Friday, January 28, 2011

The Last Chapter, Part 2

Day Two, Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday morning - cold, grey and misty, people walking stiffly from tents to portapotties to the long line for breakfast. Not a great breakfast, but everybody eats anyway, because we have another 120 km to go before the day is over.

I’m pretty tired, not much sleep last night - my days of sleeping on a thin foamy are over, and my earplugs didn’t quite cut the racket from the various snorers in the neighbourhood. My legs are stiff and sore, stretching helps somewhat, but I still feel pretty wrecked. There’s only one thing to do, and that’s to get back on my bike and head south.

Yesterday was a piece of cake compared to today. It’s cold, and midway through the morning the drizzle turns to rain. My brain is tired, and I have to keep telling myself to pay attention, stay alert, stay focussed. My shoes are full of water, my bike is covered in mud, my glasses are splattered with rain and grit. The enthusiasm of yesterday has been replaced with grim determination - got to keep going, got to get to the finish, can’t let anybody (especially myself) down.

I stop pedaling and let myself coast for a bit, but soon realize that it’s better to keep spinning - I’ll get there sooner, and then this will be all over. My hamstrings are still pretty sore, but they aren’t getting worse. Last night I was worried that they might seize up, or maybe just disintegrate completely, but like a lot of things I worry about in the middle of the night, it’s not happening.

Pit stops are brief - a quick pee, top up my water bottles, inhale a banana and a granola bar and get back on the road. The Talbot is working wonderfully - thank you again, Eli! No flats, no nasty noises - it’s all good. I don’t know where the rest of Team Napier is - ahead? behind? There’s no way of finding out. I keep riding, head down, grinding up the hills, braking down the backside, riding very carefully, because I’m almost there.

And then I’m there - the last turn, through the gates on to a muddy field full of hundreds of cheering, clapping people.

It's completely overwhelming. Some lucky riders are all wrapped up in shiny space blankets, trying to keep warm. Kids in strollers, kids running around, knots of huggers, dazed riders, lineups for hot food and drinks, piles of wet luggage, more cheers as more riders arrive.

I'm standing in the middle of all this, cold, wet, muddy, dazed, and very, very happy.