Really Hot, and compression socks are Really Suffocating, and I was hoping he was Okay and Happy. I couldn’t ask him, though, because every time I tried to talk, my words got shoved back into my head by the Mighty Wind.
At the end of the day, you cruise into the start/finish area, and there are all kinds of humans about, clapping and cheering you on at the finish line and just generally being really kind, which is not what I expect when Training for Cycling, so I was a bit caught off guard. Are these people not My Competition? Were they being kind in order to undermine my Expert Cycling Advances? No, apparently, they were not. Apparently, the MS Ride is not about me and my Training. In fact, the MS Ride has nothing to do with cycling at all. This is how I learned this: As I waited at the finish to watch the humans stream in, the man with the gray hair and the compression socks came rolling across the line. He pedaled methodically and happily, and as he came across the finish, he had this look on his face that I will never forget—his face was hopeful and tired and smiling and it was the face of someone who was trying to accomplish a feat so great that at one point, he probably thought he would never make it. But he did.
So this was the first time I cried at the MS Ride.
Saturday night we stayed at the Palace Mirage Hotel, which is really the Travel Lodge on Lincoln Highway. Apparently, the management has a problem with knobs, as there were none in our room. Our neighbors were relaxing in the living room of their suite, by which I mean the parking lot. They were grilling out, with a small grill perched on the back of their pick-up truck. And they had mullets. And there was propane present. And they called us, “girls.” But they were not in any other way rude and they were far less scary than the used soap in the shower of our suite and far, far less scary than the hair that covered the shower walls in our suite—the shower that we had yet to use. To quote La Perkins, “Someone is not taking ownership for the cleaning in this room.” And thus it was spoken.
Sunday was gorgeous—I mean full-on summer in the Midwest gorgeous: 75 degrees, 10mph winds, sunny, blue skies, puffy white clouds that looked like whipped cream. The farms spread out like green carpet as far as you could see. Sometimes I have moments when I am so happily Midwestern, moments when I can look across a field and see forever, and Sunday was a whole bunch of those moments.
La Perkins and I did the 30-mile route. La Shiow and the rest of the team did the 80-mile route. This is a picture of Shiow finishing the ride on Sunday. As alert Power Love readers know, I am as excellent a sports photographer as I am a rock concert photographer, so you may want to purchase all these pictures now before Sports Illustrated snaps them up and houses them in the Sports Photography Hall of Fame.
After the ride on Sunday, we ate hamburgers with mustard and fried egg and onion and a bunch of other stuff that required a list to follow in order to put it together properly, including figures with arrows, and IT WAS THE BEST HAMBURGER EVER. And a band played in the field and the sun was out and the man at the finish line said to me as he handed me my medal for completing the ride, “As someone with MS, thank you for riding.”
And that was the second time I cried that weekend.
So, to recap: Summer in the Midwest is beautiful and you can see forever in it; always take ownership for cleaning your shower, even if your shower is in a knobless motel room; mullets and pickup trucks and propane tanks are not necessarily scary; riding many miles on a bicycle with friends is about as close to Heaven as you can get without being dead; the face of a man who has achieved the seemingly unthinkable is an image that will change your life; hearing a man with MS thank you for riding your bicycle is ridiculous because the true gratitude is mine, for the revelation that human beings are kind and aware and amazing.