Friday, October 07, 2005

Thanks for the ride guys!

What a day it was! An early 5 a.m. wake up call came and the race was on. Up, shower, shave, down stairs to meet the rest of the guys. Coffee and a biscuit and sausage. Good to go. Nervous energy! Outside is dark, cloudy and windy. We load the van and head over the bridge to Oklahoma. This time I went over the bridge on purpose! We unload, air up tires and put on warm riding gear and have a prayer. It was a very moving heartfelt prayer by John (JVP). Amen and over he bridge we go into Arkansas on our bikes.

We ride through downtown Ft Smith and head toward Van Buren. The wind is blowing and but the daylight is appearing over the hill. I think it'll be a good day for riding. As we go over the river into Van Buren there are these releif girders on the bridge that you have to ride over. I've always been spooked by them a little and that one was open more than any I've gone over before. Rob was leading the line, I'm second with JVP and Paul behind me. Rob bunny hops the girder, no problem. I hop and back tire hits and tube pops. Man, I was bummed. This is way to early in a ride with a new group to have something like this happen. So I look down and sure enough, flat. I tell the guys to go on over and I'll walk the bike (otherwise the rim and tire will ruin) to the other side. That was one long bridge to walk a bike over. Paul stayed back and we got the tube changed and off we go again.

We meet up with Rob and JVP and get going again. Through a beautiful part of Van Buren downtown. Then on out to Alma. We actually stopped at the same light Vince and I stopped at before we turned to head up into the moutains back in the summer. I sat there at the light looking towards the mountains and saying yet another prayer of thanks for that ride in July.

We head on down the road a ways and the rain is light and seems to be off and on. Next stop is Goose Creek at a little mom and pop grocery store. What a great little place! The lady running the store was very friendly and the produce section was really nice for a little store. I say this because the restroom waiting line was close to it. They even had carmel apples as well as apples grown in the area. There was a retired couple that came in and bought some apples and then the lady running the store and the couple went out to a tent on the corner of the lot and came out with 2 watermelons! The tent was the local produce section and those were the last two watermelons of the season. If I'm ever in that area again I'll stop there. Just a warm friendly place on a cool wet autum morning.

We load up on gels, fig newtons and water out at the van in the parking lot and get going again. Psssssss, Paul's turn with a flat. We make a quick change of tubes on the side of the road and off we go. We look to be feeling warmed up and ready for milage.

We get out into the quiteness of the country and get to draft behind the van for a little bit! What a vacation! I could feel the warmth of the van and the draft was the best. We make sure JVP is drafting. Got to take care of the leader man. I could see the five of us working together as a team. I could sense the desire to help make this first leg of the trip as painless as possible for JVP. We all wanted him to get to the other river! Here's what I observed: Rob and Paul were the main pullers. Yes, I did pull but Rob and Paul seriously went the extra mile when it came to pulls (being on the front of the line and cutting through the wind). We kept JVP in the middle as much as we could. The guy rides so incredibly strong at times he would pull us to get the speed back up. I sat on the back end with my screaming lime green wind shirt with a neon orange and yellow safety vest over it. Between that and blinky lights, I was a little hard to miss. Although I was the slowest of the group and the oldest, I felt good being in the back and feeling the job of protector. It was really setting up like a team dynamics of a pro team. Sure, we were far from it, at least I was, but it was looking very organized.

We started climbing a few long hills and I go into my "zone out, don't look up at the top of the hill, just pedal" mode. One thing I learned this summer was that I can ride hills just fine as long as I just watch the road directly in front of me and pedal. Steady good climbs. Not the fastest but conservative climbing. I noticed too a few times that I had to remind myself that our goal was to get JVP to his destination. We weren't touring as in sight seeing. Yes, this was basically a race against time. I wanted to ask him to slow down and notice what is around you. Look out over the valley, notice the birds, just enjoy the ride but it's not really my place so I tell myself to ride as a race not as a tour. And so I do. I did however mention to Rob that I was worried a little about JVP and the speeds we were going. What I wasn't expecting was that he was going to be able to hold level all the way to Cook's Landing. And he does!

Next stop is Altus for a quick lunch of sandwiches. Of course they were the best I'd ever eaten and served by Mike on a platter (ok, maybe it was a top of a cooler but the Food Network would have been proud of the presentation! HA!). Still raining but we are doing good.

As we get close to Clarksville there has been a wreck. A log truck has lost his load on a tilted curve. The truck cab was still upright but the trailer had gone over. My first thought was maybe those flat tires we had had been a blessing of protection? What if we had been on schedule. Where would we had been when the logs came crashing down across the lane we would have been in? Sometimes I really wonder about how events fall in place.

We arrive in Knoxville (Yes, Arkansas not TN) and the air seemed so cold when we stopped. I walked into the c-store and it was warm! Now I usually don't talk about the men's room but this was really nice! It was the work of a local artist that must have sent a couple of days in there. Serious, it was really pretty. The walls had that scrubbed looking faux look or whatever they call it and there were some of the words to the national anthem painted on the walls as well as an American flag. It got my vote for best cared for public men's restroom. HA! There was a guy at the store that was walking to DC with an armed forces agenda. I think he was a vet that had something to say about the war so he was making his point by walking to DC. The others changed clothes and it crossed my mind but my shoes were wet and dry socks would have gotten wet but I was so cold. Onward we go. Feeling good to move again and the rain has stopped! Wind still blowing cross but it's livable.

Next stopp is Russellville. We stop at a Burger King for a moment and then got moving again. I wanted some fries really bad but I knew better! We're riding good once we warm up and continue on to ...

Morrilton. As we were riding along I keep thinking I had been here before and then I saw three green arrows painted on the road. I had been here on my bike before just a month or so ago! It was part of the route for Tour de Oink as part of the Great Arkansas Pig Out Festival. A fun ride. Seeing that gave me comfort.

As we get going our next stop will be Conway. As we are riding along I begin to feel a little tired but that was to be expected. The bad part was that I would ride good then slow down. Catch up and then slow down. I didn't fall back enough to be considered dropped but back enough to make myself start having the mental games happen. I finally heard someone say the word "bonk" and then I knew. As much as I told myself no, I knew I was about to go down. Bonk is what happens when you run out of fuel. It's only happened to me one other time in my riding and it's now happening at the worst possible time. Paul rode up beside the van and called him over. I loaded, feeling completed defeated and we continued. Mike made me feel good about myself and the Pepsi and Snicker Marathon bar restored my energy stores. I was just down from the turn off to Conway.

We stopped in Conway for Rob's wife to pick him up since he had a final exam. He would go to Jacksonville, take his test and return to the ride on the other side of Little Rock. We loaded his bike into the van and go out to find JVP and Paul.

We stopped in Mayflower at the Sonic for a few moments. I played the role of team support this stop refilling Paul's bottles and checking on him. He was sitting on the parking lot with his shoe off. I got out of my comfort zone and asked him if he wanted me to rub the stiffness out of his foot for a moment. There comes a time when you have to do stuff like that for the team. It's just part of it. Paul's toes would not bend at all. I knew he must have been hurting. We fianlly got them moving again and he felt better. Onward...

Funny story: Just before getting to Maumelle there is a line of cars behind us and this car comes on around and honking. I told Mike that the driver better not yell the the riders. He laughed and said, "That was my wife." It was a funny moment!

Mike and I went on up the road a bit and I got out and starting riding with them again. We go through Maumelle and as we got to the road to Cook's Landing I moved out of the pulling position to give it to John to allow him to take the leadership entrance since it was his ride and his church would be waiting. They were happy to see him!

We moved things around and took a few photos and then my Thursday night buds (Yale, Chris, Wayne come riding up finishing their ride. We talk for a few and then we head to Gator's were Terri is waiting to pick me up.

The ride is done for my part. As Mike, JVP and Parick head out into the night to ride across the fields toward Memphis, I say a silent prayer for their safety and well being.

I got home, showered and had Backyard Burger that Terri had picked up for me. Still thinking and praying for the guys. Wondering if Rob had met back up with them.

Later, as I'm laying in bed I'm still in prayer. Please get them there. Zzzzzzz......

3:25 a.m. wide awake and wishing I knew what was going on out there. Wishing I could load up and go help take them to the end. Wishing I had never stopped and came home. Praying for them. Why is there something that seems out of balance? I worry too much!

4:50 a.m.: They are due to finish at 5. JVP is a driven man. Praying he is where he wants to be.

6:35 a.m.: Wake up on the sofa and get up for the day. Still praying and wondering. I realize I don't have anyone's cell phone numbers...

I realize JVP should be at the river.

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