As the date approached for the July 17th event, I became more resolute that I was going to make the trip to Decorah, Iowa and go alone. Superwoman didn't much like the idea but she had another commitment.
I began to check maps, price flights, and even visit the little town via Google Street. I emailed Kel and Karla (fellow CBGD patient and his wife) to test the waters about whether I would be welcome and they responded with open arms. I booked flights to St. Paul, MN, rental car, and the best room the Super 8 Motel had to offer. My little adventure was taking shape.
I will not bore you with trip details (like the good fortune of sitting next to skinny people on over-booked flights) but I took my time and some of the little things were my favorites.
Iowa is known for its corn and coming from cotton country I know how pretty fields can be. But I was not prepared the hundreds of square miles of the greenest rolling hills I had ever seen. As the sun set, the fireflies twinkled from the tops of what seemed to be every corn stalk. I parked by the side of the road, stood outside my rental car, and marveled at a sight I had never imagined. Millions of them forming an earthbound universe of what appeared to be twinkling stars.
The following morning I drove to the park where the ride was to begin. I was nervous knowing I was going to meet so many new people. Then as my GPS directed me along the town's main street, things began to look familiar. I was looking at the shops I had visited (virtually) on Google Street. It gave me an odd sense of Deja Vu.
Seeing the cyclists preparing their bikes as I parked my car across from the small park, brought up all sorts of emotions. This was the first time I had been to an organized ride since being forced to quit riding. I was jealous.
I spotted Kel and Karla, recognizing them from photos posted on the ride's web site. I was greeted with enthusiasm and heartfelt friendliness. I self-consciously stumbled with my words but no one cared. I was standing in the middle of a group of people that radiated love for each other. It was a joy to witness.
While I had not planned to photograph a lot, I didn't see anyone really working at recording the riders, so I picked a spot out on the course and began snapping shots. I took over 130 photos of almost always smiling riders.
There were festivities in the afternoon and evening that I was honored to attend, but finally my body reminded me of my limitations and I unceremoniously (though emotionally) slipped away and retired.
Back when I was cycling long miles alone, I wore an identification tag that had my emergency phone numbers engraved on one side. On the other was a quote from Steve Prefontaine (Pre) that read, "To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift." I used that quote to inspire me on long hard rides. I thought the "gift" was my physical ability and to not work hard was wasting the gift. I was wrong.
Before I left for Iowa, since I was traveling alone, I slipped the ID chain around my neck in case of an emergency, the phone numbers would be there. I took it off only to shower. As fate would dictate, as I sat alone in that little hotel room in Iowa, a glint of light reflected off the ID tag. I picked it up and read the quote. "To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift." I pondered the gift that I had lost and realized that wasn't the only gift I had.
I had spent the day watching people give of their gift. In doing so, they opened my eyes. They changed me.
Thank you Iowa, for restoring my faith in the gift of love.