Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How it All Started

In the spring of 1986 I was a senior in college at Montana State University ("Go Bobcats!!"). Having bailed out of my Chemical Engineering major after realizing that advanced calculus and stoichiometry made my head hurt – a lot – I was on my way to graduating with an-oh-so useful Political Science degree. That meant I could look forward to a super job waiting tables/bartending, or go to law school, or maybe grad school in some liberal arts field. Anyway you looked at it, I was going to have some time on my hands . . .

In the meantime, my older sister had a real job. She was a nurse in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Billings Deaconess Hospital. As a grown-up with a real job, she was entitled to vacation. Really, is America a great country or what? Being a bit of an adventurer, and knowing a few like-minded souls, she planned to take a self-supported bike trip down the Oregon coast with two other nurses in the summer of 1986. Also, being one the very best big sisters a person could ask for, she invited me along.

The plan was for her and her friends to take 3 weeks of vacation. We'd drive out to Oregon, ride as far as we could in the time allotted, and then deadhead home to get the working girls back on the job.

I didn't even own a bike. But I went to Billings over Spring Break, and with Eileen's help, I picked out and purchased a beautiful blue Schwinn Le Tour road bike.

Back in Bozeman, I started to "train." Looking back, it is pretty comical. I had another sister living in Belgrade, about 15 miles from Bozeman. So, I'd ride out to Mary's house, look pitiful for a while, get her to feed me real food (remember, I was a college kid), then she'd feel bad and give me a ride back to town.

I clearly remember the first time I rode the Bozeman to Belgrade round trip; I got to my apartment, took a shower and very gingerly walked to a bike shop and threw down for a pair of cycling shorts with a chamois. The best investment I ever made (at least up until that point in time).

After graduation I moved to Billings and roomed with Eileen. I got a very important job at the Target store (I worked in the jewelry "boat"), because I only needed something to tide me over for about 2 months before I quit to head out on the bike trip.

Nurses have the hardest job in the world. But, they get a lot of time off, depending on the unit in which they work. At the time I lived with Eileen she worked 3 12-hour shifts, and then had several days off in a row. So, between my slacker retail job, and her schedule, we actually had quite a bit of time to ride and train for the trip.

The two other silly girls who were participating in the adventure were Mary R and Vicki H. To this day, Vicki is one of the strongest women athletes I've ever met. She had a high pain threshold, a great attitude, and strong strong legs. Mary was our peacekeeper; even-tempered to a fault and able to ride her bike all day, every day, over and over and over again.

I don't have nearly enough time or space to share all the details of our trip (and I’m quite thankful none of the incriminating photos are digital . . .), but it was a life-changing experience for me.

I had never pushed myself physically to the point of complete exhaustion. I had never anticipated how truly wonderful a hot shower could be at the end of a long day riding in the cold coastal mist. I never knew that I could be hungry enough to eat half a sandwich before realizing not only was it not chicken (which I ordered), it was still mostly frozen! Vicki's bike was a flat tire factory, so we all became quite competent at changing flat tires – a skill I'm still rather proud of today.

I also learned that cyclists are non-threatening to the natives; especially four forlorn girls. All the people we met on the trip were interested in our adventure; amazed that we were doing it; slightly bothered that our parents were allowing such a thing (I was the youngest at 22 – our parents had long ago given up the reins); and encouraging in every way.

So that is how my biking life started.

When we got back to Billings I landed a job waiting tables and tending bar, and had plenty of time to go riding. Since I was fairly broke, it was a perfect outlet – it doesn't cost anything to go for a bike ride. I had riding buddies anytime I wanted to go (again, that great nurse's schedule), and riding kept me from becoming as big as a house, since I was on a fairly high carb beer and more beer diet at the time . . .

I've been riding for 23 years now. Cycling has taken me to wonderful places and I anticipate it will take me to even more over the next several years.

Eileen gave me the gift of a lifetime – and a lifestyle - how can I ever thank her?

1 comment:

  1. Gift of a lifetime is really the peanut butter, dark bread, pastrami, cheese sandwich. The best thing in the world on a bike trip, the worst thing to eat in the real world. One day I will back on the bike but I will not do the Leadville ride you are a little scary now. Love Lee