“One day, this will be pleasing to remember” says the quote firmly stickered to the top of my stem. Wise words indeed, if I can remember why I put them there – neck deep in lactic acid, kilometers clicking by, drawing steamy summer air through what feels like a straw, atop some faraway mountain, several stages already into what might prove to be the collective hardest thing I’ve ever attempted. The above being a worst-case scenario, along with saddle sores, chamois woes, torched tendons, dehydration and utter despair a close second. That’s what the fear and magnitude monsters want me to believe. What I expect to experience…no, what I demand of the experience, is a slow moving landscape, rolling friendships, toothy grins and the occasional secretly shed tear. “Are you ready?” is the question of the day from customers and friends, every hour of the day for the last few at least. How can you ever be ready? Does one ever head to France ready? That’s right, France. A great big bike ride. The biggest (one could claim) or at least the most recognizable. Six months ago I got the hair brained idea to ride the entire Tour de France route. It wasn’t entirely my fault. I saw a random re-Tweet announcing dwindling availability to ride the 2016 tour with a charitable organization from the UK called Tour de Force. In exchange for the privilege of a fully supported adventure, participants agree to a fundraising minimum per stage. That sounded fair. So off-the-cuff I mentioned to my husband (and co-conspirator of Veloville USA, our bicycle and coffee shop in Virginia) that I was going to leave him in charge for the summer and go on an adventure. To which he replied, “You go, I go.” Swiftly moving thumbs and two confirmation e-mails later, our fate was sealed.
Turns out, riding is going to be the easy part. Fundraising is hard. It’s the most uncomfortable thing, asking people for their hard-earned money so that you can ride your bike. The tricky part was separating the act from the purpose so donors felt they were supporting an actual cause. I’ve made missteps in selling the story, the raison d'etre of it all. Maybe I didn’t work hard enough to explain why it matters, why supporting a charity in the UK versus the USA was important. On the most basic level, Tour de Force exists solely to raise money to support the William Wates Memorial Trust. The Trust, to be incredibly succinct, supports disadvantaged and underprivileged youth by funding surprisingly relevant projects. Art, culture, education, sports. And of course, bicycles. For example, they just finished building a BMX track in the UK to provide an outlet for community youth to engage in a positive, fulfilling pastime. In essence, they are providing an option…this (bicycles) or that (shenanigans). In a world that currently feels very raw and frighteningly vulnerable, supporting this kind of organization made sense to us. We are all connected. Bicycles have done so much to change my life. It felt like a very small thing to hope that bicycles could change someone else’s life too, and by changing their life, thereby collectively change the world.
Even before the first pedal stroke, this trip has been life changing. It feels cliché to say, “I’ve learned so much”, but to say anything else would be wasting words. I’ve felt every emotion known to humankind, sometimes an overwhelming mixture of them all. Mostly anxiety and not a small amount of fear. But that’s all I’m going to say about it because the fact is, this ride is going to be hard. It’s going to hurt physically and emotionally. I’m going to cry and curse and probably yell at my husband for no good reason. I’ll want to throw my bike off some annoyingly beautiful post-card mountain pass that totally just made me get off and walk and which completely bruised my delicate pride (anyone posting it on Instagram will be unfriended for life). And so enters my self-appointed mantra, “one day, this will be pleasing to remember”. Because it will. Each moment, each turn of the cranks, each labored breath, each bite of food, each morning I wake up with tired legs and a battered ego will be a cherished fraction of time that I feel very fortunate to have. I’ve finally learned to let go of the urge to burn through my book of matches. This isn’t a Strava segment and neither is it a race. I’ve got nothing to prove, except to myself, and all I care to do is finish under my own power on my own bike with my best riding buddy by my side. From kilometer 0.1 to the red kite in Paris, I just want to remember the world as it goes by…slowly… and on two wheels.
www.tourdeforce.org.uk (Ride Organizers)