This means, for me, that I have now completed the California Triple Crown, something I couldn't do last year, and I'm so proud of myself I'm dancing on my toes like a giddy person. (I'm also dancing on my toes like a giddy person because two of my essays have been published by major literary magazines, I'm in love, I have chickens, my reading series Literary Arts & Wine is blossoming, I am writing/swimming/cycling/running and I'm going to finish a full Ironman. But this blog post is not about that.)
The Davis Double was not "truly" a double this year; I guess they had problems permitting the roads and so the ride would only be 188 miles instead of the full 200. In some ways, this was ideal: Rich has been training several cyclists from Reno over the winter to ride a Double Century. For many of them, this would be their first. And, in fact, it was my first double last year and I was excited for them.
We met at the park in downtown Davis at 4:45 am in the dark and chill of morning. When we posed to take a group shot, I was amazed at how many of us "Renoites" were there-- nearly 20! I was excited to try out new DI2 shifting and to stare at the fancy black and yellow bar tape on Bumblebee all day (this might sound silly, but that bar tape really brightens my mood whenever I look at it) and Rich would ride his fancy Calfee tandem with his stoker, Irena, who'd also never ridden 200 miles in one solid go.
The early miles of a Double are always dark and somewhat murky: I was excited for the ride and I was up front with Rich/Irena on the tandem as we zig-zagged our way out of Davis. I remember the cold, the dark, the way my headlight only illuminated part of the road and the faint line, suggesting dawn, on the far horizon.
I wanted to ride well, which meant, really, to feel strong and somewhat fast but not completely blown out-- or, I just wanted to kick ass and climb strong and pull and be the hero. I admit I have a huge ego when I'm in an event and I think that's something I will carry with me for a long time. I learned when I was a kid that my self-worth was tied to how I performed in gymnastics meets, in track meets, in dance competitions-- I don't think I will ever NOT feel like what my body does is disconnected from the other aspects of my life. What is funny (or interesting, anyway) now that I'm an adult is that I understand that I am wrong--crazy, perhaps?-- that what one does in a race has little correspondence to the life which made that race possible. Maybe there are parallels -- discipline, the ability to endure discomfort, focus, etc. -- but I am not my time. I'm a person, which means I am an athlete, but also a friend, a daughter, a writer, a graphic designer, a chicken-owner and a cat-lady. Hardly any of those can be quantified by the bike and so events have become an interesting combination of "gearing up", but also of "letting go."
I remember the wind, which wasn't warm, and the dark. I remember the humming sound of wheels on the road, the click of a front or rear derailleur, the warm-moist fear in my chest that I (already) wasn't riding fast enough. Rich will tell me, later, that he saw the intersection ahead of us for quite a while and that he would, later, analyze the scene in great detail to understand the series of events which would follow. I didn't see the intersection; by that time, I'd slid behind the tandem, figuring I'd have enough opportunities to pull in the several hours ahead of us.
Rich would ask me if I saw the man’s body, the way his shoulders were lower than they ought to have been and half his face seemingly gone beneath the shattered quadrants of his cycling helmet. It surprised me, listening to Rich’s description of the body we passed on mile six or so of the Davis Double. Granted, it had been dark and once I realized the man was hurt, I tried not to look, but none of Rich’s details stuck themselves in my mind. I remember the call of a man behind us in the pace line who said “cyclist down, cyclist down” as if to warn us—whose voice grew louder as we approached, changing from a litany to a wail: “bad cyclist down, very, very bad…”.
What I remember as we rode by was not so much the form the crumpled body and bike in the middle of the road took, but the sheen of a white cycling shoe which lay nearly in our path. It was the same shoe I wear, a white Mavic clipless shoe with the yellow and black “M” logo on its heel like a war flag. That, and the pool of blood looking like mercury, spread out in a nearly perfect circle across the black pavement. The volunteer stood over the mercury-pool and waved us on and I tried to recall what I hadn’t seen.
The scene would stay with me all day even after the sun rose over the orchards and even after the warm cup of coffee at our first aid station stop in Winters. Don’t get me wrong: by all counts, it was a beautiful day, a beautiful 188 miles with friends. Hills I would attack and long stretches of flat where I’d slip behind the wheel of someone taller than me (not hard to do) and let the miles slide by. But, there is something about the starkness of the accident that morning which would remain with me all day—which still remains with me, in some respect.
It is not the question of blame—was it the driver of the Kenworth big-rig pulling a set of double trailers who’d been going too fast (he hadn’t been)? Was it the cyclist who, eager to get a fast 188 miles in, ignored the volunteer who suggested he stop, riding out in front of that large, speeding vehicle? Instead, I imagine them both rising in the early morning dark, doing what they always, normally did. The driver was on his way to work, executing the motions any of us might in our daily lives: drinking coffee from a thermos, listening to talk radio recite the news as the miles streak as streetlights across the windows of the truck. Or, the cyclist: I would later read that he was a 50-year old man from Rocklin and I imagine he’d ridden these kinds of events before. Was he single or did he have a family? Did he have someone with him that morning, to wish him well on his ride? Surely, he didn’t think there would be anything remarkable about the day has he pulled on his jersey and cycling shorts, clipping the white Mavic shoes on his feet as he stepped outside that morning with his friend-- a friend who would shout, several times "slow down" as the cyclist rode into the line of an on-coming 18-wheeler.
What remained with me that day—and that I’m still reminded of—is that white cycling shoe lying vacant on the dark pavement that morning. Identical to my shoe—to anyone’s shoe, in fact, suggesting the end of life is not that different from its beginning: instantaneous, a flash and suddenly everything has changed.
The scene didn’t dampen the beauty of riding by one of Lake Beryessa’s many fingers or down a canyon along highway 16 or the company of my friends through the hours and miles. I did watch vehicles a little more closely than I would have otherwise and the way I tended to get silent sooner than I otherwise would, taken into myself with thoughts like: how strange that this could be both my first and my last organized double century ride. The smell of star jasmine flowers led us to the finish line.
When we crossed the line, I circled the park a few time before finding a bench. I let the dappled light which passed through the flickering leaves stand in for what I could have, possibly, said. It was a mixture of gratitude (for my life), of pride (in completing the California Triple Crown), of relief (that I wasn’t sitting on a saddle any longer) and of sadness (how could I not feel a trace of this?) Perhaps I am a strange person: but the feel of the flicker of light on the face of my skin and the quiet at that moment allowed me to breathe.
I listened to Irena's family-- and Irena-- thank Rich and to our mutual friend, Brandon (who'd ridden with us the entire distance) too chime in with congratulations. I let the happy sounds seep into my skin like the light; it was the moment I needed and I am grateful for that simple moment of silence after so many miles.
And it was the first double century for several of our friends—and maybe that’s what pulled me out of it and what I choose to remember: driving Rich back out on the course to help our friends in (and keep them company, to keep them safe) for the final miles of the ride. Getting lost in the GMC along those long, dark country roads but finding the route again (by a miracle) and the absolute joy of waiting at the finish line and seeing the flicker of their bike lights in the distance, cheering their names as they crossed the finish line.
Perhaps that would be the opposite of the horrific scene which began that ride—instead of stark ending, it would be a beginning in which everything, in a moment, changed.