Against the Wind (Day Twenty-Nine)
I’m not so sure that I’d describe my feelings as relieved in the first part of the day, which amounts to the part that involved the course of Day Twenty-Nine. While I’d had some reluctance about the early stages of Act Two and the way that it seemed to have a potential for a monotonous ride, today proved to be anything but boring.
The course initially seemed to be brighter, and its long flat landscapes brought with it some very striking views. Bright blue skies met the horizon in a crisp way, with sharp contrast to the orange and deep green fields. We had all, at one point or another, commented on how different it seemed from the day before. It was peaceful, and the cool in the air could probably be attributed to our early departure time. We had gone ‘wheels out’ at 7am in order to beat the heat as well as to consider the 103-mile course. One reason that it looked different is that we had taken the wrong road upon leaving the hotel. We figured out our mistake relatively early on, though, and made the correction. It was sort of funny, though, and it would not be our last challenge of the day.
We course-corrected as a team, and the effort was helped in no small way through the efforts of the Media Team as well as the world-class SAG crew. Once back on track, we rode furiously for the day’s big milestone: we would cross the state line and enter Kansas. The feeling of crossing that border was, in and of itself, a monumental feeling of achievement. Despite knowing that we still have a long, long way to go, there’s something about leaving Colorado behind and jumping into Kansas, in an official way, which made us feel that we were remarkably on track. For some reason, this milestone was unlike any other we’d experienced on The Ride.
After a brief celebration, we got back to business. Ten miles into Kansas, we got our first blowout of the trip. I was wondering why I was having to work so hard to crank the pedals when we noticed that my rear wheel was fast becoming flat. In record time, though, we changed it and we were on our way. We stopped in the town of Syracuse, Kansas for lunch and a quick sit in the shade. We found ourselves at a Veterans’ Memorial Park to do so. It was a great stop, and without it, things would have been much tougher later in the day.
After lunch, the headwinds began. And, they wouldn’t let up for the rest of the day. They were relentless, and they tested the will of all involved. We had put in place some drafting strategies for the day, as we knew that we’d face some headwinds and we had The Ridettes along as guests. They say that even the best-laid plans can fail, though. While ours did not, they definitely took some tweaking to become effective. We battled those winds for what seemed like days. Let me tell you that they don’t quit! The lack of obstacles and open plains allow for the perfect (and I mean, PERFECT) conditions to get the fair share of weather, right to the head. As the wind picked up, so did the heat. The temps danced in the 90’s and we came across some hills that we didn’t expect somewhere around mile 60 or so.
Pressing on, we were also greeted by the presence of an odor that would later be described as ‘Feed Barn’. Basically, these are places where Cattle are prepared to become Filets, Ribeyes and Porterhouses. It was not familiar to us, so it had us guessing what it was. We pressed on, and it really took a lot of work to arrive upon our destination.
It’s hard to describe how it felt to arrive in Garden City. The police escort into town was a wonderful touch. It was also a relief to get off of the ominous Route 50 and take the character-laced community streets of G.C. After a few twists and turns all of which were accompanied by sirens granting us the right-of-way through traffic lights and stop signs, we pulled into the downtown area. Wow.
The first indication that this stop would be unique was the cheering and clapping that came from a park to our left, immediately upon entering the downtown area. “ah, this must be the welcome crew”, I thought. But, no, it wasn’t. We kept pedaling to hear more cheering, this time from the right. Then, more from the left. We watched, dumfounded as people stopped what they were doing to smile, wave, pump their fists and clap. Then, we noticed that people were coming out of their stores, proprietors and patrons alike, to applaud our arrival. The tree-lined sidewalks were buzzing with warmth, and there were no unsmiling faces. It was incredible to behold. After at least a half-mile of this reception, we came to park our bikes in front of a bike shop, in front of which there were easily 30 people. Grimy and in shock, we dismounted and were offered ice-cold water, more smiles and entrance into the air-conditioned shop itself. As people came up to personally shake our hands and thank us, we came to know that amongst many city officials (including around 10 police officers) the mayor of the city had come out to greet us. In his hand, he held a plaque. Once we were surrounded by even more smiling faces from this gem of a town in Middle America, he began to speak. He was proud to let us know that the people of Garden City had elected to call July 7th, 2011 ‘Team Jesse Foundation Day’. The look on Kevin’s face was one of gratitude, and talking with him later brought little surprise that he couldn’t wait to show the plaque to the Williams family, specifically, Jesse’s father Herb.
It was a sensory overload experience when the ceremony was over (and they’d given all of the Team Jesse Foundation members as well as the Media Crew pieces of brick from the city, a generous and thoughtful gift indeed). Instead of saying, ‘thanks again for coming’, they gave us another police escort back to our hotel. This time, it wasn’t an SUV with lights flashing and sirens sounding; instead, this time there were three cars involved (yes, lights flashing/sirens sounding) and six or seven bicycle officers. The two and a half mile route back to the hotel was a special time indeed, and no expense was spared to make us feel welcome. Even the drivers who would now have to wait for the lights to turn green again as we cruised through what should have been their turn smiled at us. They gave encouragement with the faces and their gestures. They wanted to be part of our success, and they wanted their appreciation to be registered. It certainly was!
After more hospitality and a great dinner, it sunk in that this day was a microcosm of the opportunities that we have, in large part due to our veterans. We worked hard throughout the day. We saw adversity and persevered beyond it. We pulled together as a team. We were tested. In the end, though, we pressed on for a cause much bigger than us. We were rewarded in a way that none of us could have expected, and by kind people who saw their gift as an opportunity in and of itself.
Thank you, Garden City. You have just fueled the fire, and we’re so grateful. It strikes me that you know what Creates Community.
For the Families of the Fallen…To theLimit.
Care Creates Community