On the cusp of an inauguration, it seems ironic that I am going to write about a day during the sabbatical that was saturated with absolutely polar emotions. The following is a portion of my journal for this day…
July 27, 2016
There are days that live in infamy throughout history, but personally – this is one day that will forever be branded upon my heart.
Our lives are made of events that define us. Sometimes these events come as minor instances like a smile or a kind random act, and then there are monumental events. Both good and bad.
For two years, I had dreamed of and planned for this day. For two years, I envisioned the shared joy and the great opportunity this would be for Caleb. As for him, the prospect of this day had been a day clouded with great uncertainty. I knew he could do it, but he was far more reserved. He had his excuses, but good on him that he was willing to give it a go. I, personally, knew he would make it. My experience in leading bike trips proved again and again the ability of youth. The emotional, psychological positive impact a ride of this stature has on a kid is far greater than any quantifiable measure.
The three days leading up to this day were all training days. They set the tone, the muscles and the base level confidence for all to tackle the ride ahead. The juxtaposition of enthusiasm and anxiety creates a very interesting and volatile mix of emotions. One’s senses are more acute and life seems bolder. There’s mystery and majesty. Life is filled with this tension. How we handle it is the measure of our wisdom.
Awaking in the heart of the Swiss Alps, we were surrounded by majesty. Our first mystery was breakfast. Alas, it wasn’t so mysterious after all. It was a traditional Swiss breakfast of cheese and curds. A few pieces of salami and fruit rounded out the selection. My favorite was stuffing the yogurt/curds full of granola and capping it with several slices of apple. Yum.
The weather was perfect; the temperature was scratching 65 degrees and we launched into the ascent at 8:15 am. From a numbers standpoint, the day seemed easy. Start after 8:00; ride 36 miles total; spend the night in a very avante guard ski hostel with no roads to it, and a temperature that was optimal. Well, other numbers came into play in the first 5 miles. We climbed 800 feet of vertical in less than 3 miles. The Rhone tumbled and tripped over itself 300 feet below us from a precipitous roadside. The cog train clambered along side of us on the edge. We were above the treetops even as the trees grew just beside the road. Pressing through this funnel of water, steam, steel and sweat to an open alpine valley, we gazed in amazement. The tight passageway led us directly through a wrinkle in time to Grimm’s Fairy Tales or through a mysterious shrinking machine that placed us in the middle of a miniature train layout. A crazy mix of tension between stress and succor.
Pastures spread out before our spinning wheels and our heads were on a swivel taking in the knife edge mountain tops around us with the sweet Swiss Chalets guarded by the massifs filling our eyes with splashes of color and innocence. How could anyone imagine the tension of life in such a bucolic setting? We bathed in the sunlight awash in the wonder of the quaint beauty. Much of me wanted to soak longer in this setting, but the Furka Pass lurked in the distance.
After nine miles of ease and mesmerizing beauty, we entered the last little hamlet before we stepped hard on the pedals to crank through the first of several switchbacks. We stopped at a gas station to ask for some important celebratory fuel. It’s fun to mark occasions. And liquid refreshments seem to be an important aspect to this. Just ask Jesus.
Realizing that we just purged unneeded weight back in Fiesch (one of us was so thorough I was afraid he was planning on riding up in the buff), I wasn’t looking for a NASCAR gallon jug of Champagne to shower ourselves in victory. Just a simple litre would have been sufficient to raise a glass (or water bottle) in commendation. There was none to be found, so we headed to the little market and found something equally as valuable. It was a two litre bottle of Citron! The same stuff we paid 16 euros for the day before. “Hey guys! Check this out! It’s the gold lined Citron, and only for 98 cents! What a deal!” This was our answer. We poured some into our water bottles, and I strapped the rest to my bike. There’s another 2 pounds.
A brief locker room type pep talk launched the riders with the final injunction, “I’ll meet you at Glesch”. Glesch was the final stop before the ascent over the pass. It was about 10:15 am. Back home everyone was still snug in their beds dreaming while we were about to live out a dream.
There’s nothing easy about climbing hills. It’s just raw gut power and tenacity. And up we went. One crank after another. The scenery was captivating, and right now I was a prisoner of pain. When we made our entry to Glesch, Caleb had proven his muster. He monstered up the hill climb and was seated at the café waiting for the old guys to arrive. This was the preamble to the big climb that stretched out before us up the glorious valley to the pass at Furka. The four of us stood and stared in wonder at the mountain before us. “We’re about to climb that.” “Yep” “It’s big.” “Yep”
We snapped a couple pictures and grabbed a snack and some hot cocoa and spent some time in the chapel giving thanks to God for the magnificence of this trip. In the midst of my prayer, I was thinking of my older brother. I couldn’t wait to tell him about this part of the ride.
11:30, we mount up to take on the final climb; it’s a 10K distance that jumps 2200 feet. The pavement rolls under my wheels like a conveyor belt; surely the road is moving because I was certain I saw the same series of rocks glide past my wheels. In the shadows of a gully, the remnants of last winter’s snowfall defies the July summer sun. Caleb is lead rider; he is a quarter mile ahead and cranking. I think to myself, “Stand on it Dwayne!” This was a saying I used to call out to my riders as we would crank up the hills of Western PA. Meanwhile, professional cyclist Jen Voigt’s famous line: “Shut up, legs!” dripped from my lips.
Freeloaders latched on to my bike frame. Not sure where they were going and why their wings didn’t give them a quicker and better ride. No matter; I was coated with alpine flies. At the second stage of the ascent, I waited for our last rider. I looked up to catch sight of Caleb making the bend at the tabletop turn. He was focused.
The last rider and I tag teamed the final push to the Belvedere Hotel. The crazy part about this ride according to Strava, we were climbing 48% grades at times. Gadzooks! That’s a 26 degree slope. Once at the hotel, we took a breather for lunch and a chance to check out the glacier. It was about 12:30 when we all arrived at the near top. Only 3 km to go.
Mountain tops do funny things. From a spiritual standpoint, we get inspired. From a physical reference we gain confidence. From a meteorological view, they keep you on your toes! When we reached the little café next to the hotel, the sun was out with some broken clouds. It was an absolutely beautiful day. We cheered our accomplishment, but not too boldly because we still had a piece to go. I was so dang proud of Caleb and my two buddies were just relishing the ride. As they went off to see the glacier, I stayed back with the bikes. Staring down the valley and the road that etched its way to the top, I absorbed the feat of accomplishment. It was a majestic view. Then came the mystery. Actually, then came the anxiety. Over the Grimsel Pass, I saw the clouds boiling over the adjacent mountains. Hmm, this isn’t good. A storm is coming. A quick text to the boys that we should be hitting the road, and off we went to the summit of the pass. We made good time, and took a moment to celebrate our victory! A sip of Citron for all! It was about 1:30. Back home, people were rustling out of bed for the day. My brother was one of those. He had a bee in his bonnet to get his car ready for his family’s upcoming vacation. Crawling under his van, he had to fix a certain part so the car would pass inspection.
We started our descent around 2:00 pm; the wind was whipping past our ears; whoops and cheers echoed across the mountains. I never heard the phone ring. Caleb and I got stuck behind a tour bus and then made a break to pass it. My youngest brother sent me a text, but I never saw it. We flew around corners imagining we were James Bond. When we reached Realp, Caleb and I stopped to wait for our buddy. What a ride! What a downhill thrill. “Caleb, you are a champ!” The phone rang again. It was my niece. “Hey LIZZIE! We just had the ride of our lives!” I poured out the great news; we were on cloud nine! Lizzie interrupted, “Ted. Dad was in a really bad accident; he’s being flown to the hospital.”
An emotional storm cloud just over powered cloud nine. Darkness fell. Even as my buddy showed up, I told him the news and then the heavens opened up with icy cold tears that blasted against our faces. We still had a ways to go to Andermatt. My heart sank. The weather stunk, and my voice couldn’t sing anymore.
“How can this be?” From elation to concern in a heart beat. The tension stirred within me. We cycled hard against the strong updraft wind. The news just didn’t seem possible. Dave’s car fell off the jack and pinned him. He was unconscious. The greatest day in the world has now been mixed with the worst news ever to hear. My mind was jumbled. There is a dream and a nightmare all at the same time.
Our lives are constantly caught in this tension. How we handle it is a measure of wisdom. It was King Solomon who recognized this best, and he sought wisdom from God first before anything else. It’s wisdom that guards us from being overwhelmed or too zealous for a cause. It’s wisdom that equips us with insight and stability. Even now, on the cusp of this transfer of power where tension exists, may we as a corporate body express wisdom. Our enthusiasm or our anxiety cannot be so all consuming that we jeopardize our life together.
We pulled into Andermatt, our wives were waiting for us; the sun had come out. We made it. There is strength and hope in our bonds of friendship and love. These bonds accompany us through the majesty and mystery of life; they are ones that walk with us through the good and the bad. Bonds of love and friendship take us to new heights and pull us through difficult times. And it just may be when we find ourselves in the thickest stew of tension that we may need to say to ourselves, “shut up, legs!”