Day 53 Wednesday, August 31 Fallon to Gardnerville, NV 81 miles
Oh how I wished “oops” captured the degree of profanity I expressed and felt today. This was a really hard day. In many ways I was unprepared for the difficulty of today’s ride. I had anticipated that I would ride the 61 miles from Fallon to Carson City, get a motel, and then go to the bike shop tomorrow to pick up more electrolyte tablets and chamois butter (helps prevent saddle sores). Then I had planned to ride the 20 miles to Gardnerville on Thursday where I have scheduled a Warmshower host. I fully anticipated a sort of casual “Sunday drive” ride where I could practice my newfound interest in “smelling the roses” on the journey.
I probably let my guard down after reaching Fallon. For one thing as I entered Fallon yesterday, I passed by a few miles of farmland and I read that as having left the desert and moved into a less severe environment. First mistake. Secondly, after traveling through one anda half states over the past 10 days where services were sparsely located, I was relieved knowing that there were about 5 potential stops on my route today. Lastly, I did not even consider the fact that the wind that has blown consistently in the afternoons would still be there. The truth is I had set my sights on reaching Fallon and my mind took a mental rest. Understandable, but the desert was not done with me and today I came as close to being broken as any time on the trip.
It was the damn wind. I felt like I was riding through molasses for a full 30 mile stretch. At times I would look down at my rear tire thinking this can’t be just the wind. I must have a flat too! But, it was the wind–a direct 12:00, in -your-face wind. It was so strong that if I stopped pedaling I ground to a halt within a matter of feet. For 30 miles I pushed through it at an average speed of just 8 mph (1 mph faster than my steepest climbs on this trip).
It was so constant and unforgiving that I simply resigned myself to the fact that I would be grinding through this all the way to Carson City. One of the survival mechanisms that the mind does when there is that much physical pain is that it numbs you out. I had gone from cursing the wind in the early stages to feeling bitter and resentful toward whoever put me out here (real clever, huh), to finally just psychically shutting down. I was ready for this on Trail Ridge Road. I was completely unprepared for that level of physical and mental exertion today.
With my head down just concentrating on the pavement in front of me I wasn’t aware of the ascents or descents in the road ahead of me. All I knew was that I had to grind it out. Then I came over a rise in the last 5 miles before reaching Carson City and there was a steep descent that turned away from the wind. I quickly picked up speed. It was the first gift of the day and I started to cry and then sob as I coasted down the hill. At least I was feeling something again.
I know that the sudden relief after nearly 4 hours of punishing riding was the catalyst for the release of tears and emotion. But, it felt like there was more. Maybe I finally allowed myself to feel just how hard these past fews days really were. And maybe I was finally releasing the stored up grief for how hard life can be at times. So much of this pilgrimage is rooted in the feeling that I just happened to have landed in the ministry as one world is slipping away and another is being born. I am a sensitive person and I grieve for the long time members of the church whose life is tied up in our tradition and I long for those who have left the church, but who seek an open, welcoming spiritual community where their journeys are affirmed. I often feel like I straddle these two worlds without being fully embraced by either. And so the sudden gift of a downhill section after a long, punishing ride brought tears and more. Pilgrimage as life. Life as pilgrimage.
There were other gifts along the way. All before the wind picked up I had conversations with three different people wanting to hear more about this journey. Anne at Jerry’s Restaurant shared how her family just bought bikes to get their whole family riding for health reasons. Larry, who suffers from war-induced dementia, had snuck out on his wife for a long ride. She doesn’t approve of him riding out alone, but he says he needs the rides for his own physical and mental health. He saw me and offered water from his home if I needed it. And 18 year old Mike had quit smoking after 9 years and was now concentrating on taking care of himself better. He was at the halfway point of a 30 mile ride when we talked over Pop Tarts and water.
I am now staying in the beautiful home of Gabe and Joanie in the small picturesque town of Gardnerville, NV just at the base of the Sierras and Lake Tahoe. I had planned to stay in Carson City and arrive at Gabe and Joanie’s place the following afternoon. Gabe called and offered for me to come earlier and after a little re-arranging I decided to come tonight, take a rest day tomorrow, and then start over the summit of Carson Pass on Friday. This will be my last major mountain pass. Gabe and Joanie are a complete delight and great feisty conversationalists. After the unexpected difficulties of the day, having a two night layover in one beautiful place was enough to get me to add the additional 20 miles and arrive at my host’s house.
I am wrung out tonight. But, something broke loose after I crested the hill into Carson City. I don’t know all the reasons for the good cry, but I feel some relief. Could it be that the wind itself was a gift in disguise? Maybe one day when I am telling the story I will think so, but for now I am still cursing it and mad at whoever made me do this!