Day 2 and I use every piece of advice, from trite euphemism to true wisdom, to get me through the 78 hilly miles. There’s Larry, my L.A. yoga teacher and former zen priest telling me “so what,” when I complain my feet fall asleep during zazen (and, as it happens, when cycling excessive distances). Richard, the ex-Navy Seal/zen priest in training/workout instructor/and, more recently, cable television host of a program about the weapons of war for which he gave himself the nickname Mack, is also there. He’s shouting “not dead, can’t quit,” at me just like he did when I was doing push ups at 6:30am in the Santa Monica zendo. My colleague Ian is also on hand, nodding approvingly as I wash down my sixth Nurofen of the day with a dose of neat black currant cordial. Ian had advised me painkillers and a slow and steady pace would be my best friends for this bike ride, and so far he’s been right on both counts. The cordial and jelly babies are also reliable acquaintances.
The terrain today is punishing and scenic, and seems to be populated solely by lazy, white French cows who sleep in the meadows like dogs in the shade. The villages we ride through are ghost towns, with broke down mini-chateaus and those concrete bungalows with brightly painted shutters the French seem to favor. Later there are American scale stretches of agricultural land, so vast they make the Cotswolds seem like it’s engaged in boutique farming. Despite all the greenery it somehow feels desolate in these parts.
Over dinner at our hotel we are joined by a man and his friend who are riding for the same charity, the MS Society, that I am. We get to talking and I learn that he suffers from MS and was previously in a wheel chair. His story should be inspirational, but the more he talks the more I dislike him. I find him narcissistic and feel guilty about it, despite reminding myself that disease doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the likability of its victims. When we are back in our hotel room, I ask husband if he had the same reaction and am surprised when he tells me he liked the guy. Husband suggests my reaction might be more about my discomfort with confronting MS rather than the man’s arrogance. I decide to sleep on it.