I flip through the race bible to study the profile for Stage 10 and I realize that we are almost halfway through the book. How did that happen?
Every hotel and motel has blurred into a single location, all with the same hard bed and lagging internet connection. Don't bother asking me what day of the week it is because I haven't a clue. Which stage is tomorrow? That I know. Stage Ten.
Those who didn't believe we would make it through the high volume mileage and blustering winds of the first eight stages have now expressed their surprise, offered their congratulations and moved on to the next round of doubting: yes, but will they survive the real mountains? After all, these cols define the race. If you fly all the way to France and never finish the queen stage, did you even really begin to touch the Tour?
We will wake up at 5:15am tomorrow to begin the second stage of this endeavor and at kilometer 164 we'll start a long march up the storied grade of the Col du Grand Columbier: 17.4 kilometers with an average gradient of 7.1% (5 kilometers of it will average more than 9% with frequent punches to 12% and above). Starting in Macon and ending in Bellegarde-Sur-Valserine, we'll cover 194.5 kilometers in total, with three categorized climbs along the way. We'll finish late in the evening, slump into a one-hour transfer, wait at the next hotel for a late dinner to be served and then fall into bed for another 5 or 6 hours of sleep.
Stage Eleven is far uglier. (2 HC, 1 cat one and 1 cat two climb)
Being here on these roads, in these mountains, so close to this race… it brings out the magic. Looking at the profiles on the page means nothing. Everything that happens on the road is exactly what was supposed to happen. Every pedal stroke is as meaningless as it is meaningful. We love these bikes. We love these bodies. We abuse them both. In the name of sport or stupidity, for better or for worse.
I'm told that one of the Dutch men here commented that what we are doing is not heroic ("They're just cyclotouring.") You know what? He's right. It's not.
We're just girls on a really long bike ride. And we're not after hero status. But we're doing something that we did not believe we could do. In the scope of life, these are important moments whether you're pedaling or not. Later, we'll remember these miles. We'll call on them during trials that are more significant.
Maybe we lack Dutch stoicism. That straightforward and quiet confidence of the group around us. Maybe our approach is messier, louder, needier and more dramatic. I accept my faults as they are amplified by the stress of this. I expect compassion from my teammates. I expect this to be hard. I expect frustration. I do not expect to always be understood or liked. I expect to struggle and to laugh.
We're here to ride bikes, not to be heroes. This is the biggest adventure of our lives and we are writing the story as we go. It may not look exactly the way we thought it would.
There's no time to memorize a script. There's no time to wait for the perfect moment. This is happening now and it is wonderful and chaotic and exhausting and trying and amazing. All at once. All the time.
All we can do is be here and pedal through it. Glance over the shoulder every once in a while to make sure the Super Six Pack is still in formation. Check in with each other when we start up the opening kilometers of a long climb. Send each other good thoughts when we know a teammate is struggling.
Today was the calm before the storm. Eating, washing, laundry, errands, organization.
Tomorrow the real tour begins and I'll coast into battle with my favorite little army of six blue-and-black non-hero heroines. Six women and a country full of mountains.
To the sky, ladies. To the sky.