I earned the title of Dog Girl a good thirty years ago and cling to the moniker with pride. After all, I know it’s not a physical reference, but has to do with my dogged demeanor.
It came about when I was courting my spouse and I would do just about anything to win him over. I wanted to prove what a fun, loyal and hard-working mate I would make.
At the time of the courtship, my beau lived in the heart of North Philadelphia and hopped buses or hoofed it to and from his job across town. I, on the other hand, was living in my suburban childhood home deep within the ever-enveloping bosom of my family. I was the proud owner of a sporty little Toyota Tercel and was more than willing to recklessly rack up the miles as my intended and I traveled together far and wide on our journey through life to love.
One cold, rainy night we drove to our nation’s capital and back to beat a midnight deadline for an internship at the Washington Post. At the time I could think of nothing better than having my date all to myself on a six-hour-round-trip drive, made longer by inclement conditions. Then we made the languorously long trek to Jacksonville, St. Petersburg and Tampa for a few job interviews. I rode shotgun all the way to Chicago when he decided to pursue a Masters’ Degree at Northwestern and after depositing him there, I drove home all alone in one fell-swoop, just me and a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew.
Our mileage was not restricted to automobiles. Three years in a row we hopped on our bicycles and rode in the MS 150-mile City-to-Shore Ride; 75 miles down to Ocean City and 75 miles back the following day after a pasta dinner on the boardwalk and a board-hard bed in a boarding house. But I was young, in shape and would do anything to win his heart.
Even ride in the rain.
One year, I started the MS ride with a case of bronchitis and ended up with pneumonia after hours and hours of pedaling in wind-driven rain. Though I vehemently dispute the opinion that weather conditions can cause illness, it still makes for a good, soggy saga.
I swooned when my spouse-to-be named me the Dog Girl, oh so proud of my determined spirit.
And then we got married and my doggedness shifted away from personal challenges and into the perpetuation of three little people. And a canine. The mileage accrued was relegated to my waistline and laugh lines as I drove the minivan in circles, running PTAs, teaching Sunday School and Town Mothering multiple sports for multiple children.
I missed the Dog Girl.
And so, last year, my sister Emily, my lifelong friend Mary Anne and I decided to get back in the saddle and relive our 20s by doing the MS ride together. They now offered a one-way 80-mile ride with a shuttle bus back home. We clicked that box quick and dusted off our bikes.
I took to the job like a dog to a bone and rode and rode and rode in preparation. I bought a bike computer to track my miles and by the time the beautiful, Sunny Saturday in September had come around, I had pedaled plenty.
The ride was a piece of cake.
And a lot of fun. And for a good cause. So, Mary Anne and I committed to doing it again this year.
I got back on my bike as soon as the snow melted, riding 15 miles here, 20 miles there, throwing in a 30 for good measure on a Sunday afternoon. I went up hills, through farm lands and challenged myself with sprints.
By last Friday I had logged 1,260 miles on my trusty little bicycle computer. My bone-on-bone knees still went round and round but I had to wear an ankle brace to keep a new pain contained. My elbows ached, my right hip (as opposed to the left prosthetic one) throbbed, my right knee still hurt from my dinghy accident, my left hand had an inexplicable bruise and my neck was so stiff I couldn’t turn my head.
And they were forecasting rain.
But, Mary Anne and I decided early on that we would do the ride, rain or shine. After all, this was a charity ride and we owed it to our financial supporters and cheerleaders. Even if I couldn’t walk without a limp for a month or two, it was still nothing compared to what those with MS live with on a daily basis.
So I spent the week glued to weather.com watching Joaquin’s path, adding a long-sleeved shirt on Monday, a rain slicker on Tuesday, plenty of plastic bags, extra socks, shoes and pants to my rapidly-expanding gear pile on Wednesday.
And then, last Thursday, two days before the ride, the governor declared a State of Emergency forcing the cancellation of the MS ride for the first time in 35 years.
My bones rejoiced but my heart was sad.
If I coulda, I woulda.
And next year I will.