Early this morning we loaded up bikes, slathered ourselves with sunscreen, grabbed a few water bottles from the refrigerator, and headed out to Sacramento for the Ride Against Hunger. It was easy enough to find the starting point once we left the freeway, since we only had to follow all the other cars loaded down with bikes.
There were a lot of those cars with bikes when we pulled into the little gravel parking lot next to the starting point at the local ballpark. It was rather nice to see that biking is an equal opportunity hobby - people of every age and size milled around, donning bike helmets and checking tire pressures. There were even a few families there, getting ready for the ride.
We joined the long line to check in, got our bright red Ride Against Hunger t-shirts, and then joined the pack just in time for them to count down the send-off for the ride. A man on a motorcycle took up the lead, and the throngs of riders spanned out behind him at whatever speed they felt most comfortable.
The route took us through a few residential streets and then out into the country, eventually meandering along the river. It was a beautiful day, not too hot and not too bright, and while it was occasionally a bit breezy, by the time we reached the first rest stop, where those who were only doing 16 miles could turn around and head back, we had no qualms about continuing on. It wasn't until we reached the next rest stop and started heading back that we realized quite what we were getting ourselves into.
Richard, knowing me far too well, did not tell me that the news was predicting up to 30-mile-per-hour winds today until after we were in the car and on the way home. He did not mention this because he knew that I might have had second thoughts about doing the ride. I'd like to claim indignant superiority and insist that I'd still have done it anyway because it was for charity and all that, but he is, of course, right. I'd have still wanted to do the ride, but I'd have been more likely to want to turn back and only do 16 miles instead of the full 30.
I don't know how fast that wind was actually blowing today. All I know is that if I thought the ride to Woodland and back was bad a few weeks ago, I was completely unprepared for this. That lovely jaunt that wound alongside the river turned into a contest of wills between us and nature on the way back, with the riders doing their best to keep going, and the wind doing its best to blow us off course and into the water. There were times when a particularly nasty gust would hit and it would feel as if I was simply pedaling in place.
We hit that first rest stop on the way back and part of me wanted to stop, grab some water, and maybe collapse on the grass for a few minutes to try to get some rest. But I knew that if we stopped it would only be that much harder to keep going, so on we went.
There were a few hills on the route but the worst was near the end. On the way out, it had seemed ridiculously easy to cross - an overpass with a nice long ramp to the top. Going out, we hit that at about 20 miles per hour and only had a drop a few gears to reach the summit. On the way back, with the wind to the point where I was already at one of my lowest gears, I didn't have many more to drop to handle that hill. Somehow I made it without having to get off and walk, but I'm not exactly sure how.
By the end, it was a welcome relief to see the ballpark looming nearer and nearer and know we were almost done. The route was lined with volunteers who waved bright orange flags to direct us where to go, and shouted words of encouragement. Near the end of the ride, their shouts were simply "Not much further! You can do it!" We thanked them, every one of them, as we rode by.
Yes, it was hard. It was probably one of the hardest rides we've done so far, but somehow we managed, and somehow I am no longer so surprised by what we keep proving we can do. I realized today, once it was over, that each time I cross one of these hurdles; each time we raise the bar for ourselves in distance or difficulty, I am not driven to stop. Instead my first thought (well, first right after I get over the 'oh god my legs are killing me and I can't feel my butt!' thought, that is) is always on what we can... no, what we *get* to do next.