I’ll always have Fargo
A couple weeks ago I wrote about a cross-country bicycle trip I took back in 1997. These last couple of days of my treatment have reminded me of two or three really hellish days from that ride that threatened to ruin the whole trip. We’d hit these really strong headwinds in eastern North Dakota and had to grind through flat, unprotected rides of up to 100 miles a day going just 8 to 10 m.p.h., spending close to 10 hours a day in the saddle. The last day of the North Dakota segment was a 92-mile ride from a small town called Cooperstown into the city of Fargo and then across the Red River into Moorhead, Minn. The headwinds out of the southeast were predicted at a steady 20-25 mph for the entire way — so it looked like it could take as long as 12 hours to complete the day’s ride. But trip organizers told us at our camp in Cooperstown the night before that anyone still out on the road after 6 p.m. would have to abandon their bikes and hitch a ride in a support van so the tour could stay on schedule. Doing such would have meant surrender and humiliation to those of us going cross-country, because if you got in the van even for just one mile (let alone 10 or 20 miles) it meant you didn’t really ride your bike across the whole country. We wouldn’t have been able to look one another in the eye when we reached the Atlantic. So a bunch of us got together and said, ‘No way we’re getting in the ‘sag wagon’ — no matter how hard the wind is blowing.’ ” We set out extra early that morning and packed a change of clothes on our bikes in case we had to pull off into some small town and hunker down on our own — and then worry about catching up with the rest of the tour a day or two later. It didn’t matter. We weren’t getting in the van no matter what.
But that day’s ride — July 11, 1997 — turned out to be not as bad as expected. We somehow managed to dodge the worst of the winds early in the day and make better headway than we’d expected. By 11 a.m., the winds were blowing hard but we were already more than halfway through the ride. A couple hours later we crossed Interstate 29 and I remember feeling like I’d made it home to the Midwest, because I-29 is a freeway that originates in my hometown of Kansas City and shoots straight north to Canada.
Still, the thing I remember most about that day was pedaling the final 15 miles into the city of Fargo, which was probably the largest city we’d seen since leaving Bellingham, Wash., more than a month earlier. I have rarely been so happy to reach a place in my life. Finally, there were trees, houses and buildings to block the wind. We knew we’d made it. And after that, we knew there’d be nothing on the rest of our coast-to-coast journey that would stop us. The highest mountains, the longest daily rides and the worst potential winds were now behind us.
I’m getting really tired of these days of being tired. Sprawling out on the couch half asleep for most of an afternoon and still going to bed early at night is not my idea of living. It’s just like grinding out a whole day going only 10 m.p.h. into the wind on a bicycle — no fun at all. But I’m down to the wire now. I took my next-to-last chemotherapy pill this morning and went to radiation. Thursday will be the last day for both — at least for awhile.
When I pull into the driveway of my home after that last treatment, I hope I will feel just like I did that summer afternoon 12 years ago when I pedaled my bicycle into Fargo.