Michele McGuinness - Looking Forward


Yesterday when I got up and went out to stow my bags in the van, I felt funny walking in my clackety bike shoes. And then I got on my bike, started spinning, and suddenly it felt right. As if this is all my legs know how to do now, not walk anymore, just ride.

We had an easy day scheduled, only 42 miles. Isn’t it funny how your perspective changes? I think, 42 miles we can knock that out before lunch. Some days, 40 miles in, snacking on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with 35 miles to go, we joke, “Phew, that’s nothing. Let’s finish this up.”

Such a change from the start of the trip when everything seemed monumental. I used to mark down and look at the temperature, the headwind, the road surface, the elevation gain. I’d worry about what obstacles or dogs might be along the road.

Now I know that no matter where we are, no matter what the road surface; shoulder or no shoulder; debris or no debris, the wind, temperature, rain, elevation, dogs. None of it matters. Shhhh... don’t tell the guides, I’m not even really listening at their map meetings anymore. Because no matter what they say the experience on the road is different.

And if the road has no shoulder, or the surface is bad, or a dog chases us whatever, it will change in a half in an hour. It’s kind of like when I used to live in Chicago and we would say, don’t like the weather? Wait a half hour, it will change.

And it is not even the external stuff, some days it is the internal stuff. Some days my legs feel great, and I’m jumping off the front. Some days it is one of my riding buddies heading off into the distance. My days are filled with these new patterns. One is where I feel great and am flying along. Another is where someone else has found their stride and I can step up my pace and keep up. And then some days, I’m hanging on in the back while my two riding buddies seemingly ride strong in front of me (or so I think, right?)

In the beginning, I had doubts that I could finish, I think we all did. I couldn’t see this far out.

So with my legs still smoothly spinning, we rode straight east into, you guessed it, a headwind. For good measure add ominous, dark clouds. Our rain gear was stowed in our packs on our bikes. There was a 90% probability of heavy rain and thunder storms starting at nine or ten. The guides the night before had briefed us (again) on the “what to do if there is thunder and lightning.” And ok, I tried to listen to that, but it is like the fifth time I’ve heard this speech (oops I almost said lecture). And we got this.

Twenty-two miles done before nine in the morning. We press on. The headwind is pushing at us consistently. I hate the way the wind blows and blows by my ears. I feel slow. The last few days we have all joked, “are my brakes rubbing? Do I have a flat? Why am I so slow?” But it is the wind and the only good thing I can say is that fighting headwinds makes us stronger.

Then the rain started, quickly and hard. We soaked through before we find a spot (on this road with no shoulder) to dart off and pull on rain gear. It is a warm soft rain, no thunder, no lightening. Cars and trucks go by and spray water on us.

At 32 miles we turn onto 193 towards Dauphin Island, Alabama. We bike across a four mile causeway with a 20-25 mph crosswind, I hunker down and fight as it tries to push me sideways. At least it is not consistently raining, just spitting. Then we turn east onto a 4 mile long, high bridge. The crosswind turns into a brutal headwind and a downpour. See, wait 30 minutes and it changed. I slipped further back from the two women in front of me. My legs just didn’t have it.

My buddies waited at the end of the bridge. Soaking wet, we biked onto the island and waited out the rain (and for our hotel rooms to be ready) on the covered porch of a bakery. Warm cinnamon rolls and hot coffee. All the riders arrive, wet, cold, laughing, sprawling across half the porch. Bikes lined up alongside.

The conversation wandered to the rest day: beach walking, birding, paddle boarding. We are stronger now. In the early rest days there were nerves and talk of the next day and the tough ride on the schedule. There was only laundry, stretching and bike cleaning. We have moved beyond to laughter and adventure.

Nothing stopping us now. Just nine more days of riding until we get to St. Augustine. I can see the end from here.

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About MJM
The adventure begins. I'm preparing to bike across the United States. 3100 miles in 50 riding days. Come along with me...while I train, wander and search for chocolate.