Girl Standing on a Street Corner

 

 

There I was standing on a street corner waving in the men.

Yep, that’s what I was doing on a beautiful Saturday in March. How did I get there? Let’s go back in time to November.

 

In November, I surprised my husband with a birthday gift: a new Specialized Diverge. He had been drooling over them for some time, but other life expenses had kept the bike on the wish list instead of putting it in the stable. This fall I was able to take the bike off the wish list and put it in the stable. Once he had the bike; he, of course, wanted to do gravel rides. He took the bike out and did a few rides including Dirty South #1 – Rend Lake Edition.

 

Dirty South Gravel Rides

 

After struggling to complete the Rend Lake ride, Jeff became interested (obsessed?) in the Dirty South Roubaix 100K+. He talked about it. He trained for it. He prepared for it. He talked about it. He talked about it. Did I mention he talked about it? I heard a great deal about this race. I didn’t mind. His excitement and enthusiasm was endearing.

 

So he trained and talked about the upcoming race and I listened. I listened to his plans and made plans of my own. I planned on going to the race, maybe sitting and reading my Kindle, enjoying a massage from one of the therapists from Stress Knot Massage who were scheduled to be at the event, and then see Jeff cross the finish line. That was my plan.

The Bike Surgeon

I don’t remember why Jeff needed to go to The Bike Surgeon of Carbondale. Maybe it was a tire. Maybe it was an adjustment on the new bike. I don’t remember the reason, but we arrived there to find Pat Work also making plans for the race. Pat was as excited to be involved with hosting the race as Jeff was to be riding in it. They began chattering and I half-listened as I watched the local color of Carbondale stroll past the shop windows. Suddenly, Pat turns his attention to me and asks, “ Are you going to be there?” What? Where? Are you talking to me? Seriously dude, I was zoned out. He is looking at me with his intense stare awaiting an answer. “Ummm, yeah, I’ll be there getting a massage,” I reply.

 

“Great!” Pat replies, “I’ll have you probably be at a corner…”  He continues talking, and I hear my plans change.

 

What? Work? When did I say I wanted to work? OK, sure.

 

So we left The Bike Surgeon and headed home.

 

Over the next few days, I spent time with a family member who was undergoing some medical issues while Jeff trained for his event. We met on Friday afternoon at Touch of Nature, a summer camp which is part of Southern Illinois University located on Little Grassy Lake. The race was, in part, a fundraiser to build mountain bike trails at the facility. I expected to see a good number of cyclists staying at the lodge.

 

I drove down the tree lined drive to the lodge and pulled into the parking lot to see my husband’s car parked in the empty lot. Jeff and I were the only two people staying in the lodge. It would be amazing to have the place to ourselves . . . Just two crazy kids staying at an abandoned summer camp. Isn’t this how all the horror films start?

 

My husband had arrived first and checked us in. The room was large, but basic; something akin to a dorm room or a motel room from the 1950’s. There were 2 standard beds without headboards, a wooden desk, a wooden chair, a mini-fridge and a microwave. There were several lamps in the room with low-watt light bulbs. There was a small bathroom with basic fixtures. It wasn’t fancy or luxurious, but it was serviceable and clean. There was plenty of room for a bike and gear.

 

We made ourselves at home in our room and Jeff made his preparations for the morning.

 

The next morning we awoke, dressed and headed toward Alto Pass, Illinois. We drove through Giant City State Park, then through Makanda as the sun sparkled through the trees. It was only the beginning of March, but it felt like May.

Jeff and T

Photo courtesy of Matt Gholson: Barn Door Cycling

We arrived in the small town of Alto Pass to find the main street swarming with cyclists. We were adding around 100 people to the town population of 383. Most of the parking on the main street was taken. We circled the town and found a spot. Jeff began his preparations and I wandered the boardwalk to find registration and see if I could help in some way.

There wasn’t much for me to do, but I lent a hand here and there. Before long it was time to start the race. I must admit to some jealousy. All these people ready to ride and I was standing on the sidelines. It wasn’t that I wanted to do this particular ride. It was rumored to be brutal, but it was a great day for a ride. The sun was sparkling on the riders as they listened to the ride instructions. I gave Jeff a good luck kiss and left him on the street as I headed to the boardwalk to watch the start. The riders took off up the hill and the few spectators scattered to various posts. Suddenly the street was empty and I was left behind.

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I sat on a bench, read my Kindle, helped carry in food, visited the local market, and enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather. After chit-chatting with the ladies in the market, I headed to my assigned corner at the intersection of Highway 127 and Main Street. I was located at the last turn of the race. The riders would turn off Highway 127 onto Main Street and enter the finishing chute. I set up camp which consisted of a lawn chair and a water bottle in a little grassy area and waited.

Teresa

I waited for about 45 minutes before I saw the first rider come up route 127. He was an older man riding slow and looking as though he were hurting. I told him he was the first rider I had seen. He stated he had quit the race. I settled back into my chair and waited for another half hour or so until I saw another bike approaching. This one was moving much quicker. The rider looked strong and confident. I told him he was first and he just smiled at me as he entered the finishing shoot and finished his ride. It was several minutes before the next riders approached. They too, looked strong as they finished.

Jeff Riding

Jeff mid-race. Photo courtesy of Matt Gholson: Barn Door Cycling.

The next hour I spent on my feet signaling riders to make the turn from Highway 127 onto Main Street and talking to drivers about the orange cones in their path. Most of the drivers were courteous with a few exceptions.

hwy 127

 

I saw a few riders I knew including Lee Messersmith and Shon Hargis. I saw more I didn’t know. There were young riders, older riders, men, women and tandems riding past me. More and more riders were finishing. Still, I had not seen Jeff. His goal was to finish the ride. As I counted the riders going past me, I was wondering if he was going to finish. It seemed there weren’t many riders left. The riders were looking more tired as they came in. These were the ones for whom a finish was a victory. The time between riders grew. I waited and waited, but still did not see Jeff. Finally, a rider came into view. It was Jeff. He was riding fairly strong. I found later he had lost a great deal of time to a flat tire. He rode past me and finished the ride. A few more riders finished and then I packed up my lawn chair and drove back into town.

 

Most of the riders stayed for the post-race events. Many of the riders had thanked me for volunteering as they rode past me. I was surprised how many riders made a point of thanking me for volunteering when they saw me later that day. While this was a competitive race, I was impressed with the camaraderie of the riders. It was a very chill group of people.

The End

I have ridden in several (non-competitive) events and relied on other people to volunteer. This was my first time volunteering. I’m glad I had the chance to help and give back to the cycling community. I would definitely do it again. I would also encourage you to volunteer at an event.

 

And that is how I ended up on a street corner waving in the men . . . as well as the women, and tandem riders.

See race results

Have you ever volunteered at a ride or race? Have volunteers impacted your race or ride?

Death of a Butterfly (part 6)

 

THE THYROID IS A GLAND IN THE HUMAN BODY WHICH CONTROLS MANY OF THE FUNCTIONS OF YOUR BODY INCLUDING YOUR BODY TEMPERATURE AND METABOLISM. IT IS LOCATED IN THE FRONT OF THE NECK BELOW THE “ADAM’S APPLE” WRAPPING AROUND THE FRONT OF THE WINDPIPE. IT HAS TWO LOBES CONNECTED BY A THIN PIECE OF TISSUE IN THE MIDDLE GIVING IT A SHAPE SIMILAR TO A BUTTERFLY. BECAUSE THE SHAPE OF THE THYROID IS SIMILAR TO THE SHAPE OF A BUTTERFLY, THE BUTTERFLY HAS BECOME THE SYMBOL OF THYROID DISEASES INCLUDING THYROID CANCER. THIS IS THE STORY OF HOW MY “BUTTERFLY” DIED, HOW I SURVIVED, AND HOW I CONTINUE TO THRIVE. I HOPE MY STORY INSPIRES YOU TO THRIVE.

Losing My Thyroid: Part Six

I had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had two surgeries to remove my thyroid. The summer of 2012 found me recovering from those surgeries and preparing for the next step of my treatment: radioactive iodine therapy (RAI). RAI would serve two purposes: 1. It would enable my team to scan my body for wayward thyroid cells. 2. It would kill any thyroid cells that remained in my body.

My body was tired all the time. I had been through two surgeries and was recovering. I was taking a pill to replace the hormone my thyroid once made. I rode a 16 mile bike ride and attempted a 5k run. I didn’t do well on either and was frustrated. I vowed to keep improving and recovering as I faced the next step in my treatment. I also received loving advice from my support group of friends and family to be patient with myself and to be kind to myself during my recovery.

I approached the next phase of treatment with a mixture of optimism and anxiety. I met with the team in the Nuclear Medicine department and they drew blood to check my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels. Normal TSH is between 1 and 4. If you are under 1 then you have an overactive thyroid. If you are over 4 then you have an underactive thyroid. Mine was 12. I felt relieved.  It explained the sluggishness, the fatigue, the poor performance on the 5k. It explained the brain fog, the listlessness, the weight gain. It explained so much and it made me feel better to have an explanation.

I felt better until I learned the next step was to take me completely off my small dose of thyroid hormone and make me severely hypothyroid. This would enable the team to get a better scan. We needed to scan my body and look for thyroid cells. All thyroid cells would now be considered the enemy and need to be destroyed. I stopped my medication and began a downhill spiral into hypothyroidism. My symptoms were severe:

  • Brain fog
    • I had never before faced brain fog. It feels like it sounds: your brain is foggy. It takes longer to think. It takes longer to speak. You feel half-asleep all the time. No coffee lifts the fog. This probably wasn’t the best time to read Crime and Punishment, but I wasn’t moving off the couch, so I did. My husband and I spoke about this troubling symptom and he said he could tell it was taking me longer to process information, but most people wouldn’t notice. I felt it and fought it.
  • Body aches
    • My body ached as if I had the flu. These minor pains attacked me randomly throughout my day. My legs and arms seemed to ache the worst.
  • Muscle cramps
    • Along with the body aches, I would also have cramping of my muscles. Most often it was my leg muscles that would sporadically cramp.
  • Fatigue
    • The fatigue I had at this time was like no other fatigue I had ever felt. It was more than just being tired. I had to sit down and rest after taking a shower. Blow drying my hair was a monumental task. Once I was dressed, I would leave the house just to sit in my car and rest before facing the task of driving to work. At work, I struggled with having enough energy to complete my day. Once back home, I crashed on the couch.
  • Apathy
    • I really didn’t care about cycling, housework or even self-care during this time. All I really wanted to do was sleep.

 

If sleeping were a superpower then I would have been a superhero. During this time, I could sleep anywhere, any time and in any position. It was only a couple of weeks without the medication, but it felt so much longer than that. I returned to the CAM building of Barnes-Jewish and had my blood drawn again. My TSH needed to hit 30 in order to do the treatment. Mine was at 68. Great! I moved sloth-like through the phases of treatment.

I entered the nuclear medicine area which had the vibe of a college chemistry lab on Friday morning. Caution signs were posted everywhere. I was asked to wait in the one-chair waiting area. There I met Dr. Grigsby who is the head of the department. He is a nice man, who truly cares about his patients. We talked about gardening and he succeeded in making me feel calm for awhile.

 

Soon, a young woman came and escorted me down a brightly lit, tiled hallway. At various spots in the hallway bright yellow tape made rectangular shapes on the floor. We stopped at the doorway to a room and I was asked to step into the yellow rectangular area and wait outside the door. The young woman who wore a white protective gown over her clothes, gloves on her hands, and a plastic shield over her face entered the room. A couple of moments later she beckoned me to enter. I entered without any protective gear. I felt vulnerable as I entered the sterile room and sat on the hard stool provided. I was instructed to place my hands on my lap and touch nothing. I complied. I sat on one side of a stainless steel counter while the young woman stood opposite me on the other side. She instructed me to drink the liquid she would offer me without touching the metal glass or metal straw. She placed the metal cup on the counter and held the straw for me. I bent over the glass and took the metal straw in my mouth and drank the radioactive iodine. It tasted of nothing. I could feel the liquid in my mouth, but it had no flavor whatsoever.

After drinking the tasteless liquid, I was instructed to step back into the box of tape and wait. I did so. Then I was instructed to walk to the front of the room and sit in a chair. A geiger counter was pointed at the chair. It started making noises as soon as I walked in front of it. People came from various rooms and stood behind a counter about 10 to 12 feet from me. Dr. Grigsby and his staff were happy I was now radioactive. For once in my life, I had proof I was “hot.”

The team waved goodbye to me from behind the counter. There were no hugs or handshakes. RAI is a lonely treatment. So, waving goodbye I left with instructions to avoid spending time with children and pregnant women. I was advised to stay 3 feet away from people for all but short periods of time. I decided to spend the weekend in a hotel . . . alone. I spent the weekend laying in bed, reading, playing on the internet and sleeping. My husband spent the weekend at the criterium race. It wasn’t the most romantic anniversary weekend I’ve ever had.

My husband did come to see me Friday night, but maintained a 3 foot distance from me. I resumed my medication on Saturday, but needed his assistance in loading my luggage in the car Sunday when I returned home. I spent Monday at home then headed to the Siteman Center for my scan.

The scan required me to lay very still on a table for about an hour while the scanner moved slowly over me. Normally this would be a difficult task, but being hypothyroid made it easier. All I wanted to do was sleep. Once the test was complete, I headed downstairs to Radiation Oncology to learn my test results. They were “normal.” No lymph node involvement was found in my neck or elsewhere.  I was free to go.

I went. I continued taking my medication and riding my bicycle. A year later I. went through the same ritual: I was made hypothyroid and scanned again. Again, the scan was normal. Two years later, I was scanned again and the scan was normal. On the third year, I did not need to stop medication for the scan. The third scan was normal. I am now over 4 years cancer-free. I will have another scan at year 5. If that scan is normal I will be considered “cured.” I am hopeful it will be normal. In the meantime, I will continue working on developing a healthy lifestyle, loving my family and riding my bicycle.

Find the beginning of the story here

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Death of a Butterfly (part 5)

Find the beginning of the story here

THE THYROID IS A GLAND IN THE HUMAN BODY WHICH CONTROLS MANY OF THE FUNCTIONS OF YOUR BODY INCLUDING YOUR BODY TEMPERATURE AND METABOLISM. IT IS LOCATED IN THE FRONT OF THE NECK BELOW THE “ADAM’S APPLE” WRAPPING AROUND THE FRONT OF THE WINDPIPE. IT HAS TWO LOBES CONNECTED BY A THIN PIECE OF TISSUE IN THE MIDDLE GIVING IT A SHAPE SIMILAR TO A BUTTERFLY. BECAUSE THE SHAPE OF THE THYROID IS SIMILAR TO THE SHAPE OF A BUTTERFLY, THE BUTTERFLY HAS BECOME THE SYMBOL OF THYROID DISEASES INCLUDING THYROID CANCER. THIS IS THE STORY OF HOW MY “BUTTERFLY” DIED, HOW I SURVIVED, AND HOW I CONTINUE TO THRIVE. I HOPE MY STORY INSPIRES YOU TO THRIVE.

Losing My Thyroid: Part Five

 

In the spring of 2010, I focused on recovering from two surgeries I had undergone to remove my cancerous thyroid. During that time, I was taking small bike rides and learning to balance my new Specialized Ruby. I was somewhat nervous to ride it for a combination of reasons: the Ruby had much more responsive handling than the hybrid; the narrower tires made it seem more wobbly; and the loss of my thyroid had resulted in reduction of my balance. I felt unstable when riding the new bike. I was frightened and frustrated, but determined to ride this bike. The Tour de Cure ride was fast approaching and I was nervous about riding. There was no possibility of me riding the 50 mile route I had ridden only one year ago. I wouldn’t make it on the 30 mile route I had ridden two years ago. I discussed my riding plans with my husband, my mom, and my doctor. My support team both encouraged and cautioned me in my efforts. We decided I should try the 16 mile route and my mom would ride it with me. It was a plan, but I had doubts and questions. Did I really have enough time to train? I wasn’t yet being given a full dose of thyroid hormones. Would I have enough energy to ride? Would I be able to balance on the skinny tires of the Ruby? Would I fall? Would I succeed in riding 16 miles or would I fail? These were the questions plaguing my mind. The only way to answer these nagging questions was to journey forward, keep healing, and keep riding.  

I kept healing. I kept riding. Each ride was becoming longer and I was growing stronger. Still, I felt tired and sluggish. Even though I didn’t feel in top shape, I prepared for the Tour de Cure ride. On the first weekend in June, my little team traveled to Grafton, Illinois. We spent the night in an apartment over the town ice cream shop. The next morning, we made our way to the start line. Three of our team members rode the 5o mile route: Richard (my brother), Jeff (my husband), and Steve (our friend). Two of our team members rode the 30 mile route: Tony and Tina (our married friends). Mom and I rode the 16 mile route.

Mom and I rode the 16 mile route stopping often. We stopped at the rest stops. We stopped between the rest stops. We stopped because I was tired. We stopped for large farm equipment on the road. We stopped to take photos. It was the longest 16 mile ride of my life. We finally finished the route having ridden 16.94 miles in 1 hour, 55 minutes and 54 seconds. Our average riding pace was 8.77 miles per hour. We were the last people off the 16 mile route. Most of the 50 mile riders had already finished. Many of the century riders were back and eating lunch. We finished slowly, but we finished! It was a personal victory. I celebrated my personal victory by eating lunch with my team. We ate and talked and laughed. It was a good day.

 

After the celebration ended, we loaded our bikes on the cars and headed home. At home, I continued to heal, shuffle around the track, and ride my bike. June 23, we rode the Tour de Corn bike ride. The Tour de Corn ride had over 1,100 riders, which is amazing considering the host town, East Prairie, Missouri, has a population of 3,176 people. Jeff and I rode the 30 mile route and I was happy with my progress. We had a great deal of fun and I was feeling pretty good.

 

I was feeling so good in fact, I decided to run (read shuffle) a 5K: the Firecracker 5K in McLeansboro, Il. Jeff went for a bicycle ride with some of the guys that morning while I drove to McLeansboro and entered the 5K. I had no delusions of winning; however, I didn’t dream I would do as poorly as I did.

I started out well, but then slowed my pace on the first and only hill on the course. Still, I kept putting one foot in front of the other and made forward progress through the course, still shuffling. The sun was up early and he was strong. He was thumping me on the head. He was my enemy that day. The thermometer was over 90 degrees and it wasn’t even 10 a.m. I kept getting hotter and slower. Just past the halfway point, I blew up. I had nothing left. I continued moving forward at a walk. Soon, I was passed by the fast walkers, then by the average walkers and finally by the slow walkers. I was the last one on the course. I was alone. I kept walking forward, but I was in trouble. I did not feel well, and was looking for an official vehicle to give me a ride back to the start. There were no race officials in sight. I kept walking. Somewhere in the last ⅓ of the race course, I found my legs and wind again. I began a shuffling jog until I rounded a corner and saw the finishing shoot. I managed to sprint to the end. I was the very last person finished. It was not a huge boost to my confidence. I left the 5K with my tail between my legs trying to buoy my spirits by telling myself at least I finished. It wasn’t working. I went home to continue my recovery.

The next step in my recovery would involve radioactive iodine therapy. I was not thrilled about undergoing this treatment because I had believed it would not be necessary. My team had changed their collective mind. I needed to have the scan which used radioactive iodine; therefore, I might as well do the therapy and be certain all the thyroid cells both malignant and benign were gone. I agreed. The next step in my treatment would be killing out any remaining thyroid cells. Jeff could not join me on this part of the journey. Radioactive treatment is a treatment you face alone.

Check back for more of this story

Tour de Corn 2012 Dogwood close u[

 

Death of a Butterfly (part 1)

Death of a Butterfly (part 2)

Death of a Butterfly (part 3)

Death of a Butterfly (part 4)

finditearly

Tour de Corn: A Rolling Party

 

Death of a Butterfly (part 4)

 

THE THYROID IS A GLAND IN THE HUMAN BODY WHICH CONTROLS MANY OF THE FUNCTIONS OF YOUR BODY INCLUDING YOUR BODY TEMPERATURE AND METABOLISM. IT IS LOCATED IN THE FRONT OF THE NECK BELOW THE “ADAM’S APPLE” WRAPPING AROUND THE FRONT OF THE WINDPIPE. IT HAS TWO LOBES CONNECTED BY A THIN PIECE OF TISSUE IN THE MIDDLE GIVING IT A SHAPE SIMILAR TO A BUTTERFLY. BECAUSE THE SHAPE OF THE THYROID IS SIMILAR TO THE SHAPE OF A BUTTERFLY, THE BUTTERFLY HAS BECOME THE SYMBOL OF THYROID DISEASES INCLUDING THYROID CANCER. THIS IS THE STORY OF HOW MY “BUTTERFLY” DIED, HOW I SURVIVED, AND HOW I CONTINUE TO THRIVE. I HOPE MY STORY INSPIRES YOU TO THRIVE.

Losing My Thyroid: Part Four

Death of a Butterfly – Part 1
Death of a Butterfly (part 2)
Death of a Butterfly (part 3)

Cancer: Multi loci papillary thyroid microcarcinoma was the diagnosis.

Once again, we left the Siteman Cancer Center with more questions than answers. Once again, we were awaiting a surgery date. Once again we held onto each other and prayed for God’s blessing on our future.

Surgery one had taken the left side of my thyroid, but left me with the knowledge that cancer had invaded my body. What was on the right side? We would find out in just a few weeks. I was taking longer walks, had returned to work, and had even done a shuffling jog around the track at the nearby high school. I was getting stronger.

Before I gained too much strength, it was time for my second surgery. We were at Barnes-Jewish Hospital once again. I didn’t draw as large a crowd for the second surgery as I did for the first; and yet, there were quite a few white coats escorting me to the operating theater for the completion of my thyroidectomy.

The completion of my thyroidectomy went well and the second half of my thyroid was sent for pathology. Dr. Diaz was happy with the success of the surgery; however, he was concerned about my calcium levels. They had plummeted. On the backside of the thyroid are four small glands called the parathyroid glands. The parathyroid glands control the body’s use and retention of calcium. Calcium does more than build bones and teeth; it helps to cause muscle contractions including those of the heart. Sometimes when the thyroid is removed, the parathyroids are accidently taken as well. Initial pathology did not reveal any parathyroid glands on the removed thyroid; so Dr. Diaz was hopeful that I still had mine. Oftentimes after thyroid surgery, the parathyroids go into shock and stop working for a time and then resume their function. Dr. Diaz was hopeful this would be the case for me. In the meantime, I would not be allowed to leave the hospital and would be required to eat 2 Tums every couple of hours. If the Tums didn’t raise my blood calcium levels then the plan would be to start calcium by IV.

I settled into my hospital bed, put on my headphones, listened to music, and relaxed. It’s easy to relax after having your thyroid removed. In fact, because I was extremely hypothyroid, all I really wanted to do was sleep. I had no energy for anything. I had no motivation to move. Even the needle being stuck into my arm every four hours to draw blood for calcium level checks didn’t create any great desire in me to leave my bed. Most people want to leave the hospital as soon as possible. I was content to sit like a lump of mashed potatoes.

While I was content to sit like a lump of mashed potatoes upon my hospital bed, my team was not content to see me turn to mush. I was “encouraged” to get up and move. I walked sloth-like up and down the hospital hallway. I kept eating Tums, Tums, and Tums.  After a couple of days, my calcium levels increased enough to send me home. I went home with instructions to keep eating the Tums every couple of hours. So home I went and Tums I did eat. I ate so many Tums that I still get a little queasy thinking about them.

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Back at home, Mom helped us while friends from church delivered meals to us. I continued working on my Tour de Cure efforts. Tour de Cure is a charity bicycle ride which raises funds for the American Diabetes Association. In 2010, I had started a Tour de Cure team which I named Team Eyecycle. That first year, it was just Jeff and I. We rode the 30 mile route. It was my first “big” ride. The next year we were joined by friends and family. This year we had a few more friends and family for a team of seven. I was optimistic I would be riding my new bike. I was still struggling to walk across the room without losing my balance, but I was looking to the future.

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The future held healing but the next few weeks were about putting one foot in front of the other. I went on many walks, each a little farther than the next. I continued my fundraising efforts for the Tour de Cure ride. I watched my daughter sing with her college choir and then graduate from the local community college with not one, but two degrees, and learned she had received scholarships to the university of her choice for her voice and her grades. I had my stitches removed and was able to decrease the amount of calcium supplements (Tums) I was ingesting. The pathology report told us there was one spot of cancer less than 1 mm in diameter hiding in the right side of my thyroid. The choice to remove it had been a good one. The pathology report also told us there was no involvement of the lymph nodes. Things were looking up.

During this time, I was taking small bike rides and learning to balance my new Ruby. It was much more responsive than my old hybrid, and the loss of my thyroid had resulted in the loss of my balance. I was unstable. I was frightened and frustrated, but determined to ride this bike. The Tour de Cure ride was fast approaching and I was nervous about riding. There was no possibility of me riding the 50 mile route I had ridden last year. I wouldn’t make it on the 30 mile route I had ridden the year before that. I discussed my riding plans with my husband, my mom, and my doctor. My support team both encouraged and cautioned me in my efforts. We decided I should try the 16 mile route and my mom would ride it with me. It was a plan, but I had doubts and questions. Did I really have enough time to train? I wasn’t yet being given a full dose of thyroid hormones. Would I have enough energy to ride? Would I be able to balance on the skinny tires of the Ruby? Would I fall? Would I succeed in riding 16 miles or would I fail?

Check back for the next part of my story. 

thyroid

Death of a Butterfly (part 3)

THE THYROID IS A GLAND IN THE HUMAN BODY WHICH CONTROLS MANY OF THE FUNCTIONS OF YOUR BODY INCLUDING YOUR BODY TEMPERATURE AND METABOLISM. IT IS LOCATED IN THE FRONT OF THE NECK BELOW THE “ADAM’S APPLE” WRAPPING AROUND THE FRONT OF THE WINDPIPE. IT HAS TWO LOBES CONNECTED BY A THIN PIECE OF TISSUE IN THE MIDDLE GIVING IT A SHAPE SIMILAR TO A BUTTERFLY. BECAUSE THE SHAPE OF THE THYROID IS SIMILAR TO THE SHAPE OF A BUTTERFLY, THE BUTTERFLY HAS BECOME THE SYMBOL OF THYROID DISEASES INCLUDING THYROID CANCER. THIS IS THE STORY OF HOW MY “BUTTERFLY” DIED, HOW I SURVIVED, AND HOW I CONTINUE TO THRIVE. I HOPE MY STORY INSPIRES YOU TO THRIVE.

Losing My Thyroid – Part 3

Read Part 1 Here

Read Part 2 Here

It was winter 2012, my husband, Jeff, and I  were celebrating the reversal of my cancer diagnosis. We were happy. We celebrated and shared our good news with everyone we knew. A few more tests were scheduled, but in the meantime we continued our search for my new bike. We were also celebrating my birthday month by shopping for bicycles. We traveled around the St. Louis area and I tested many bikes. I fell for a light, little, lavender, Trek road bike priced under our budget because it was the previous year’s model. I was close to pulling the trigger, but had yet to try a Specialized. Before buying the Trek, my husband wanted me to look at some Specialized bikes.I was sure I was going back for the little purple Trek. Jeff told me to keep an open mind. We went to The Bike Surgeon of Shiloh and I found the bike that fit me better than anything else. I liked everything about it except the color. It wasn’t hideous, but it didn’t excite me. I wouldn’t buy a bike just for the paint job, but I find it hard to ride something that is ugly. I had an internal conflict between the practical side of my mind which told me to choose the bike that was the better fit, but the emotional side of me wanted the pretty bike.

In the midst of the bicycle search, I went back to the Siteman Center and had another ultrasound on my thyroid. It was much more thorough than the first ultrasound. I left the Center for Advanced Medicine without knowing the results of the test. I went home and continued the search for my next bike.

In the search for my next bike, Jeff and I wandered into the Bike Surgeon of Carbondale. There we met Pat and Tricia Work, the owners. We talked to them about what I wanted and they made some suggestions and arranged a time for me to test ride a bike.

We returned on Saturday, February 11.  It was cold and it had snowed the night before, a rarity in our neck of the woods. My husband and Pat encouraged me to take the bike on a test ride. I was nervous. Traffic on the Carbondale strip is a little crazy. I was unaccustomed to riding in traffic, the cold, and the snow. I was also unaccustomed to riding on the skinny little tires on the sleek Ruby. I took the bike through the narrow door of the bike shop, passed some of the local characters and rode on the side streets of Carbondale. Once my nerves calmed, I realized I was having a blast and this was my bike. I found some small hills and was amazed at how much easier they were on this bike. Reluctantly, I headed back to the shop and entered through the narrow door with a smile on my face. This was the size and the brand of bike I wanted. Pat then told me he could get this bike in black and pink. I put down my money and placed my order for this bike in the black and pink paint job.

We left the Bike Surgeon and went home to more serious matters. Jeff went with me to my doctor’s appointment. We discussed my ultrasound results with Dr. Diaz and decided the lesion on my thyroid was too large to leave in my body. It wasn’t the news I wanted to hear, but I was very optimistic that all would be well. A surgery date was set for the end of March. Our trip home was not as happy as our last trip home, but we tried to remain positive.

The weeks between my doctor’s appointment and my surgery were eventful. I celebrated my 44th birthday. A few days later on leap day, my former hometown was hit by an EF4 tornado. My family was unharmed, but eight people were killed and many others suffered severe property damage. It was difficult to witness the devastation, but heartening to see the community band together. Early in March, we left southern Illinois and headed to Atlanta so I could attend continuing education classes. When we returned from Atlanta, my bike was waiting on me. We went to the Bike Surgeon and picked up my bike and then went to Rend Lake to try it out. We rode around the campgrounds and enjoyed a mild March day. I was happy with my choice. A few days later I shuffled through a St. Patrick’s Day 5K in Murphysboro.

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St. Patrick’s Day 5K

It was an eventful few weeks between my doctor’s appointment and my surgery, but soon the day of my surgery arrived. I was nervous. Jeff was by my side as we entered the registration line at five a.m. I was taken to a bed and the preparation for surgery began. Soon, my mom was also by my bedside. Nurses buzzed in and out of my little cubicle. After some time, the anesthesiology resident was by my bedside attempting to find a vein. He managed to hit a vein and promised me he would give me something good once I had seen Dr. Diaz. As we waited for Dr. Diaz, young people in white coats gathered outside my cubicle. It was just one and then two and then there was a flock of them. I knew that there might be observers in my surgery since I was having the surgery at a teaching hospital; however, it had never occurred to me that these people would be present before the anesthesia was administered. Soon Dr. Diaz arrived and we were underway. My husband and my mom both kissed me goodbye, the anesthesiologist pushed the button for the good stuff, someone wheeled my bed out of the bay, the white coat kids surrounded my bed and we all traveled down the hall. My eyes closed and I drifted into slumber until KATHUNK! “Railroad tracks!” I thought. A voice above me explained there was a little bump getting into the elevator. That’s the last thing I remember.

“Shhhhh” was the next thing I said. Mom and Jeff were interrupting my slumber with their chatter. They would later say they were whispering quietly. I didn’t care. I just wanted to sleep. I would sleep as much as possible.

I did wake when Dr. Diaz arrived to tell us the results of my surgery. During surgery, the team removed the left side of my thyroid and then dissected the nodule looking for cancer cells. If the nodule was cancerous, the plan was then to remove the right side of the thyroid. If the nodule was not cancerous then they would leave the right side of my thyroid in my neck. Dr. Diaz came and told us that the nodule was not cancerous. They only needed to take the left side of my thyroid. Everyone was happy and celebrated the good news. I went back to sleep.

I awoke and went home with a drain tube hanging out of my neck. Jeff took me to Red Lobster. It’s easy to get a table when you have a drain tube hanging out of your neck.

Mom stayed with us and was a tremendous help. We decided to drive to a nearby town and walk. We exited the car and started to walk slowly down the sidewalk. It was harder than I imagined it would be. The day was warm. The sun was bright. I was sucking wind. I made it a quarter of the way around the block and had to stop. I caught my breath and continued my walk. When we made it back to the car, I was exhausted. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

On April 5th, I returned to have the stitches removed from my neck. Dr. Diaz removed the stitches from my neck and was pleased with the way my incision was healing. Unfortunately, he would be reopening it in a few weeks. Pathology revealed the nodule was not cancerous; however, there were 3 small areas of cancer in the thyroid tissue outside the lesion. There were 3 different areas of cancer each less than 1 mm. Multi loci papillary thyroid microcarcinoma was the diagnosis.

Once again, we left the Siteman Center with more questions than answers. Once again, we were awaiting a surgery date. Once again we held onto each other and prayed for God’s blessing on our future.
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Death of a Butterfly (part 2)


THE THYROID IS A GLAND IN THE HUMAN BODY WHICH CONTROLS MANY OF THE FUNCTIONS OF YOUR BODY INCLUDING YOUR BODY TEMPERATURE AND METABOLISM. IT IS LOCATED IN THE FRONT OF THE NECK BELOW THE “ADAM’S APPLE” WRAPPING AROUND THE FRONT OF THE WINDPIPE. IT HAS TWO LOBES CONNECTED BY A THIN PIECE OF TISSUE IN THE MIDDLE GIVING IT A SHAPE SIMILAR TO A BUTTERFLY. BECAUSE THE SHAPE OF THE THYROID IS SIMILAR TO THE SHAPE OF A BUTTERFLY, THE BUTTERFLY HAS BECOME THE SYMBOL OF THYROID DISEASES INCLUDING THYROID CANCER. THIS IS THE STORY OF HOW MY “BUTTERFLY” DIED, HOW I SURVIVED, AND HOW I CONTINUE TO THRIVE. I HOPE MY STORY INSPIRES YOU TO THRIVE.

Losing My Thyroid: Part Two

Read Part 1 here

 

Cancer: I felt the word more than I heard it. My doctor had just told me I had cancer. My doctor was always telling jokes, but today neither of us was laughing. He sat on a stool facing me; his face kind, but serious. My husband sat silent and motionless in a chair to my right. Processing: my brain tried to process the information, but it was working at the speed of Internet Explorer on dial-up. I looked into the face of my doctor. He was talking. What was he saying? He said he wished I didn’t have this, but if I had to have cancer this was curable. I knew he was right, but I felt …what did I feel? Shocked. I never thought the diagnosis would be cancer.

The diagnosis was cancer. I had heard it and I was trying to accept it. Now, I had to share the news with my family. This was hard. My dad died from cancer, a recurrence of renal cell carcinoma less than 2 years earlier. My family, especially my mom, was still grieving. How could I tell them I had a cancer diagnosis? I did tell them and they rallied around me with love and laughter.

I also found a great deal of support from my church family. They rallied around me and prayed. At the end of one Sunday morning service, I was called down to the front of the church and the members of the church gathered around me putting their hands on me and we prayed together for my well-being. I must admit I was skeptical about the need for doing this, but I felt I needed to do so in order to be obedient to my Heavenly Father. I’m glad I did. The congregation prayed for my healing. I prayed for a correct diagnosis. God blessed me with an amazing sense of peace and courage.

That peace and courage carried me through the weeks which passed between my visit with my primary care physician and the visit to the otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat(ENT) doctor). In the interim, I was busy selecting a new bicycle. My husband had decided and I agreed it was time for me to move from my old Cannondale hybrid bike to a road bike. I went to Phoenix Cycles in Carbondale and tried a Giant. I went to Big Shark and Maplewood Cycles in St. Louis and tried a few more bikes. I went to the Trek Store near St. Louis and fell in love with a little periwinkle Trek road bike. I took it for a test ride and couldn’t believe how free I felt. I wasn’t quite ready to buy, but I was happy. I wasn’t thinking about cancer while I was thinking about bicycles.

I did need to think about cancer again. My appointment with the ENT was about to happen. We headed to Barnes in St. Louis, navigated the madness of the North Parking Garage, made our way through the busy CAM building and headed to the 11th floor via the overcrowded elevator. I always appreciate that the architects designed the CAM building with many windows. The view from the 11th floor was magnificent. It was time to turn from the view of the clear, blue, February sky and look inward. We opened the heavy, glass doors and entered the otolaryngolgy department.

As we waited, I tried to read. I tried to calm my nerves and breathe. I did not know what to expect. I waited anxiously until finally my name was called. I jumped up and followed the medical technician with Jeff close on my heels. She took me to a small alcove where she weighed me, rehashed my medical history and took my blood pressure: 140/92, a little on the high side. My nerves were getting the best of me. Then she led me to an exam room where she left us to await the next step.

While I waited I had plenty of time to inspect the exam room. I always am curious about other doctors’ exam rooms. The exam chair was very similar to the exam chairs I use on a daily basis; except much uglier. It was a color somewhere between orange and melon. It struck me as odd, because over the course of my career I have seen many exam chairs and never have I ever seen one in this obnoxious color: not even in the pre-clinic of ICO. The walls were a pleasant French blue, the floor was tiled in white tile with teal, yellow and orange specks. The counters were a melon color and there were many interesting pieces of medical equipment which roused my curiosity. Some I knew and expected like the Welch-Allyn ophthalmoscope. Others were new to me and soon I would learn to loathe them.

Before long a young, fit, energetic, blonde woman came in sat on the stool in front of me. She shook my hand and introduced herself as Mandy, Dr. Diaz’s PA. She fixed her gaze on me and inquired as to why I had stated on my patient history that I had cancer. I responded that I had been told I had cancer. She then snapped, “Who told you, you had cancer? You don’t have cancer. You have never had cancer.” She then wheeled the stool to my side and began explaining the lab results to me. There is a type of thyroid cancer that is called Hurthle cell cancer. My report said the cells from the biopsy had Hurtle cell qualities, but did not call them Hurthle cell cancer. The biopsy results had been re-examined by the Barnes group and they felt they were benign. I could tell Mandy was a fighter and she was on my side. I liked Mandy and felt much more relaxed after speaking with her. She left me and we awaited Dr. Diaz’s arrival.

Dr. Diaz arrived. He was young, energetic, friendly and handsome. He explained that there was often confusion among primary care at the difference between benign cells with Hurthle cell characteristics and Hurthle cell cancerous cells. He went on to explain that my whole thyroid was greatly enlarged and the nodule size had not been documented on the earlier tests. He examined my neck, he looked inside my ears and throat and then did the most thorough exam of my mouth I had ever had. He did a neurological screening having me smile, frown and stick out my tongue. Then he attempted to examine my vocal chords by placing a small mirror down my throat. NOPE! It didn’t happen. I gagged, and coughed and had tears in my eyes. He was patient. He left the room and returned with another device of torture; that is to say, medical device. He took what looked like an air hose and put it up my nose and then sprayed anesthetic up my nose. Pleasant, it was not. After waiting a few moments, he took another hose which had a light on the end of it and placed it up my nose. I felt it go into my nose and then curl around and snake its way down the back of my throat. He instructed me not to swallow. I was terrified wondering what would happen if I did swallow. Would I die?

I did not die. I made it through the exam unscathed. I had an enlarged thyroid with a benign nodule of undetermined size. Our plan was to repeat the ultrasound of the thyroid and determine the size of the nodule. Any nodule over 4 cm would need to be removed. Even a benign nodule occupying that much valuable space in your neck is not a good thing. We were hopeful I would not need surgery at this time and made an appointment for the next ultrasound. The good news was that I did NOT have cancer.

We were happy: I was happy, Jeff was happy, Mandy was happy, Dr. Diaz was happy. We were all happy. Jeff and I left the 11th floor with huge smiles on our faces. We ran into a patient of mine near the parking garage and shared our good news. He hugged me and celebrated. Jeff and I left him and ventured on to the Macaroni Grill where we continued our celebration.

I learned that you must celebrate every good moment in this life. Feel all the good feelings and enjoy them without question. This life is about change and good moments don’t last as long as you want them to last. I was on top of the world now, but soon the world would change.


Click here to read part 1

Click here to read part 3


thyriod-cancer

Death of a Butterfly


The thyroid is a gland in the human body which controls many of the functions of your body including your body temperature and metabolism. It is located in the front of the neck below the “Adam’s apple” wrapping around the front of the windpipe. It has two lobes connected by a thin piece of tissue in the middle giving it a shape similar to a butterfly. Because the shape of the thyroid is similar to the shape of a butterfly, the butterfly has become the symbol of thyroid diseases including thyroid cancer. This is the story of how my “butterfly” died, how I survived, and how I continue to thrive. I hope my story inspires you to thrive.

Losing My Thyroid: Part One


Cancer: I felt the word more than I heard it.  My doctor was an amateur comedian, but today neither of us was laughing. He sat on a stool facing me; his face kind, but serious as he informed me of the diagnosis: thyroid cancer. My husband sat in a chair to my right. Processing: my brain tried to process the information, but it was working at the speed of internet explorer on dial-up. I looked into the face of my doctor. He was talking. What was he saying? He said he wished I didn’t have this, but if I had to have cancer, this kind was curable. I knew he was right, but I felt …what did I feel? Shocked. I never thought the diagnosis would be cancer. I had been calm through every step of medical investigation which had led to this moment.

This moment had been preceded by several steps of medical investigation; some more invasive than others. In the fall of 2011, I went for a routine visit to my doctor for Allegra to tame my unrelenting fall allergies. During the course of that visit my doctor began examining my neck. I sat still as he placed his hand on my throat and squeezed and prodded. He asked me to swallow. I complied. I felt vulnerable, but I wasn’t afraid. My doctor told me my thyroid was enlarged and there was a large nodule on the left side of my thyroid. He explained that most, over 95%, of thyroid nodules are benign, not cancer. He went on to explain that even though most nodules are not cancerous, we needed to do some more testing .

So, I went for an ultrasound of my neck. I lay on a padded table staring at the plain white ceiling while a technician slathered cold gooey gel on my neck and then ran a probe over my neck. I tried to watch the monitor; however,  I could not see much. I left the office with no more knowledge than that with which I had entered the office.

A few days later, I returned to my doctor’s office to get the results of the test. The test confirmed my thyroid was enlarged with a large nodule on the left side of my thyroid. My doctor educated me on the extreme rarity of these nodules turning out to be cancer. He still wanted to be sure this nodule was benign. He sent me to nuclear medicine for a scan of my thyroid. This would be my first, but not last, encounter with radioactive iodine (I-131). Looking back, I wish I had journaled and taken photographs. At the time, I was reasonably sure the results would all be benign and these tests were all pretty much formalities. I was wrong.

I traveled to the nuclear medicine department of the local hospital unsure what to expect. I was given a small pill in a paper cup and told to take it. Swallowing pills has always been difficult for me, but it seemed that it had become harder over the past few months. I never connected that difficulty to my ever-enlarging thyroid. I took the cup and started to reach in and pick up the pill. “NO!” The technician freaked out a little. She instructed me to take it into my mouth directly from the paper cup, not to touch it with my hands or even let it touch my lips. “OK,” I thought, “So, I can eat this pill, but not touch it with my hands because that would be dangerous.” I complied and managed to get the pill down in about 3 tries. I was excused and given an appointment time for my return for the scan.

I returned for the scan and was met by a very courteous older male doctor. He had the most calming and reassuring manner. He spoke slowly, but distinctly. He was friendly without being overbearing. His movements were unhurried, but methodical. He spoke to me not at me. He asked about my family and my job and my interests and me. He seemed genuine and authentic and human. It warmed the otherwise cold atmosphere. It was cold both physically and emotionally. The lab was dark and filled with large ominous pieces of equipment. The doctor cautioned me to lay very still. I tried to imagine I was lying on a beach as the pictures of my neck were being taken. The time passed. I thanked the doctor for his time and left with no knowledge of what the results would be. I was very optimistic. This doctor assured me the majority of these nodules are benign. The odds were in my favor, but someone has to be in the minority.

 

I returned to my primary care doctor anxious to know what the scan had revealed. It revealed some “cold” areas in the nodule. “Cold” indicates cancer. My doctor assured me that the nodule was probably not cancer. “Cold” could mean cancer, but it was not a sure thing and since most nodules are not cancer the odds were in my favor. Still, we needed to be careful and he advised we do a fine needle aspiration biopsy. The appointment was scheduled and I left my doctor’s office curious, but not fearful. In my head, I heard one of my former instructors from optometry school saying, “Common things happen commonly. Rare things happen rarely.” I felt assured that I was having a common issue with my thyroid and not the rare cancer. Rare things happen rarely; oh but, they do happen.

I kept my appointment for the biopsy. I went to the local hospital with my husband by my side. I was unsure what to expect when the nurse called my name and I left my husband sitting in the waiting room. I followed her down the long hall to the procedure room. I was left alone to change into a gown. I felt nervous, awkward, and lonely. I wasn’t lonely long. I lay on the table as 2 nurses entered the small room. They were a blur around me as they went through their checklists. In a few moments the doctor entered the room and introduced himself to me. I have often thought how weird medicine is in the fact that this guy comes into the room and introduces himself and then does something invasive like sticking a needle in your neck and then you never see the guy again. That is what happened though. The doctor entered, introduced himself, explained what the procedure would entail, gave me instructions and then went to work. He used ultrasound to guide his placement of the needle so I was treated to more of the goo on my neck followed by some pressure from the ultrasound probe. Again, I was dismayed that I could not see the screen. Next, the doctor stuck a very long needle into my neck. I did not feel any pain; however, I could feel the tip of the needle scraping  inside me as he moved it back and forth harvesting cells from the nodule. He took 5 samples. He hoped it would be enough and so did I. While the procedure was not painful, it was annoying. On the last scraping I had to fight the urge to hit the doctor. Something deep in the pit of my stomach was telling me to fight. It wasn’t bad advice.

The biopsy had been successful. The doctor was able to get enough cells in the few attempts he had made and further attempts to get more cells would not be necessary. The doctor could not tell me if the cells were normal or cancer. He could only tell me there were enough cells. The room emptied and I dressed. The nurse told me I was free to go and I made my way back to the waiting room where my husband was reading his Kindle. We made our way through the cold December rain to the car. I felt good. We went to the local waffle restaurant and had a late breakfast of eggs and waffles and coffee. I had plans of using the rest of the day to do household chores. The adrenaline in my body was gone before the car made it into our driveway. I slept the rest of the day.

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A couple of weeks later, I returned to my doctor’s office to learn the results of the biopsy. I was sure the results would be benign. I sat there in the doctor’s office with my husband sitting in the chair to my right. The doctor came in and sat on a stool facing us. He said the nodule was cancer. Cancer: I felt the word more than I heard it. My doctor had just told me I had cancer. My doctor was always telling jokes, but today neither of us was laughing. He sat on a stool facing me; his face kind, but serious. My husband sat silent and motionless in a chair to my right. Processing: my brain tried to process the information, but it was working at the speed of internet explorer on dial-up. I looked into the face of my doctor. He was talking. What was he saying? He said he wished I didn’t have this, but if I had to have cancer this was curable. I knew he was right, but I felt …what did I feel? Shocked. I never thought the diagnosis would be cancer.

My husband and I left the doctor’s office and walked to our cars. We spent a few moments in the parking lot trying to reassure each other everything would be ok, but we were stunned. We embraced and then parted. He went back to his office and I went back to mine. I managed to make it through the rest of the workday, but found it difficult to be sympathetic to the complaints of dry eye sufferers and the newly presbyopic  knowing I had cancer in my body. I made it through the work day and retreated to the safety and comfort of home.

Little did I know this was just the first hill on the roller coaster ride of losing my thyroid. There would be more hills and valleys ahead.


Read more: Death of a Butterfly (part 2)

Read more Death of a Butterfly (part 3)


Thyroid Cancer

Check your neck.

Old Ride Reviews

Looking for motivation, I went through some of my old Facebook feeds and found some reviews of rides. I decided to post them here.

 

 

Strawberry Festival Bike Ride Review

May 19, 2013

Jeff and I participated in the Strawberry Festival Bike Ride on Sunday. The ride was a Trailnet event. It was a beautiful day for cycling. The event was not as good as it could have been. I have reviewed the ride in categories which are important to me. My grading scale is OUTSTANDING (it was awesome), ABOVE AVERAGE (better than most rides), EXPECTED (it was what you get at most rides), BELOW EXPECTED (not as good as most rides), UNACCEPTABLE (horrid).

Here is my review of the ride:

Lengths of Rides: ABOVE EXPECTED

There were many ride lengths from which to choose: extra short, short, medium and long. I thought this was

wonderful. There was a ride for the beginner and one for the advanced.

Parking: BELOW EXPECTED

Parking was not allowed at the park. Participants were required to park on streets or the grade school parking lot several blocks fromt he event. We asked one of the parking attendants where the park was located. He sent us in the direction opposite of the park’s location.

Registration: ABOVE EXPECTED

The registration process was fairly simple and well-organized. There were plenty of bike racks available.

Bathroom Facilities: WOMEN’S: EXPECTED: MEN’S UNACCEPTABLE (as reported by Jeff)

Rest Stops: BELOW EXPECTED The only thing offered at the two rest stops on the medium length ride was water. I was grateful for the water, but a Gatorade type drink would have been nice. The minimal expectation is to have the obligatory banana offering at rest stops. This ride did not. Oranges and peanut butter make riders even happier.

Road Conditions: ABOVE EXPECTED

Most roads were paved and in good condition. One connecting road was rough, but it was very short. There was very little gravel along the sides of the roads.

Traffic: UNACCEPTABLE

This ride was very stressful because it went through areas of heavy and fast traffic. It was dangerous.

Routes: UNACCEPTABLE

The ride was routed through the business district of Highland, Il. The traffic was heavy and fast and very close to the cyclists. There were many busy intersections through which the cyclists were forced to navigate. I was very unhappy at the many stops I was forced to make because of traffic lights. It was not well planned. This was not a rural ride. I feel there were many backroads which could have been utilized to avoid this. Perhaps the ride could have utilized the beautiful bike path instead of the heavily traveled main highways. The shoulders on many of the roads were non-existent. Riders were forced into lanes with trucks, cars and mini-vans. It should be noted that all routes began together. So, novice riders and children were riding these dangerous routes.

On a positive note, there were no unleashed dogs along the route.

Route Markers: BELOW EXPECTED

I liked the bright pink used for the route markers. It was very distinct and easy to see. Still, the markings could have been larger. The thing I found most annoying and somewhat laughable was that later in the route the arrows were placed after the intersection. So effectively, we had to choose which road to take and then were informed whether or not we had made the correct choice.

SAG: UNACCEPTABLE

We only saw SAG vehicles when we started in St. Jacob and once in Highland. We never saw them again while on the medium length route. The event flyer read that SAG would end at 3 p.m. Usually, SAG makes a last run of the route before closing. This did not occur on the medium length route.

Overall Ride Experience: UNACCEPTABLE

I would have preferred to keep my entry fee and do an unsupported ride.

Would I do this ride again? NO

Would I recommend this ride to a friend? NO

fork-in-the-road

We came to a fork in the road…

Metropolis Kiwanis Superman Celebration Ride Review

June 8, 2013

 

Jeff and I participated in the Superman Celebration Bike Ride. We did the 60 KM (38 mile) route. It was a gorgeous day for cycling. The event was great. I have reviewed the ride in categories which are important to me. My grading scale is OUTSTANDING (it was awesome), ABOVE EXPECTED (better than most rides), EXPECTED (it was what you get at most rides), BELOW EXPECTED (not as good as most rides), UNACCEPTABLE (horrid).

 

Here is my review of the ride:

 

Lengths of Rides:  EXPECTED

There was a 16KM, 60KM and 100KM ride.

 

Parking: ABOVE EXPECTED

There was plenty of shaded parking near the start of the ride. There was plenty of room to prepare for the ride.

 

Registration: ABOVE EXPECTED

The registration process was fairly simple and well-organized.

 

Bathroom Facilities: ABOVE EXPECTED

 

Rest Stops: BELOW EXPECTED

The rest stops were not well stocked. Supplies were limited to the first few lucky riders. There was plenty of cold water, but not much in the way of food. One of the rest stops had a few sugar cookies, but no protein.

 

Road Conditions: EXPECTED

Most roads were paved and in good condition.

 

Traffic: BELOW EXPECTED

There was a bit more traffic than I like, but most drivers were very curteous.

 

Routes: EXPECTED

The route had some nice flat sections and some challenging hills (challenging for me at least).

 

 

Route Markers:  EXPECTED

 

 

SAG: OUTSTANDING

The SAG crew was great. They kept tabs on the riders. They were very vigilent at the toughest parts of the ride.

 

Overall Ride Experience: ABOVE EXPECTED

I hope to get stronger this year and be better at hill climbing when I do this ride again next year!

 

BONUS: We saw an Elvis Superman! Can it get any better than that????

 

Would I do this ride again? YES

Would I recommend this ride to a friend? YES

 

 

Tour de Corn 2013 Ride Review

June 22, 2013

On Saturday, Jeff and I rode in the Tour de Corn in East Prairie, Mo. This was our second time riding this event. It was a blast in 2012. Last year, we rode the 30 mile route. This year, we rode the 63 mile route. The day started out with blue skies, sunshine and optimism. As the day went on the sun became stronger, the pavement grew hot, the wind blew stronger and the riders became tired. Still, it was a good ride and we finished. This was the longest ride I have made this year.  I have reviewed the ride in categories which are important to me. My grading scale is OUTSTANDING (it was awesome), ABOVE EXPECTED (better than most rides), EXPECTED (it was what you get at most rides), BELOW EXPECTED (not as good as most rides), UNACCEPTABLE (horrid).

 

Here is my review of the ride:

 

Lengths of Rides: ABOVE EXPECTED

Beginner to advanced rides were available.

 

Parking: ABOVE EXPECTED

We found easy, shaded parking close to the start of the ride. We had plenty of room to unload bikes and prepare for the ride. We also felt quite secure in the knowledge that our car would still be there when we returned from the ride.

 

Registration: ABOVE EXPECTED

We registered online. It was easy. The packet pick-up was very well organized.

 

Bathroom Facilities: ABOVE EXPECTED

They did need a few more facilities at the start of the event. We were allowed to use indoor facilities at the Start/Finish and at the Anniston rest stop. Most rest stops had hand-washing facilities. All stops had hand sanitizer.

 

Rest Stops: OUTSTANDING

Rest Stop 1 provided many tasty refreshments including sweet corn. A live band playing bluegrass music added to the festivities. Rest Stop 2 provided refreshments (many of them made from corn)in a very well shaded locale. The ladies at this rest stop were considerate enough to provide riders with chilled, wet towels. It was a great way to revive hot cyclists. Rest Stop 3 offered watermelon. They were gracious enough to fill our water bottles with ice. Rest Stop 4 was at a private home in Charleston, Mo. The house and lawn were charming. The hostess provided her whole lawn on which to rest. She had snacks, water and Powerade. She invited us to use her porch swings and lawn furniture and had thoughtfully provided a sprinkler and a garden hose for anyone who wanted to cool down. It was a refreshing stop. Rest Stop 5 was at the Anniston Community Center. It offered much needed air conditioning. We were allowed to use the indoor toilets which was a relief after a day of porta-potties. The food was very good with many home baked items available. A pleasant man made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for road-weary cyclists. The rest stop should have been closed by the time we arrived, but the kind-hearted volunteers stayed late for hot, tired cyclists. The day was hot and the wind was strong. Many riders were riding much slower than anticipated. The volunteers stayed to man the rest stop and were cheerful in doing so.

 

Road Conditions:  EXPECTED

Most roads were paved and in good condition. There were a few rough patches.

 

Traffic: EXPECTED

There were a couple of stretches where the traffic was a little heavier than I like, but those roads had wide shoulders. It was harvest time for wheat. There were more farm semi’s than I would have liked; and yet, the drivers were extremely curteous. The majority of drivers were considerate and friendly. Most people smiled and waved at us.

 

Routes: OUTSTANDING

The routes were mainly flat, rural roads. The distance between rest stops was short which was a blessing on a very hot windy day.

 

Route Markers: ABOVE EXPECTED

The route was very well marked. The route map was very good. At no point was I confused or lost.

 

SAG: OUTSTANDING!

The SAG crew worked very hard and kept tabs on all the riders. The drivers of SAG vehicles offered to refill our water bottles while we were on the route between rest stops. They stayed much later than the official close time to ensure all riders made it back to the finish line.

 

Overall Ride Experience: OUTSTANDING!!!!

This is a very well organized and well supported ride. The community seems genuinely happy to host the event and are very friendly to riders.

 

Would I do this ride again? Emphatically YES!

Would I recommend this ride to a friend? ABSOLUTELY! DO THIS RIDE!!!!

Tour de Shawnee 2016

Tour de Shawnee 2016

“I already don’t want to get up in the morning,” I say to my husband as he turns out the lights on our Cape Girardeau, Missouri hotel room. The lights go out and we go to sleep. Tomorrow will be the last organized ride of our riding season: the Tour de Shawnee.

The Tour de Shawnee is a charity bicycle ride held in the southernmost part of Illinois. This year the charity benefiting from the funds raised is the M.S. society. Jeff and I have ridden it for several years. This year, I’m not enthusiastic about the ride. I’ve recently changed jobs and the stress of that major life change has left me tired. I’ve not devoted much time to training either on or off the bike. I feel insecure in my ability to ride the hills on this route even though Jeff has reassured me I did a much harder ride 2 weeks ago on the Pedal the Cause ride.

The next morning our alarms sound and we take our morning medications. Jeff’s feet connect with the floor as my head reconnects with the soft pillow provided by the Drury Suites. The room is dark and cool. I have no trouble returning to slumber.

All too soon, Jeff returns and begins nagging me to awaken:

“You need to wake up sweet girl.”

“It’s time to get ready to ride, sweetie.”

“I love you, get up.”

This guy won’t go away. He won’t shut up. I have married the most annoying man in the universe. Ugh! My motto is: if you love someone, let her sleep.

Eventually, he nags me enough that I move sloth-like from the bed to the bathroom and begin preparing for the ride. As I apply moisturizer to my haggard face, Jeff appears with a cup of coffee. Clearly, I have married the most sensitive, wonderful man in the universe. Because my motto is: if you love someone, bring her coffee.

The magical hot liquid does its job. I awaken and continue through my pre-ride rituals. I finish my preparations as Jeff maneuvers bicycles out of the hotel room and to the car. I very much want to wear my new Sugoi shorts, the ones that have the newest, most comfortable chamois; however, Jeff reports that it is cold outside. Grudgingly, I opt for my long, Sugoi tights with fleece lining. Another reason, I am not psyched about this ride is the cold, October temperature. Most people would say it is going to be a nice day. The high is forecasted to be 67 degrees (F). At 6:30 a.m., the temperature is in the 40’s. It is difficult to know exactly what to wear on days like this. Dressing warmly enough for the 8 a.m. start leaves you hot later in the ride. Dressing for the forecasted warmer temperatures you will encounter later in the day leaves you freezing for the first hour or two. Layering is smart, but there is always the question of how you will transport the shed layers after you remove them. I ponder all of this as I look at the array of cycling clothes on display across the foot of the hotel bed.

I choose the long, black, Sugoi tights; a black, short sleeve jersey with a purple and pink dragonfly design, white arm warmers with a pink tattoo design and my high visibility pink, nylon, Sugoi jacket. The jacket is held together with magnets and can be converted from a full jacket to either a vest without sleeves or a bolero jacket. It can also be folded into itself to a small packet which can be attached easily to the bike. I feel I’m ready for whatever this day brings.

I wish I could bring myself to be more excited about the ride. Normally, I have butterflies and am excited to get to ride. Today, I am ho-hum and might actually prefer staying in bed while watching movies and eating junk food. I am careful not to voice these thoughts. Jeff appears to be excited for the ride and I don’t want to infect him with my case of the blahs.

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We enter the car and drive back toward Illinois. I accidently call my mom. While it is good to hear her voice, I am stricken with guilt about calling her so early. She informs me that Carrier Mills is filled with dense fog. I assure her we are not seeing any fog. We say goodbye as the car approaches the Cape Girardeau bridge. The sunrise over the bridge is spectacular and fills the car with a warm, coral glow. I feel a bit more optimistic and begin to warm to the idea of riding today. As we cross the bridge, we see dense, white fog covering the land called Illinois.

We leave the clear skies of Missouri and head into the Illinois fog. As we drive from the river toward Olive Branch, Illinois, the fog becomes patchy. We drive into and out of the white clouds. I worry about bicycling with such terrible visibility. Jeff remains optimistic. We continue onward.

In a few minutes, we arrive at Olive Branch, Illinois. Olive Branch is a small town of a little over 800 people. It boasts a gas station, a cafe, a few churches, a grain elevator, and a community center which also houses the town library. Our destination is the community center. We arrive and are motioned to park in a freshly mowed field between the library end of the community center and the grain elevator. We are ushered to the most interior row of parked cars. The sun is rising over the field revealing cyclists gathered around the trunks of their cars. They are in various stages of pre-ride preparation. There is a little chatter, but most are silently focused on their tasks. Many take big sips of coffee from travel mugs and paper cups. I too swig from my travel mug before exiting the car.

Exiting the car, the sharp morning air slaps me in the face. It is cold. My desire to ride fades. Jeff and I begin the long walk to the registration area inside the community building. The grass in the field has been recently mowed, but it is still high. This morning it is also wet. As I walk through the field, my feet become wet and cold. By the time we arrive at the community building, my shoes are covered in wet hay. The community building is abuzz with activity. Cyclists are registering, picking up packets, and eating the breakfast the ride has provided. We have not pre-registered, so we head to on-site registration. We pay our money and receive numbers and the right to ride. There is no goody bag or T-shirt for the slackers who register on-site.

We pay our money, receive our numbers, pick up some safety pins, take a couple of route maps and head out of the building. We make a stop at the bright blue outhouses. I exit the blue box and see no sign of Jeff. I stand awkwardly alone in the crowd waiting for Jeff. People pass all around me, but there is no sign of Jeff. An orange glow moves toward me. A tall 60 – something man with grey hair and a high visibility orange shirt appears directly in front of me. I forget his opening line, but I find myself involved in chit-chat with this man. I don’t mind at first, but I am anxious to return to the car and prepare for the ride. I am also anxious to find my husband. As I chat with the man, I find whatever answer I give him to his question, he will one-up me with his own, better story. The conversation devolves into listening to him humble-brag. My patience is waning. I notice the blue box in which I thought Jeff was located is now empty. Perhaps Jeff couldn’t see me behind this giant orange glow. When the man pauses for breath, I interject, “I need to find my husband,” and leave him in my metaphoric dust. The grass is much too wet for actual dust.

I trudge through the wet hay to our car where I find Jeff happily preparing for the ride. He has not considered I might be standing alone in front of a line of porta-potties waiting for him while he was cheerily carrying out his riding preparations. I am momentarily aggravated. I shake my head and quickly forgive him. He is too happy and too cute to hate.

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Hate is the word our neighbor on my side of the car uses to describe his feelings about the cold weather. He uses a few other choice words as well. I laugh as he apologizes for his cursing and assure him I understand and agree with his feelings. Most of the riders seem a little more grumbly and groggy than they have on the summer rides. Parked by our driver’s side door is a black jeep with a pink bike rack on the back. It is owned by a young couple. The young woman looks fiercely  fit. She wears a long-sleeve jersey, black cycling shorts, and black, knee-high socks with skulls on them. She looks like a Viking as she walks her bike toward the road with her long, blonde hair flowing behind her. As she strides away, the young man yells, “Hey hon, ya want your helmet?” She laughs, replies that she does and trudges back toward the Jeep. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one feeling the blows dealt by my arch-nemesis; morning.

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Jeff and I complete our pre-ride rituals and begin our trek from the car to the start line. There is an unorganized gathering of riders on the blacktop in front of the community center. We see our friend, Shon, there. It will be our one and only sighting of Shon during the ride. He is riding the 100 mile route. We are riding the 60 mile route. He will finish before we do. We stand and face the flag as the national anthem is sung. The woman who sings it does a good job and there is muffled applause from gloved hands as she finishes.

After the national anthem, we mount our bikes and start the ride. It is chaos. All levels of riders are mingled together. I find myself stuck behind a bicycle built for two which appears to be captained by Sir Brakes-Alot. I choose to pedal the flat side of my pedal and not clip in. The blacktop makes a sharp ramp to connect to the highway and I do not want to lose my forward momentum. We make it onto the highway and in a few yards, Sir Brakes-Alot steers his bicycle built for two away from me and onto the 15 mile route. I am relieved. I don’t know where Jeff is, but I am full of faith that he will find me. Soon he is beside me and we are pedaling in the cold morning air.

The morning air is cold and so are we. For several months, my long fingered cycling gloves have been in my Cat 5 cycling bag. I felt silly having them at rides that were held in 100 degree summer heat, but I knew where they were. Today, I felt smug knowing they were safely packed in my bag. That smugness left me when I found I had 3 pairs of fingerless gloves, but my full fingered gloves were not in the bag. Before leaving home, I had decided to clean and reorganize my Cat 5 bag. The gloves did not make it back into the bag. As a result of my organizing attempts, my fingers are freezing. Placing my fingers on the metal brake levers is excruciating. Beside me, Jeff is shivering so hard he can’t ride a straight line. He has opted to only wear arm warmers with his short sleeve jersey and forgo a jacket. He rues his decision.

We pedal along our course which takes us on a country blacktop lined with shade trees. A few weeks earlier this shade would be welcome. Today, it compounds our discomfort. We are still close enough to the start that riders are clumped together. The road begins a slight ascent then flattens. We soon come to a short steep hill. Most riders ride up it, but a few have chosen to walk their bikes. I know this is not “the big hill” on this ride. We continue until the blacktop makes a sharp left turn. There it is: the big hill. It is littered with people walking their bikes up the hill. I shift to my lowest gear and pedal my bike up the hill. It is hard. The grade hits 22%. Everyone ahead of me is walking his or her bike. There are no butts on bikes except for me and Jeff. The walkers don’t mind taking the center of the road. I silently curse them. My curses aren’t audible because I’m gasping for air. I’m mouth breathing and reaching for the bottom of my lungs as I begin to wheeze. I keep pedaling. A recumbent rider pulls up beside me, his chain pops and he almost wrecks into me. His friend on a second recumbent passes me, swerves in front of me, turns his bike broadside in the middle of the road and stops. Somehow, I manage to avoid all of this and keep going up the hill. I am going slowly, but I am going. My butt is still on the bike. I am still pedaling. Jeff is behind me. I reach the small plateau about one third of the way up the hill. A woman holding a sky blue bike is standing by the side of the road on the plateau. She sees me and attempts to mount her bike. I know from past experience if you are not strong enough to keep pedaling past this plateau then you are not strong enough to start on it. She is unsuccessful in her attempts, but dangerously close to knocking me over. Jeff later tells me he was terrified she would wreck me. She doesn’t wreck me. She begins her walk of shame up the hill as I continue to pedal. I am off the short plateau and beginning to climb again. The grade isn’t quite as steep as the lower one-third of the hill, but it is still quite challenging. I make it to the point of the hill you can see from the bottom. This is the point you might think is the top of the hill, but it isn’t. I want to quit, but the hill continues. It goes up and curves to the right. The top of the hill is an intersection with another road. A minivan is blocking traffic coming from the left. I pedal and pedal and pedal. I make it to the curve. I keep pedaling. Eventually, I make it to the crest of the hill. I want to pedal away and recover on the bike, but I am out of breath. I know there are more hills ahead. I stop just beyond the crest of the hill. Jeff stops with me. I catch my breath and drink water before rolling down the hill.

After catching my breath we roll down the hill, only to be met by the next steep uphill. I am leading up the hill with Jeff close behind me. A couple of strong riders pass me with ease. A woman I guess to be in her late thirties or early forties struggles, but finally passes me. She is followed by an older man wearing a dirty coat and blue jeans. The left leg of his jeans are secured with a bright red band. He struggles up the hill and rides beside me for an uncomfortable distance. When he is right beside me, he turns and looks at me and says, “If I ever get around you, you will never see me again. I will be gone.” I laugh, but soon realize he is not joking. He eventually makes it around me, up the hill and quickly down the hill. If only his words were true.

The downhill is fast, fun and over too quickly. We are now in the woods of Southern Illinois. The road is tar and chip lined on the right and left side by brown leaves which have fallen from the tall trees on either side of it. I ride this road and struggle up the next hill. Midway to the top I spot dirty grandpa and his friend? Daughter? Wife? Girlfriend? Caregiver? They are stopped at the top of the hill. We soon pass them and head down the hill. The couple take to their bikes and with much effort pass us again. Dirty grandpa does not like being passed. They zoom down the hill and we let them go. We roll down the hill and start the next uphill. The road makes a Y at the top of the hill. We veer left and see Dirty Grandpa walking his bike and his friend waiting for him at the top of the hill. We pass them and continue riding.

The road continues it’s undulating course. We loop around turning from heading northwest to traveling southwest. With the change in direction comes a change in altitude. We begin a long, fast descent. A trio of faster riders pass us shouting encouragement. We race down the hill and roll along a valley floor. The road is a smooth tar and chip surface. It is cold here in the shade of the tall trees. I feel good, but am low on caffeine. I know the first rest stop will have coffee. My hands are cold, my feet are cold, my nose is drippy. I dream of hot cup of coffee.

As I dream of coffee, we continue our ride along the valley floor until we see a bright red sign reading: STEEP HILL!  I know these signs are meant to be helpful; however, they fill me with more dread than I would have if I just saw the hill. The pedaling becomes harder as we near the hill. We are riding uphill and the hill does indeed look steep. I shift my bike to a smaller gear and spin upward. The road curves to the left as the hill continues upward. The low branches of the trees part and I see a large group of cyclists walking their bikes up the hill. Seriously!?! Nobody is riding up this hill. It is steep, but rideable. They crest the hill while I am at the half-way point. They rest, recover, and drink water while I pedal up the hill with Jeff close behind me. I am tired; and yet, still riding the bike. We crest the hill, pass the walkers and ride on our way.

As we ride on our way, the sun is growing warmer, but the morning air is still cold. I still have dreams of coffee. I am tired, but motivated by my dreams of the hot magic liquid. We ride in the morning sun when we begin to be passed by some of the walkers. It irritates me. They used very little energy walking their bikes up the hill and are now sprinting toward the rest stop. I swallow my pride and continue pedaling.

Before long, we pedal to the end of the blacktop and intersect with Route 3. We pause for traffic and then enter the highway. In less than a mile we are at the turn to Thebes. Thebes sits on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. The entry to Thebes is uphill. We make a sharp left turn, bump across the gutter, and pedal uphill on a poorly maintained Thebes street. We push hard to make it up the hill and then make another left before we reach the top. Again, we bounce across a bumpy gutter, avoid potholes and large manhole covers which rise above the pavement. In a few feet we make a sharp right and find ourselves pedaling a ridge line in the middle of Thebes. Thebes is poverty stricken. Small homes and rusting trailers with cars on blocks line the street. To the right and uphill from us is a small bar. The building is decaying and dirty. There are iron bars on the doors and the windows. Neon signs glow from behind the iron bars. A plastic banner flaps and crackles in the wind as it advertises gaming and beer are available inside the crumbling building. We decline the invitation and pedal westward. As we pedal to the highpoint of the ridge, the buildings become nicer. We ride to the point where the hill crests and we begin a sharp downhill. A well-maintained brick church is to our left. Ahead, the road continues a sharp descent as it curves to the right. Straight ahead, is a small gravel drive that leads to a modest home partially hidden from view by the ridge. If we continued along this path we would drop off the edge of the cliff and drop into a small park. We do not follow this path, but catch a glimpse of the bright blue Mississippi as we make a sharp left into a gravel drive.

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As we turn into the gravel drive, we see the drive makes a circle in the midst of a clearing of trees. The right side of the drive is cluttered with people and bicycles making their way to and from a folding table laden with snacks. We cruise to the left. There are several picnic tables to the left and more cyclist scattered about. We continue around the circle and stop near a light pole in the middle of the circle against which we lean our bikes. The middle of the circle contains a picnic table and a monument. We are standing in front of the back entrance to the Old Thebes Courthouse. To the right, we have a view of a the Mighty Mississippi. To the left is a view of a railroad trestle crossing the river. It is a beautiful, crisp fall day. We leave the bikes and head to the snack table, I am looking for that cup of coffee I have fantasized about for over half of the morning’s ride. I find it is nothing, but a fantasy. For the first time in the 5 years I have been riding this ride, there is no coffee at this rest stop. This must be a mistake! I must not be looking in the right spot. All I see is dreadful Gatorade. I ask one of the volunteers if there is coffee. She looks shocked and replies that there is no coffee. I remark that there has been coffee in the past. She states she can’t imagine wanting coffee after riding the hills. I do my best to remain civil and inform her that it is actually quite cold. I then thank her for the snacks and continue back to the bike where I meet Jeff.

We eat our snacks and drink our water which does not warm my hands or body the way a cup of coffee would have. I mourn my loss and try to forget it. We snap a few pictures outside and then head inside the Old Thebes Courthouse. The historical society is doing its best to keep the courthouse in good repair. This is a landmark of great historical significance. The building was built in 1848, legend tells that Dred Scott spent the night in the jail there. Legend also states Abraham Lincoln also practiced law there. No documentation has been able to prove either of these legends; however, there is just enough historical evidence to make both legends possible. A black male was held in the prison at the same time as the Dred Scott case. Lincoln was acquainted with a family in the area and was known to have visited the family. It is an interesting building with an interesting history. I encourage you to visit it. While visiting, be sure to step onto the porch and enjoy the view of the Mississippi River from the bluff. Jeff and I did.

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After leaving the courthouse, we refilled our water bottles, mounted our bikes and resumed our ride. The ride left the courthouse drive and resumed a downward descent. The hill leaving the courthouse is steep. I ride the breaks. At the bottom of this slope, our street ends T-ing into another street. We look for traffic and then make a left turn continuing our descent. The street flattens. A small park stands between us and the river. Before we reach the park, our route takes us to the right. We parallel the river then swerve slightly away from it and head slightly uphill. We pass several houses and single-wide trailers which look as if they may have seen floodwaters in times past. We pass a small roadside park with a shelter housing picnic tables, a scenic view of the river and a historical marker which we don’t have time to stop and read. We reach a steep uphill ramp taking us from a park area up to Route 3.

Route 3 is devoid of traffic. We leave Thebes behind and travel north along Route 3. Forest is to our right. Across the road and to our left is the Mississippi River. Traffic is light on Route 3, but it gets heavier as we near the turn for Cape Girardeau, Mo. Just as I am tiring of the highway traffic, I see our turn ahead to the right. There is a group of cyclists gathered at the right side of the secondary road. A van is stopped on the left side. A SAG vehicle passes us, turns into the road just ahead of us, and abruptly stops. We turn into the side road and start riding past the SAG truck just as the driver wildly swings open his door almost hitting me. Cycle Jerk! This vehicle is owned by a shop with which I have a history. At another ride a few years ago, this guy asked me if I bought my bicycle just because it is pink. I still hold a grudge and today’s actions solidify in my mind I will never enter that shop. We make it past the rude SAG driver and the crowd of riders. It is unclear what has happened, but one woman is holding her crank arm in the air above her head. There is help in abundance. We continue our ride.

We ride on Old Route 13 and cross a bifurcation of the Mississippi River. We discuss the chaos we just passed. I am feeling good and riding well. We quickly ride downhill and begin to ride under a railroad trestle. Gravel! We both yell together. We manage to miss a large amount of gravel on the road. I’m surprised there was no warning. The ride has been very good to post signage for road hazards. I don’t give it much thought as we continue along our route. Before long we are in the woods on the secondary road when Jeff notices his Garmin is stating we are off course. We see markings for a turn to the left; however, it is the color for a shorter route than the one we are taking. There are no green markings for the 60 mile route. We pull over to look at the route map. We are trying to decipher the map and our surroundings when two riders approach: Dirty Grandpa and his companion. They approach yammering much to our dismay. Jeff tries to read the map amid their insipid whining. If only they would be quiet, we might be able to figure out the map. The woman pulls up beside me much too close for my comfort. I see now that she is much older than I had originally thought. I do not like people in my personal space and she is in my face asking me questions most of which do not pertain to the map. As we stand there, a woman in a small SUV approaches. She has no idea where the road for which we are looking is located, but that does not stop her from telling us which direction she thinks we should go. We attempt to nicely tell her we do not wish to take the same route as the other cyclists she has seen. She fails to understand that we do not wish to take the shortest route possible; but instead, she continues giving directions. We attempt to ignore her and the dirty grandparents as they all begin talking at once. Finally, the motorist leaves and the dirty grandparents speedily head south down Old Route 3. Jeff feels we should turn around and head back toward Route 3. I only remember one road and it was heavily graveled. Reluctantly, we head south down Old Route 3. Jeff is grumbling that we are going south when we need to go north. We have lost our momentum. We pass a farmhouse when Jeff decides to stop and consult the map again. The cue sheet says we need to turn left on Bodieville Road. Google maps cannot find a Bodieville Road. A minivan passes us and then stops and asks if he can help. He is working the next rest stop. He does not know where Bodieville Road is located. He is trying to help. Meanwhile, a large farm dog is stalking him. Suddenly a local farmer is yelling at the dog. The farmer comes marching down the road, attempts and fails to corral the dog. The dog runs off. The man asks the farmer if he knows of Bodieville Road. The farmer replies that he does and intimates that everyone should know that. He points to the south and states we will go through the bridge and then make a left hand turn. OK. We head to the south, much to Jeff’s displeasure. We encounter several small rolling hills. Jeff grumbles that we are heading back to Thebes. I am hopeful we are headed in the correct direction. Soon we are through the hills. We have not crossed a bridge. There has been no left hand turn. Now we crest the final hill and see a left hand turn. It is the road we traveled on our way to Thebes. Ahead of us is Route 3. We are back at Thebes. On the road ahead of us is Dirty Grandpa and Grandma joined by a couple of other cyclists. Yikes! We have made a big circle. We stop. Jeff is angry. The dirty grandparents approach. Dirty Grandpa positions his bicycle in front of Jeff. Dirty Grandma stops just inches to my right side. They are blabbing nonstop. Jeff and I both are looking at our phones trying to decipher the map. There is no Bodieville Road listed on any map we consult. The minivan approaches. We talk with the helpful volunteer while the dirty grandparents attempt to talk over us. The helpful volunteer offers to drive the road in the opposite direction and see if he can find Bodieville Road. He leaves stating he will return and let us know what he finds. Meanwhile Jeff and I continue to consult various online maps.

Suddenly Dirty Grandma states, “I have an idea!”

We ignore her. She pulls out the route map and cue sheet and shoves it between my phone and my face. “Here! Call this number for SAG and ask them where the road is.” she demands.

“No, You call it. I’m looking at the map.” I state roughly.

She is undeterred. She does not call the number, but begins trying to make small talk with me. If there is something I hate more than people being in my personal space then it is mind-numbing, boring chit-chat. I especially hate it when I am trying to concentrate. She wants to know where we live. I grudgingly say Mount Vernon. That isn’t entirely accurate, but I’m not sure I want this couple having more accurate information about my residence.

“Oh we live close to Mount Vernon!” Dirty Grandpa shouts. “I live half-way to Mount Vernon. I live in a half-way house.” he adds with a snicker.

The hair on the back of my neck rises. I now see it. The band on his leg isn’t there to protect his jeans from the chain on his bike. It is there to monitor his location. Jeff is ignoring this discourse as hard as he can. I am becoming more and more discouraged with the time we are losing. “Be nice. Be nice. Be nice Be nice.” is running through my head as the dirty grandparents blather.

CRASH! The most horrible noise is produced as Dirty Grandma’s bike falls on top of mine. I look in disbelief.

“LADY!” I yell and force myself to stop with that one word.

She bends over and yanks at her bike. Unfortunately, her bike’s handlebars are entangled with mine. She yanks again before I can stop her. Jeff comes to life.

“STOP!” he yells in a voice which frightens and comforts me.

Dirty Grandma stops and looks at him bewilderedly. Jeff gentle disentangles the bikes. The woman begins to speak. Jeff glares at her. I bend over and gently rub the front fork of my bicycle. It isn’t hurt; and yet, I feel the need to nurture it and comfort it in a motherly way. I want to kiss away its boo-boo. Jeff has moved closer to me in a protective stance. The dirty grandparents wisely move away. Dirty Grandma neither apologizes nor looks particularly remorseful for her actions. I almost believe she did it intentionally to get my attention. I try to rein in my emotions, but at this moment I am seething with anger. It is also at this moment that the helpful volunteer returns.

The helpful volunteer returns with the information that Bodieville Road is located at the other end of Old Route 3. The dirty grandparents scurry away from us heading north. We let them go and talk to the helpful volunteer for a few minutes. We have two choices. We can head south on Old Route 3 through the hills and behind the dirty grandparents or we can head south a few feet to New Route 3 and circle back around to the other end of Old Route 3. After a brief discussion, we choose to face the hills of Old Route 3 rather than the traffic of New Route 3. We have lost about an hour of time with this detour of 5 miles. We are trying to shake free of the depression and frustration we feel.

We ride back through the hills, past the farm of bad directions, through the loose gravel and up a small incline to find Bodieville Road. There it is. The sign has the same name as the road on the route map we were given by event organizers. Google maps names this the McClure Gale Road. Google maps is incorrect. There also is a green mark painted on the pavement marking the turn and a metal sign marking the turn. We have no one to blame but ourselves for missing the turn.

Finally, we make the correct turn. Bodieville Road is smooth, flat and empty of cars and cyclists. Far to our left is the faster traffic on Route 3. We are riding parallel to Route 3 toward McClure. Before long we arrive in McClure. I am tired and ready for a stop. The route takes a right on Grapevine Trail. Despite being named a trail, Grapevine Trail is actually a paved, striped highway which travels through the middle of McClure. McClure is a modest village with modest, but clean homes lining the road. We pedal along Grapevine when we see Dirty Grandpa pedaling toward us. Following him is Dirty Grandma. I can’t even look at them. Jeff points trying to indicate to them that they are traveling in the wrong direction.

“I know! I know!” yells Dirty Grandpa.

They continue traveling west. We continue traveling east. I hope they are quitting the ride.

We continue on Grapevine Trail heading out of McClure. We pass an impressive, brick house which is labeled The McClure House. It is a large, brick, Victorian home which was built in the 1880’s. It stands alone with fields surrounding it. I later learn from an internet search that the house and the town were named for the owners of the house: Thomas J. and Caroline McClure. It stands proud and pretty in the autumn sun. We pass it and continue our journey.

Our journey takes us out of McClure, across railroad tracks and into rural Alexander County via Grapevine Trail which is also known as County Highway 4. County Highway 4 is smooth and flat. To our right and left are flat, open, farm fields. We pedal for a few miles then the road makes a gentle curve to the right, then we begin a gentle uphill as the road widely curves to the left. We pass over a small creek as a large hill appears to our right. We pass over the bridge and we find ourselves on the road between a steep hill which is home to a cemetery. The hill is so steep I wonder if its inhabitants have been buried standing upright. To our left is a small valley on which is placed a small home. Next door to the home is a small church. This is the home of our next rest stop. We make a left turn from the smooth pavement of County Highway 4 onto the chunky gravel of the church’s driveway. The churchyard is in need of mowing. The church house is in need of powerwashing. Its vinyl siding has some white peeking out from the green flora growing on it. In front of the church was a folding table of treats with friendly volunteers offering them to us. Among the volunteers is the man in the minivan. We talk for a few moments, eat snacks and are grateful for the rest.

We haven’t been there long when Dirty Grandpa and Grandma arrive. Everyone becomes quiet as the older couple begin chattering and grabbing snacks. As much as I try to avoid them, they find a way to enter my path. Jeff is quickly losing patience. Before we can refill our water bottles, don helmets and mount our bicycles, the dirty grandparents have left the rest stop ahead of us. Jeff is not happy.

We say goodbye and thank you to our rest stop hosts and resume our ride. Our ride begins with a gentle uphill. The uphill continues for several miles. The road curves gently to the right and left, but it always continues upward. I spin and spin. We finally reach our next turn. We turn to the left onto County Line Road. For a moment the road flattens. I am tempted to stop and rest, but ahead of me is a ridge line and a very hard climb. I don’t want to lose momentum so I stay on the bike and pedal.

As I pedal, I feel my legs tiring. The road is rising. We are riding on a scenic, country, tar and chip road which is lined on either side by trees. The ground on each side of the road is littered with leaves. The road makes gentle turns to the right and left, but it continues its upward trajectory. At first the grade is gentle, but it increases. It seems it will never end. The pedaling becomes harder and harder. Soon, we are to the steepest part of the climb. A white farmhouse is at the top of the hill to the right. I want to make it to the farmhouse. I also want to jump off the bike and walk. I keep pedaling. I push down on the pedals and pull up as well. It is taking everything I have to make it up this hill. I keep going. Jeff is behind me. At last, I make it to the top. It is tempting to stop in the driveway of the farmhouse and rest. I resist the temptation and enjoy a short downhill coast.

The downhill does not last long. We are soon pedaling back uphill. There are two peaks on this ridge. We are now making our way up to the second peak. It isn’t quite as steep as the first peak, but I am tired. I continue to pedal keeping my butt on the seat. We rode this route last year and I remembered a long descent, but that seems to be a figment of my imagination. The road continues upward. I pedal and pedal and pedal. I think the hills will never end when at long last the hill breaks and the bike is rolling without being pedaled.

Gravity is no longer fighting me. I let the bike roll. Jeff pulls ahead of me. He is braver than I am. We roll downhill for several miles. This fast, free ride makes all the uphill worthwhile. This is joyous. We continue coasting along the country road until it intersects Highway 127 and we find our next rest stop.

Our next rest stop is manned by a local 4-H group. They do not appear too friendly when we ride into the roadside clearing. I am unsure why we are greeted by such grumpy hosts when I see Dirty Grandpa and Dirty Grandma standing in front of the lone picnic table. Jeff and I lean our bikes against a tree. Jeff begins making an adjustment to his seat while I stand awkwardly between the bikes and the picnic table drinking water. I wander to the table and peruse the snacks. Hotdog! I mean, they have hotdogs at this rest stop. With the help of the pre-teen girls assembled at the picnic table, I make a hotdog, grab some chips and go back to the bikes where Jeff is still working on his seat. I show him my bounty and his eyes brighten with interest. We are hungry. Soon the dirty grandparents leave and we return to the picnic table. Jeff makes a hotdog. I grab a full size Snickers bar. I love 4-H!

The 4-H kids begin to voice their displeasure at Dirty Grandpa and Dirty Grandma. Evidently the couple was making the kids uneasy. Once they leave, the group becomes more congenial. We have a good visit while enjoying lunch. The 4-H group packs up and leaves. We make a couple of adjustments to my bike then we head south on Highway 127.

We pedal for several miles on Highway 127 then take a left turn onto County Highway 5. The wind increases and is right in our faces. We take another left turn and turn north. We then take a right had turn back into the wind and wind our way through the country to the small town of Ulin.

I am searching Ulin for a rest stop, gas station, Coke machine, etc. Ulin offers nothing. I am tired and craving a Coca-Cola. I don’t know why, but I believe a Coke is the remedy for my sluggishness. Sugar and caffeine sound like a good solution to my current energy crisis. We cruise through Ulin without finding refreshment. We leave Ulin and head toward Pulaski on Old Highway 51. The wind is fierce. I am becoming more and more fatigued. A roadsign informs me there are 7 miles to Pulaski. I pedal the 7 miles and we find the small town of Pulaski. We enter the small town and pass a Family Dollar store. Ahead of us is a steep hill. My heart sinks. My legs ache. I cannot ride up this hill. It looms ahead of me becoming bigger as we approach it. I tell Jeff I won’t be able to ride up it. He is concerned about me. We are approaching the hill. I make a plan to pull off the road into a parking lot and circle back to the Family Dollar and find a Coke. Blessedly, we see a green arrow on the pavement pointing us to a road to our left. We take it and do not need to face the steep hill.

We continue on the road to our left. No rest stops appear. Neither do we see any convenience stores or restaurants. We keep pedaling, but I want to stop. I am tired. We begin to leave town and we are both dismayed. Then I see a flash of bright orange far off the road to the right. We pedal toward it. We are approaching a fairground. Young people stand at the entryway to the fairgrounds and wave us into the driveway.

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We have arrived at the Pulaski County Fairgrounds which are hosting the Pecan Festival. We are greeted by loud rap music. Several young people are dancing under a pavilion. Many vendors sell barbecue. There are many booths selling crafts and various wares. We roll past a couple of buildings and hear people yelling at us to come back. We have passed our rest stop. Our hosts are friendly and happy to have us in their community. They are proud of the Pecan Festival and invite us to return that evening after our ride. We talk, eat their snacks and drink hot apple cider. We explore a little bit and I find my Coke. It hits the spot. Most of the participants are African-American. I wondered how we would be received when we rode into the festival. I felt truly welcomed. Our hosts were warm, and genuinely friendly. As we leave the fairgrounds our hosts wish us well on our ride and encourage us to return.

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We leave the fairgrounds and continue through the countryside winding our way back to Olive Branch. I am tired. Finally, we make it back to the Community Center. I am glad to be done. We make it back to find there are still many riders out on the course. I feel good about that. We enter the community center to find there is plenty of food left. We indulge in chili and brownies. We are tired, but it has been a good day. I was able to ride up all the hills. My goals for the ride have been met.

Pedal the Cause Day 2: The Ride

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The alarms on our phone broke our slumber at 4:30 a.m. I took the pill that replaces the hormones my thyroid used to make before cancer took it from me. Jeff took the life-saving Imbruvica pill to fight leukemia. We started our normal routine 15 minutes earlier than we do on most mornings. Cancer has made the early morning pill taking a not-to-be-missed ritual. This is what we do every morning. This morning, however, was not like every other morning. This was the morning of the St. Louis Pedal the Cause bicycle ride.

 

I took my medication and let my head rest back on the pillows again. Jeff put his feet on the floor and opened the hotel room curtains: still dark. He made his way to the shower while I dozed for a few more precious minutes. Too soon, he was back at the bedside urging me to get up and get going.

 

I made my way to the shower while Jeff, the saint, went down to the hotel breakfast nook and retrieved coffee. The magic black brew awaited me when I exited the shower. I drank it as I dressed. Jeff also presented me with another, albeit more dubious, potion: beet juice drink. Beet juice allegedly enhances athletic performance and Jeff had bought it in a powdered form which he mixed into water for me to drink. I continued drinking the coffee. My plan was to sip a little beet juice mixture alternating it with the coffee. Jeff did not approve of my plan. He insisted I drink it all at once. “Down the hatch!” he shouted at me. I complied with his wishes. It wasn’t horrible. It wasn’t delicious. I think it would be better if mixed with pineapple juice or ginger ale. Definitely don’t drink it right after brushing your teeth.

 

I finished dressing, we gathered our belongings, and headed to the basement garage praying the car would start. If the car wouldn’t start, we would need to walk to the event. Our bikes were in the bike corral. We might not be able to take the shortcut through the mall because the mall might still be locked at this early hour. We held our breath as Jeff put the key in the ignition and turned it to the start position. It started. We exhaled. We left the parking garage and drove in the dark, early morning to the Pedal the Cause event.

Jeff drove me to the entrance then went to park the car in the Macy’s parking lot. I carried my gear into Ride Village. The event lighting was bright against the dark sky. I went to the hydration station and filled my water bottles then climbed the hill into the bike corral. I found our bikes and put my Cat 5 bag on the ground near them. I began putting items in my bike bag: sunscreen packets, individual packets of chamois cream, individual packets of Skratch electrolyte packets, etc. I changed from my sandals to socks and cycling shoes. I found my sunglasses and gloves. I felt good about the morning’s progress. Soon Jeff had joined me and was making his preparations. We took advantage of the gear check station and left our bags with a change of clothes with the volunteers. After checking our gear, we left the bike corral through the now open north gate and walked over to the food area. We enjoyed coffee from the Kaldi stand and breakfast from Whole Foods. Breakfast was served buffet style and consisted of bagels, melon, bananas, and various yogurts. The breakfast area was not busy yet and we easily made our way through the buffet and carried our trays to the nearby dining area. The nearby dining area consisted of several standard metal picnic tables and a grouping of tall, round tables each covered in a dark blue tablecloth and adorned with a bouquet of orange mums. It was a pretty sight in the soft light of sunrise. The sun began to lighten our surroundings as we ate our breakfast. As we were finishing our breakfast, the Century riders were called to the start line. They would begin at 7 a.m. to ride 100 miles. We finished breakfast just before the National Anthem began. We paused to face the enormous flag hanging over the starting line and listened to a member of our military sing the anthem superbly. After the anthem was sung, we cleared our table and headed back to the bike corral.

Back at the bike corral, we made our final preparations as the announcer began to call Metric Century riders to the start line. That was us. We would be riding 65 miles today. I made my final preparations and put on my left glove. Then I attempted to put on my right glove, but I couldn’t. I had 2 left gloves. Fortunately, I had packed 2 sets in my Cat 5 bag, but had pulled out 2 lefts. Feeling like a fool, I went to the gear-check station and asked for my bag. The volunteers cheerfully helped me and I returned to my bike with a correct set of gloves with plenty of time to make our 7:15 a.m. start.

We arrived at the start line in time to hear the safety talk. The course is approximately 62 miles with an additional loop for people wanting more of a challenge. Jay Indovino, the executive director of PTC, cautions us to ride within our abilities and to not try the Babler loop if we aren’t feeling strong. Jeff and I discuss it and plan on making it through the Babler loop. I state I will crawl up it if I must, but I will make it. I am feeling strong and feisty. Maybe it’s the beet juice.

 

After the announcements have finished, a countdown begins, the starting horn sounds and we are beginning the ride. The ride begins uphill. It is a foreshadowing of the ride ahead.

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I managed to mount my bike efficiently and start well. We climbed the hill out of Ride Village, made a sharp right turn and then started a sweet descent. We road for several miles coasting downhill through the empty suburban streets of Chesterfield, Missouri. There was a strong, courteous police presence at the busiest intersections. There were also course marshals with bright orange flags holding traffic at other intersections. Everyone’s spirits were high, but I overheard several riders discussing Babler and the fact they won’t be riding it. I thought, “How bad is this Babler?”

 

I put thoughts of Babler out of my head and continued riding. We rode out of Chesterfield, behind the outlet mall, past the airport and up onto the bike trail. The bike trail is paved and atop the levy. It was a nice, traffic-free ride. We followed the trail passing a second outlet mall. We could see the store fronts to our left. A busy highway stood between us and the outlet mall. Jeff teased me about being so close to my favorite stores and not stopping to shop. We continued toward the river. Nearing the river, the trail began to lose elevation and make a left turn. We dropped down and rode under the big green bridge. We followed the bike path under the bridge, essentially making a U-turn and heading back toward the outlet mall on the other side of the highway. We had an uphill ramp to climb to make our way back on top of the levy. The outlet mall was still to our left, but we were winding our way around to its back side. We were leaving it behind and passing a pumpkin farm with several wagons of bright orange pumpkins below us. We continued along the bike path for several miles until we saw people with bright orange flags. We had reached the first rest stop.

 

We did make a short stop, top off our water bottles, eat an orange slice and make use of the necessary box. The volunteers were helpful, cheerful and friendly. The mosquitoes were vicious. We didn’t linger here for long.

 

The bike path was nicely paved except for the entry/exit which was a gravel lined inclined. We walked our bikes down the incline and then resumed riding on the smoothly paved road that took us through scenic country farms.

 

We were riding well and enjoying the day which was still cool. We rounded a curve and saw ahead of us a very steep hill. I was unsure I could climb it. I was relieved to see a flash of orange to my right. Two course marshals were waving us to turn into a road to our right: a flat road. I was happy to make the turn.

 

I didn’t pedal down the road for long before my legs begin to tell me I was moving uphill. I was doing well when suddenly the slope changed. The slope became very steep. I would later learn that it changed from 1% to 13% rapidly. At the time, I only knew that the pedaling was hard and my legs burned. I feared, I might lose my forward momentum and fall. The hill kept going and going. I pushed harder on the pedals. I focused on pulling up on the pedal as well as pushing down. I kept going. Eventually, I made it to the top. This was the first big hill we had encountered. It was not the much-feared Babler. How bad was this Babler going to be?

 

We topped the hill and rode a short plateau to an intersection where I stopped near a stop sign, caught my breath and drank some water. After a short pause, we continued our ride by turning right and beginning a steep descent. Although the descent was steep, the road surface was smooth, the route was straight and I could see the path ahead of me very well. I let the bike roll. Jeff later told me it was the most confident he has ever seen me on a descent. I hit my top speed of the ride: 38.5 mph.

I joyously continued my ride. The first hill had been challenging, but I had met the challenge and recovered quickly. We pedaled onward for a few more miles and entered the St. Albens Country Club. We rode on a smooth, paved, black asphalt road between the immaculately manicured grass of the St. Albens golf course. At the 18 mile mark, we enter rest stop #2 which was located in a parking lot of the country club.

 

We cruised into the rest stop, placed our bikes on one of the many bike racks. Next to the bike rack was a mobile bike shop. Several riders were taking advantage of the service and having their shifting tuned or their tires aired. Jeff was coveting the tools and admiring the neat, organized mobile tool shop. We left our bikes and found the snacks. Friendly volunteers offered us cookies, fruit and peanut butter sandwiches. I chose a quarter of a peanut butter sandwich and a giant chocolate chip cookie: delicious! We ate our snacks, downed and refilled our water bottles, then resumed our ride.

 

The ride away from the rest stop once again took us uphill. We rode some gentle rollers then rode up some deceptively steep, but short hills. We then had a short downhill over a creek. We rounded a curve. A small reservoir was to our right. It was a scenic, fun ride being marred by the fact I couldn’t clip in. Try as I might, my left foot would not clip into the pedal. Jeff suggested we stop. I didn’t want to stop, but agreed we should. We pulled off the road on a rare flat spot with a large, gravel, shoulder/parking area. I looked at my pedal. Nothing was amiss. I looked at my shoe and there was a large rock lodged into the cleat. I removed my shoe and balance on my right foot and handed the shoe to Jeff. Jeff used a tire tool and with much prying, he finally removed it. I returned my shoe to my foot and resumed my ride.

 

We resumed the ride for another half mile or so and then began climbing once again. First there were small rollers with plateaus, but the course was winding ever upward. We continued onward. Somewhere in the 2oth mile of the ride, we approached a bigger hill. I began my climb with courage. I was doing well seemingly approaching the top. The road curved and I realized this was not the top, but merely a short plateau. The hill continued upward and suddenly became steeper. Strava would later tell me the grade was 8.5%. I became panicky. I feared I might lose forward momentum. I pushed the pedal down and pulled it up. My glutes burned. My breath became short. I kept working. The hill continued upward. A couple of strong male riders slowly passed me. They shouted encouragement as they passed. They also made compliments on my pink hubs. It helped to detract from the pain in my legs and lungs. With much effort, I finally made it to the top.

 

At the top, I felt pride in myself. The climb had been nearly 2 miles long and I was fatigued. I kept pedaling as I recovered. My breath was coming back to me. My legs were forgiving me. I was tired, but triumphant. I continued pedaling.

 

We were now pedaling along a ridge line with small rolling hills. Always, there were hills. Not even at the top of this ridge was it flat. I was fatiguing and there were several miles left to pedal before we would reach the next rest stop. Just when I thought about making my own rest stop, we reached the descent of the ridge.

 

The descent brought a much needed rolling rest. I relaxed and let the bike roll, using the brakes a little to remain in control. It felt good to be rolling downhill for a change hitting speeds of 25 mph. All too soon, it was over. The end of our descent was the intersection of our road and a busy highway.

We paused at the stop sign and waited for a break in the traffic on the highway which happened to be famed Route 66. The traffic was heavier and moved faster than we had encountered up to this point; however, there was a wide shoulder on which to ride. We road along the shoulder for about a mile then we turned to the right and began riding away from the highway and into a forest.

 

The trees lining the road gave us shade as the road took us up yet another steep hill. I began the climb and tried to pedal through, but I was losing momentum. I felt I might lose all forward momentum and fall over. I panicked. I prayed. I was gasping for air; sucking wind. I wanted to give up, but I didn’t want to fall over. I pushed and pulled the pedals. I was moving slowly, but I was still moving. Strava would later inform me the grade was 12%, but my body was telling me in the moment it was running out of steam. I kept moving; kept pedaling; kept breathing. I made it to the top. I had pedaled all the way to the top. I had not fallen. Another small battle won in the war of this ride.

 

At the top, I pedaled onward drinking from my water bottle and catching my breath. We were now riding a ridge line and the riding was somewhat easier. Soon we came to an intersection. A man and a woman were waving orange flags alerting us that we were now at rest stop #3.

Rest stop #3 was located in Greensfelder Park. We rolled into the park and stopped in front of a shaded shelter. We had now ridden 29 very hilly miles. I was tired and ready for a rest. We placed our bikes on a bike stand and guzzled water. Jeff’s bike had been having some minor shifting problems. He spotted the mechanic’s tent at the rest stop, but there was a line of cyclists awaiting the mechanic’s services. We remained standing by the bikes guzzling water. After a moment’s rest, we headed to the snack table. Again, we enjoyed peanut butter sandwiches. They were delicious. As I was enjoying my refreshments and Jeff was making use of the indoor plumbing provided at this stop, a young woman began conversing with me. She was riding the 100 mile route and had lost her riding partner to the SAG vehicle. He had quit because of leg cramps, and now she was riding without him. She was debating whether or not she could continue the 100 mile route. At first, I was glad to listen to her, but after a short time it became clear she was having an internal circular debate out loud. After 29 hilly miles, my patience for chitter chatter was low. Jeff and I prepared to get back on the bike. The young woman stated she would probably ride with us even though we were not riding the same route. Neither Jeff nor I gave encouragement to this plan. Fortuitously, I noticed the mechanic’s tent was empty. I pointed this out and asked Jeff if he wanted the mechanic to look at his bike. He immediately started walking his bike to the mechanic’s tent. I followed him. The young woman resumed her ride.

 

Jeff and I made our way to the mechanic’s tent which was hosted by Billy Goat Bicycle Company. The mechanic was a nice young man with something of a hipster vibe. He talked with Jeff and wrenched on the bike. Jeff took the bike for a short test ride and the mechanic and I began to talk. He asked me about my ride and I shared with him my struggles. I stated that I might not be capable of doing the full route and might need to cut out Babler. The mechanic replied that there was no shame in opting out of Babler. I asked him how hard Babler was. He informed me that the Babler hills were not any tougher than the hills I had already done. He said the real challenge was there were three hills in close succession; the last one is named “the beast.” After talking with the mechanic, the thought of opting out of the Babler loop was seeming more logical. Soon Jeff returned, we said our goodbyes and thank-yous to the mechanic and resumed our ride.

We resumed our ride and bicycled through a few more rolling hills then made a fast, steep descent. At the end of the descent we took a sharp, left turn onto a park road. We began gradually gaining elevation. A very fit looking older man passed us and I  watched him as he pedaled ahead of us. He was about a quarter of a mile ahead of us when he stopped, dismounted his bike and began walking it up the steep hill. If this muscular man had to walk, I didn’t think there was much hope for me. I lost my courage. When we arrived at the same spot, I stopped the bike and grabbed my water bottle. I did not want to ride up the hill. It is hard to make the legs pedal when the spirit isn’t willing. Jeff stopped beside me. I drank my water infused with Skratch labs lemon-lime electrolyte powder and then began whining about my fatigue, and my fears. He assured me I could do this hill. I told him I would try.

 

I decided to pedal up this hill. I started, but couldn’t get momentum. Unfortunately, I had stopped on an uphill. I coasted downhill a bit then did a U-turn and attacked the hill. Stronger riders passed me and offered encouragement. The pavement was painted with slogans:

 

You got this!

Keep Pedaling!

Shut Up Legs!

A picture of a smiley face

 

You know you are tackling a tough hill when the event organizers feel the need to give you written encouragement. I pedal. I huff. I puff. I am tired and I want to give up. I keep going. Another stronger rider passes me and shouts encouragement. He looks uphill and groans and states he wishes they had opened the gate. I don’t know what he is talking about. Soon, I look up and see a gate across the road. I assume that is the end of the hill. I can see a white church up to the left of the road. I think I am near the end of the hill and hope the next rest area is at the church. I am wrong on both accounts. As I near the gate, I see paint on the road directing me to the left. There is a narrow path around the gate. It is a tough turn off the road around the right side of the gate and to the left of a road sign. There was little margin for error. I was wobbly and would have preferred to walk my bike through, but Jeff was right behind me and another female cyclist was behind him. I knew I needed to keep going. I wobbled and frightened myself with my lack of control, but somehow I managed to maneuver through the obstacle. I was now on a short plateau looking at an even steeper incline ahead. I panic, unclip and dismount the bike. Jeff and the female cyclist pass me as I begin the walk of shame pushing my bike up the hill. The grade is 13%. It isn’t easy even walking. The white church is in my sight. I am sure the next rest stop is just over this incline. I make it to the top to discover there is no rest stop, just more road.

 

We continue riding along the road until we reach Route 66 once again. We pause briefly and then cross the famous highway. We continue along our route. It is quite hilly. We are losing elevation, but riding some steep inclines while doing so. At mile 40, I do a quick mental calculation and realize there are over 20 miles of the ride left. I do not want to ride them. I am done! I could quit right now. I am hot. I am tired. I am still pedaling. We climb a steep incline and find ourselves at an intersection with road marshalls guiding us to make a left turn. Now, we have a much needed downhill. I allow myself to coast. Soon the entrance to the Babler park comes into view. I ride into the park and quickly realize I’m on a false flat. Even the entryway to this park is uphill. I pedal slowly to the rest stop.

 

The rest stop is located at the entrance to the park. To the right are racks for bikes, porta potties, a snack tent, a first aid tent and a mechanic’s tent. All were in a line by the side of the road and in the bright sun. I dismounted the bike, and Jeff took it from me. While Jeff put the bikes on the bike rack, I staggered across the road to a shady spot. I noticed a man watching me with concern in his eyes. He was right to be concerned. I was near the danger zone of overheating and was not doing well at this point.

 

I made my way to the narrow strip of grass in the shade. I paced and gulped electrolyte water. Jeff soon joined me and asked what he could do for me. I had no answer. I didn’t know what I needed. I needed a moment to self-assess. I needed hydration. I needed to cool down. I needed to eat, but I wasn’t hungry. I paced and drank from my water bottle. Jeff went to get me food. He returned with peanut butter sandwiches and bananas. He also brought an ice cold wet bandana provided by the snack tent volunteers. They had these ready for all the hot, tired riders. It was heavenly. I longed to sit down. At every other rest stop there had been chairs provided for tired riders and I had eschewed them in fear of my legs becoming tight. Now, I would love to have a chair and there were none. I sat on the low curb. Basically, I was sitting in the gutter. I didn’t care.

 

I sat there in the gutter watching the park traffic. Campers drove in and out of the park. Cyclists flew down the hill and out of the park. Other cyclists rode into the park. Some dismounted their bikes and laid down on the hill behind the bike racks, some found their way to the snacks, some took advantage of the cold bandanas, but all looked hot and tired. As we sat on the curb, I saw the girl from the last rest stop fly past us. She had not only made it to the rest stop, but had completed the Babler loop and was now heading out of the park. I hope she made all 100 miles of her ride. We took a long rest and I noticed about half the riders were riding into the park while about half were opting out of the Babler loop.

 

After the much needed rest, I stood up, and we made our way across the road and refilled our water bottles. We stretched a little and then took our bikes off the bike racks. Slowly, we maneuvered them into the road, mounted them and rode back out of the park without attempting Babler.

 

As we left the Babler rest stop, I was dreading returning up the hills we had ridden to get to the Babler park. The hill we had coasted down to get to the Babler park now became an uphill obstacle to our way home. Even after the long rest, I was struggling.

I struggle and keep struggling up and up as the hills keep on coming. We are gaining elevation with steep climbs and short plateaus. We are passed by 2 male riders, one of average build and the other between 350 and 400 lbs. I was amazed at the riding ability of the larger man. He was riding quite well as he passed me. They were about 100 yards ahead of me when they began a steep climb. I caught them and Jeff was following me. The climb was steep, but I pushed myself to pedal. I was within 8 feet of the larger rider when he suddenly stopped and dismounted his bike. I managed to weave my way around him and stay on my bike as he walked his up the hill. I kept pedaling and soon caught his friend when he abruptly stopped in front of me. Again I swerved and made my way around him. I managed to pedal up the hill leaving the boys behind me to walk their bikes up the hill.

 

The hill leveled out and we found ourselves at an intersection where we were forced to stop for traffic. Our route took a right turn up a sharp incline. I found it difficult to start uphill, but with a great effort I managed to start and pedal up the hill. The walking boys were back on their bikes and overtook us. I pedaled slowly, but I kept going.

 

We kept going until we crested the hill and soon saw signs warning us the road ahead was a steep descent. I became nervous, but Jeff encouraged me. I took the descent with caution, but found it to be fun. Once at the bottom of the hill we were back on the road we had ridden on our outbound journey. Now, we were headed back toward rest stop #1 and the bike path. We encountered more rolling hills and I was exhausted. We were soon being passed by a group of friendly riders dressed in tuxedo riding kits: their riding jerseys were black and white with a tuxedo design and their riding shorts were black with a tuxedo design on them. We had seen them and talked with them at several stops throughout the ride. They seemed like a fun group. They shouted encouragement as they passed. Soon we were all at the next rest stop. Rest stop #1 now became rest stop #5. We had ridden over 50 miles.

 

We stopped on the shoulder of the road at rest stop #5. It was there where we met Jack. Jack approached us and asked us how we were doing. He was kind and friendly and genuinely interested in our ride. He was standing behind an official ride vehicle and unlike the riders was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. I discussed my struggles. Jack listened and encouraged me. He told me not to be discouraged for struggling because this course was designed to be very difficult. He said, “This isn’t your grandpa’s charity ride.”  Jack was the creator of the ride route. I didn’t have the energy to strangle him, so I accepted his encouragement and then found another peanut butter sandwich.

 

After eating our snack, we remounted our bikes for the last leg of our ride. We began riding the trail on top of the levy. We followed the path into town that we rode out of town. The sun was hot and the wind was now stronger and in our faces. I rode at a good pace, but was growing tired. We made it to the exit point from the bike trail. Bike marshalls cheered us as we passed. We came to a busy intersection near the outlet malls and several strong riders joined us. We rode together in front of the outlet malls. The traffic is heavier now, but the road has a bike lane and we journey onward. I am wanting a rest, but there is none. We are passed by more riders. We are nearing the end of the ride, but the road once more turned uphill. The hill that was so much fun to ride down at the start of the ride was not fun to ride up at the end of the ride. We needed to gain over 570 feet of elevation to make it back to Ride Village at the Chesterfield Amphitheater.

 

I rode as hard as I could, but I was riding slow. I was making my way uphill when the unthinkable happened. The inner thigh of my left leg began to cramp. It was painful. I was afraid I would fall off the bike into traffic, but I willed myself to keep going. I prayed to make it up the hill. I didn’t make it up the hill, but I did make it to an intersection where the hill leveled for a few feet. I pulled into a drive for a gated residential area. I dismounted the bike, rested it against an iron fence and tried to stretch my leg. I leaned over the fence and caught my breath. A few more riders passed us. I told Jeff I would walk my bike to the top of the hill. I hoped I could ride the bike to the finish once I walk to the top of the hill. Once again, I was doing the walk of shame. We walked our bikes a short block. Jeff spoke of calling SAG. I did not want to SAG out of the ride. He was not convinced I could make it to the end. We had less than 2 miles to make it to the end. I couldn’t fight the voice inside my head urging me to quit and fight Jeff too. His judgement was better than mine and I told him so.

 

We stopped in a shady spot and Jeff called the SAG number. A couple of riders passed us. I could no longer hold back the tears. I stood on the side of the road and sobbed. I did not want to quit; and yet, I knew I could not tackle the two hills between me and the finish line. Jeff consoled me as the SAG vehicle arrived. The young man driving the SAG vehicle looked at me and said, “You need some AC! Get in the car.” So much for being a strong, independent woman. Now, I had two men bossing me. I knew they were right. The waterworks were turned off, but the frustration remained. I climbed into the bright blue station wagon while my bike was put on the bike carrier. Jeff asked me if I minded if he finished the ride. I didn’t. I was jealous, but I didn’t want him to quit just because I was weak.

 

Jeff continued the ride while I road in the air-conditioned SAG vehicle. The air conditioning was refreshing. The young man driving the SAG vehicle was a part-time employee of Big Shark Bicycles. We made conversation and I learned he had a degree in mathematics and was struggling to find a job in his field. He was about to start a new job and I wished him well. He was sympathetic to my disappointment in not finishing the ride. He told me I was the 11th person he had carried in the SAG vehicle. He then told me there were 6 vehicles rescuing riders. He hypothesized there were 60 to 70 people who rode SAG to the finish.  The young mathematician pulled the SAG vehicle into a shady spot. I was somewhat confused because we were not back at Ride Village. He pointed to the corner and said, “The finish line is around the corner. If you would like to finish, I will let you out here and you can ride across the finish line. I won’t tell anyone.”

 

I took him up on his offer and thanked him. I remounted my bike as he pulled away. I coasted down the hill, around the corner and into the finishing shoot. I had to dodge a ladder and workers dismantling the finishing line, but I rolled through the finish line.

 

As I rolled through the finish line volunteers cheered and rang cowbells. They offered me water and I accepted. I left the volunteers and found Jeff at the bike corral. I may have accepted a little help, but I finished the hardest ride of my life. It was time to celebrate.

 

Route Info and Stats Here

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Living Proof photo of cancer survivors taken Saturday evening before the Inspirational program.

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Donate to Jeff’s PTC ride

Pedal the Cause Day 1: The Party