This past weekend I road my bike 150 miles for the very first time, in the Cactus and Crude MS150, 75 miles on Saturday, and 75 miles on Sunday. It was a transformational experience. I’m not the same guy I was last Friday before the ride. More than 200 cyclists rolled out of the Apache parking lot in Midland at 7:15 AM Saturday morning under cloudy skies and cool breezes. I began in the middle of a huge group of riders, but by the time I crossed the overpass at I-20, I was alone. That wasn’t my intent, and I would’ve had a better day in a group, but I rode by myself for the rest of both days.
The morning miles felt surprising good, until the halfway point when I started feeling nauseous and lightheaded. It was weird, not what I expected. I thought my back and neck would be the first to go, not my stomach and brain. I blamed it on the cold I’d been fighting all week. Maybe it drained more energy than I thought. Maybe I still hadn’t recovered from last year’s cycling crash. Whatever it was, within the next few miles I fell apart.
I felt so bad during the last 30 miles I considered flagging down one of the sag wagons and riding with them to the finish. Emotionally bottomed-out, I was convinced I’d never ride long distance again. I felt my cycling future slipping away. I was a poor excuse for a man, I couldn’t ride, I couldn’t run, I couldn’t hike, I couldn’t love, I couldn’t live. I should sign up for interpretive dance and be done with it.
At least a dozen times I had to pull my bike over to the side of the road to catch my breath and settle my stomach. I would’ve felt better had I rebooted my gut by throwing up, but I couldn’t even make that happen.
The thing is I’m no stranger to suffering in a race. I’ve finished nine marathons so I know I can suffer and keep moving. But this was my first time to fall into an emotional pit this deep.
However, I’ve learned you can’t let bad patches define you. You have to keep moving. Pushing past suffering is a learned skill, and I knew from experience this would not last forever. I also knew I would have the best chance for emotional recovery if I finished the event on my bike instead of in a pickup. So I kept riding.
I finally arrived at the finish in Big Spring at 2:30 PM. I was out for 7-1/2 hours. My rolling time was 5:34, which means I spent a total of two hours either sitting at rest stops or beside the road gasping for breath. The good news was my legs, the one part of me that didn’t fall apart, felt strong and ready for another day.
I finished, showered, put on fresh clothes, and took a nap. My future was clearing. I was nervous about what would happen the next day, but excited to find out. I was coming alive.
My friend, Jeff, suggested that I bonked so completely because I wasn’t taking in enough salt at the rest stops. I think he was correct.
Sunday morning, Day Two, I was anxious about putting my bum on a bike saddle again, but it wasn’t bad as I expected. That was a good start.
We rode north all day, meaning we had a tail wind, meaning I had a serious chance at a better day. And it was significantly better. I was never nauseous and never lightheaded. I was always in control. I was never desperate, even on the extended climbs.
At every rest stop I ate the saltiest snack they had – mostly trail mix, and it was perfect. I tried pickle juice, but decided I’d rather get sick again than drink any more of that.
The volunteers at every rest stop were fun and energetic and helpful. However, I did notice they called me “Sir.” As in, “Can I help you with your bike, sir?” “Would you like to sit in the shade and recover, sir?” “Are you feeling OK, sir?” I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with my aura of authority, but my gray beard and hair.
The last climb of the day wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated. I’d heard stories about the big hill into the town of Post and dreaded it all morning, but I rode right up the hill like a manly cyclist. Even better, after I made the climb, and during the flat portion before the descent into town, I passed a young flatbelly. I blew right past him. It was an excellent moment in my riding career. I was The Comeback Kid.
I finished Day Two at 12:30 PM, a full two hours faster than Day One. My actual rolling time was 4:32, so I took an hour off my cycling time and an hour off my rest-stop time. Part of that was due to a consistent tail wind, but the rolling hills canceled some of that. Mostly I just felt better and rode better.
This was a big weekend for me; a stronger move into cycling. Not only was it my first MS150, but my first ride beyond fifty miles. And in spite of my struggle, I finished hungry for more, with confidence I can do better next time. Every step forward resets your horizon, and I knew I had even better days ahead.
The participants in the Cactus and Crude MS150 raised over $200,000, and I was happy to be a small part of that. It is a gift from God to know that we can change the world doing something we love. Thanks for giving me another turn.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32