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Columnist Susan Lacke and her Ironman-in-training partner find romance in a very unromantic place.
“It’ll be great, babe! No laptops, no work emails, no nothing. Just you, me and the bikes. We’ll get out of the hot desert and breathe in the cool mountain air!”
Neil inhaled with vigorous flaring of the nostrils, waving his hands in front of his face for dramatic effect. In preparation for Ironman Lake Tahoe, my partner had excitedly approached me with his plan to prepare for racing at altitude: this summer, we’d spend every other weekend in Flagstaff, Ariz., a two-hour drive up the mountain from our home in Phoenix.
With our contrasting work and training schedules, Neil and I had barely seen each other in the weeks prior, and I had begun to resent how much time and energy Ironman training had taken away from our relationship. Though Neil presented weekends in Flagstaff as a romantic “quality time,” I knew it was a thinly veiled attempt to get me on board with his altitude-training ambitions.
I peered into the backyard, squinting at the thermometer on our patio: 120 degrees. Riding bikes in cooler air sure did sound nice.
“Okay. I’m in.” I nodded, “But only on one condition…”
“We keep the costs down. No expensive hotels, no meals out. Downgrade.” In addition to eating up our time and energy, triathlon had taken a sizeable chunk out of our budget.
“Of course! I know exactly what we’ll do!” Neil sauntered off to his laptop to make arrangements, whistling a jaunty tune.
A week later, a delivery of camping supplies appeared on our doorstep.
Let’s make something clear: though I enjoy the outdoors, I’m not what you call an outdoorsy person. When I told Neil I wanted to “downgrade,” of course, I meant from Super 8 to Motel 6. In no way was I implying I wanted to live without access to a post-run shower.
Yet that weekend, we gave our keys to the house sitter and drove north, until the roads turned to dirt and the dirt turned to mud. Home Sweet Home was a green tent in the middle of bleeping nowhere, inhabited only by two triathletes, bears and the occasional axe murderer. I eyed Neil suspiciously, wondering if my disappearance would end up on “60 Minutes.”
Our first night, salty with dried sweat and ravenously hungry after hours of riding bikes and running, we lit a campfire. Soon after, we burned our dinner. With charred potatoes dotting the bottom of the campfire, Neil suggested we try our hand at s’mores instead. We burned those, too.
It was cold. There were mosquitoes. One of our flashlights burned out. I cursed under my breath. Neil cursed out loud. We were grumpy, smelly and hungry—it was hardly the romantic quality time Neil described.
Could things possibly be any worse? I silently wondered as I looked up at the sky.
Tiny raindrops began to pelt my face. Well played, sky. Well played.
“Quick, to the tent!” Neil yelled. We hurried through the growing storm, pausing only to place our bikes in the dry safety of the tent. We slammed the car doors behind us just as the first thunderbolts reverberated through our soaked bones. I sighed loudly. He blinked, stunned and speechless.
When our eyes met, we both exploded with laughter.
“Want to go into town and get some dinner?”
That night, as we waited out the storm from a cozy corner booth at a local eatery, I realized Ironman training hadn’t taken away anything from our relationship. As we sipped hot chocolate and planned routes for the next day’s training ride, I had a deeper appreciation for the time we do spend together. Though helmet-haired, smelly and wearing running shoes caked with mud, I was happy and very much in love.
“I’m looking forward to coming back here for more training weekends.”
“Me too, babe.”
“I wouldn’t mind a Motel 6, though.”
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