“I Wrote a Check My Body Couldn’t Cash”
April 23, 2010
Total mileage: 349
Last Saturday was quite a beautiful day. The birds were singing, the sun was shining, and the sky was blue. Tiny white flowers dotted the lush green grass by the roadside in Pottawatomie County, but no one could see them because they were being flattened by my back. Not only the flowers were getting crushed; my spirit was taking a beating, too, with eleven miles to go and a stiff headwind.
Several hours earlier, we had greeted the morning with about 200 other bicyclists registered to ride the Cabin Fever Challenge, a roughly rectangular route out of Wamego that would take us north, west, south, and finally east. The day had dawned crisp and clear, with a steady north breeze that meant a headwind at the start. But beginning a ride with a headwind isn’t so bad, because typically it means a tailwind at the finish. Plus, the ride was only 50 miles, a nice easy kickoff to the recreational cycling season. Piece of cake.
Husband and I met up with our pal Dave at the first SAG (Support And Gear) stop, about 10 miles into the ride. The three of us are pretty compatible riders and it suits us to stay together, so we filled up our water bottles and headed west on the hilly portion of the route. The really sweet thing about the morning was the fact that so many riders complimented the Sweetpea’s bamboo fenders and its striking color. These good feelings were bolstered by the fact that traffic was light. The ride organizers had done a great job and plenty of sheriff’s vehicles were trolling the route. The three of us had already passed the halfway point when I stopped to photograph Husband and Dave rolling through the Flint Hills.
I caught up with them at the third SAG. It’s a distinctive sound, the crack of a bike tire blowing. Sounds kind of like a gunshot. Every cyclist at the SAG looked down at their tires when they heard the noise, but only one grimaced at what he saw. Poor Dave. Two years ago he couldn’t finish the ride because of a pulmonary embolism, and another year he had two flats. Luckily, at this SAG there was a mechanic who whipped out a spare tube and had Dave’s bike on a stand in a matter of seconds. Mr. Spoked suggested I go on without them, saying they’d catch up when the mechanic’s work was finished.
So it was that I rode alone for about ten miles. The road was pretty flat for the first time all morning, and the Sweetpea and I flew past a number of riders. “Great fenders!” some of them shouted, but by that point the compliment was old hat and I only tossed them a quick thanks over my shoulder. It felt great to finally have a tailwind, or so I thought until I sensed some suspicious cross-gusts. If there was a north wind, why did I have crosswinds while cycling south? As I approached a beautiful old stone church out in the country, its bells began chiming the low, heavy notes of noon. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for cyclists in a headwind.
Just a few yards beyond the church the route turned full east, and that’s when I felt the familiar pushback of a 15-20 mph headwind. All dreams of beating Husband and Dave to the finish disappeared. It was slowgoing to the final SAG, and that is where they found me, slugging back a protein drink. I finished and fell back onto the grass, something I almost never do. As I was lying there, I heard Dave say his legs had 40 miles in them (we were then at 42 miles), while Husband growled, “My butt hurts.” Clearly they were feeling it, too–eleven miles to go and a stiff headwind.
I wish I could say it got better as we ticked off the final miles, but that would be lying. We whined. Husband complained that we’d had a headwind all four directions of the ride. Dave repeated the crack about his 40-mile legs. I tried not to think about the sweet-smelling grass by the side of the road. We finally pushed into the Wamego Middle School parking lot after too many minutes, and as we were hanging up the bikes another rider rolled up next to us. His mouth formed a slack “O,” the universal sign of exhaustion. Before he got off the bike, he spoke the words that are the title of this post: “I wrote a check my body couldn’t cash.” It’s a line from Top Gun, but it’s still a good one. Brother, I feel your pain. But getting the first 50-miler out of the way means the next one should be easier.