It's taken me awhile to find all the words for this. I've never witnessed a bike crash before. I've never come upon people in the road and known that they're my friends. It's a heart-stopping experience, and one I hope to never relive.
But maybe I should start from the beginning, because before it was awful, it was awesome.
At 5am on Saturday morning I was wide awake - before my alarm. My roommate was up too, and she made several cups of coffee while I ate breakfast and tried to calm my nerves. We chatted about the ride, our plans for the rest of the season, and all those other little things people talk about when they'd rather talk than be silent.
Before I knew it, I was dressed and ready to go. We met in the parking lot of the hotel, there were maybe 25 of us chatting and pumping up our tires and hoping to leave on time. We didn't, but the extra few minutes meant that we caught the beginning of sunrise as we rolled towards the start - and I watched the sun bounce off of the rocks that surround Moab.
From start to finish, this ride was beautiful.
The first 30 miles we climbed out of Moab, past the entrance to Arches National Park, and up into Dead Horse Point State Park. The climb was gradual, challenging without being hard, and I felt terrific. For about the first 10 miles a hot air balloon hung over the road ahead of us. It was breathtaking.
As we climbed, and the sun rose, the weather went from a little chilly to just perfect to a little warm. But we kept climbing, and I rolled into the (first) turn around point just in time to jump into a team photo.
Dead Horse Point was the highest point in our ride, and also the most picturesque.
We all goofed around at the point for awhile, taking photos and celebrating the start of a great day.
But what goes up must eventually come down. I wasn't feeling so great (a little altitude queasiness), and that, plus my dislike of steep descents, kept me at the back of the pack. I'm not usually so happy to get dropped - by everyone - on the way downhill, but on this day I'm very thankful that I did. As my team was descending ahead of me, two teammates crashed while crossing a cattle guard.
I've never come upon a scene of a bike crash before. And I was ill prepared to face a teammate - my roommate for the weekend - on the ground. It wasn't until after the ride that I would learn that she was airlifted to a trauma center; that her injuries were severe. All I knew at the time was that she was down, and there was a group calling 911, and some others providing what care they could.
With no help to offer, and help on the way, a coach led a couple of us back out onto the course. We'd ridden about 40 miles, and we still had a long way to go.
Getting back on my bike, while it was the right thing to do, was hard. I was nauseous, I was worried about my friends, and I wasn't really sure how I was going to ride another 60 miles. But I had no choice.The SAG vehicles were about to be full of teammates who didn't finish. I wasn't going to clamor for space because I was freaked out.
The rest of the ride wasn't as much about the beauty and the fun and joy of the day as it was about keeping it together to get to the end. The last 40 miles we were plagued by a lousy headwind. And having never ridden more than 70 miles before, I was unprepared for my feet to go numb and my arms to get so tired. And, at around mile 75, just as I was getting really down, I pulled in behind a teammate who had asked to ride with a photo of my dad. She clipped his photo to her Camelbak, along with photos of all the team's honorees.
And as I saw his face smiling at me, I started to cry. It's hard to cry and breathe and pedal, and I was a little worried that once I really got going, I wouldn't be able to stop. So I started telling this teammate about dad's 70th surprise party, where that photo was taken, and how thrilled he was about that party.
And that conversation got me over my worst slump of the day. Don't get me wrong, the last 25 miles were hard. The wind was ridiculous. And I really wanted to be done. Except that I didn't entirely want the day to end. But eventually - eight hours and about 100 miles later - I had to roll across the finish line.
Our post-ride celebration dinner went on as scheduled, but it was a somber evening. For such a huge accomplishment, it was weird to be so disinterested in celebrating. I stuck around to hug the friend who'd driven 120 miles to be with our teammate at the hospital, but then my day was done.
There are a lot of details of this ride that aren't mine to share, but I cannot overstate what an amazing group of people are on my team. As individuals and collectively, they embody the true meaning of team. They are heroes, and I am so grateful to know them all.