Stella!

Sunday, September 25, 2016 – 6:30 a.m.

Bessie’s ready to rock and roll!

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Took a beautiful sunrise drive to the coast this morning to reach our tour destination for the Twin Lights Ride in Highlands, New Jersey and this was the sky we were greeted with…

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Could it have been ANY other color?! The sky has been this color 99% of the time I’ve ridden over the past year – first sign that this is a ride we’re meant to be on.

So on our last tour, Kathy told me how she and her family use “code names” to find one another when lost in a crowd. Before we began, she announced to me that our code name would be “Stella” – yes, just like in Streetcar Named Desire. It was to be called out in the same fashion; that way we knew it was one or the other calling out and not some random person calling for their friend Stella…

After parking for this tour, Kathy texted me to let me know she was already on line waiting to register – “I’m wearing a lime green shirt with a black vest.” Can’t miss that, I figured. Remembering our code name, I rode up the long registration line calling, “Stella! Stella! STELLA!” Nothing…

Next thing I knew, a rather large male volunteer was standing in front of me telling me, “You can’t be riding here acting like that! Turn around and go back!” Startled, I wavered and Bessie collapsed below me. As I began to fall to my left and Bessie stuck between my legs, I felt someone grabbing my arm telling me in that wonderfully thick New York accent to, “Go ahead and fall baby! I gotcha!” but I was more concerned about my bike being damaged. My “Fall Guy” managed to catch me as I caught Bessie. I was overly apologetic, but for the Fall Guy it was nothing – he was thoroughly entertained. Twice again on the tour I would run into him, he always recognizing me – “Hey baby! How ya doin’?! Fall on me anytime!”

As another female volunteer took pity on my embarrassment and allowed me to cut in line (“Just get off the road, lady…”), I apologized to everyone around me for cutting in line, only to hear responses like, “Don’t worry about it!” “I’m not in a hurry!” “We’re just chillin’!” “We’re all going to the same place, no biggie!” Wow…if only people could behave like this while driving in their cars…imagine the possibilities?!

Finally, I find myself at the front of the line and see Kathy getting her tags. “Stella!” I yell…nothing…”STELLA!”…nothing…”Yo, Kathy!!!” Now she responds…

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Starting out…

For the record, Kathy’s shirt was chartreuse, not lime green…no, it really matters when you’re looking for one person in a sea of 3,000…

We started off riding through some small residential neighborhoods along the coast. Then came the first “hill” – the bridge crossing over Sandy Hook Bay leading towards Seabright. It’s not a terrible hill, but it’s no fun starting on a hill. The view was most certainly worth the push though…

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Once over the bridge, the first thing Kathy and I both notice is “Alice’s Kitchen,” American Cuisine with an Irish Flavor – that’s me! Another sign!

Before heading out, we agreed that if the weather cooperated, we would “stop and smell the roses” once in a while…

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The BEST Halloween decoration EVER!

However, Kathy also informed me that we would most definitely be stopping at every rest area to stockpile whatever food was being offered – and stop we did.

Who can say no to a bike tour that offers a chocolate fountain?!

Further on down the road, we found ourselves at a red light and this is what we saw:

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Our brother for whom we were riding – another sign!

I then tell Kathy that I drove past Florence, New Jersey that morning – mom’s name…and another!

Among the many conversations we had that day, we talked about how we stumble upon our names when traveling, Kathy having driven by Regina (our sister), New Mexico and met a horse named Arthur (our brother’s and father’s names) this past summer. It’s funny how these names pop up on us, never actually looking for them and yet finding them to be some kind of “sign” that we’re either meant to be there or that someone is looking down on us from above, guiding us down this path…or maybe both…

Training for this tour, 30 miles seemed impossible. I’ve ridden 30 miles on a number of occasions throughout the years, but each time struggled to keep myself going. Yesterday’s ride was a piece of cake, but why? For the same reason the Five Boro ride seemed like a piece of cake. On a larger scale, you’re surrounded by thousands of people who are sharing this same path, giving the support and encouragement you need to keep moving when needed. On a much smaller scale you’re confronted with the large male volunteer telling you to “go back” and the female volunteer guiding you onto the “right path;” a Fall Guy supporting your weight when you can no longer stand; the individuals who show you they’ve been there, done that and survived and ultimately “finished;” or the sister who shares long-awaited hours of cherished conversation.

But you’re also part of that support team – that moment when you witness someone struggling more than yourself and your words of, “Keep going!” “You can do it!” empower them to carry on and not give up. Or sharing your life’s wisdom as a middle-aged woman with the girl who hates the photo you took of her because she looks “too fat.”

I asked Kathy if she remembers teaching me how to ride that little red Schwinn. Although she didn’t, it’s a memory I have kept to this day, 46 years later. I don’t remember exactly why I couldn’t ride the bike properly – I rode it like a recumbent bike, sitting on the fender with my legs extended to the pedals. I remember that when I sat on the seat, my legs would get all scratched up, hence my fender riding style. At some point, Kathy approached me and asked if she could help and I happily obliged. She kept helping me up on the seat, holding my body on the bike so I wouldn’t fall down – giving me just enough support to get moving. I don’t remember if she simply lowered the seat or if her confidence in my ability to ride got me going, but either way, I’ve ridden my bike sitting on the saddle ever since. Now I can finish the race…

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“We really ain’t that different, you and me…

’cause I’m scared the storm’s gonna take me away,
but I really don’t know what I got to say
Hold on…hold on…
Cry, if you’re gonna cry,
Come on, cry with me.
You ain’t alone,
just let me be your ticket home.”

You Ain’t Alone – Alabama Shakes

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

1 thought on “Stella!”

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