It’s rare that I suffer for my art, and even more uncommon that I suffer for the art of others. Yet how could I not when faced with an amazing lineup of art and culture just 10 days ago?
Suffering was not my intent as I prepared to ride my bike Aug. 20. I rose from bed at 7:30 in the morning, eager to head out with a new group of riders. The temperature was 68 degrees, moving up to 84 by afternoon. Perfect riding weather. Not a cloud in the sky and even though most of the flowers in my garden had wilted, a tiny hummingbird still managed to find a bit of nectar in the few that remained. I had a big day planned: big ride, new friends, two talks and a concert. I needed the energy of the hummingbird. I thought I had it.
The ride was set to begin at 9 a.m., leaving from New Lebanon, N.Y., seven miles from my home in Canaan. It was a large group of 15, and the one person I knew told me the day before that we would be riding 40 miles. Inspired by the hummingbird, I decided to ride my bike to the starting point. Introductions were made and the ride leader described the route which, she said, would be 50 miles. Longer than I thought, but no big deal. I’ve done lots of 50-mile-plus rides this year.
At 35 miles, I began to feel a twinge in my legs. At 40 miles, the twinges were turning into cramps. I was drinking as much water as I could, but the cramps continued. For a while, it was only one leg cramping at a time, so stretching on the bike was still possible. But when both legs cramp simultaneously, that’s a good sign it’s time to quit. Try pedaling when you can’t straighten your legs. You can’t, and it really hurts. Plus, I was embarrassed. This was the first time I had ridden with this group of cyclists, and there I was — the new guy, way behind the pack, holding everyone up. At 45 miles, I climbed one last but short steep hill into Old Chatham, N.Y., where the rest of the riders were waiting for me. I might have stuck with them if the remainder of the ride was flat, but it was far from it. I sent them on their way and called Paula for a rescue.
By one in the afternoon, I was home. As I stepped out of the car, both legs cramped. I was grateful that I didn’t have to pedal.
I massaged my legs. I drank more water. I took a handful of Advil.
Next stop was the Berkshire Museum for a 3 p.m. lecture, sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The speaker was Linda Greenhouse, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, who spoke about the current state of affairs at our nation’s Supreme Court. Sitting was difficult, and halfway through the lecture I got up and stood at the back of the auditorium to keep my legs from cramping again. My hamstrings were knotted, and when the cramps hit, it felt like a knife slowly pushing its way through my muscles. I bent forward to touch my toes but, as usual, barely reached my ankles. Nonetheless, it felt good to stretch.
Following Greenhouse, we rushed to make our way to Tanglewood to attend a 5 p.m. conversation between the playwright, Tony Kushner (another Pulitzer Prize-winner), and Jesse Green, theater critic for The New York Times. Apparently, we weren’t the only people going to Tanglewood. The traffic was backed up for nearly a mile. Suddenly, I felt I was back in New York, trying to get through the Lincoln Tunnel at rush hour. At a snail’s pace we made our way to the parking lot. For me, that meant more time in the car, and more time sitting. I could feel the cramps returning and so, with Paula at the wheel, I got out of the car and walked ahead of the traffic. Eventually, she caught up and, as we neared the parking lot, I got in.
Kushner and Green were wonderful, but they were merely the warm-up act for the big show. At 8 p.m., we joined 18,000 people, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, James Taylor, Yo Yo Ma, Itzak Pearlman and Branford Marsalis for the 90th birthday concert celebration of composer John Williams. During the concert, the pain in my legs, at last, began to subside. But what a lineup! What a concert! Truly spectacular!
At 11 p.m., we made our way down the dirt road to our house. My legs were still a little sore. It was a long day. I stepped out of the car and looked up. The sapphire canopy was shimmering. My eyes adjusted to the darkness and, as they did, I was treated to a gentle hint of the Milky Way. It was the second time in the past month that the stars had been that bright. I asked Paula to look up, too, which she did. “Wow!” she said. “I’m so happy we live here.”