Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Day 81 and Beyond - Santa Cruisin'

The train stopped at Terminal 3, my terminal. I picked up my bin, wrapped in a generous amount of duct tape, knowing it will probably raise suspicions at the airport. I looked at my traveling buddies, Kevin and Mike, who haven't moved, waiting for the Terminal 1 stop. 

"It's been fun," we said as we gave our last goodbyes. "I'll visit you and Marcus at Purdue," promised Kevin. "We'll shred."

The train doors slid shut behind me and I was alone for the first time in months. As I sit here at Gate 74, my helmet in my purse, tan lines hidden in the sleeves of my jacket, I am trying my best to figure out what exactly happened this summer. I've been off the bike for four days now and already the 81 days we spent biking and building have already started becoming foggy. People bustle past me, not knowing the journey we have just completed, a journey that has opened up so many possibilities and intimately linked  28 people together. 

Day 81 started like any other riding day. The music blared at 5:45 and people began deflating their thermarests and rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Our favorite songs from the summer were playing, songs that I will forever associate with Bike and Build: "Dead Sea" by the Lumineers, "First Generator" by Free Lance Whales, "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk, and others. Breakfast was eggs and bacon, a last meal fit for kings. 

After breakfast, we took our time getting on the road. "Five or Die," my chore group, was on clean-up and we didn't complain for how long it was taking to clean the building. We were just enjoying our time together. A group hug formed as the song from Marcus's Bike and Build video played and I looked around at all the people I loved and choked up. I walked to the bathroom to take some deep breaths and try to stay calm. Kat came in after a few minutes.

"Is anyone in here? We're taking a group picture outside."

"Jyes," I uttered from the back stall, my voice cracking. She laughed when she saw my watery eyes. "Oh mama!" she said shaking her head. We hugged and walked out together. 

We mounted our bikes and started off as a pretty large group. We were super-sweeping with Sarah and Amanda. Josh and I lead the way with Austin, Nyx Kat, and Brian. We cheered loudly as we passed cars and pedestrians. People honked and waved, gawking at the giant American flag that Brian had rigged up on his backpack. 

We were prepared for it to be a hard ride. It was only 58 miles but we had one last mountain range to climb before we could descend to the Pacific. After getting out of San Jose, it was not long before our climb began. The steep grade of the road had us all sweating and panting in no time. The mountain is a popular cycling spot and we were joined by many other riders all asking what we were up to. We explained Bike and Build to them between breaths. "Today is our last day!" we proclaimed. It seemed crazy to say it out loud.

Lunch was at the top of the pass, at mile 20. I saw most of my teammates standing around the trailer and I stood up on my pedals, cranking hard up the rest of the mountain. They cheered as they saw me come in. It was there that we saw the first sign:

Brian, me, and Laini, so close to the ocean that we could almost taste it!

We spent a lot of time at lunch eating our last peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and talking to other cyclists coming up the mountain. Austin took a whole watermelon and used the edge of a road sign to cut it up, which worked surprisingly well. "Hit-tza!" he grunted with every slice. 

We descended for a few miles before we started climbing again. Towering redwood trees enveloped us in a quiet forest as the road narrowed. Marcus, Austin, and I lost the rest of the group as we climbed, looking around in awe at the scenery. After a short descent, I saw Marcus and Austin stopped at the bottom of a small decline. I pulled up next to them and unclipped. No words were said as we listened to the silence of the woods, which overcame us like a heavy fog. We smiled at each other and breathed deep. 

It wasn't long before the the rest of the group caught up. All were impressed by the beauty of the forest. I put my helmet camera on and decided to descend behind the group so I could get some good shots of Brian's flag waving behind him as we weaved through the redwoods. 

I descended cautiously. The road was very narrow and I was nervous about being surprised by an oncoming car. The pavement curved suddenly and sharply around trees that looked like the legs of massive elephants. I craned my neck to look up but could still barely see the crown of the forest. I kept my fingers on my brakes as I navigated the turns. Ever since a near crash around a corner coming down Hard Scrabble pass in Colorado, I have been very wary about descending when there are sharp turns. 

Brian flew down the road in front of me, letting out whoops of excitement. He slowed considerably to navigate a very tight switchback. "Yeah buddy!" I exclaimed when we had come out of it. Ahead was a reverse switchback that turned us around again. Suddenly, Brian was riding in the dirt shoulder of the road. He had taken the sharp corner too wide and could not correct himself. He swung into the shoulder and rapidly unclipped as he flew over the handlebars and landed softly in the pine needles, his flag waving wildly as he rolled. He came to rest on his back in the dirt. I checked back and swung my bike around to go back for him. Luckily, he was perfectly fine and we laughed about how comical his fall looked. I realized that my helmet cam was on the whole time so we were excited to watch the video later.

When he'd collected himself and got back on the bike, we met up with the rest of our group at the state park headquarters at the bottom of the descent. There were a lot of tourists there so we stopped just briefly to take a group shot with a massive tree and buy some postcards. Everyone was starting to get pretty antsy to see the ocean. 

We had another very short 1.5 mile climb before conquering the rest of the descent. I caught up with Kat, Nyx, and Rachel and we stuck together. The wind was to our backs and we only had 10 miles to the Pacific. We would see the ocean in no time. All of us started to feel a little anxious to realize how close we were to finishing the journey. Butterflies formed in my stomach as the miles ticked down. 

However what came next worked like a bug-zapper on those butterflies. The steepest hill that we'd encountered all summer suddenly rose up in front of us. We looked at each other in disbelief. It wouldn't be a Bike and Build day without some type of struggle and the last day was no exception. Our hearts beat hard while our legs turned slowly, straining against the steep grade, as we worked to conquer our last climb of the summer. However, while the hill was steep, it was no more than a mile or so long, and it wasn't too long before we'd climbed up and over the apex. We were home-free and ocean-bound. Nyx and I sang Yellowcard's "Ocean Avenue" loudly as we cranked out the last few miles.

All of a sudden, the ocean appeared on the horizon, camouflaged with the sky. We screamed in excitement and pedaled harder. Tears blurred my vision and I just about lost it when we encountered this sign:


I cried like a baby into Kat's arms, in absolute disbelief that we were here, in our destination city, after months and months of biking. "We're here, Mama!" Kat said, hardly believing her own words. "We made it!"

We met up with the rest of the team at Little Ceaser's, the designated meeting spot. Now we just had to wait for the last few riders and sweep before traveling in a group the final mile to the ocean. As one!

The last mile together was unforgettable. People cheered for us as we paraded down the streets, a red and blue blob on wheels. We made as much noise as we could, yelling and screaming and celebrating. The loudest cry came when we first caught sight of the ocean. Sailboats were lined up in a harbor, floating in what seemed to be bluest water I had ever seen. We could not take our eyes off of it.

Suddenly, people we recognized lined the beach. Friends, family, and other loved ones were standing on a beach. That must be our destination!!!!! We turned our bikes into the sand and leapt off of them, forgetting about them, forgetting about everything, as we tore off our shoes and jerseys. Our eyes were on one thing: the sparkling ocean water separated from us by a small strip of sand. I ripped the Vel-cro open on my shoes and managed to pull my feet out. I couldn't find the zipper to my jersey and gave up quickly as my teammates sprinted to the ocean, screaming. I didn't even have time to take my socks off as I ran as fast as I could through the deep sand. All the aching muscles in our legs were forgotten. All the long hours on the bike were put out of mind. All of the obstacles and struggles were long gone. We were here and there was the ocean. 

The first splash of the Pacific ocean hit my face. It tasted like sweat and tears. I kept running until I couldn't pick my feet up anymore and then I dove under the waves. It was quiet underwater, only the sound of water and waves. When I surfaced, the shouts of my teammates filled the air. Everyone was going absolutely crazy, screaming, hugging each other, kissing, crying, splashing, and jumping. Adrenaline ran through every part of my body and my heart felt like it was going to explode. I blindly reached for anybody I could find and pulled them into my embrace. A giant group hug formed and we sang "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing," by Aerosmith. Family and stranger alike took pictures of the strange group of people celebrating in the waves. 4,250 miles and we were here. Santa Cruz. SANTA CRUZ!!!!!!!!

The "Sexy Six"

Marcus and me

28 people started a journey together in Charleston and 28 people ended a journey after 4,250 miles, buckets of sweat, some skinned knees, hundreds of peanut butter jars, countless nails driven, many tears and laughs, and more moments of happiness and awe than I can ever count. Today, my heart splits into 27 pieces as I say goodbye to 27 of the most amazing people I have ever met and fly back home. As I watch from the plane window, our beautiful country spans out as far as the eye can see in a beautiful mosaic. I am still in disbelief that we biked the whole way here. Never has my heart been so full of happiness and sadness at the same time. It will take me many months to fully reflect on what this summer has meant to me. This journey has been an adventure of a lifetime, filled with moments that I will never, ever forget. Moments that I share with 27 others. Though we are scattered across the country, our experiences will link us together and I cannot wait to reunite with my 27 dearest friends again one day. Until then, may we all keep our eyes and hearts open to the passion to serve and the spirit of adventure. 

Thank you for following this blog. I hope it has inspired you to chase your own dreams and have your own adventures. Never settle, there is so much out there waiting for you to explore. 

I love you, SC2SC 2013. 

Signing off until the next adventure,

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard!"
-A.A. Milne

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