America the Beautiful (Day Fourteen)
Note #1 – due to the extreme difficulty of Days Fourteen through Nineteen, Kevin and I have been referring to the stretch as ‘Team Week’. This name is in recognition of, but also in respectful deference to something called ‘Hell Week’, which is a rigorous part of Navy SEAL training. Yes, our week will be grueling. But, in the end, we’re just riding bikes. Despite the terrain and challenges, we know better than to compare ourselves to the SEALs. ‘Team Week’ is a name to remind us that it’s going to be beyond difficult, and that we’ll get through it together, if at all.
Note #2 – Due to this being Team Week, I quietly and personally (until just now) have dedicated my efforts in it to the memory of Brendan Looney. Brendan was a US Naval Officer who was killed in Afghanistan on his final mission on his third tour. He was a Navy SEAL. Brendan had attended the Naval Academy, where he played lacrosse. I know both of his brothers, Stevie and Billy, through playing lacrosse. Brendan was legendary for his heart, nerve and sinew. By any and all accounts, he was not even able to be measured in these areas. No one had seen anything like him. I dedicated my week to him in hopes of borrowing some of his strength. I hope he keeps coming through like he did today…
Back to our story…
Kevin Mincio is, after all, just a human being. He’s very strong, but he can be grumpy like the next guy, get tired like the other guy, and need rest like anyone else. We went into ‘rest day’ with both of us needing…well…rest. Thing is, Kevin really took advantage of the opportunity to heal during his rest day. For that, I’m glad. It was a perfect storm, really – take a motivated but tired man and allow him a few things: A) anniversary dinner with his wife B) precious time spent with his brother’s family, and especially with his beloved Godson, Joshua (never seen Kevin’s adoration for another human being, outside of his wife, that he has for this 11 year old gift; AND, he started
Day Fourteen’s ride with us wearing one of my jerseys and on a unicycle)… C) actually having time to rest his legs and D) the opportunity to reflect on the fact that the last time he’d been on a bike (at dismount on Day Twelve), it had been at a Memorial for some of his lost comrades who’d made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan. You see, when these things are all added together, combined with this individual’s knowledge that ‘Team Week’ looms ahead, and you have a monster on your hands (again). Only, this time it was better.
What I’ve always wanted for Kevin (and, I’m not sure if this is what he wants for himself, but who cares??) is that he would be able to feel alive. I want to see him be able to enjoy the things around him. To let go a little bit. To not only take time to smell the roses, but maybe even plant a few. To watch him laugh. To turn a frustrating situation into a shrug, followed by a wisecrack, like a good Long Island kid should do. He’s earned it, for heaven’s sake.
Today, he did that. Not only did he bring a peerless determination to the rugged terrain, but he enjoyed its beauty and recognized opportunities to share them. To be amazed by what he saw. I mean, even this blog’s title was unapologetically plagiarized from him; he said to himself, but (unfortunately for him) loud enough for me to overhear, ‘America the Beautiful; that’s what this is’. So, I ran with it and I’ll definitely be running from him when he reads this later on! Sorry Mince! You always say that people can handle the truth! Seriously, this was, by far, the most rewarding day we’ve had.
The course was beautiful beyond description. As Kevin put it halfway up our initial 5,500 foot climb, ‘we’ve definitely left the desert!’ Indeed. There were birds and trees and rocks and things (and more, obviously). Big, shiny red rocks, with 1,500 foot cliffs, straight up to the heavens. There were impossible angles to these natural monuments; sharp features that somehow curved while promising you that they were straight. There were jagged edges with deceivingly smooth finishes. There were streams loud enough to drown out passing trucks, and occasionally even Kevin’s Goldman Sachs stories. Sometimes – many times in fact – pine trees would just grow out of the side of a sheet of rock, with almost no offering (read: opportunity) to have a base. How does this happen? What could be so strong? Thinking back about it now, I’d bet that Dr. Seuss spent some time in this area during his formative years.
All I know is that, if I were a tree or shrub, I’d rather be one of those trees that grew straight out of the rock than to be a weed that’s getting pulled out of a highway median by some derelict doing community service. Just sayin…
Also, I’m pretty sure that if Jesse Williams or Brendan Looney were a tree or shrub, they’d be the kind that stuck right out of the proudest rock face there. And, they’d be the boldest, strongest tree around. Again…just sayin’…
So, today we climbed 5,500 feet in our first 27 miles on the 58 mile course. It was in the upper 80’s all day long and at times hotter. We had some steep grades to negotiate (on the way up only; the descent of this peak was simple, all things considered).
But, when dedicating this first day (and the following five) to Brendan Looney, I was short-sighted in my request; I only asked him to give me some leg strength and the will to find a greater endurance. Turns out that I did fine in those areas, but my stomach and jaw hurt from laughing and smiling so much at this opportunity that’s in front of me. I didn’t think to train for the amount of ‘grin endurance’ that I ‘struggled through’ today.
Hope I didn’t just anger the cycling gods with that one. Tomorrow and the rest of the week is a different story, and all of us, including Brendan Looney, know it.
For the Families of the Fallen. To the Limit.
Care Creates Community,