From then on, we learned that it was the hardest part of the ride. For the next 42 miles we were on Highway 30. Although it was flat, it was single file riding on the shoulder with cars flying by and no scenic relief. All we were left with were our thoughts focused on our aching muscles and the momentary shock of cars driving by at 60mph. A short break at mile 164 to fill water and apply sunscreen as the sun had finally broke through the clouds and began to beat down on us. We crawled into the rest stop at mile 176 and didn’t even grab food other than the blackberries we picked off the bush where we were resting in the shade. The final rest stop at mile 188 was when my body started to break down. I could feel my mind starting to lose its grip on patience and although I had been calm for nearly 190 miles, it was not the time to have my mind break with just under 20 miles to go. My eyes glazed over as I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a banana. I lingered in the shade just long enough to put myself back together, and then we made our final push for Portland.
Leading up to the St. Johns Bridge, we were pushing it. No more easy pace or enjoying the view, just pedaling as much as our legs would let us to get us to the finish line. Just before the bridge at mile 197 was a short windy hill up. I am counting on my momentum to ride into it, but just at the bottom of the hill a rider takes a spill and all bikers come to a complete stop. All I can see is a pod of the Georgia team-in-training riders with their little peaches and bows atop their helmets bobbing around to help the rider up. A Cascade Outrider happened to be right there, so she quickly shuffled everyone aside and got the rest of us moving. Unfortunately, it had taken my focus off the hill and was now faced with climbing up from a dead stop. I lost both Molly and Rory at this point, so I had to push hard to catch up with them. I thought about just walking up, but I had no reason to wimp out at this point. There were still 13 miles to go. As I climbed the bridge solo, I dug into every push and used my breath to steady myself. That relief of coasting down was just within reach, so I blocked all other senses to finish the climb. As I made it over the bridge, there was a huge sense of accomplishment knowing I had finally made it into Portland. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the last 6 miles. Knowing that there was still a hefty amount of distance from the finish line with nothing left to give was a true test of mental and physical strength.
Just under a mile to go and the struggle is real. Molly and I had dropped our pace significantly and were now just cruising our way downtown. At a stoplight I look over and see Molly is ready to be done, so I just give her a nod and we get ourselves to pick it back up. As we near the final block, my spirits lift. There are people lined up along the street with cameras and bells and signs. They are cheering and high fiving. I can see the finish line just on the next block and I sit up in my saddle. I can hear the announcer and the music and I come to terms that it is going to be over if i just peddle a little more.