Yesterday was the Tour de Long Valley, an annual bike ride for charity in my New Jersey hometown. The organizers offered three courses: a 60-miler, a 40-miler, and a 20-miler. My sister and I registered for the 20-miler, which was advertised as “a nice scenic route with a few hills.” We figured we could handle that, since we do sprint-distance triathlons with 16-mile courses plus swimming and running. No, we don’t usually ride on hills, but it was just a few according to the course description. And 20 miles is only 4 miles more than we usually ride. How hard could it be?
Our first inkling that we were in trouble came around mile 5. The entire first 5 miles of the course was hills. Not go-up-a-hill-and-then-ride-the-flat-terrain-while-you-catch-your-breath-type hills, but instead constant, rolling hills where you are either ascending at work-those-calves angles or descending at a coasting speed upwards of 30 miles per hour.
Our brains, at that point, were still capable of logic and reason. We figured that maybe the organizers mapped this part of the course in the beginning so that we’d get it out of the way and could ride a little easier for the remaining 15 miles.
This thinking was as optimistic as our belief that our thighs would be a consistency other than hardened spackle at the end of the day.
The course next became a psychological torture test of small hills followed by medium hills followed by hills so steep that we, along with a good number of other riders, were walking our bicycles up to the summits. The first time I had to dismount and walk—the first time that’s ever happened to me in an event—I felt a little silly and thought, “It’s okay, it’s just one hill.” By the fifth or sixth time I was walking in an uphill parade of exhausted participants, I realized that perhaps the organizers were sadistic lunatics.
We did have a chance to back out around mile 12.5, when the course looped us past the parking lot and our car, but we soldiered on, not wanting to be quitters. I’m pretty sure that ludicrous decision is why it took me 15 minutes to straighten my knees and stand upright this morning. Well, that plus the fact that the organizers mapped out a course that ended with one of the steepest climbs I’ve ever seen. The participants pushing their fancy race bikes up that monster looked like a scene out of the Trail of Tears. I made it maybe a tenth of the way up before conceding to gravity. I heard my sister give in right behind me, framing the moment in the vernacular she uses at work in the emergency room. “That’s it,” she called out for all to hear. “Time of death: 11:52 a.m.”
The finish line was just a few hundred yards from the top of that last hill, and everyone including me climbed back onto their bicycles to ride triumphantly toward the waiting crowd of cheering friends and family. Hey—we did technically finish the course. Nobody who stood around all morning eating free bagels had to know how much limping was involved out there.
My sister and I cruised across the finish line at about the same time. For the previous 10 miles or so, she’d been randomly shouting things like, “You are no longer my sister!” and blaming me for registering us for this event in the first place. “Never again!” she’d cried out around mile 15.5. And yet I watched her cruise across the finish line and past the young kid in a volunteer T-shirt holding out a medal for her to wear around her neck. Her eyes lit up like Carrie Bradshaw’s at a Tiffany sale.
“This is a really nice medal,” she said. “Maybe we should do this again next year.”