Happy Birthday Landis!
Today started out a bit off. Rain and thunderstorms were forecasted for the entire day. We quickly packed the vans, had breakfast, and did dedication circle so the host van could drop off our duffels and come back to us in case we needed to shuttle.
Today is dedicated to Laura Ahrenberg: a high school classmate and friend of my older brother, Kyle. She battled cancer during her teenage years, the target age for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. People like Laura are the reason for our trip – to bring awareness and support young adults in their battle against cancer. The 18-39 age group are often overlooked and underfunded when it comes to cancer support. I don’t know Laura’s story too well, but I would imagine the Ulman Cancer Fund could have made her journey easier with scholarships, resources, and patient navigators. However, Laura tackled cancer with the support of her family, friends, and Valhalla community. I wish I understood how serious cancer was back then so I could have done something to help. But Laura beat it and is doing very well today. She is so strong and inspiring.
Teams were based on cocktails… Harshini, Casey, Holden, and I were “Sex on the Beach.” If only we could’ve had one of those before we began biking. We left earlier than normal this morning, departing at 6:45 am. The first 50 miles were painful – flat for miles. You could see the straight road miles and miles ahead. And with the chilly, overcast air and incredibly strong headwinds, we had to fight hard. We pedaled as hard we could, but feeling like we were getting nowhere. It was pretty frustrating and exhausting, constantly motivating ourselves to keep pushing despite discouraging conditions.
There was a positive side, though. I got to know Harshini a bit better. This girl has always been a great personality on our team. She’s hysterical and open and we always have fun with her. But I was curious about her story; all I had known was that she had lost her father. Samy Chinnasamy was a prominent cancer researcher, producing important data and advances in cancer treatment. Harshini was particularly close with him, possessing the same desire for the medical field and cancer in particular. She told of how he truly loved what he did, having passion and a strong dedication to his work. He passed away in 2012, leaving his wife, his daughter Harshini, and an 11 year old son. I’ve always related with those who have lost parents at a young age, as it is such an awful and heartbreaking tragedy. But Harshini is such a strong young woman and I am so happy she is on our team.
The last 15 miles were tougher than the beginning, which was not expected. Harshini got a flat right after the last water stop, so she stayed behind to change it and rode on with another team. So Casey, Holden, and I began our 11 mile ascent that we did not know about. We’ve done longer ascents before, but after such a strenuous morning, still battling headwinds, and not knowing how much more climbing there was ahead of us, it was a challenge. We reached the top of a “hill” about 7 miles in, then enjoyed a little downhill (thinking that was it), and then ascended another 4 miles to the top of Austin Pass. For certain, it was over 2,000 feet of ascent. Once we got to the top, we knew we were in the home stretch. We took in the amazing views, overlooking the small town of Austin, Nevada and the land beyond, and then began our descent down winding switchbacks. I fell back, taking in the scenery. It’s incredible how peaceful and overwhelming these moments are; for one, it makes the climbs worth it. But also, I’ve experienced huge moments of accomplishment, pride, and spirituality. I’m not necessarily a religious person, but these mountains and scenery in general are truly magical. It sounds cheesy, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt touched by the environment around me. I’ve felt energies and spirits all around, particularly of those we’ve lost. It’s both humbling and amazing to be outside, biking across the country.
We got to the Austin Town Hall, greeted by an incredibly steep driveway, probably about 10% grade. Holden and I quickly shifted into our lowest gear and powered through it, taking about everything I had left in me. We got to the top, met the first two teams inside, and were greeted by ice cold beer. As dehydrated, tired, and hungry as I was, I couldn’t turn it down. We had lunch (granted, we got in at 1 pm. A 70 mile day in 6 hours, dealing with headwinds and large climbs… pretty good) and headed out to find the Spencer Hot Springs. To be honest, I fell asleep for most of the ride, but once we went off-road and on rough, unpaved terrain, I was wide awake. We found the springs, along with a naked man named Bo, who we had been warned of from many alumni teams. I guess this man lives out here in an RV with his dog, since he’s been seen there for at least two years. He welcomed us and retreated into his RV. The team stepped into the steaming hot, algae-filled spring, exactly what our muscles needed after such a hard day. It was pretty awesome to be in the middle of the Nevada desert, relaxing in natural hot springs. Bizarre to think this is real life, but pretty cool. (PS We saw scorpions all around the springs… and that’s when it was time to go).
We “showered” outside of the town pool with their sprinkler hose. They were supposed to be open, as I had arranged showers for the entire team, but for some reason, they were closed for the day. So another hose shower for everyone!
We had dinner in one of three restaurants in town. It was quite weird. I’ve worked in fast-paced restaurants since I’ve been 16. And what I’ve learned from this trip is that the west resembles nothing “fast-paced.” Granted the 30 of us stumbled in within 20 minutes of each other, but the server was just slow and had no sense of urgency. I digress. We had a few beers and burgers and are now back at the host hanging out.
Tomorrow, we’re off to Fallon, Nevada to stay with Patti, a longtime 4K supporter. We’ve heard great stories about her and how hospitable she is, so we’re all looking forward to meeting her!