In 1999, I would tape all of the meager coverage of the Tour de Fwonce–yes, videotape–that ran while I was at work, then come home and sit on the floor in front of the couch, eat my dinner and pore over it, occasionally crying. Watching Lance win decisively was exhilarating, due in large part to the tension–would he crack? would his competitors surge past him? would his team be able to support him? But what kept me glued to the screen were the emotions that watching him raised in me.
Having lost Dad to a relentless brain tumor despite having the best medical care available, I was overjoyed to watch Lance dance up the mountains and fly through the time trials. Every pedal stroke was a flash of hope, cutting through my hopelessness and resignation.
Generally, I’m an optimist, but when it comes to health and cancer and lifespan, losing Dad–likely the healthiest member of our family–to an unstoppable disease when he was so young tempered my optimism on those topics. Or removed it entirely. It proved true the old saw about living well, staying healthy and getting hit by a bus.
As a life-long Christian Scientist, Dad had never smoked or had a drink; he kept his weight the same as it was when he was in college and the Navy; he kept active chasing after and playing with the six of us kids; he rode his bike to the train station in his three-piece suits to go to work. None of that mattered when he got a brain tumor.
So, watching Lance, who had not only two lesions on his brain, but also cancer throughout his body, rise through the rain to the tops of those distant peaks, felt like redemption. It felt like Lance was not only kicking Zulle’s ass but also cancer’s ass, and it allowed me to start believing again. To begin hoping again.
That was the same year that Mom organized a family gathering in Laramie, which was about two hours north of where Mama and I were living at the time. It’s also where Mom’s mom grew up and lived until she met Grandfather and moved away, returning permanently after she died. We would visit Grandmother’s grave, hike through the Snowy Range that she loved, and visit the school and other locations around Laramie where our ancestors who came to Wyoming before Grandmother worked and lived.
Of course, this gathering was during the same week when Lance came to our town to ride in one of his only post-Tour races.
Decisions, decisions. But there was no decision, really. Of course, Mama and I went to stay in Laramie with Mom and my siblings for the week, and I don’t regret for a moment the warm memories I have of that week, even if Mama’s car did get dragged around the hotel parking lot by an RV in the middle of the night. Mama and I came home to tales of folks who got to see Lance, hang around with him, and so on.
Fast forward nine years to this year. Mom is gone. We’re still trying to clean out her house. Mama and I haven’t been on our bikes since we rode 100 miles together. But I still believe. I still hope. And I still would like to see the man who gave that back to me all those years ago.
So when my sisters both told Brother #2 that they could make a trip to Mom’s house in February, it wasn’t coincidence that I picked the weekend that the Tour of California is going to pass over some of the very roads that I labored over when I was in junior high and high school. Nor was it a coincidence that it’s President’s Day weekend, since that saves me taking a vacation day. But it was an unfortunate coincidence that it’s also Valentine’s weekend, which means that 3B and I will be away from Mama for the day of arrows and hearts and doilies and hard little heart shaped candies.
Yes, I’m taking 3B with me to California. Yes, we’re flying on Friday the 13th. Yes, we’ll be away from Mama on Valentine’s Day. There are several reasons that I’m doing this, including
- We’d like 3B to know his aunts and uncles well, and they’ll provide free babysitting.
- On every past occasion when I’ve had to take a trip, Mama had to handle 3B and Barky and her job by herself.
- I’d love to show 3B another bike race in person, especially one with Lance riding, even if it is just a flash of color as 100 men in tights fly by. And I’m expecting another good time since Brother #2 and I had such a fun time at the last one.
- Did I mention the free babysitting? But seriously, where do I have to go? I’m there to see the babysitters…er…my family after all.
So that’s what I’m doing for Mama for Valentine’s Day–taking myself and 3B away. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a large box of chocolates to order.