Wednesday, September 28, 2011
What goes up must come down, or, "Why couldn't my home state be Kansas?"
Today I began the BIKE NC journey by cycling 69 miles from Banner Elk, North Carolina, deep in the Pisgah National Forest mountains, to Wilkesboro, a town known as "Where the mountains begin." My ride began 4,000 feet above sea level and ended at just over 1,000. So I know there was more down than up. Some of the down was so terrifyingly steep, through hairpin turns on narrow roads, that my fingers ached from braking and I thought my hands might give out. But there was also a lot of up. 1,000 feet of elevation gain in 10 miles at one point, climbs that lasted for minute after minute after minute where each pedal stroke took what felt like all my strength yet the bike moved so slow and wobbly that if I skipped even one stroke the bike would topple over. Getting to the top of one of those climbs, usually right when I was ready to stop the bike and start wheeling it on foot, was glorious. Whoosh.
The truth is I was not trained for that ride. Neither for the grueling ascents or the tactical challenge of steering downhill with traffic coming up behind you. But I made it. I stopped at two convenience stores for Gatorade and an energy bar or cheese crackers, chilling out for a few minutes, and took two or three more breathers along the side of the road to stretch and check in on the flurry of text messages and Facebook posts from well-wishing friends. Those meant so much!
I feel lucky to be off the road the first day with no serious soreness, actually feeling pretty good. My riding time was just over 6 hours, plus stops, with an average moving speed of 11.5 miles per hour. That's slow, but it's what I planned. I have to keep doing this for four more days.
I wish I had pictures of so many things today: Cascades running down a steep wooded bank toward a shady, curving two lane road; purple mountain flowers; tiny clapboard churches, a pony who galloped the length of his fence to keep me company; the road sign for Eastern Continental Divide on route 16 right before I dropped 1,200 feet in about five miles, flying down at over 30 miles per hour on a curving descent. We live in a beautiful state and I thought as I rode that this state's future is in the hands of today's children. I want them to take good care of it, and I want us to give them the education so that they can do so.
I stopped in Todd, North Carolina (a handful of houses, a bakery, and general store clustered in a river valley with mountains all around) for one of my pit stops. The general store is full of folksy things, jarred food, North Carolina candy. An elderly gentleman had just parked his car in the town and stopped me to talk about my bike. He and his wife liked to ride; he wanted to know how may gears my bike had and how far I was going. It gets lonely out there, so I was happy to chat for a bit. When I told him I was on a fundraising ride across the state, he asked me what the cause was. I told him I was raising money for nonprofits that help underprivileged children get an education. He asked me if I took donations. YES! And he handed me twenty dollars, just like that. What a wonderful man. People do care about education. The gesture carried me the next 10 miles.
I've questioned the relevance of this bike ride to education and its challenges, to how all of it fits together. Today, it makes sense.
If you haven't donated - now is the time! If you have donated - THANK YOU. Now please think of someone you know who cares about education and equality and wants to see things done differently, better, for children. Ask them to give a little too.