Sleek black wetsuits with pink and green swim caps bob like DOTS candy in the deep blue/black of Lake Couer D’Alene. It is early and cold and I sip my coffee anxiously on concrete steps near a crowd of cheering figures. One by one, and sometimes in clusters, the neon caps crawl to the sandy shore and attempt to zip down their dripping suit skins while slow-motion jogging. Underneath the first rind reveals sports bra, suits, and cool, damp skin. One woman grasps the lake-wet hand of a blue shirted volunteer and limps across the beach as though learning to walk. Everyone has a cowbell. I do not.
Part of me wishes I were still curled up in a tight sphere with a blanket in the Safeway lot where our car is parked. Instead I found a coffee shop and followed the crowds to the water. Sip. I chew on a fresh peanut butter and jelly on seedy wheat bread for breakfast.
More cowbell and more caps and sleek suits emerge. I keep looking out at the water with volunteers on jet skis and kayaks and multi-colored paddle boards watching the last swimmers dig through the waves. Ryan is still nowhere to be seen, and I know I could not miss him. He does not have a suit with zipper and a long string. His suit was twenty-five dollars at a second hand sporting goods store and it is purple with snaps. It resembles Styrofoam over sealskin. At least he got a neon green cap over that cliché pink (cliché of course because it is for the women).
Rewind a day before to the packet pick-up for this half-Ironman race. Everywhere hard bodies with fancy bicycles—machines, really. These bikes are worth more than our cars. Bitterness rises to my mouth and in my bones until I watch this cute fat girl. She is indomitable sitting in the middle of the lawn eating a doughnut surrounded by tanned muscle and thin racing tires.
I empty out our entire Subaru contents onto the sidewalk to pull out Ryan’s bike. For some reason we had decided against the bike rack, which now didn’t make much sense as I dump my sleeping bag on the ground.
I am embarrassed for Ryan with his yellow bicycle. There is nothing wrong with that bicycle. A quick Internet search lists triathlon bicycles for a little over two grand for the “budget conscious.”
Back to now. But Ryan has not emerged from the water. The yellow bicycle doesn’t even matter yet.
Then I see a tall body in purple. I cheer, but my cheer is more a cheer of relief than a cheer of encouragement. I continue to cheer at him as he moves quickly up the stairs and towards that yellow bicycle that now matters.
I rush toward the racing bike spectators and find a small gap along the fence. Instantly a cyclist roars down the hill and can’t turn the tight corner. He crosses over those neatly placed candy corn orange cones into oncoming cyclist traffic. Crash. Those two bicycles that maybe cost more than our cars collide and both riders land harshly on the hot pavement. The crowd shrieks in unison. The riders rise slowly before shuffling away from the cheering and towards the medical personnel. Those bicycles with aerodynamic frames limp sadly beside them.
For five or six more hours I watch an endless stream of bodies cycle and run past while chewing granola bars or swallowing those thick energy gels that might taste like watermelon or peanut butter. I even cheer for a bit. There is a woman next to me sitting on the curb yelling in a strong baritone, “Good job!” at every other cyclist as they whiz past with sunglasses and white helmets.
The cheering quickly grows tiresome and somehow I find myself in front of a hut that sells drinks and shaved ice. I pay nine dollars for a large ice cube filled lemonade and a butter slimed pretzel that makes my mouth greasy and my tongue seared from the salt.
I am cursing myself for not bringing a book. I always bring a book.
Finally, finally after leaning over the rails near the finish line and watching a fabulous stormtrooper helmet whiz past—I see him. He sees me and I cheer as I snap a few photos. There is a kid across from me with a sign featuring a badly drawn yoda that says, “May the course be with you.” This makes me happy and if Ryan saw it I’m sure it would make him happy too.
Afterwards I put my feet in the lake while he gingerly sits down on one of those concrete steps from my early morning spectator perch. Ryan reports that he had fun even though he almost quit the first five minutes into the swim.
Miraculously, neither one of us is sunburnt. We spend our six-hour drive home listening to crime podcasts and eating sour patch kids.