Bikes, Blackbirds, and Corn
Last weekend, over 1,000 cyclists converged onto the small farming community of East Prairie, MO (population 3,176) for the annual Tour de Corn cycling event. This was my first time riding in this tour. I’ve been told that if I wanted to complete a century ride (100 miles in one day), then this was the one to start with. The landscape is flat and the ride is well supported.
The town of East Prairie is about 4 1/2 hours away from where I live. My friend and I enjoyed coming up on a bus loaded down with bicycles and cyclists.
This group of riders happens to be from where I live. They travel together, camp out, and ride in the various cycling events. As you can see from the picture, they appeared to be having a very good time on that bus!
The night before the ride, it seems all of the townsfolk were celebrating on the main street with food, music, vendor booths, and carnival games for kids.
I don’t live in a small town, and not even sure I would enjoy it all of the time, but there’s something special about these tiny communities. Everyone seemed to know each other. They all were happy, laughing, and socializing. I could tell how excited they were to have so many riders from various places in their tiny town. The town water tower was quite a neat site against the backdrop of the setting sun.
One vendor I met takes bicycle chains and makes jewelry out of it. Her idea came from the Tour de Corn. She saw a sign stating, “Thank you for the $1,600”. The sign was being held by a woman alongside the road cheering on the riders. She stopped and asked the woman about the sign she was holding, and learned that the $1600 was a portion of the funds raised from the ride, and it helped out children in the community.
She went home with the desire to earn money and donate part of her proceeds to promoting healthy living. She was retired, kids were out of the house, and she had the time and ability to help. While watching her friend take apart a bicycle chain, she thought, “I could make jewelry out of that!” Soon after, she created Chainspirations. The link to her website is www.chainspirations.com Check it out!
The next morning we got up early, and headed out on the ride. I started off with a quick pace,and felt really good. At the first rest stop, there was even fresh corn to eat, and some live music.
The terrain is quite different from my usual rides. I’m used to hills, valleys, and lots of trees. I enjoy the sights around my area of the state, but I gotta say, this part of Missouri was pretty as well. I especially enjoyed the corn fields, sunflower fields, and a field with buffalo on it!
The first sixty miles felt great. My pace was faster than usual, and I was staying very well hydrated. This all changed as I was entering the last forty miles or so of the ride. The route turned us back towards East Prairie, and straight into a strong headwind. With the high heat index (I later learned that another rider’s Garmin showed it as 102), and the strong wind, I felt as though I had hit a wall.
It was all I could do to keep pedaling. It was during this time that I realized my battle to finish was not about the wind, the heat, loss of feeling in toes, and numb hand, but more about the sheer willpower it took for me to stay on the bike. I’ve never faced that kind of wall before. I’ve gotten frustrated on the bike, but not to the point of wanting to cry, quit, and get off the bike.
During this time, the endless fields of green and yellow that I admired earlier became my annoyance. All I could see were fields; fields upon fields. There was no end in sight. I kept telling myself, “You can do this. You can do this.” My legs felt good, but the rest of my body wanted so badly to stop. Each mile seem to be longer than the one before. Huge trucks would pass me which created wind gusts full of dust, which would in turn just make me mad.
I felt the emotion of anger while out there. I had never felt anger to this level while on the bike, and it was hard work to pull myself out of it. I had to force myself to keep downing the fluids as I knew that at this point in the ride, it was crucial for me to stay hydrated. To say I was miserable is an understatement.
It was also during this time that I began to think about my kids. I would not want them to give up something they have worked for; especially right at the finish line, and they would not want me to do the same. I also thought about Jesus carrying the Cross, and how He did not put it down and walk away. I thought about His strength and began reciting the following verse:
I can do all things in Christ who gives me strength. Philipians 4:13
Soon after reciting this, I started noticing that on every section of electrical wiring between poles above the road, a single Red-winged Blackbird would land and start calling out. It felt as if these birds were cheering me on; as if the Lord sent them to meet me at each section of the road. I thought about how He cares for birds of the air, His eye is on the sparrow, and surely, He cares for His children.
As my friend and I turned the last corner and rode the last few miles into town, my exhaustion and anger dissipated. We even stopped to take a “corny” picture (no pun intended). It was the end of a long day in the saddle. It was the completion of my very first century ride. It was the finale of what ended up being more about mental endurance than physical endurance. It was also the recognition of how amazing it is to have spiritual endurance.
One hundred miles on a bike in one day is hard, but I did it. It was a day spent in recognition of how blessed I am to be physically able to complete this task. It was more than about the corn fields, small towns, miles, bikes, and flat roads. It was one more day of life that I could lean on my God through prayer, recitation of verses, and His sending of some little Red-winged Blackbirds to cheer me on.