As most things in life, good things come to me through my connections with others. My friend Jan was riding alongside me today in our usual Thursday morning club ride and told me how she related to my last post, that in her experience, it's the people around her that make or break her riding. Of course, she said a lot of other things, but this is the piece that relates to my next part of the story. And while I can't say that I am completely cured, I can report that, like Jan, I've been reminded and newly confident of the power of people and community in cycling. Here's (partly) what has inspired this positive and welcome change in my spirit.
Last week, I was in NYC for work, and as luck would have it, my schedule overlapped with my dear friend's plans to be in the city too (that would be Mike, I've mentioned him before.). So, we made a plan to meet up for a short tour of the city before I had to fly home. He was in town to take part in the inaugural Hope on 2 Wheels Ride, which was the brainchild of Scott Kasper and Mike Chadwick (of the Mid- Jersey chapter of JDRF), to raise awareness of Type 1 Diabetes. This ride was an epic tag-team ride effort from New York City to Washington DC, some 252 miles, done all in one day. Twenty four intrepid riders, two cargo vans, two 15-passenger vans, and three other support vehicles and a bunch of dedicated crew and a cameraman convened on Manhattan's Financial District at the site of the World Trade Center last Friday afternoon. Their mission? To ride from the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) Headquarters to the National Institute of Health Headquarters in Bethesda, MD, all in one day to raise awareness about Type 1 Diabetes (or T1D, as the community calls it).
But that's just the beginning....
Once Scott found out I was in town, and since I've done some volunteering for JDRF events, I was invited to join the group for dinner that evening at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the World Trade Center memorial. Just before I was to get in a car bound for LaGuardia, I got a message that my flight had been cancelled. In seconds, I had three or four friends offering me places to stay and a plan to fly home when I needed to. But it didn't take long for someone to broach the idea that I should just stay and help with the ride. Because Mike was driving back to my neck of the woods on Monday, I could hitch a ride with him, thus avoiding the whole airport shuffle and allowing me to witness (and help with) one of the most inspiring cycling events I've ever seen. The plan was set... I was totally and completely in... (and didn't care one bit that I had used up all of my clean clothing earlier in the week). I was going to help deliver Hope on 2 Wheels!
At 4:45 the next morning, the cyclists were clad in the blue and white HopeOn2Wheels kit and on the road for a 5 am start from the JDRF Headquarters. The morning was warm and damp (a storm had blown in the night before - hence, my cancelled flight), and uncharacteristically quiet.... no one was out on the streets, save a few folks crawling home from the bar. Perhaps somewhat defiantly, we filled the streets with the sounds of whirring tires on wet blacktop, the click of shifting gears, and the ever-recognizable sound of pride, of bikeface. (Yes, when it's right on, I swear you can hear it.) Only the quiet friendly chatter in the group could be heard above the bikes' rhythmic clickings, happily the loudest noises in that part of town that morning.
Meanwhile, I rolled along in one of the passenger vans, with a plan to help support the team with whatever they needed at each transition area. I had my coffee in one hand, and my phone on camera mode, and I was poised and ready.
I can't possibly tell the story of the entire day here, but let me get to a few highlights.
The first highlight happened immediately, at the starting area. It turns out that the ride had gotten so much press that a young boy (8 or 9 years old?), Diabetes Dude as he is known, came down from Boston to greet the team and deliver his own personal message of hope and thanks. He and his family were there at 5 am ready to talk to the riders about how important this ride was to him and to many other children and adults with T1D. After a few congratulatory hugs and good luck wishes between Diabetes Dude and the team, they were off. Once the clicks and whirrs and lights and cheers rounded the corner, I jumped in the van, anxious, yet eager to find out how this long day ahead was going to unfold.
(This is a video of the start.)
The riders' first mission was to get onto the ferry to Staten Island, where they were to ride across the island, greet a police escort to take them across the bridge on the other side back in to New Jersey. I couldn't go along on this part of the ride because vehicles aren't allowed on the ferries to the island. So, Dave Chadwick (my driver friend, and brother of Hope Ride co-founder Mike and rider Andrew) and I drove to the first check point to greet the team.
This rest stop was significant not only in that it was the first on the ride, and the first time we would have seen the team since they left Manhattan about two hours earlier, but it was also placed at mile 23. For those outside of the JDRF Ride program, mile 23 is a special mile marker, a mile of silence, (now marked on every JDRF national ride) to honor the lives we've lost to T1D. Michelle, whose son Jesse passed away from T1D on Februrary 3, which inspired JDRF to create Mile 23, was a rider that day. (I can't even imagine the significance for her, and was amazed at her strength and resolve all day.) To add to the honor of Mile 23, the riders were greeted with a bagpipe and drum duo who played as the riders arrived at the checkpoint.
Here, Scott lead a perfect ceremonial moment to honor Jesse and the others who we were riding in honor of that day. Afterward, we got to business splitting up the team into three smaller groups, filling up water bottles, and getting organized in vans to shuttle riders to their next transition. The plan was to get all 24 riders in shifts of about 15-25 miles apiece along the route to the last transition area where they would meet up at the end of the day to ride the lat 20 miles together ending at the NIH office building in Maryland, just outside of DC.
From here, the day becomes mostly of a swirl of details, of which I will spare you. Let's just say that the riders rode in near-90 degree heat, in short, but sometimes difficult shifts, non-stop, for nearly 20 hours. I was thrilled to be there at each transition area to help the team load bikes onto the transport vans, hand water and food, take photos, and cheer on each team as they took their turn at spinning the thread of awareness across three state lines.
(Scott Kasper, Ride Co-Founder)
(Motorcycles lead the way.)
(The team arrives at checkpoint 6, mile 90.)
Toward the end of the night, when darkness fell hard on the team, and on Maryland... but not on their spirits I must add... after 18 hours of non-stop riding, the team decided to make a major decision. Since several members of the team lost power to their lights, and were at this point not well-equipped enough to ride in the extreme darkness, even with support vehicles leading, it would be dangerous to continue with the original plan of all 24 riders finishing the last 20 miles together. Bonded tightly by now after more than a day's work, a lot of sweat and fortitude and mutual respect, the team unanimously decided to skip 18 of the last 20 miles to ride together for the last two across the finish line. (The last two would be under the city street lights, and much more safe in general.) They decided that it was far better for them to cross the finish line as a team "safe, sound, and smiling" than to have a few people try to ride the entire distance in the darkness while the others opted out. It just didn't seem right that not everyone would finish together. So we drove the team to the new transition area where we unloaded all the bikes from the vans one last time. As if to bookend the start of the day, there they were, in total darkness (save a few neighborhood house lights), lining up on a street completely unfamiliar to them, to ride again as a solid team of 24. Once again, I stood in the street while the line of blinking red lights, whirring tires, clicking pedals, and the pride of bikeface rounded the corner and out of view. Once again, I jumped in the van to escort them the rest of the way.
What a spectacle it was! Two motorcycles lead the caravan of bikes and vehicles, with all 24 riders in a line, like a string of blinking holiday lights, moving up a winding hill, past the NIH headquarters building, and into the hotel parking lot at 11:59. 20 hours after the start. 3 flat tires and two minor medical situations after the start. 252 miles after the start. 16 rest stops after the start. Gallons of water, ounces of chamois cream, orange slices and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after the start. Hours of team-bonding after the start. After countless handshakes and hugs and cheers from the start, all 24 riders escorted slowly through the streets of Bethesda provided the town a late-night light show of red blinkers, gleaming bikeface, and full hearts. (And that includes those of us in the vans, who never rode an inch that day on a bike... we too had bikeface.)
So 24 riders -- almost all nearly strangers to one another at the beginning of the day -- came together to create a community moment for themselves, and no doubt for others who were watching and cheering, even online, renewed my faith in the power of the bike to heal. It should be noted that the range of cycling experience and fitness was about the same as many area club rides I've participated in. These were not all huge and accomplished riders. Some of them had never ridden more than 60 miles in one day. Only two were professional riders for Team Type 1, who took on some leadership roles on their individual teams. Most were not the hard core riders we would imagine would be required for this ride. They were all just folks, incidentally many of them with T1D as well, who were out to do something important. And their goals were unwavering. But most of all, their teamwork and camaraderie is what inspired me. Again, there are stories of how they strategized together to make the next leg of their ride even better than the last, even as the day heated up, and fatigue set in. There are stories about how they now will find each other at the next JDRF ride and know that their community has just expanded, even if only by one person. Participating in this event -- even if only by sheer luck, by being in the right place at the right time -- has shifted how I see my own opportunities as a cyclist. I now feel more compelled to help the cycling community continue to grow. I now feel more confident that that is an important role for me no matter how well I ride. I now know that that piece of what I do out there on my bike is more important than whether I finish in the top pack. Of course, I will still push myself to challenge myself on the bike, to do things I don't think I can do, but I won't be placing as much importance on them as I once did. Because I was blessed with this opportunity, my spirit has shifted somewhat, and I am now thinking of myself a little differently as a cyclist. I feel better. Thank you Hope On 2 Wheels Team. Thank you mother nature. Thank you cycling...
(See Mike Clark's take on this story here.)
(See Mike Clark's take on this story here.)