After six weeks of biking my brains out and building up so much anxiety about this physical challenge that I gave myself tummy-aches, I finally completed YSC's Tour de Pink. Yay! If you've been reading this blog (not too late to catch up!), you know that I was very nervous about the ride—not just the mileage, but the elevation gain over the course of three days.
Going into this, I knew it wasn't a race and that I could always get in the sag wagon if I bonked. But I also knew my inner-Olympian (we're all badass in our heads, aren't we?) would never let me quit. I was so ready to cry in pain all the way to the finish line if I had to—but never did I think I'd cry for other reasons.
On the first day of the ride, I was excited to put my pink-trimmed skinny wheels to the test and push myself. Could I keep up with some of the fastest people here?
Yes I could. In fact, I was among the first group of riders (there were a 110 participants total) to finish at 2 p.m. that day, which was the earliest time people were expected to arrive at the Marriott hotel, but some finished as late at 5 p.m.
I felt pretty good about that until I realized, “Wait a minute, I'm not here to ride fast—or alone as I did for the last 30 miles of the 65-mile day. Hello, it's about breast cancer, Cristina!” While I did ride with a few survivors and these super-cool guys from The Hershey Company (Tour de Pink's previous sponsor) in the morning, I knew I needed to hang back more and hear stories. Otherwise, I'd be missing the point.
So Day Two, I did just that. I slowed my roll and listened, laughed, and even lost my breath—not from the ride but rather from what some of these survivors or family members who lost a loved one to breast cancer were telling me. I didn't know what to say and, often times, I'm pretty sure I said (and did) the wrong thing.
Sorry, Wendy, for saying your brief remission period was “nothing;” what I meant was “Wow, your bout was so recent and you're doing so well!” And my apologies, Karen, for pedaling away from you just moments after you confessed that you've never ridden alone before. Can you believe that the sweet South African thanked me afterward for helping her overcome her fear of going solo? I feel like such a doofus.
It was difficult to find the right words and actions to express how much these women impressed and inspired me. And as much as I'd like to think I slowed down to ride with them, I was definitely huffing and puffing to keep up at times.
Emily, you're a machine! I'll need to train harder to maintain your pace; Cathy and Belin, I'd loved to do the Tour de Pink East and West coast rides back-to-back with you; Lois, one of my fave moments was watching you zoom down a bridge right past me with a huge kid-like grin; and Jennifer, I totally get why you preferred riding alone to deal with your recent scare that your cancer had returned. The open road can be very cathartic.
On Day Three, I had my pick of cycling buddies. One hundred and ten new cycling buddies, to be exact. I tried to see as many of them as I could at the starting line because I knew once the hills hit, we'd all spread out. And when we did, I was back to riding alone. But unlike Day One's solo section, I welcomed it as a time to reflect (like Jennifer) on my experiences building up to this ride and the actual event itself.
When I first agreed to take on this assignment, it was all about biking for me. But it turned into so much more than just spinning my wheels. As Lisa Frank pointed out in an earlier blog post, it was about the survivors who could ride and those who couldn't. It was about the families keeping the memories of their lost loved ones alive. It was about all the young faces in the crowd who never expected to get diagnosed at their age. At my age! It was also about someone close to my own heart.
The night before our last day, my great aunt passed away at age 96. Tia Lola had lived a long, good life and even survived a brief stint with breast cancer herself. I thought a lot about her during the last 53 miles and found myself getting choked up while my strong legs kept pushing the pedals up and down in a rhythmic and soothing way.
This extraordinary experience brought to light something that has always blown my mind: We, humans, are freakin' resilient as hell. We can handle more than we think, whether it's breast cancer or biking 200 miles.