The day began with an alarm at 4:15 a.m.
I was due in Broomall at 6:30, and although the commute in the early morning murk would have taken no more than 40 minutes or so, there was a dog to walk first.
So I popped out of bed as quietly as possible, dressed for the pre-dawn chill, grabbed the leash and collar, and set forth with Parker.
I didn't want to cheat him, even though I knew that an expenditure of physical capital in the morning might come back to haunt me later in the day. But what the heck, I thought. It's a good warmup.
So we walked one of our usual two-mile treks.
Back home, I filled his kibble bowl and his water bowl, changed, and hopped into the car.
It was ride day.
For the second year in a row, I was attempting the MS City-to-Shore Ride to benefit MS. This fundraiser is a 70+ mile ride (not a race, thankfully) between Cherry Hill and Ocean City, NJ. Last year, as a rookie rider, I successfully completed the course with my team, the Spoke Busters, blogging about the incredible experience here.
But this year was different.
During the prep for City-to-Shore 2012, I was unfortunately unemployed. One of the only upsides to that disaster was the opportunity to train more rigorously. I could basically get out on two wheels every day of the week, which I did, for the most part, weather permitting. After my morning chores and scrub of online job hunting sites, I'd mount my metal steed and roll through a dozen miles or so.
This year, being gainfully employed (thank God), I had a tougher time prepping.
My rides would be limited to weekend, and even they were tough to get out, taken up with projects like this one.
By early September, however, my weekend calendar started to clear and I found myself with more time to prep.
There was also one big upside to this year's ride.
I'd be sharing the road with one of my oldest, closest friends. JT had, almost by accident, been at the finish line last year and made a commitment to himself that he'd join the Spoke Busters for 2013.
We trained together, riding both in NJ and PA to acclimate to longer mileage. And had a lot of silliness along the way. Added benefit.
The other challenge that emerged this year came in the form of a notice from NJDOT, which determined that a pothole along the way would require a detour.
So what was a 78-mile ride.
Became an almost-80 one.
And so as the sun crept above the horizon on that early morning of the ride, JT and I -- along with our team -- set out.
It turned into a brilliantly beautiful day, making the roadwork an enjoyable time in the late-summer temps.
John and I paced ourselves together, catching and passing other SB members; allowing them to pass as they chose. As happened last year, we all connected at the five rest stops along the way.
We talked as we rode, JT and me. Laughed ourselves silly. Spurred each other on. At a stoplight, as the cyclists clustered behind a police officer and waited for the go-ahead, we noticed a biker with a sign above her rider number: Today Is My Birthday.
It didn't take much of a mischievous look between us before we launched into a top-of-the-lungs rendition of "Happy Birthday."
The fact that we didn't know her name didn't stop us at all: "Happy Birthday, Dear Ridergirl, Happy Birthday to Youuuuuu!"
We also giggled at the cyclist who seemed intent on nothing more than selling his riding partner financial products en-route. Mile after mile, he prattled on about household income and college planning and cashflow interruptions.
The cycling salesman.
The up-hill huckster.
I reminded JT of the scene in the Woody Allen movie Take the Money and Run, where Virgil Starkwell is put into solitary confinement, where his punishment is made all the worse when he's locked up with an insurance salesman.
Much of the same goodwill that carried me along last year was also an inspiration this year: Signs along the way. The occasional neighbor at the end of the driveway, clapping and cheering.
When John and I ran out of conversation (shocking, I know), we merely dug in and churned through the miles.
The finale, as was the case last year, consisted of the double-hump bridges to the north of Ocean City. By then, a stiff wind had kicked up, requiring a real dig-dig-dig of effort to get over, especially the first.
The second, however, turns toward the island itself, which thankfully put the wind squarely at our backs. We ascended and waited for our teammates at the pre-arranged stop.
Congratulated each other.
When the Spoke Busters were again united, we whooshed down the far side of the incline and into Ocean City proper.
A few twisty blocks later, we had made it.
Last year, this ride was a matter of: Can I make it?
This year, this ride was a matter of: Can I make it again?
But as before, considering where the dollars go and who they benefit, this much remains unchanged.
Crossing that finish line may have been fun.
But it really wasn't the point at all.