This is the week of sleepless nights, spent packing, asking “What if…?” and checking over my bike one last time. Or 27 last times.
Then, on Thursday, I’ll drive north with a fellow Phat Tuesday teammate to arrive in Sturbridge, Massachusetts in time for registration and opening ceremonies on Friday night. On Saturday, at oh-my-gawd-it’s-early o’clock, I’ll join 5,000 other riders on the start line in the predawn darkness and we’ll roll out to ride across Massachusetts, ending up at the tip of Cape Cod on Sunday afternoon.
Standing at the end of that spit of land, with the waves of the wide open Atlantic washing up around me is almost as far as I can go within the U.S. from where I stood 29 years ago. Then, I was standing on the edge of Dad’s grave, his casket suspended above the wide open mouth of dirt, waiting to swallow him whole, never to be seen again, except in my mind’s eye.
Never to be there in bed in the morning, before the alarm goes off, for me to snuggle with, to explore the mysterious creases of his huge hands. Never to ride bikes with to Sunday school. Never to stand on the beach, water lapping at his ankles, waiting to catch the bow of my boat as I sailed into shore in the cool California evening after an afternoon of freedom gliding before the wind back and forth across the harbor.
But he’ll be with me as I prepare to ride. As I stand at the sink to shave, I’ll remember looking out from under his blankets, watching him stretch his legs as he shaved, and I’ll stretch my legs. As I look over my bike on the starting line, I’ll remember being on our white concrete driveway as Dad showed me how to fix a flat and lube a chain. And I’ll have all of you with me too–not just those of you on my jersey, but all of you in my mind.
Some of you have donated. Some of you have cheered me on, from near and far, during the long days of training. Some of you have shared your stories of how cancer has affected you–battles fought and won, and others lost. All of you have made my ride possible.
The first year I rode, I called myself Team Bradstein on a lark, but it became apparent to me even before I rode that year that it did take a team to complete the 200 miles. It starts in the winter, after all the fundraising and riding, when everyone else’s thoughts turn to holidays. That’s when I call my brilliant cousin and ask if she’ll design my jersey for the next year. That jersey drives half of my donations, so we brainstorm ways to do it better the next year. And then I contact key supporters and ask if there’s anything else I could do better–more emails? fewer? more swag? less? I couldn’t finish this ride without everyone who supports me. And, of course, nobody supports me more than Mama and the kids.
Mama is the one who goes to bed by herself while I stay up to ride my bike into the night in the family room. The kids are the ones who wake up on weekends ready to play with me, only to find me already out the door on a training ride. And all of them spend a weekend without me as I take a trip across Cape Cod–OK, so I’m not exactly sipping cocktails while I lounge on the shore, unless you count Gatorade as a cocktail and riding a paceline into a block headwind lounging.
And all throughout the year they tell me it’s OK that I do what it takes to get ready, they cheer every dollar raised…and they raised a few of their own.
Without them, I could never start the ride, much less finish it. That’s why, when I come back home, I’ll go to bed at the same time Mama does, I’ll relax, and I’ll put the bike away…for a week or two.
But then it’s time to get back on and start training for next year, because I’ll never forget how it felt on that November day to stand at Dad’s grave, feeling as empty as that dark hole. And I won’t stop riding until nobody has to feel that way again.