The ride yesterday morning was beautiful. It started chilly but the sweeping ocean views and rolling waves made it worthwhile. Our plan was simple – climb Torrey Pines, descend into La Jolla, climb Soleded, descend, ride through La Jolla, down Torrey Pines, pack up, go home. The perfect ending to a training weekend of new friendships, a thousand laughs, and moments of breakthrough pain.
The first climb up Torrey Pines came early in the ride but was a good way to warm up. Marit is behind me saying nothing but positive, pushing words. She is a perennial cheerleader and no matter how hard she works she always has air to say something good.
We descend into La Jolla and then arrive at Soledad – a few cautionary words and the rule – whatever you do, do not stop. Chris darts ahead. Thomas soon follows saying that Chris is making it look too easy. I follow. The grade gets steeper and my feet spin slower and slower. My quads hurt so bad I fear they will explode. Or my heart. Or my head. I want to stop. I want to just sit down and throw the bike the other way. But this morning I told myself there would be no stop. No chicken today.
When you dig deep enough your mind quiets and you wait for words to arrive. There is screaming pain in your body but a silence in your head. And at that moment I heard a voice – it was my own and it said do not be afraid of your own power. I pushed on and finally found the top. Marit followed soon after and proved to herself yet again that she is capable of climbing any mountain in life. She has what it takes.
We took our time with the return. Rode through La Jolla. Marveled at swimmers braving the turbulent rolling waves in La Jolla Cove. Climbed out of the cove then down Torrey Pines. This last descent is long – I caution Marit to be careful because the descent is filled with pine needles, cones and bumps in the road. I descend ahead of her to point out the obstacles along the way.
We make it safely to the bottom. But then we ride into giant swarms of gnats and I think we were both a bit shaken or caught off guard. I scream that I am slowing and pull over to the right slowly. Marit says she looked to see what was on her sleeve, looked at her computer then looked up before colliding with me.
By some miracle, my right hand was already on my brake and I was braking. Marit’s bike attached to mine and pushed me forward on my bike; it was almost as if her front wheel rode in between my left crank and the frame. In retrospect, I remember thinking at some point me and the two bikes would fall. I could hear Marit yelling and having the sense that next we would crash.
You never know what you will think or do in this moment. But I found myself thinking be slow, relax and go with the fall. So I fall to my side. For some reason I do not even feel the fall. I was going very slow when she collided with me and miraculously slowed enough to where I felt like I went forward with her bike attached to mine, controlled it and then eventually slowed to a fall.
The bikes are on top of me. I am still clipped into the right pedal and I am trying to shake my foot out. Because behind me I see Marit. There is nothing worse than crashing except seeing your friend behind you in pain. Or realizing that you are ok when your friend appears hurt.
Marit moans. She is in pain. Visibly there is just some road rash on her arm and her rear. Otherwise she seems ok. I know she is shaken; plus she has never crashed before. Crashing is nervewracking – and as the adrenaline wears off you start to realize how risky and serious the situation is. Somehow, she musters up the energy, the spirit, the tough cookie she is mounts her bike to pedal back.
Slowly we make our way back to Brad’s place and we look over Marit’s injuries. Her body looks ok but she is in a lot of pain. A short while later we decide she needs to go to the hospital. We wait. And wait. Wait some more. She has some xrays, and ct scan, an MRI and eventually is admitted. Everything happened slowly at first but then very fast.
Marit is hurt. She is hurt but she will heal. She is scheduled for surgery at 5 pm today. In the next few days, it would be very meaningful if you could drop a note to Marit. She has appreciated all of the phone calls today and her room felt like a non-stop party line. Even if you do not know her, take my word that Marit is spirited, a shining ray of light. She is refreshing, vibrant and one of the most optimistic people I have ever met.
Not only that but like I said in South Carolina, she is a tough cookie hard to the core. Who else would be plotting their return with needles in their veins? Or telling me they were going to can my ass in the pool because they were going to spend the next 6 – 8 weeks swimming like heck? Or talking about which Ironman would be good later this year. Or what races they would make their comeback at. Or say the good thing about this is that she doesn’t have to drink any more carbo – pro. Or imagine all the things she could do in the downtime. Listening to this I realize that even if she can’t get out there and train she will be visualizing her next race and in doing so will become more powerful than she already is.
Like any athlete, Marit is thinking ahead to recovery. Soon enough she will read this and I say to her: do not be afraid of your own power. You have what it takes to heal quickly and emerge stronger than before. You will have new meaning to the words powerful, tough and strong. You will redefine them for yourself and in doing so will prove that you have what it takes to achieve anything.
Today Marit asked if I would write about what happened. She is wondering if she should write too. Neither of us is sure how we crashed. We were not going very fast at the time. We were not even riding close to each other. We rode 12 mile descents down steep mountains and a fast paced group ride – yet crashed on a flat road 20 minutes from home. The questions keep multiplying the mystery of what happened and why. I visit her, see her laying in pain and think to myself – why her, not me. How she crashed hard and I just slightly fell. It is a sense of guilt and helplessness that right now I cannot let go.
There are more questions than there will ever be answers. And for now I will just help Marit by being the best friend that I can. And by helping her to believe in herself. I believe obstacles are opportunities. I believe the bodies of athletes are not only resilient but brilliant – and will take only time and hope to heal stronger than before. I believe in Marit today, too. She will be ok.