For the past few months, my inside voice has been saying, “I can’t even.” The decline and death of handfuls of friends to cancer and the sad and infuriating realities of current events in our country and beyond have made me want to (in the words of my children) “rage quit.”
But I don’t quit things.
Quitting is for, well, quitters.
And I’m not a quitter.
Quitting is bad.
Except when it’s the very best thing to do.
Yesterday my husband and I took the tandem out for what was to be another stupid human trick. Together and separately, we’ve been engaging in athletic stupid human tricks for decades. Our recent flavor of fun is the double century circuit on our tandem. We rode our first two years ago and I became hooked.
The course of the Carmel Valley Double Century was intended to leave out of Carmel, ride down the picturesque coast to Big Sur, cut in up the famed Naciemento Road (which we’ve descended and ascended before in fine yard sale style) and then ride back into Carmel via the windy and hot Central Valley.
Last year the inaugural ride course was rerouted due to active fires and our views of the ocean were severely limited. This year, due to excessive and epic winter rainfall, a collection of mudslides and ultimately the destruction of the bridge at Big Sur, required another reroute. Instead of seeing the ocean, we were to leave Carmel Valley, ride through King City, ride up to Hesperia Hall and then turn around an come home. Not picturesque. Not even pretty. But the organizers are such fabulously fun and supportive people, we wanted to support the ride.
On the way south Friday evening, Brandon said, “We can do whatever you want this weekend. We don’t have to do this ride.”
Some people may have heard, “Hey hon, I know you’ve been fighting a cold and have had an incredibly challenging few days with me traveling and about to leave on another trip so, if you want to bag this and have some fun instead of digging through a hot double, I’m totally game.”
What I heard:
- “I know you have a cold, so you probably can’t hang.”
- “It’s going to be really hot, so you probably can’t hang.”
- “We haven’t spent enough time on the bike, so you probably can’t hang.”
Evidently, I am a 44 year old woman with the enormous yet fragile ego of a teenage boy. And, when I feel challenged, I do the obvious, I double down.
We rolled out of the hotel at 4am, rode to the start off of Carmel Valley road and began our journey. Beginning in the dark is always a little disconcerting but the coolness in comparison to the 100+ degree temperatures we were anticipating was welcome. Pedaling in the dark with a sky full of stars and packs of coyotes was awesome, if slightly ominous at one point.
|Rolling out at 4:10am - enjoying a chilly start|
|A new day has dawned!|
Our first fifty miles went off without a hitch, seventy was easy but I was definitely suffering some anxiety around Brandon’s constant reminder regarding temperatures exceeding 110 degrees and I had no positivity with which to combat his concerns. I tossed a couple of “At least we’re together” comments out but his response was, “We could have been together somewhere else.”
Somewhere after King City we entered the warm, exposed area that would have us climb to Hesperia Hall. Road temps rose quickly from a comfortable 75 to a less comfortable 90. At the Lockwood stop at mile 90, I opted to break into the ice socks for the big climb. At one point, his Garmin showed a 105 road temp and we took a shade break before we summited. Even with the break, we made great time and pulled into lunch at Hesperia Hall before the food had arrived. Our goal was to ‘cool down’ so we spent awhile sitting before realizing that if the ambient temperature was 100 degrees, cooling off was likely not going to happen.
So we headed back down the hill with fully loaded ice socks. We’d stopped speaking with each other, just pedaling and going to our separate mind spaces.
We pulled into the King City rest stop at mile 134. We’d made it through the heat but neither one of us was having fun. The obvious thing about the tandem: it takes two. Usually this works to our advantage. My biggest struggle tends to be early in the ride (mile 60) when the 200 goal feels so far away. Brandon is incredibly strong here both mentally and physically. He wanes somewhere between 80 and 120 and I’m all too happy and capable of picking up the “This is Fun and We Can Totally Do It” torch. At mile 180 I am all about “getting off the effing bike” and he says amusing things like, “Just sit in honey, I’ve got this.”
But on this day, at mile 134, no one was happy. And I didn’t have the inner fortitude to do a damn thing about it. Brandon made noise about how he wanted to throw in the towel at the first rest stop when he heard the revised 118 degree forecast. And so I imagined that was it, we were giving up. We sat for ½ hour but we got back on the bike because it’s rather challenging to SAG out a tandem. No one was thinking straight and no one was happy so we headed out pedaling together but feeling totally separate into the headwind.
At mile 140, we pulled off into a broccoli field for a stretch and I said, “This sucks.” For hours it was apparent that Brandon was not interested in being on the bike. On top of the regular, rolled down a hill feeling I’d normally have at mile 140, I felt guilty for making him endure something neither one of us was really into.
And so back to that car ride.
When Brandon said, “We can do whatever you want this weekend. We don’t have to do this ride.”
He MEANT, “I don’t really want to do this ride. Neither one of us likes heat and the course doesn’t seem very pretty. Why don’t we ride down the coast instead.”
Yep, married for almost 18 years and sometimes we still need a translator because we don't always say what we mean.
When the tears came, they surprised me. This was not the hardest thing that I’ve done by a long shot. Only after a few minutes did I realize the source of my sadness. I said a couple of years ago I felt that together Brandon and I could do anything. I said it in connection with the tandem but meant it as an allegory for life. And now, this ride was an ‘anything’ and we were not doing it together. We were on the same bike but not together. And it was apparent that headwinds, hill climbs and residual Central Valley heat was not going to bring us together.
I know my role when he’s on the bike and I’m the SAG. I validate his fears and miserableness, gauge whether or not permanent damage is possible, and then talk his ass back on the bike. It’s different when you’re both on the bike.
I didn’t desperately want to finish, I desperately wanted to feel part of a team. Our team.
“Honey, we do doubles for fun. This isn’t fun,” he said.
And, just like that, we turned around, now with the wind at our backs and headed back to the King City stop. A few miles later, before we reached the stop, we found a SAG vehicle on the side of the road and asked if his truck could cart our tandem. Ironically he wasn’t course support, but supporting his wife who was finishing her 50th double. And, more than ironically, he actually had a tandem rack.
These things felt like the universe letting me know that the decision to bail was the right decision.
Jim West took us to mile 173 and dropped us off near the top of the hill. We rode into the final rest stop, explained that we’d gotten a 30 mile lift and would ride the remaining 30 miles back to the start/finish. Again, no looks of condemnation. No “oh I’m so sorry” from this husband wife crew.
Apparently $hit happens and no one is judging except my own little juvenille psyche.
We rode strong, in the top 20 all the way until we bailed. Could we have finished? Um, yes. Of course we could have. But on a tandem it takes two and riding across a finish line isn’t the same as finishing together.
All in, we rode 175 miles yesterday and, if lives had depended on it, or if it had been critically important to either one of us to finish, we could have finished 203. The reality, in the dawn of a new day, is we didn’t want to finish – we wanted to be done. And, most importantly, we weren’t riding together. So we quit. And then we rode another 30 miles, waved to the finish line and continued riding to the hotel. We racked the bike and headed to dinner.
I still believe together we can do anything but, for me, this thought is idealistic beyond the bike. It encompasses the hard times of life, not just the world of double centuries.
So we quit yesterday – but we quit together.