The 2018 Texas 4000 Atlas Ride is history, and I’m grateful that I am not history along with it. With the support and stewardship of my son Andrew, my son-in-law Chris, my daughter Rebecca, my wife Amy, and many kind donors and well-wishers from across the country and around the world, I finished the hot, hilly 50-mile ride.
Let me give you some context for the term “hot.” It’s common knowledge that Texas is hot in the summer. That’s one of the things we do well, along with chili and Longhorn cattle. I’ve lived in Texas for a significant portion of my life, and I have experienced heat. I’ve never been this close to the sun for this long, though.
The weather on the day of the ride started off deceptively cool. It was cloudy at 5 AM (and the sun was still not up), so I was optimistic. By the time we had loaded bicycles, equipment, and ourselves into the truck and the sun peeked over the horizon, it began to clear. On the drive from Austin to Lampasas, the clouds completely surrendered. It was still cool (only about 75 degrees), but that’s how Texas lulls you into complacency.
We had already applied plenty of SPF 5000 sunscreen and we were ready to go, so we put the bikes together, Chris and Andrew promised Amy and Rebecca that they wouldn’t let me die of heatstroke, rattlesnake bites, or other foolishness, and off we went.
The plan was to ride fast enough that we would finish by 12:30 PM or so, before it got really hot. The nice thing about plans is that they are a source of endless amusement in later years. We (and here, I am referring to all three of us) were feeling good enough to bypass the first of four rest stops, and were making good time for an old fart like me (about 12 mph). We chatted, traded the lead back and forth and enjoyed the scenery, and stopped every hour so I could alter my brain chemistry.
We stopped at the second rest stop, where I discovered the joys of pickle juice and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a long ride. The excellent T4K volunteers and team members outdid themselves at the rest stops, and I chatted with several people who were leaving the next day on the 70-day trek to Anchorage. They were without exception positive-minded young people, there for the right reasons. They asked about “SA Moves,” and I explained to a few about Parkinson’s disease. One young man told me his grandfather had Parkinson’s, but had passed away last year. He wished his grandfather had been able to exercise, and come riding with him.
We also stopped at the third and fourth rest stops. We (and here, I am referring to me) were getting tired by this point, and I had started to slow down a little. Hills kick my butt, and Lampasas is located in the Texas Hill Country. You can make that connection. I know that physics disagrees with me, but the T4K Lampasas Loop is the only closed-loop bike course in the entire world that is uphill the entire way.
As I struggled with the hills, the sun rose higher in the sky, and the temperature rose with it. By the time we left the last rest stop for the 10-mile trek to the finish line, the temperature was bumping up against 100 degrees, and Chris and Andrew had that “worried look.” The last 10 miles seemed to be one succession of uphill grinds after another, with no shade and with the sun perched about 12 inches from my neck. We had plenty of water, and I had plenty of Levodopa, but I went “off” about 5 miles from the finish anyway, and my feet kept popping out of my pedals (there’s a reason they’re called “clipless pedals” but it’s arcane and I won’t burden you). Andrew and Chris suggested that I help them avoid the wrath that would surely descend upon them if they let me expire, and we stopped for a few minutes to let me medicate and cool down. Andrew used his water bottle to squirt ice water down my back, and I decided I might live after all.
We crossed the finish line about 5 hours after we started. Rebecca and Amy met us at the finish, and after shade, water, food and rest, I’m mostly returning to normal. I’ll never be the same, though.
This ride wasn’t about individual achievement. I have received congratulations for finishing the ride, and I accept them gratefully. The heat was much more of a factor than I anticipated, and on a different day I might not have made it.
For me, this ride was only possible because of the support structure that surrounds me all the time. My excellent medical team helped me prepare and develop the right strategy to handle the inevitable Parkinson-caused issues. Chris and Andrew were there with me on the ride, but so were Amy and Rebecca, and without them I’d still be out there, under the broiling Texas sun.
And my friends and well-wishers (all of you) – you make all the difference. Cycling is not an individual sport, and neither is Parkinson’s. Thank you all.