I had just completed 324.9 miles in 26.5 hours.
My ankles were swollen and purple and each pedal stroke felt like ice shards were being packed into the joints. The palms of my hands were so tender from leaning on the bars that I had to steer with my fingertips. My wrists were weak and wobbled and my feet throbbed against the insides of my shoes.
Though I was the only one to start and finish, I had never been alone.
Since noon the day before, friends had rotated in and out, setting pace, blocking me from the wind and just keeping me company.
Somewhere in the night, I had taken a 20 minute nap but I don’t remember laying down or getting up again. In fact, the memories I do have phase in and out like a dream that I am watching in third person. Only the significance of the moments in broad strokes stick with me.
I remember that it is easy to become despondent in the darkness of the night but that the sunrise will return your hope. I remember how vitally important something as insignificant as a piece of ginger candy can be when you feel that you have given more than your soul can give. And I remember that being surrounded by people all traveling in the same direction will help keep you upright.
With 20 miles to go, my body had given out and I could no longer turn the cranks. My friends had taken turns pushing me from behind so that I could complete the ride I had set out to do.
It was for my daughter. I had ridden to raise awareness for her Selective Mutism, a childhood disorder that renders its sufferers mute. We were having trouble with the school district and she was not receiving the services we believed she was entitled to, so I did the only thing I could think of: I buried myself so deep in a pain cave that I figured somebody would have to notice.
Fewer than five months earlier, I had been in the hospital having the second of two surgeries to remove my thyroid and the cancer that had grown inside of it. It was an experience that left me wondering if I would even be around to see my children grow up; if I would be alive long enough to continue trying to be the dad I never had.
After crossing the finish line, I was led into a warehouse where the crowd that had gathered was waiting. Silence blanketed the room as they prepared for me to give a speech. As I looked around at the faces staring at me, I realized nothing was going to come out. I had nothing left. I doubled over, putting my hands on my knees to keep my body from collapsing. Every breath in the room was held. I raised my head to try again but it was too heavy and my eyes filled with tears.
The crowd erupted in cheers and applause and my mission was suddenly complete.
I ride because I still can. I will continue to do so until I cannot.
– Joel Elliott, Co-Founder of Strand Brewing Co.