It really was a self-dare. Sure, it started out as a way to celebrate my friend Heather's birthday, who wanted to spend part of it biking over Portland's 10 bridges in an epic annual ride called the Bridge Pedal... but for me, it was really a self dare. Go ahead, Leah. I DARE you to even attempt to ride a bike for more than 5 miles. I dare you to fork over thirty dollars so that you can haltingly move across the city that has a great bus system instead for you to utilize. I dare you to... exercise.
So, after spending the last two days moving my house (up and down 3 flights of stairs), and then helping my friend move into her new place, after collapsing into a half set up bed surrounded by boxes, I set my alarm for 5 am.
You see, the ride started at 7, and I had to bike about 20 minutes to even get to the starting place where I was meeting up with my friends to bike for the next 3 hours. By the way, haven't yet mentioned that every person in Team Awesome were legit cyclists, have I? Oh yeah. Well, they are.
Immediately I recognize that I'm a smidge out of place. First off, I'm in jeans. Yup, jeans. Next, I realize my helmet is on backwards, so I turn it around. Wait, was it on backwards? Ugh. I just don't know. Third, I failed to bring my registration paper, so I have to stand in line to get my 10 bridge sign trying to utilize my iphone to show that I had an email somewhere regarding this race. Things are just gonna get real good from here on out, I can feel it.
My friends arrive, and we laugh about our plans for the day. I let them know ahead of time that I am not a biker, and thus they can leave me anytime they want to actually pedal at a competitive pace. A few kindly tell me that they are just gonna go slow because they're not really big bikers either. Yeaaaaaahhhhh, right.
We're off! At first, the ride is great because we're basically walking our bikes. There must be thousands of people at this race and hundreds of us are now stuck going down the on-ramp to the freeway. people people everywhere. Totally crazy. I"m excited because this is about the speed I can handle. But, then the crowd spreads out, and the pace picks up. It's not too bad... until we see an ambulance, a bike splayed out on the road, and a large looming question that hovers like fog in the air as we ride past. What happened? Did someone get hurt already? Am I next?
However, the freedom of breaking away from the crowd was intoxicating. Being on the freeway without cars was liberating. The pure adrenaline of realizing I was in Portland, with Portland, doing something that WAS Portland was energizing. Well, at least for the first bridge. Boy, that first hill kinda sucker punched me, but I made it through. Some of my friends were still around me at this point, trying to have some meaningful conversation with each other-- I was trying to breathe. I begged them to go on without me. Don't feel bad for me; really. It was worse that they were witnessing my inner couch potato.
The first rest stop came up fairly fast. I was, but wasn't, ready to stop just yet. And they were serving donuts. UGH> who in the world would put that crap in them while they were trying to bike? And as I said this, I looked up to see 2 of my friends scarfing down glazed and pink iced pastries in front of me, while behind them scores more were double fisting the delicacies. I headed for the free bananas, and had one of those, along with a water break. I met up with a group of guys I had met earlier who were sporting Swiss shirts. We struck up another friendly conversation, this time on feet. It was a good break, but I still had 8 more bridges to go, and that was going to take some time.
Being on my own was nice. No pressure to stifle my asthmatic breathing, no reason to force myself to stay ahead of that unicyclist. Go ahead, man with one wheel. I'm not intimidated--I'm STILL UPRIGHT ON THIS BIKE! that's enough victory for me.
Uphill was always rough. My thighs were quivering with the abuse they've been handling in the past 72 hours. My bike was in the lowest gears possible, and I had to keep telling each foot to just keep going. During these moments, my mental state was this: You can go slow, just don't stop. You can go slow, just don't stop. It felt good to know I was still moving, even if one had to watch for a full 45 seconds to see me rotate my wheels... it felt good, that is until I saw a seven year old soar past me up the hill on their 1 speed. That's okay, Leah. Just keep moving. I look over, and here comes two kids pedaling around their mom who is biking while pulling a tent with a third kid in it. And yes, they all pass me... oh brother. What they didn't know is we were approaching the other side of the bridge which was all downhill-- and i wasn't going to touch my brakes. hahahahahahah! who's fast now Toddler Tommy?
By the time I made it to the next rest stop (near the 7th bridge, I was first in line to get the free cookies. I would have had donuts too... and yes, I'll take that free root beer--THANKS! Sugar was my new friend. It was my hero, the only way I was going to stay on the bike for the last bridges. Gone were my feelings of disdain towards 'unhealthy' foods. These people knew what they were doing! I scarfed them down and psyched myself up for the last few bridges. I knew I had the one biggie left--The St. John's. I used to cross that via bus every day on my way to tutoring, and the hill to that was so steep that the massive engine of public transportation slowed considerably trying to catch its own breath. I couldn't imagine what I would do, but I was determined to attempt it. I pedaled and pedaled and pedaled up Hwy 26, following the other 10 bridgers in front of me. I turn a corner, and look up. What? Is that the finish line?? did I do it? did I actually make it to the end??!! Oh sweet delirium--it's all over! I almost weep for joy, until I realize this isn't right... Where was the St. John's bridge?
Later I learned that those who didn't make the 'time cut' were redirected away from the St. John's. Boy, were a lot of people mad. Me? i was grateful because I was spared from biking that monstrosity and it wasn't because i wimped out... it was because i had had no choice.
After getting my free juice, popsicles, and Cliff bars at the finish line, I immediately got in line and signed up for a year of ZipCar membership.
This biking is for the birds.
(ha... just kidding-- i really had such an amazing time, and felt epic after completing over 30 miles of Portland bridge terrain!)