They Might Be Giants
“Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is nobel, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth.”
“What giants?” Asked Sancho Panza.
“The ones you can see over there,” answered his master, “with the huge arms, some of which are very nearly two leagues long.”
“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”
“Obviously,” replied Don Quijote, “you don’t know much about adventures.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote
I was on the long straight road heading into the Windmill Climb, the climb which I was most looking forward to. The Giants were so far away, yet so close. It felt like that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Sir Lancelot was running to the castle to save the distressed “princess”– every time the guards looked he was running, never coming any closer.
These windmills, part of the Tehachapi project, represent my futile efforts to conquer the ride. One can’t conquer this race, one must flow, not fight. This is an adventure.
The long, flat, straight lead in to the Windmill Climb is excruciating with its mind numbing scenery of dirt and the random scrub bush or Joshua tree. I found it difficult to appreciate the life happening around me as I suffered into the void. Cross winds strong enough to blow me off the road cause me to ride, at times, at a 45 degree angle to the road. A medium sized bush on the right side of the road provided two seconds of respite from the wind. It was a coming up for air.
My bottle was now empty and my support crew were waiting for me on the Windmill Climb. Another support crew realized I was without mine, and handed me water, refilled my bottle and handed that back up to me down the road. They also offered a Hammer Gel, which I declined because they make me sick, but I did take the banana, although bananas also make me sick. Alas, I needed nutrition.
I finally arrived at the base of The Windmill Climb. Amongst the Giants, my Rocinante and I charged. We rode with fierce determination. We were winning the war. There was little to slow us down but my legs and my lungs, and I rode a steady pace to the top, reunited with my support crew, and feeling blissful fulfillment as I summited the pass and left the climb behind. From here, it was all downhill. Or so I thought. In my mind, the most difficult parts of the ride had passed. My mind was wrong.
The downhill pedal to the finish of my 107 miles was the most excruciating piece of the ride. Although I had battled Santa Ana winds in the face and managed to survive the mind-numbing flats of the high desert, there was more being asked of me and Rocinante. I would have to pedal into the wind, downhill, barely moving. As I was passed on the downhill by all those who I had passed on the climb, I was deflated and ready to quit, I wasn’t sure if I would make it the next 10 miles or so. I was cooked. Thoughts of Milly kept me moving. She died of cancer. How could this experience compare to her pain and suffering. At least I was riding a bike.
My support crew was at a loss, and I asked them to give me encouragement. It was what I needed at this point. I was exhausted, deflated and out of mental strength to continue on. As I pulled in to the stage end point, I was desperately ready to get off of the bike. I changed, took some Green Tea, and proceeded to refuel my body. I was beyond eating after the heat, the wind and the miles. Noah was hitting the road and we had to take off. I lay down in the back of the van to sleep.
I don’t remember the exact turn of events, but after a few minutes, I was rushing to the window to expel every piece of food and liquid I had just consumed. After 7 hours and 15 minutes on the bike, my body decided laying down in the back of a moving mini van was not the optimal way to recover. This meant I would have to be in the front seat, looking forward through the windshield and trying desperately to re-nourish my body. As Laura and I switched back and forth from font to back, I continually had to revisit the window and puke my guts out as the van moved along behind Noah. Noah hammered and gave us a great time, and as we pulled in to the brightly lit Shell station, the turnaround, it was my turn to get back on my bike.
A mere four hour recovery after over 7 hours on the bike felt worse than any 24 hour mountain bike race I had ever done. With no calories and no hydration in my body, I would have to ride 70 miles or about 4 hours in the dark of the desert night. I grabbed a King Size Snickers and a few Coca-Colas and was on my way. I ate the Snickers bite by bite, thinking of my rice cakes and other real food the entire way. I drank the Coke, thinking of my Skratch and how much healthier it was for me. All reason was gone from my body and my mind had to acquiesce to its demands. Some knee pain was slowing me down ever so much, but I kept pedaling. I kept thinking of Milly.
I was in the zone on the climb through Randsberg and settled in for the remainder of the ride. The black night smelled of cold dirt. The sweat trickled down my back, but it felt great. The stage end arrived sooner than expected, and I was happily off the bike and in the van for the final leg of the race. This time I would sleep without issue as Noah pedaled our team into second place in our age group and third place overall.
The Persian Onager emerged at the end of the race, a little bruised, a little beat up, but nonetheless, in one piece and all for Milly.
Milly was unable to race this race on her own, but with us, her team, she finished in great style. Thank you to Noah Kanter for your strength and energy. Laura for your support, love, making my tea and especially for trading seats with me non-stop all night. And Ron Matty, Chef extraordinaire, coach and loyal crew. You all made this an amazing weekend.
We love you Milly!