We had no idea what we were getting into. There, I said it.
I just discussed this with a few of the ladies and they agreed: we knew this would be hard but… this hard? We couldn't have even imagined it if we tried.
At night when we finish I want to cry. In the morning I want to jump out the window. By 6am I am ready to fucking go for it again. It's a constant process of destruction and resurrection. A daily face-kick to non-believers, including the one that lives inside of me.
We've done about 530 miles in four stages with 26,000 feet of climbing. And this is the flat part of this rodeo.
Yesterday (Stage 3) I looked down and thought, "I'm not really sure how these legs are still doing this."
Then we hit kilometer 185 and category 4 and 3 climbs started shooting out of the ground at catastrophic gradients. 13%, 15%, when it hits 17% you have to stop looking.
You know how you know when a ride is hard? You're climbing and blood starts spurting out of your nose. (For the record, I just wrote "nose starts spurting out of your blood" and had to fix it. Which is to say I'm really cashed.)
The kind (and powerful) Dutch woman who came by me while the blood rolled down my wrist and arm gave me a bit of tissue. I stuffed it shut and kept going - there was still one more climb to do. My advice to you: don't do threshold efforts while swallowing blood. Unless you're at 198k of a stage of the Tour de France. Then you just keep rolling.
For the record, shiny white Giro road shoes look a little better with some dark, dried blood spattered across the front. So does team kit.
Despite the nosebleed, yesterday was a good day. Today wasn't.
Today I woke up and thought, "How?"
Then I went and sat on my bike and figured it out. It involved eight and a half hours of constant concentration. A barrage of thoughts:
Hold the wheel.
Wind changed, find new wheel.
Climb coming up: move to the front so you have room to fade.
Hold the wheel.
Gapped again, shit.
There's that miraculous Dutch guy floating back to get me again.
I love that guy. I love that guy.
Back in the group. Hold the wheel.
New wind. New wheel.
Little rise in the road.
Cue the stabbing pains to find more watts to close the gap.
There's my teammate Kristen coming back to bring me up again.
You're not dying.
Hold the wheel.
Hold the fucking wheel.
We passed the seaside and road on shady rolling roads that sang, but I saw almost none of it. Today was a day for dying. 140 miles of dying. 6,000 feet of dying. But I stayed on.
This exertion is at a whole new level. Over breakfast Kate and I discussed the associated delirium: a little hallucination, a sort of vortex of tranquility.
Back in our hotel room, I waxed philosophical while my roommate Jennifer endured my elation. "This is blowing my mind. I mean: think about it… we're just mortals and here we are deconstructing this mythology… this monument."
Every stage we finish is a victory which is a trite way to say, we are battling for this shit. These days do not come easy. None of them.
More than anything we owe everything to our new Dutch and Belgium family: a peloton that has taken care of us without question and with unending generosity. We are surviving because of this group. We are surviving because of a band of mortals who keep pedaling everyday because this is what they said they would do.
Theirs is a steady, modest bravery and a natural courage. We learn more and more from them every day