The Gran Fondo

6:00 AM

This past Saturday, Kyle and I participated in the Arvest Gran Fondo - a 67.8 mile bike ride around Central Arkansas.  The ride began downtown outside the Spokes- Orbea Main Street shop and then headed out of town into places I had never seen before, and may only see when taking this type of an organized ride in the future! Definitely not places I'd ever ride on my own. 

This ride was a first for me. The first organized ride like this I've ever done, the first Kyle and I have done together, the first time I've ever ridden with a pack and experienced the fun of drafting and the LONGEST ride I've done to date (previously, 23 miles is as far as I'd gone).  With the rain we've had lately, I've ridden outside very little, so  I felt ridiculously unprepared to ride 67.8 miles. In fact, beforehand, Kyle told me there was the option of a shorter ride of 50 miles. I had pretty much made up my mind that we would be doing 50...I just couldn't see how I'd be able to ride 70 with the amount of time I'd spent on a bike (not nearly enough).  Except that on the morning of the ride, we realized it wasn't 50, it was 37 miles. Hm. That's a heck of a lot shorter than 50.  Weighing the two, there was really no question in my mind - we were going all the way. It wasn't a question of whether I could do it. I just WOULD do it. That's all there is to it.

The good news is that apparently all the other training I've been doing lately (tri-specific weight lifting, running and swimming) carries over into cycling fitness, because I found that overall, it was pretty easy. Now, our average speed wasn't 25 miles or anything. More like 17mph, so we could definitely kick it up a notch next year.  But with my inexperience on long rides, I wasn't about to kill myself and have to be hauled out by a rescue vehicle. You should always have gas left in the tank.
I had a little left.

The Gran Fondo means the long ride, or the endurance ride. They have them all over the country, and I think one thing they're known for is really good food.  This one is known for that, in any case! There are two pit stops mid-ride with delicious treats and beverages to refuel you (bananas, pancakes, apricot/rice balls, pickles!, pickle juice!, containers of watermelon) and lots of food set up at the end to reward all that endurance! 

One of the best treats at the pit stops was the Leiva's coffee brew that Geo and Alana offered the cyclists. A cold coffee/chocolate milk combo that SO hit the spot. In fact, without Geo and Alana, Kyle and I wouldn't have ridden at all. They sponsored us. We were honored to be out there spreading the love for their coffee! 

I wasn't able to take many photos on the ride, but I actually stopped and turned around to take the one above.  This enormous tree had shoes slung all over it! I'm sure there's a story and I have no idea what it is, but it was an unusual sight worth capturing. Look close - there are hundreds of pairs of tennis shoes draped over its branches! 

Here's Kyle, me and Alana Leiva at the second pit stop. We had ridden 50 miles at this point! For the first half of the ride, Kyle and I rode together, but not really as part of a larger peloton. Which was ok with me, because I was just enjoying riding, period. I'm also quite happy to ride alone. This says a great deal about me as a person...

Around mile 40, we somehow formed a pack of random people and stuck together for probably 25 miles. As I said earlier, this was a completely new experience for me. I quickly realized that yes, there are some lovely benefits to riding close together in a line and drafting. You can maintain high speeds with little effort! It was so much fun! 

If you've never ridden on a really long ride like this, there are elements of it that may not sound fun. Hours upon hours of sitting on a hard little seat pedaling and pedaling, up and down hills, through puddles, the occasional gnat flying into your mouth (true story), dogs running up and acting like your leg is their dinner, sore muscles...but that's just one aspect of it. All the other aspects of it are absolutely amazing. 

For starters, anytime you embark on something like this with a bunch of other people who find the same thing really enjoyable - there is a sense of camaraderie that is quite special. Whether it's fellow runners or fellow cyclists - you instantly form a bond with these people. They get this part of you that many others do not. They don't question that you want to spend your time this way. They love it, too. 

So there's that.  And then there's just being out in nature.  I am not what I'd consider a nature person. I hate bugs, particularly mosquitos and I don't like being hot or sweaty unless I'm working out (as long as I'm wearing work-out clothes, bring it on).  Put me on a bike, though, or on a running path, and everything changes. I am able to truly soak up and enjoy God's beautiful creation. On a run, you see things move past you at a slower pace, but you still find yourself exploring new paths, roads, parts of the state you would otherwise never see.  On a bike, you increase that exponentially as the increased pace increases the territory you are able to cover in the same amount of time.  Riding through back roads, country lanes, up and down hills that undulate like a wrinkled quilt...glimpses of other lives and stories unfold as you ride by. I saw a rooster perched on a fence, crowing his lungs out and it made my heart so happy. I said hello to barking dogs, smiled at strangers, waved at cheering kids, chatted with other cyclists I'd never met. But mostly, just observed the quietness of a Saturday morning. Felt the cool breeze drying my sweat, listened to the hum of the wind zipping past my ears, took in all the lush green forests and later, undulating fields as our path took us on a meandering journey through farm land.  

It was a blissful 4 hours when no one asked me for food or to do something for them. I didn't have to play Solomon and decide who gets to play with the toy they all want.  All the stresses and daily wear and tear and frustrations of motherhood just fell away, like old scabs.  I healed on that 70 mile ride.  My body worked, my mind stilled, I prayed and praised God over the miles, exulting in the world He'd made that I was able to so thoroughly soak up and enjoy. 

In many ways, it was a state of bliss. Of grace. Of release. Of escape.
Yes, I worked hard. Especially towards the end when I needed more fuel, but didn't have any.
And even that is a beautiful thing - you experience the mental part of what challenges endurance athletes. You could quit. Lots of people would. But will you?

Not a chance. It's when you dig deep and say, yep, there's more to pull from. 
I've got this. And you pick it up a notch. And then you cross the finish line and there's the satisfaction of knowing you went further than you've gone before. And you look forward to the next time.

Thank you, Geo and Alana, for giving Kyle and I the chance to do this! 
We love you guys so much!

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  1. Wow! That is a ton of miles! I think the most I have gone was 20 and I was exhausted after that. Way to go! Congrats!