Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tulsa Tales: Malcolm and Tim

When Malcolm and Tim showed up to ride with us, we thought they'd pull out a couple maps, send us in a particular direction, and go on their merry way.

Instead, these two strangers/friends dropped race entries, ditched their families, jobs, and spent three, long, and at times grueling days in the saddle with us. They cheered when we nailed a pace line, didn't seem to mind our bitching, were the first ones off their bikes when we had a mechanical, and especially quick with encouragement and gentle coaching. Their patience in explaining what was to come with each chunk of road was also invaluable, and I would guess, quite unlike riding with a bunch of dudes. They also took us out to dinner, opened their homes, introduced us to some of Tulsa's finest and even hauled us to a few bars.

On that last day our group split into two rides.

I followed the climbers for a hard left, despite all sorts of warning bells going off in my head, ass, and legs begging for a hard right. Within minutes we'd crested our first hill, settled into a false flat and a lively pace line. It was fast and I could barely hold on. Malcolm instructed me to hang in the back and suck up the love. I looked down, my spedometer read 31 mph. I held on. Then a break. I dropped. Pedaled hard up. Caught it. Then fell off the back again, and the rest of the group broke, then scampered up a 1.5 mile climb.

I have never wanted so badly to go all fetal and just die on my bike. I could not feel my hands or feet. My breath seemed to come from the top of my stomach, if you could even call my disgusting wheezes a breath. There was little I could do but drop it into an easier gear and spin. I am amazed, in hindsight that I stayed on my bike. It likely would have required too much effort to clip out. And so it went.

I pedaled.

I spun helplessly and steadily as the rest of the group scampered to the top, becoming smaller and smaller until I could not see them at all. I knew it was pointless and likely futile to try and catch them, but I also knew I needed to, eventually. My eyes watered over, my legs screamed, and I dry heaved off the side of my bike.

And then I noticed Malcolm. Slowly, drawing back. He waited until I'd caught my breath a bit, slid along beside me, took up my pace (read: damned SLOW) and started chatting. About Ragbrai. Des Moines. My son. His job. He did most of the talking. And then, gradually, when I was ready, he pulled me up that hill, and pushed me onto the back with the others. There were no words, just an occassional look over his shoulder to ensure I was still there. It was seamless. They never heard my heaves. He never said a word.

It is always on the bike that I feel the most vulnerable. It is also always on the bike that I feel strongest.

People like Malcolm and Tim, with whom you can bond in these moments of uncertainty, vulnerability, celebration and complete exhaustion, they make the adventure totally worthwhile.

It is no coincidence that I always seem to find these generous, wonderful souls...pedaling.

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