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Friday, September 2, 2011

PBP: The Preparation

Montaigne...Villaines...Fourgeres....Tinteniac....Loudeac....Carhaix.....Brest:  the exotic names of  controls ring through my mind like a dream as I begin to make my preparations to depart and begin to plan on what to do to maximize my chances of success once I get there.  Nervousness curls itself around me like a serpent, slithering into my dreams and haunting odd moments when my mind is free. Despite many rounds of wrestling with myself about whether or not to once again attempt to conquer this course,  I have qualified and registered and I am off to Paris. Once again I will test myself,  physically and mentally. My husband does not understand this desire and has often asked why I need to do these things, but he has come to accept that it is something I seem to need to do for whatever weird psychological reason; it is part of who I am and who I am is who he loves.  If I could help him understand I would, but alas, it is something I cannot understand myself.

"You know, it's not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls.  It's the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never
have to fear the truth, that ultimately there is someone who loves our very being."  Fred Rogers

My husband's opinion that I should go yet again because otherwise I would always regret it was one of the reasons that helped me decide to register. I am lucky to have such love and wisdom in my life. I am fortunate that he loves me enough to allow me freedom, not only allows it but recognizes my need for it and encourages it. Some couples do everything together and there is nothing wrong with that, but while I enjoy our time together and wish endlessly that he was well enough to bicycle, I need my alone time.

"Make no little plans; they make no magic to stir men's blood and probably will themselves not be realized.  Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die." (Daniel Burnham). 

I begin to plan to alleviate my nervousness.  I think that success at most endeavors is partially due to planning and partially due to luck,  and I wonder if it becomes more so as we age. I ask myself if I feel that much older than I did four years ago.  Indeed, sometimes I have to do the math to tell people my age.  It just seems so meaningless other than as a determiner for when I can retire.  I wonder to myself if this is some strange dodge to delude myself that I can do this yet again.  I am four years older than I was at the last PBP, and it was so very hard four years ago.  I have done enough distance sports to have learned never to say never again at the end of an event when the pain is still fresh and tauntingly looking you in the face, but still I am surprised that I am once again challenging myself for I still remember the looks on faces and in eyes around me and I remember the feeling of complete and total exhaustion.  Oddly enough, however, despite my aching seat and weary limbs and mind, something inside me knew I could go farther if it was demanded.  Humans are like that, never knowing what they can accomplish if they don't give up and quit. I suppose what I am saying is that most long rides are as much about conquering the minds desire to quit as they are about the bodies weaknesses. I smile thinking that long rides are like childbirth: the struggles dim with time or the human population would have ceased to be many years ago.  But giving birth the second time was easier than the first, so maybe this experience will be easier if I incorporate changes to reflect the changes I know will help me to ride smarter.  I find myself making the mental changes needed to complete endurance events, the minimization of the effort.

Approximately 750 miles on a bicycle in less than 90 hours sounds ridiculous and unobtainable, but I did it once so perhaps it lies somewhere within me to do it again.  So many people have given me advice and encouragement to help me succeed:  Dave King, Bill Pustow, Packman, Eddie, Steve Rice, and many more. To prepare mentally, I will begin to minimize the century rides I am doing mentally telling myself that it is only a short 100 milers. Occasionally I gaze at my wall to the shadow box in which my last PBP medal hangs confirming success. I have won many awards through the years in different sports, but this medal is the only one I taken the time to display properly. Normally I try to look at past accomplishments in the light of advice from one of Adrienne Rich's poems, "Love what you do, Not what you have done." The others hang from nails or on dressers or are in drawers or have been lost.

I grin thinking of Johnny Betrand's kindness in sending me the medal set to go with the PBP medal. His kindness meant as much as the medal itself. Sometimes we have friends that we don't realize have befriended us. Those unexpected and undeserved acts of kindness often mean the most. As I think of him I am suddenly back on my bike in a nameless village in France in the middle of the night, alone and tired and wondering what I have gotten myself into despite the cool sweetness of the damp night air. Suddenly mixed with the sound of gentle rain on rooftops and roads,  I hear the clear sound of whistling wafting through the air as sweet as an after dinner wine embracing me like a warm hug and somehow I know it is Johnny. While I don't know him well, I am somehow comforted and the night seems friendlier. There is someone I know, however, slightly, here sharing this moment even though he does not know that I listen. I feel almost as if I am shamelessly eavesdropping, entranced by what I am hearing yet unable to turn away. I am comforted and know I can continue to ride.

Now I wonder to myself if I can ride all those miles again.  One friend recently asked me what I fret so when I do so many long rides not understanding that it is not just the distance, but the increased weight on the bike and the resistance of the hub generator powering the light.  The crowds at controls steal your sleep time, and I will be lucky to get eight hours sleep in four days of riding.  And then there is the terrain where it seemed I was always going up or down a hill.  "Will I shame myself if I fail," I think, and decide that I will not.  I have prepared as best I can and will do the best I can.  The shame would be in not making the attempt.  Someone, I can't recall whom, once said,"If there exists no possibility of failure, then victory is meaningless."

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