On day forty four I awoke to the familiar ache in my legs, pulsating subtlety through my bones. I could feel the hard floor beneath me through the sleeping bag and the accompanying pad. The church ceiling above me seemed to hang closer to me than it had the night before, but I was relieved to find the floor where I left it; my anxiety that morning made it feel as though the floor would give out below me.
As I awoke along with my teammates, 27 of us in total, I rubbed sleep from my eyes and crawled out of my sleeping bag. After the morning chores and breakfast I sat down on a nearby chair, taking a sharpie to my legs. My stomach was still in knots yet my hand was steady. Facing me, in the space between my knees and where the cycling shorts ended, I scribed: “Don’t stop, Don’t ever stop.”
Before we set out– twenty three cyclists and four drivers dispersed among two vans–we gathered around in a circle for our morning ritual, dedicating the day to our loved ones and those affected by cancer. The air was heavy and clung stiffly around us as we each took our turn sharing. My father’s words rang in my ear as I shared them with the group: “Don’t Stop–James–Don’t Ever Stop!” This was his last sentence in a card he gave me before I departed on the 4,000 mile route from Baltimore, Maryland to Seattle, Washington to raise money and cancer awareness for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. Fortunate to have seen my father survive cancer, I held his words close to me since the morning I rode out the Baltimore Inner Harbor.
We set out early that morning while the road was still cool. We followed the winding road around, slowly approaching the base of The Big Horn Mountain Range in Northern Wyoming. The peaks loomed over us as we were bathed in the mountains’ shadows. Slowly the road began to incline, steeper and steeper. Before long we were climbing up into the mountain range.
Buffalo, Wyoming shrank out of view as I pushed my way up the mountain. The soreness from the morning soon faded, giving way to the strain in my thighs from the incline’s resistance. It was tiring, both mentally and physically. I had to maintain the right momentum and cadence to use my energy efficiently. The climb seemed to mock me: roads would ascend steeply only to guide me down a descent, leaving me to climb the same elevation repeatedly. Rolling hill after rolling hill eventually leveled into a long, continuous incline. After resting along the side of the road momentarily, I pushed forward, driving myself ever closer to the peak. Don’t stop, don’t ever stop.
The scrawl on my legs encouraged me forward alongside my team. Slowly we made our way up and round. We had just finished a steep climb and continued pushing forward when an inconspicuous sign on the side of the road caught our eyes as we zoomed past. Powder River Pass elevation 9666. It was a few moments before the confusion melted into celebration. We had reached the zenith of the pass, much sooner and easier than we had anticipated. The anxiety of the morning had built Power Pass into an obstacle far greater in our minds than it was in reality. We rode past the top assuming that we had far more mountain to climb.
Though the thirty mile climb was over, sixty miles still separated us from our home for the night. With my father’s encouragement branded on my legs, I continued forward. I wouldn’t dare to stop. I could not stop. A fire had been lit and there was no putting it out, no challenge too great to overcome, no mountain too steep. We are our greatest support and we can use that power to make mountains appear larger than they really are or, instead, we can use that power to climb over them. Don’t Stop, Don’t Ever Stop