At the end of March when Erick was laid off from his job, a lot of questions hung in the air. Naturally, one of the big ones was what to do next. We sat down and had that necessary husband/wife discussion, "What do you want to do? What will make you happy?” and ending with me telling him 'I think you should take some time off to really figure out what you really want'.
A couple of days later he mentioned that Jill, his 24-hour racing partner asked him again about riding a 300-mile Arizona Trail Race with her citing that since he no longer had a job, now he didn't have any excuses either. I agreed with Jill. Even though he hadn't been preparing for this race, I know a long ultra-endurance race like this was something he had always wanted to do and it was the type of race that really suited him, so I told him he should go. A little befuddled at my encouragement of a trip given the unemployment status, he now had a decision to make. To race or not to race. He had reasons and support to go and the only thing stopping him was himself.
He agreed to do the race and over the next 2 1/2 weeks (in true Erick fashion) he poured over the past race reports, studied the course, bought the necessary supplies, loaded and reloaded his bike. Thought it was too heavy and eliminated weight again. Daily he questioned his sanity for committing to such an event, daily I reassured him that he could do it.
The prep consumed our discussions and haunted his dreams. I didn't stress about which tires to ride, how many tubes to carry, or the weight of a bike - That was his job. I thought about his safety, the mean Arizona cactus, the toll 300 miles can take on his body and I thought about missing my husband. I unequivocally knew he could do this, I just questioned whether his equipment would put up as strong of a fight.
Finally the time came for him to head to Arizona. Jill & her brother came to pick him up to head to the airport. With hugs and kisses and the promise to watch and be available if they needed anything, they were off. They were riding a high as they left Denver. I sat down on the couch with a glass of wine and truly contemplated what was about to occur.
Glad they had gone down a day and a half early to get final prep done and not have to rush to the starting line early Friday morning, life in Denver went on as usual. I sent out messages to our family and friends giving the link to the leader map for race tracking. I enjoyed the emails back from across the county and around the world offering support and cheers for his journey.
Friday morning chatting with a friend on facebook he asked me, "Why haven't they started yet?!?" I reminded him that it wasn't 9 in Arizona yet and I felt reassured knowing that I wasn't the only one with the tracking page loaded in a new tab hitting refresh every 5 minutes to see if the dots had started moving yet.
Now I've been around enough adventure races and watched enough other bike races to know that the waiting and watching for your people to check in can be unbearable, so I scheduled some distractions for the weekend starting with 2 of my best friends coming over on Friday night for dinner and drinks.
On my way home from work I got the first call from Erick. Seven hours into the race he was in Patagonia and did not sound good. The heat (which his body has never responded well to) was kicking his ass. We had checked weather reports and knew it was going to be hot, but we didn't think about how his body would react. I knew though that he would fight through it and that if he could figure out how to keep moving, even slowly during the heat, he could make up time by speeding through the cooler temperatures of the nights.
He loves to ride at night saying that everything else disappears and it allows you to just concentrate on the next 5 feet. Feeling his spirits lift a little during our call we said goodbye and I didn't expect to hear from him until the next day. I was shocked and concerned when my phone rang an hour and a half later and it was Erick. He was in Sonoita and having major cramping in his legs. This had never happened before. He wanted to know natural remedies so I jumped online and googled. He needed potassium: bananas, tuna. He needed liquids and water filled fruits. He took the advice and didn't have cramping issues for the rest of the ride. I think the brutal Arizona heat had just drained him, literally, of the nutrients he needed.
Unable to sleep knowing he was still riding, I made cupcakes and frosting from scratch at 1:30 in the morning. I didn't go to sleep until I saw his pin stop for the night. For the next several nights our dog enjoyed being able to sleep in our bed to keep me company. Also in arms reach were my cell phone and laptop. On more than one occasion I woke up in the middle of the night, booted the computer and checked everyone’s locations before falling back to sleep.
I seeded and composted the yard, caught up on DVR’d shows, worked out, baked, visited with friends...I did everything I could to keep busy to help make the time pass without focusing solely on the race. To this end, technology can be both a blessing and a curse. Knowing that he could call me or send me a SPOT message if he had a problem is truly a comforting feeling. But staring at a computer screen waiting for a blue dot update can be nervewracking.
Positive thoughts came flooding in across emails and social media. High school friends and college friends, people we’ve just met and people who we’ve known our whole lives, people near and people on the other side of the world sent well wishes and cheered him on. Every brief time I spoke with him, I shared their messages. He would tell me later that it was all of the encouragement that kept him going mile after mile.
Monday morning while in the shower, my phone rang. I stuck my head out of the shower, dried off my ear, and said hello. The voice on the other end was not as chipper as I had hoped. He was 200 miles into the race and had just spent over an hour on the side of the trail dealing with tire issues. There were no more towns, no promise of cell coverage, and no tubes left after this last one. He was pissed, but he was going to press on and hope the last tube could get him to the finish. Unsure if he would have much cell coverage, he told me that if I got a SPOT message from him, that he would continue forward to the next road and wait for a ride. My heart sank. He couldn’t be done, he was SO close (figuratively speaking of course).
All day long I hoped that my phone would not ring. I sent out all of the positive energy I could muster, and just kept telling myself, “He can do this, he WILL finish.” I tried to keep myself busy and not stare at the race tracker, but it was hard. He could do this...he could finish...
At 4 that afternoon with less than 50 miles to go I got a call from a friend who, like me, was following the race on the computer. When he asked, “Why is Erick so far off course?” my heart dropped into my stomach. I refreshed my screen and saw that he was indeed quite a ways off course and headed directly for a road. NO! I quickly hung up with my friend and called Jill, who was going to be picking Erick up at the finish. She was just as worried as I was and reassured me that she would get to him as quickly as she could knowing that he would have to be walking his bike for him not to be pushing forward anymore. A minute after hanging up, Jill called back and said, “He’s back on course!” What...a...relief. On the online discussion thread related to the race, someone posted, “Looks like Erick Lord is off route getting water at one of the waypoint marked locations.” I felt silly.
Before Erick left, he mentioned that he was a little jealous that we would all get to sit at home and watch the race playout, but I reminded him, “You are the race, you get to live it.” It’s funny to look back and see how different our experiences were. That blip off the trail was a planned stop for him, and it had me ready to call out the search parties!
I finally heard from him around 9pm Monday night. He was in much better spirits, and he was tired. He said he would go a little farther that night then sleep for a couple of hours before making the final push to the finish line. I talked to his mother that night and she assured me that she had been watching the whole race unfold. I felt good when I went to bed that night (dog, laptop and cell phone close at hand) and woke up around 4 am. I checked the website, he was moving. I woke up again around 5:30, he was moving. 6:30, moving.
Something I forgot to mention previously was the attrition rate of this years race. By Saturday night, 36 hours into the race, half of the racers had dropped out, by Sunday night it was more including Jill, Erick’s 24-hour racing partner and the reason for him making the trip down to begin with. One by one, I watched their names be crossed off the race tracking website, their blue dots disappearing. Two racers finished on Monday. Come Tuesday morning, only 2 dots were left on the screen.
Several times on the discussion thread about the race, people mentioned that the last 10 miles were frustratingly slow miles and that was the case for those of us watching at home too. Immediately Tuesday morning when I got to work, I opened the race tracking website. In a new tab, I logged into Facebook, and was immediately greeted by notifications cheering Erick on, and chats from family & friends. Slowly the dot moved across the screen, slowly the minutes ticked by. I tried to do work, but just couldn’t focus, so I stared at the screen. A.l.m.o.s.t. t.h.e.r.e...
Finally, at 8:52 am Tuesday morning, I got a text from Jill at the finish line. After 3 days, 23 hours and 52 minutes, he was done, he made it, 300 miles in the mean, unforgiving Arizona desert. I couldn’t wait to hear from him, to congratulate him, I couldn’t wait to see him and hug him. The knot in my stomach began to unravel, my heartrate returned to normal, and my tense shoulders relaxed. 20 minutes later, I got the call. “I’m done, I finished.” I said, “Yes you did finish, and you finished in 3rd place!”
At first I think the words just confused him, because he started asking about some of the other riders, “Matt?”
“Behind you, he’s been chasing you all morning.”
Then I swear, I could hear the smile creep across his face.
10 hours later, I was at the airport waiting for Erick and Jill to arrive. They both got off their planes tanned, scratched, and bruised, but with unremovable grins.
A race like this can teach you a lot of things, whether you are actually participating or just watching from home. It teaches you about the inner strength of people, the support you have that you may not always realize is there. I know Erick fought his own demons (and the Arizona cacti) while racing. I missed him, but I am so proud that he went, that he tried it and that through it all, he pushed through and finished. I am married to an amazing man.