Food was a huge factor on this journey. We ate with impunity. Our tanks were always empty. We ate for energy and metabolized every calorie. The more we ate, the faster we rode. Food drove our bodies like jet engines into a forward thrust, powering us up unbelievable slopes, propelling us to our next destination. Food was always on our mind.
One morning, Tilly and I pulled into a café outside a small Canadian harbor town where fishing boats bobbed in a tiny marina and men in orange waders hauled nets and cargo back and forth. The café was empty except for one man in the corner, smoking a pipe. Tilly and I ordered breakfast: a large bowl of oatmeal with a stack of pancakes, a stack of toast, coffee, a three-egg Spanish omelet with home fries, with another tall stack of pancakes, another order of toast, more coffee, a slice of lingonberry pie with ice cream, still more coffee, and one last stack of toast. Each.
The man who had been sitting in the corner sidled up to us and took the pipe out of his mouth. “I’ve never seen anybody eat that much food in all my days,” he said. “Who are you girls?”
We never really understood how important food was to us until we pushed our limits one day and rode ninety miles without eating. The experience was brutal. After riding fifty miles, we pulled into the little town of Montesano, Washington. A sign there read “Westport 30 Miles.” We felt good and decided to push on to Westport. Big mistake. We hadn’t eaten enough. After seven solid hours of riding, I bonked—a funny word that cyclists use to describe hitting the wall, but a devastating phenomenon. Carbohydrates no longer powered my muscles. Having used up its reserves, my body started feeding on itself.
Although the road signs said the town was thirty miles down the road, it meant the town limits. The real town, with pasta and pie, was another ten miles beyond. Headwinds from the ocean pushed against us, and the road began sloping uphill. I drank some water and my stomach cramped. Eight miles to go. Collagen in my body faded. Three more miles to go, but it might as well have been three hundred. I couldn’t think. Cell walls began to collapse. Two miles. I began to cry. Muscle structures gave way to mere muscle memory. My legs went on automatic pilot. I was riding, but didn’t know where. I was pedaling, but couldn’t feel my feet. One mile. I was literally starving. My hands went numb. Crying, wobbling down the road, blind with pain, I couldn’t stop pedaling. Robotic. Nerve endings fired desperate signals to my body to keep going, keep going or die. I remembered my father’s words, “You think about nothing, you think about everything.”
I rode right through Westport, past the café, past the stores. I couldn’t stop, had to keep going. Tilly rushed after me and pulled me off the bike. “Food, Danuta, it’s food, right over there.” She helped me walk my bike back to the café. Although Tilly was also terribly hungry, she wasn’t bonking. In the restaurant I wept uncontrollably and asked the waitress to bring me some bread. She pulled her pencil from behind her red curly hair and poised it over her order pad. “Will that be toast or plain? Wheat, rye, or sourdough?”
I just looked at her, ashen, critically hungry, collapsing before her eyes. “Right. Bread,” she said, and hurried two enormous garlic loaves to the table. After a meal of seafood linguini, bread, baked potatoes, salad, fruit pie and espresso, I started to feel conscious again. Outside of childbirth and a motorcycle accident, I had never felt so physically traumatized.
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