On a Saturday training ride this past February, we were asked to ride for Mimi, a woman battling cancer. We wrote her name on our legs and took some photos. A few days later, we were told that she had seen the pictures, smiled and cried – and then passed away the following day.
On the days when I would wake up cranky from lack of sleep and stiff from miles on the bike, I reminded myself of Mimi, a woman who I had never met before but whose life I was somehow able to touch. If my biking from Texas to Alaska can bring a smile to someone on their last day, it’s worth it.
It’s been about a month since my teammates and I crossed the finish line in Anchorage. Within the next two days, I reversed 70 days of biking with 7 hours of flying on planes. I also made a dramatic switch in lifestyles. I am no longer wandering about the continent from town to town, living out of a 60 L (questionably sized) duffel bag. I no longer have to fight with more than my siblings for the bathroom in the mornings and at night. I am no longer biking hours on end for a cause that I love.
The majority of my days have felt rather mundane. My two biggest accomplishments have been finally clearing up the floor of my room (don’t ask me about the living room now though) and cooking a single meal (with lots of assistance).
When I first arrived back home, my mom asked me multiple times to tell her about the ride: stories from it and my own thoughts about it. The best I could do was pull up photos of scenery on my phone and talk through the different memories that they sparked. But how could I tell her about those moments that weren’t captured on camera – what it felt like to climb mountains, to see the ocean roaring below us, to bike under the stars, to gaze up at so many different colorful skies? How could I tell her about watching the 2016 team’s videos with our hosts in Henderson, hearing a host’s voice crack while telling us that seeing us each year in Wasilla is like seeing his wife again?
You really don’t appreciate the things that you have until they are gone. That’s one thing I still need to work on – being present in the moment. If there’s one thing that I would change about the ride, I’d try to spend less time looking forward to the next time I got to shower, do laundry, and sleep. Sometimes it’s okay to take a little longer at a rest stop if you’re being crowned the Queen. Sometimes it’s okay to stay up until 3 AM listening to the Kimi no Na wa soundtrack and journaling with one of your best friends.
The best way I can describe life after the ride is that it’s like waking up from a vivid dream. The more you’re awake, the less real the dream feels and the less that you remember.
It’s in the little things that I am reminded of Texas 4000. Randomly craving PB&J sandwiches. Being hyper-aware of Kind bars while grocery shopping. (Did they launch a world domination campaign while I was distracted with biking? I see them everywhere now: ads in magazines, displays at my local Costco and HEB.) Listening to “Everytime We Touch” when it comes on shuffle. Driving down roads that I once biked multiple times a week to meet miles requirements. Cleaning out my desk and finding a small stack of index cards with faded highlighter and my training ride turn-by-turns. Listening to the rain. Taking a moment to look up at the sky.
A few days ago, I scrolled back on my messaging history with my best friend from Texas 4000.
We met as mutual friends at the beginning of Spring 2017. Due to similar schedules, we went to many of the same weekday workout sessions, and we messaged each other to meet up to walk to them. We dropped off communication over the summer, but after the second meeting in the fall semester, I messaged him my thoughts on applying to be a Ride Director – and ultimately opened a door to a conversation that would deepen our friendship.
We ended up completing many significant milestones together. We rode our first terrifying 10 miles together. We passed our half century test (with three minutes to spare) together. We passed our century test (in a three person group; shoutout to Tarika!) together. We rode Day 0 and ATLAS together.
And then we took off on separate routes on Day 2. Although it felt strange to be going through this momentous journey without him by my side, I knew that he was always just a text message away (except for in Canada where I had no service!)
One of the best things from my Texas 4000 experience was becoming friends with Louis. I’m excited for the 2019 team to start building friendships and making memories; I hope that at least one person is able to find their Louis this year.
Every week you go farther, climb higher, and find out you are capable of doing more than you thought you could. What will you find out this week?
During the training year, we received weekly emails about our Saturday rides; this note appeared at the top of one those emails at the end of March. Thinking of these two simple sentences has pushed me through the toughest rides at the end of training and even through the summer ride itself.
My next Alaska is still to be determined, but whatever it is, I look forward to finding out what more I am capable of doing.