I didn't complete the 64.2 mile course of the Boston Brain Tumor Ride on Sunday, May 15. I did 55.
Before I relate what happened, let me say that I was more than a little nervous about the ride. There was the sheer distance, which freaked me out. There was my bike, which I have never liked, with its light, sleek, and unstable frame; the clipless pedals, which I had never quite mastered; the spindly tires. There was the weather: low-50s cool and impossibly windy. And the first 20 miles: my legs felt stiff, my body sluggish; my bike jounced wildly on the rough, rutted roads. What was I thinking? I asked myself. Could I still turn around?
Then, something clicked. For the next 25 miles, it was glorious. I was flying down hills, coasting up them. I was growing stronger and stronger. All at once, it seemed possible. My team was feeling it too. As we took to the roads after the last rest stop within 20 miles of the finish, our captain Amy Stevens had three words of encouragement for us. LET'S DO THIS.
So we did. At least for 10 miles. Until I heard someone calling out my name. I had missed a turn. The wind had blown down a sign. Or had it? Six of us found ourselves standing on a highway, tantalizingly close to the finish, with no idea how to get there. Siri was of no help. Nor was Google Maps.
Finally, we settled on a route that hugged the Interstate. It was unconventional, to be sure, but whatever. We'd get there. So off we went again, our little band, riding for those we knew and loved, whom we had watched suffer, riding so fewer would have to suffer as well.
Then came a loud pop like a gunshot. It was my back tire. It had blown out. And then it dawned on me. The ride was over. I would not complete it.
I felt downtrodden. I felt as if I had let a lot of people down. I did on the drive home and later that afternoon when I unpacked my bags.
And then last night it struck me. What happened wasn't so different from how people navigate any kind of illness or struggle. You start off feeling fragile, a bit uncertain of your bearings, without a clue as to what lies ahead. And then you just do it. You go. There are transcendent stretches, when you feel more alive than you have ever been. And then there are forces entirely out of your control that trip you up on your way and leave you on the side of the road, frustrated, dispirited, defeated.
And then what? You don't give up. You find a sturdier bike that suits you. You find thicker tires. You try another course. You try again because each time you try, the better the chance for kinder weather. It's the trying that matters, that makes us who we are, no matter what happens next.