Hell on Wheels
I break my bike. Freak accident - a stick straight into the drivetrain. I am sitting 4th wheel, no one even notices the offending object before it attacked my beloved rig. Derailleur rips straight off and sucks up into the wheel.
I stop pedaling immediately, swing my leg over the frame and calmly assess the situation. At first, I think I'll be able to fix it but I quickly realize that isn't the case. I sit down on the wall on the side of the road while Kate, Kristen and Kym are having a look.
My tour is over.
I'm not riding anymore.
I am only halfway up the first above category climb of the day. This is the throw-down stage. The queen stage. The big one. It's going to kick my ass and I'm looking forward to it. I came to France for this day and now it's all over. All gone.
Someone calls our support vehicles and they're on site within five minutes. It's true, my bike is unrideable, but we have an idea. Matthius' bike is in the back of the van - every once in a while he gets let loose to go for a spin.
The Flechage are soon on site and between the lot of them, they whip together a working ride for me. Kate changes the stem while Matthius puts my saddle in place. Brake pads are changed. The Flechage miraculously make a SRAM wheel work with a Campy drivetrain. I can even get into my bailout climbing gear (truly a miracle).
It's a little big. The fit is off. The bars are way too big. The pedals have too much float.
But, goddamit, I'm rolling.
Maybe you can imagine how hard it is to climb almost 17,000 feet in a single day. Now try to imagine doing it on an unfamiliar bike with sore knees and back.
I want to describe to you how hard it was and how many times I wanted to quit but that morning I had written "gratitude" on my leg in Sharpee pen and all I can think about now is how amazing it is that I got to finish the ride. How incredible my teammate Kristen Peterson is for sticking with me through every last pedal stroke on every angry grade. How wonderful it was when Jennifer stopped and scored water from strangers when I ran out a few k into the Tourmalet.
I tried to look around a little bit as I battled bike and mountain. Historic roads unfolding down the mountain in loose looping motions behind you. The most beautiful cowbells on more beautiful cows. The grade school aged kid meditating in the tent on the side of the road. The strangers on the final push of the day who handed me an ice-cold Coca Cola right when I needed it and then went crazy with cheering as I rode away drinking it. Kym Fant telling me stories. Kym Fant getting lost and then sprinting back to find us.
We made it through the queen stage.
It wasn't pretty, but we're still in it - all of us. Maria has made an awesome comeback from the accident and is riding super strong. She crushed today's stage in a big way.
Stage 16 in the books.
Running approximate totals: 16 days, 1910 miles, 133,000 feet of elevation gain, 128 hours.
Today we'll climb more mountains and I will try to experience the discomfort on the bike as gratitude for the chance to keep pedaling. I'm running on about three hours sleep and a mountain of will: let's hope it's enough.