Thursday, May 31, 2007

Two Different Experiences

I have been receiving phone calls, text messages and emails from people all asking me about Ira's condition. We really appreciate the support. Ira is fine, and feeling much better. We did have some hard days there trying to get to Philly. It was really hot 95+ degrees. We had brutal sun and then out of nowhere a blasting rain, in which I got drenched to the skin. Then the sun was out again beating down on us (so it wasn't completely miserable being wet).

Upon arriving to our friend Shelby's house in Philly after two long grueling 80 mile days up evil steep little hills, Ira collapsed on the ground proclaiming it had been the hardest day of the whole trip. I laughed off his comment, saying it had been hard, but he is just exaggerating. Later when Ira collapsed again for real in the hallway due to heat exhaustion and dehydration, I realized, he was telling the truth. That day had been the hardest day for him.

Although the days between DC and Philly had been hard and strenuous, I would by no means categorize them as the hardest. I experienced much harder days in the past. The first half of the trip was much more grueling for me. I remember a day I collapsed due to dehydration, fatigue both physical and emotional when we were in the Bad Lands.

The badlands are the first piece of rugged wilderness you come upon when heading west. Riding through Minnesota and South Dakota, you see miles and miles of rolling farmland. While I appreciated the beauty of the rolling fields, my heart and imagination was still wrapped up in the promise of the west, the untamed rugged wilderness just over the horizon of the tamed domesticated plains. Arriving in the badlands, Ira and I both felt the drunken excitement of this first taste beauty and magnificence of the west. We wanted to be explorers and chart a course which few white men had ever dared tread. Of course being surrounded by all manner of huge RVs hindered our ideas of being intrepid pioneers. So when we heard about a relatively unvisited rustic campground miles down a small dirt road which stemmed off the main 25 mile tourist loop, we felt compelled to visit. The rustic campground was only accessible by foot or bike and had no water, so we would need to pack water in. The idea of being out in this rugged landscape in a place not many people visited truly excited us. We arrived outside of the park at night, so we found a campground to pitch our tent, and planned to enter the park early the next morning.

The past week had been very hot, averaging in the upper 90's. We had been getting up at 5, to be on the road by sunrise, around 6 every morning to get as many miles done before the heat of midday when we would find a place to rest out of the sun. We were having our first rest day in a week, we slept in slightly later then usual that morning. I woke up at 6 so I could watch the sunrise over the desert landscape. I tried to get Ira up, but as with every morning, it was a hard task. I didn't actually convince him to get up until 7 so we didn't get on the road until 8, by which time it was already 92 degrees. I knew we were in for a hot day. We packed as much water as we could, and proceeded into the park. It was stunning and beautiful, but the stark landscape with the unbearable heat made me fully understand why it had been named the badlands.

There were three large climbs on the road through the park. Up until this point, the only hills we had climbed were through Wisconsin. Wisconsin hills can be steep and rolling, but they are never very long. These hills were our first experience of sustained climbing. I didn't have the confidence or the skill of climbing I have since gained through my experiences through the Rockies and Appalachians. I was still completely terrified of the idea of the Rocky mountains yet looming ahead of us, so the big hills we were trying to climb that day really had my psyched out.

While I was waiting for Ira to get out of bed that morning, I had been debating about whether it was a good idea to camp in the park that night. With the heat and the rustic campground with no water, I wasn't sure how much water we would need, or if we would be able to bring enough. I was still infatuated with the idea of camping in such a romantic location, but reality was starting to creep in. I went along with the idea because I knew Ira wanted to do it so badly and I didn't want to be the type of girl who was afraid to do something adventurous.

As we rode, it was getting hotter and hotter. We were drinking too much of our water too quickly. I realized we were not going to have enough water to spend the night if we kept drinking at that rate. Ira, being bigger needs more food and water then myself. So I started rationing my water intake on our ride. Looking back I realize how incredibly stupid that was, but I was trying to do my best to make the situation work. I knew how much Ira wanted to camp out, and I thought by my calculations he was drinking way more then I had thought. I figured I would drink less to make it up. I was listening to my ipod while riding, and I was timing it so I could take one drink of water for ever other song, each song being about 3-5 minutes. Its so ridiculous now that I look back on it, but at the time, well, I had a goal and this is how I thought I could achieve it; by assessing our resources and rationing them out in a controlled way. Stupid.

As we continued our ride, I felt myself getting weaker and weaker. Because I was so intimidated by riding hills, I chocked my fatigue up to not having much experience riding hills. I thought it was because the hills were steeper then I was used to riding. I just needed to get over the exhaustion and discomfort, because bigger hills were in our future. We would stop occasionally to look at the beautiful scenery from a nice vantage point, but all I could see was a dry wasteland who's rugged beauty was killing me. Normally I am the photographer, but I didn't have the will to take any pictures, so I had given the camera to Ira. He kept stopping to get a good shot and I just went along trying to have fun and enjoy myself but all the while feeling totally exhausted and dead.

I kept going, but soon I was past the breaking point. I fell off my bike and collapsed on the side of the road. I was gasping for breath, and intermittently crying. The sun seemed so hot and bright I felt as though I was trapped in its firm grip, unable to get off the ground. Ira knew I was feeling fatigued, but he had no idea I was in such a bad state until now. I started berating him quietly (because my voice was raspy) about how this was all his fault. He had talked me into this, he had pushed for us to camp that night. How he was drinking too much water and we weren't going to have enough. How I was trying to ration the water so we could make it... He looked at me horrified.

"I can't do this. I can't do this. This is hell." I kept repeating over and over again.
"You've only drank one bottle of water?" he asked.
"I knew we weren't going to have enough, by the way you've been gurgling it down" I replied.
He looked at me with a sad face. "Its way more important for you to be drinking enough water then for us to camp out tonight. Here, we're just going to sit here, until you drink all of this" he said as he handed me a full bottle of water. "When you feel up to getting up, we'll head into town. We don't need to stay out here tonight."

So we sat on the side of the road, until I drank enough to where I could get up and get back on my bike. Ira offered to find someone to give us a ride into town with their truck, but stubbornly I refused. We were very close to the end of the scenic loop at which point it was only 8 more miles, all down hill into town. We arrived in Wall, South Dakota, home of Wall Drug Store the biggest tourist trap in the world. We got set up in a campground and went over to the drug store for our "free water" which is their famous tag line. Being in civilization again, made me want to cry out in happiness, even if the civilization consisted of a mostly geriatric group shopping for collectible spoons.

It took me a whole week to get my strength back after being so dehydrated and demoralized. We had two more horrible days of riding after that until we got to Rapid City for a rest, including 20 miles on the interstate with 35 mph head winds and 100 degree weather, all the while, I was suffering from horrible blisters on my bum. We met up with some amazing people there who took us into their house and gave us wonderful hospitality so I could rest.

Looking back, these days were the hardest for me. I was so close to turning around and going home. Yet Ira didn't really have that hard of a time. At the time, I remember Ira writing a post about our trip through the badlands. This is the only reference to my horrible experience there. "We planned to camp in the park at a rustic campsite (no water!) but the heat and exhaustion made us alter our plans and head for town after the scenic climb." This is partly because it was the beginning of the trip, I was unsure if we were going to be able to accomplish this huge goal and I was unable at the time to admit any of the really hard elements of the trip. I didn't know how to gauge i was just being a baby or if things were really that hard. It was also due to the fact that Ira didn't really understand how hard that day was for me. He had yet to experience any days that tested his metal; tested his determination that fully.

Ira and I have been together for 7500 miles of riding, through 23 states, yet we have very different stories to tell of each days adventure. We've experienced things very differently. On days he is doing good, I may be dying and vice versa. I remember so many climbs in the Rockies, he just cranked up no problem, while it took every ounce of fiber in my body to get me to the top. I also remember a climb through the Appalachians where I was in the flow of the climb, and Ira was dying. A truck came by and asked us if we wanted a ride, and I replied, we didn't, because usually I am the one who wants one and Ira enjoyed riding the hills. He admitted later he felt so horrible and exhausted, he would have taken a ride in a minute except once I said I didn't want a ride, his pride wouldn't let him accept one either; he said he was afraid he would never hear the end of it.

Its both a good and bad thing. It is easy for us to discount the problems the other is having, if we are feeling in stride. Particularly for me, since Ira is a stronger rider then me, it is sometimes hard for me to understand he is having a hard time if I am not. So sometimes we push each other past our limitations because we aren't really communicating with each other clearly. On the flip side though having a completely different experience can be rewarding. It's wonderful at the end of the day to sit down, after having ridden the same 70 mile stretch of land and compare stories. "hey did you see that dead boar off the side of the road?" "No, where was that." or "That small waterfall was amazing wasn't it?" "What waterfall?". Although together, we both experience things totally differently. We fill each other in on what the other missed or overlooked and we get to experience the day in a whole new way.

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