Schwinn, the Domestique and survival

I was having a hard time understanding how to think about today’s Sunshine Spin, a bike ride to raise money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation for Cancer Survivorship.

The organizers had set up two courses – a flat, pleasant 22 miles along the riverside trail, or a 50-plus miler that burned up our long Tramway climb into the foothills. I’d been planning on doing the long one. I’m in great shape, and I really wanted to burn it up, kinda see what I had.

It was about the bike.

And then I got sick two weeks ago, and when I finally got back on the bike I felt flat and weak and I figured there was no way I was gonna hammer up a big climb with the macho boys all around me. So I switched to the short ride. My friends Nancy and Charlie were going to do the short one pulling their three-year-old daughter Katie on a third wheel, and I figured it’d be fun to join ’em.

I got to the start late, right as the “peleton” was leaving, so I humped up through the group looking for Nancy and Charlie. I was hammering trying to get to the front of the bunch, looking for them, somehow missed them, doubled back and eventually we hooked up.

At the turnaround, Charlie started talking to a guy riding this beautiful old Schwinn beach cruiser. The guy was big and bulky, had a cast on his arm from some recent mishap, but he looked happy.

On the ride back, we picked up a fourth for our little caravan, Mark, who was riding a beautiful old restored Centurion. Mark and I took turns pulling into the headwind for Charlie, who was pulling Katie, while Nancy hung at the back and kept Katie amused.

I don’t think about cancer very often any more. Lissa and Dad are both nearly 15 years out now, and it’s just a distant and painful memory. But there was a moment during the ride, when I was hammering up through the bunch looking for Nancy and Charlie, that I stopped thinking about the bike and thought instead about what this whole thing is about. I choked up for a minute, because surviving cancer is about something really important. It’s about not being dead, which is simple and straightforward, but it’s about bonus time that is all good. We don’t need to think about it all the time, but it’s good to think about it now and then.

They’ve stopped talking about Lance Armstrong the cancer survivor lately. It’s all about the bike again. In a sense, that’s what you’d expect, it’s healthy. But let’s never forget what that boy stands for, OK?

Back at the finish, we sat around on the lawn in the shade of a big tree for a while. The guy on the beach cruiser was there, grinning, and Charlie and Katie rolled in the grass.

Later in the afternoon, everbody got back together at the park for drawings for a bunch of swag. Barbara, the organizer, called bib numbers and if we were there, prize action ensued. There were bike tires and Harley Davidson beer glasses and water bottles and all manner of goods donated by the event’s sponsors. I won a helmet and explained to Barbara that it was destined for the head of my cancer survivor wife.

The guy on the old beach cruiser came up to collect a prize – I wish I remembered what – and Barbara pointed out that he is a cancer survivor, one year out. So now I understand the grin, and the fealty to a beautiful old Schwinn beach cruiser and the way he didn’t seem to care about the discomfort of riding with a big cast on his arm. This guy is on bonus time.

Jaime had to leave, so he stuck his bib number and one of his friends’ into my hand. One of Jaime’s numbers won a CO2 tire pump goober, and the other won a $15 gift certificate to Manny’s, a local coffee shop.

When I called Jaime, he was jazzed about the pump, but didn’t really care about Manny’s. So I’m giving it to Dad, the cancer survivor, and I’ll take him and Mom there for breakfast.

It’s not about the bike. That’s just a way to get there.