Here's our story:
Michele and Leslie are old friends. They both lived in Texas and had young babies. Les lives in Rye, NH now, and she and her husband Jeff own Gus' Bike Shop in Hampton, an institution in these parts. They are doing an amazing job serving the greater Seacoast area.
Les in particular is truly my hero and inspiration. She started riding seriously a few years ago when they bought the shop and immediately got her friends riding, too. I started riding with her two years ago. Gus’ no-drop women's ride on Thursday evenings during the spring and summer seasons got so big and so famous, Bicycling Magazine came out to interview Les and Jeff. They also did a photo shoot of our women's ride on Route 1A along the coast. Amazingly enough, the ride was named one of the the top shop rides in the country!
Each year I've ridden with Les, I've faced a new challenge. Our first year, we rode a century, which she finished, and I did not. But 51 miles was my best to date at that time. Last winter, Michele wanted to do a ride in honor of her father, who had died of lung cancer. She contacted Les who agreed hands down to do the ride with her. I lost my mother to lung cancer a little more than a year before, and I soon sort of invited myself to join this ride. I had a hunch that I needed a goal to up my riding status. Meanwhile, Jeanne, another of Gus' Gals from Rye, also planned on riding, and Les and Michele went about creating a spectacular girls' weekend for us.
This weekend had everything--a rented cottage lakeside in Farmington, a masseuse each night for hour-long massage on the deck, and clean healthy carb-loading food we prepared together. And, of course, lots of wine. In the end there were six of us: Les, Michele, Jeanne, me, Dana--another friend from Texas--and Ali, Michele's daughter who came as our designated driver. Since we stayed in one place every night, we ended up getting to our starts way after everyone else departed and rode all day, for the most part, alone. We didn't care. We stuck together and got each other up the hills. We sang, yes, sang at the tops of our lungs, covering “Climb Every Mountain” to “I Love to Ride my Bicycle.” For me, it felt as if I reinvented myself. As if I truly became “a rider.”
The turning point happened on our first five miles of day two. We left Farmington happy and ready to go, and soon hit the first long and gradual ascent. I felt forlorn. Looking up at the rise ahead of me, I hit the proverbial wall. Why was I doing this? There was no way I was going to be able to do this after 71 miles the day before. Les was last in our group and came up beside me slowly on the wide shoulder. She must have been able to see the defeat in my slumped body and my face.
“I think I could burst into tears.” I said to her quietly, and then she did something that changed everything for me. She just talked to me. She didn't cheerlead. She didn't try to convince me of anything; she just evenly and quietly talked me up that hill, never stopping once. She talked about our legs and muscles and spinning steadily up. She talked about hills at home we'd trained on. I don't know what else she said, but what I felt was this: I had an angel on my shoulder who was not going anywhere. I never felt despondent again. And when we hit that awful final hill of the trek on day three, about ten miles out, our proud and happy husbands at the top on their bikes waiting to ride us in, I attacked that rise with a vengeance, knowing there was still more in my legs, that I could do this.
As we crested, I turned to find Les coming up beside me one more time, as she'd done for three days with her unbelievable tenacity and optimistic spirit, only now she was crying, a big lurching, kind of “I'm trying not to cry” cry. At that moment, something in my chest broke a little, because she'd done this--gotten us all together, led us through, come to my bedside at 5 AM with hot coffee singing, “Good Morning, Chicka!” Every day, she made us laugh with abandon, and I wondered at that kind of sustained energy and light and ability to give to others, to make things go better for everyone else, all the time. Like you do when someone is dying of cancer. Like I imagine the American Lung Association has figured out to do for so many, and that's why I rode. To spend time with my gals and to give. I'm a little afraid I got the best end of the deal. Thank you for a wonderful opportunity!