Green Mountain Bikepacking (or the time I found out I had cancer)
Green Mountain Gravel Growler. 225 miles of Vermont’s finest dirt roads, killer hills, beautiful rivers, and, of course, the beer.
Bike ready, gear list pared down to the bare essentials, multiple texts with my friend and co-adventurer about gear and weather and swimming holes. We were ready to go. Several days on the bike with a good friend, beer stops along the way, rivers to swim in, friends to stay with. A perfect summer vacation.
A route I have wanted to do for months, a vacation I need. I’m so excited!
I first noticed the lump in May, and did what I do in all stressful situations – I ignored it.
In early June, holding my fear tight in my belly, I went to see my doctor. Fear made my voice crack, tears threatening to escape. She assured me that it would be ok, but set me up for a sonogram and blood work and scans of boobs and lady-parts, just to make sure.
Still, I held the fear tight, buried inside. After all, what could I share?
I’ve been excessively, blessedly, wonderfully healthy my whole life. There was no language in my head for how to process.
We ride from Middlebury to Burlington. The first day riding next to each other, giggling and whoops of celebration. The riding was blissful. Dirt roads, sun and high clouds. Baby corn stalks. The threat of rain, but never menacing.
We arrive in Burlington to friendly faces, friends putting us up for the night and feeding us. They are amazed at how much we can eat. Our eyelids heavy after a beer and full bellys; full on food, but also delight and friendship and joy.
I have yet to experience a feeling quite like having the doctor’s office call and ask you to come in right away. “She can see you tomorrow, does that work for you?”
But it could be rivaled by hearing announcements over the phone. Announcements that change your life. Announcements that alter your perspective. There was before, then there is after.
My body, my cells. Highly suspicious. In need of more tests.
Needles in my thyroid. Fear holding off sleep at night. Fear threatening to spill over. Simple moments seeming larger than life.
And so much waiting.
We rode out of Burlington early in the morning, at the tail end of the nighttime rain. Bike paths, rolling through suburbia, mountains in the distance. We ride in comfortable silence, years of friendship make it easy. Each of us thinking our own thoughts, hills bringing us back to the present moment, demanding our attention.
Delicious single track. 30 easy miles before lunch.
A skinny dip in the Winooski River, delighting in cooling down our bodies, sunning our bodies on rocks, celebrating being strong women. Able to birth babies, climb mountains, roll up and down Green Mountains, and getting older, and doing what we want with this one precious life.
good better at taking news over the phone. It still stuns. I still look around, waiting for someone else to confirm that they too heard the news.
It feels similar to riding the subway, or walking the streets of NYC – knowing my news, and realizing no one else knows.
We’re all doing the best we can.
I got the call Friday morning. I was in another doctor’s office, waiting for my appointment. I didn’t recognize the number, didn’t answer. Immediately after, my doctor’s office calls – my stomach dropping, fear clenching – and they tell me my doctor is trying to call me. She calls back and she has me on speaker as she’s driving and it’s pouring out, but of course I hear the one word: cancer.
It’s Friday. It’s cancer. I’m leaving Sunday for Vermont.
Day 2 brings beer to sample, friends to stay with, hills on summer afternoons that make me pause, amplifying my new-ness as a cyclista.
Proud of ourselves, learning to be on our bikes, traveling and eating and nourishing ourselves.
We stay with friends that second night. Generous, kind friends. A friend who I haven’t seen in maybe 15 years, at least? The power of social media. We are given comfortable beds, and offers of breakfast in the morning to see us off.
Day 3 brings more of the same – glorious dirt roads, hills that bring
our my progress to a standstill.
We absorb the views, marvel at how wonderful it is to be out there. Our bodies, our strength. Our friendship.
The loop plays in the background of my brain, but there isn’t much I can do. Appointments have been made, I feel fine. Nothing to do but keep riding.
Until I get the message. We get our 30 miles before lunch, stop for an iced coffee and a slice of pizza.
“We made an appointment for you. The surgeon wants to see you as soon as possible. Can you come in this Friday?”
(we swear that her kids are not at the end of the list. nor are they a con)
(we also promise that we are not soft – rain, by itself, would be fine. Even rain and 50 degree nights. Fine. Not necessarily enjoyable.)
And it is decided. We call in a massive favor, I buy a new train ticket, and just like that…. our trip is done.
Only 155 of the 225 miles ridden, 2 and a half days, leaving behind a whole section still to be ridden.
And so it goes.
Life, it turns out, is not to be controlled or predicted.
Simply here, now, in this present moment – to be lived and enjoyed and to be present with all the tenderness it deserves.