This is the story from Day 19, the 55 mile journey I took with Rachel from Mary Hill to Crow Butte Park, along the Washington Side of the Columbia River.
The day dawned bright and promising as we left our waterside camp to cycle onward through The Gorge, watching as the scenery turned from verdant riverbank to austere red desert. Spectacular walls of striped rock rose up on our left, while the Columbia continued faithfully on our right hand. The road ahead loomed long and the morning air hovered high with the promise of deep heat; sweat like morning dew grew up on my arms, and we moved forward into the brightening day.
And then. Coming round a bend, we saw that our first five miles would be Vertical ones. Forced unexpectedly into go-mode-maximus, my body had to figure out how to meet the struggle--and quickly. Thus began a crash course in cycling geometry.
There is a sweet balance point for riding with power and ease, and I found it for the first time on this day--'twas a matter of necessity. I would lose it and find it and lose it and find it several times before my body finally built a map: the fire in the gut fuels the feet as they swim in forward circles, body levitating in the saddle to follow the spine as it tilts wind-ward, pointing the way ahead. It feels like flying. Like running on the Air. And it's all in the thinking about it; I imagine my feet to be swimming and my feet swim. My knees and back no longer carry the burden and pain disappears. It's make-believe-magic.
After many miles and many hours of powerful riding through desert and rock and brush and riverbank, we came to a little park with a pier out into the river. We jumped in. We ate lunch. It was glorious. Then we got back on the bikes and rode another ten miles to the nearest town for popsicles and a brief air-conditioned respite. By now the day's promise had ripened into a fire-y bloom and the black pavement echoed up a screaming mirage of HOT. It would be another twenty five miles to the campsite; we were droopy but we would make it. Armed with bottles of ice water and an iron determination to protect and propel my party to safe haven, I led the way back into the heat.
As navigator and the Person Who Had the Idea of Doing this Crazy Thing, I felt a mother-bear-like duty to take care of my riding partner. We were both just beginning to find our strength, so this afternoon's challenge was to be an epic one: heat and hills. The landscape bleak and brown and desolate, I wondered that the Columbia was only meters away; we cycled along its curves, gazing to the right to sip wishful sips of it with thirsty eyes. The road sizzled. The miles crept by, each one more slowly than the last. Our team was fading, moral was sinking. Fear was creeping in. Fear is a big problem. Fear is to be avoided at all costs. By some nasty trick of back-mind alchemy, fear takes a possible journey and turns it into an impossible journey. What to do? I was surprised by my mind's instinctive solution--to play Pretend.
Either my brain was addled by the heat, or this stuff really works: I imagined us as Lewis and Clark, desperate on the trail, leading a sick soldier to safety--we had to make it, for the sick man's sake. I was Merriwether Lewis, Rachel William Clark, the bikes our trusty horses. It was 1805 and it was hot and we were strangers to this brutal landscape: of course it was scary. Somehow, this game of pretend magically transferred my fear and suffering to the imaginary sick soldier that we were transporting, leaving me free to enjoy the powerful ride, to be strong and free and racing. Is that strange? Maybe. But it worked.