Last week, Aug 13 – 16, I wandered out of the great state of confusion and New Jersey to participate in my first JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. I have done a ride before, but that was with a different group and I was promised this would be a life changing experience. Honestly, a few people over the months of training told me that. So, a while back friends of mine started doing these rides, Jeff Mather, Victoria Cumbow, Katie Clark, and Moira McCarthy, and all of them have sung the joy of these rides, I figured maybe now was a chance for me to hop back on my bike and join in the fun. So after some cajoling and persuding Moira was able to convince me and assure me this was something I should consider doing. You guys know Moira right? Quiet, tactful, and sometimes sneaky?
Wait, that’s me. Moira, not so much and I love her for it. Moira truly is a viking, that’s her daughter Lauren next to us, and obviously, I’m the one with the cheese on his head. ‘Cause that is me. Cheesy to the core.
Any way, once I committed to doing this 100 mile ride I started to lay out a training plan for these rides. Yes, I did have a training plan. (Why I say that here will become apparent shortly. I have been falsely accused of misleading people.) My goal was to slowly build up to at least 60/70 miles before the ride began. We all know how these things go though? Best laid plans always have a chance of falling apart. That was what happened for me.
First of all most of my training rides were just me, 10, 20, 30 miles at a clip. My first issue cropped up in early June, when I over extended a tendon in my foot and was happily limping around and waiting for some sort of recovery. It was nothing major, but it took its sweet time to heal. My chapter did training rides, but I wasn’t getting notification on when they were. (There was an email issue, well, they had the wrong email for me so that was the issue.) Once things were corrected by one of our coaches, I was able to at least get the dates for rides. My problem being my Saturday Sunday work schedule.
The thing is the coaches are great, Jeff one of our coaches bent over backwards to schedule rides that would work for me, so over the 4th of July weekend we were able to get in a 34 mile ride and even right before I left we were able to get in another 30 plus mile ride. I will be honest at this point my hopes of riding the 100 miles were flagging. My training was not up to where I wanted it to be and I was set that I might only be doing the 60ish leg of the ride not the 100 miles. Yes, Moira, Liz, Lauren, Caroline, Karen, Sheila, and the rest of you, that was as far as I had ridden and trained. That is all. I was disappointed in my training, but my backup plan was the following Wednesday, no matter the distance I would ride, I was going to make up the miles on my other bike.
So the morning of the 13th I headed out at the crack ass of dawn. That is the only way to put it. The night before I had purchased an iced coffee from Dunkin so the 2 AM wake up would not have been as painful. My 5:00 AM flight went off without a hitch aside from the time and TSA taking their sweet ass time with the inspections. I made it to Chicago land and waited for my flight to LaCrosse. Miss Moira was enroute and was using the wifi on her plane apparently. She told me Lauren was at the airport and I should talk to her. It was too damn early, even though I figured out who her daughter was and was sitting across from her, I left her alone until momma showed up and a did the legit introductions.
So we arrive in LaCrosse at 9:00 and the fun begins. I could go into all of the details, but I wouldn’t want to ruin that for everyone. The next three days really were a whirlwind of fun, meeting of some great people and getting ready for the ride. There are some highlights of the next few days. The first is the amazing support system that JDRF has set up for riders, between the bike room that is there to setup shipped bikes, help with any major issues encountered, to basically them making sure you and your bike are ready for the big day.
The first night there was a welcome reception with AWESOME food, a mashed potato bar, mixed salads, and all the water you could drink. Here are some of us posing that first night. It was a great night.
As time went on, you started to meet many people, but also those who were involved in the actual planning of the ride and the staff on hand to help you out. There were those the staff members on hand to help with any issues, lets say the ride jersey is not the right size or you have any issues, they are on hand to help you out. There was the “loose spokes” breakfast for those riders who are without a chapter to ride with or who have come on your own. I was technically a loose spoke even though someone else from my chapter was there. Aly Levine who is the National Director of the Ride to Cure Diabetes is part of my chapter but was not riding with this ride. Aly is awesome and she admitted that she may have been on some level my own personal photo stalker. I haven’t seen those pictures yet, the JDRF Ride to Cure program is still sorting through many of those pictures and they haven’t been uploaded. But Aly is such a great person and I know she was watching over me during the ride, she followed my Facebook updates, and was at the finish line cheering me on.
Friday, we had a chance to do a warm up ride around town. So I gathered together with my adopted family for the weekend and we set out on roughly about a 10 mile ride to make sure our bikes were ready and we were too. That was fun.
I had a chance to get to know all of my new friends and accusers more the day before the ride. There was some napping after that, followed by a pre-ride session to talk about managing diabetes on the ride. This was something I was interested in as some of my ride length failures were due to low BS issues. Throughout the course of that two hour meeting various coaches and riders offered up wisdom and help to those who were interested. The best part though, was just hearing other peoples experiences and how they handled things. I will be honest. I know this session helped me keep my numbers in control during and after the ride.
The morning of the ride was rough for me. I did not want to get up. Yet, I was excited. The night before I had filled my two water bottles 3/4 of the way and froze them in my freezer and filled up the Camelbak as well for the ride. The morning of the ride, I adjusted pump settings had a healthy breakfast and got ready for the ride. I did try to jump into the river, but I was not allowed to. So I posed instead.
The start of the ride was broken into various heats, basically the idea was if you were planning for the 100 mile ride you would want to start in the earlier heats as there was a cutoff time for the full 100. If you missed that, you wouldn’t get to do the loop. Our group decided to leave in the second heat and were excited to start the ride. The local news station had posted a video about the ride and you can see most of the start group leaving the start line. You can see that video here, I hope. The next thing you know, the countdown begins and you hear them yell go. The line of people starts to move and I promptly get clipped and almost take out Moira. I just remember yelling “Going down”, as I was off balance and my right foot was already clipped into my pedals. Thankfully, Moira was my rock and kept my standing, until I could right myself and we never fell. But I may have bruised her, sorry M, if you found a bruise you couldn’t sort out.
At this point, I’m on the road, Wisconsin, to Minnesota, to Iowa and back. At this point my plan was to still try for the 100 miles, but if I didn’t make it, it was okay. But here’s the thing, I did the full 100 and this is where I will defend myself from my friend/accusers. Mind you their joking was all in fun, but I know they will never let me live it down. Yes, I only trained a set distance, but the LaCrosse ride really is a flat ride. Where I live, where I trained, that is not the case. Vernon township has some areas of flat ground, but we are truly a hilly area. I trained on a mountain bike/road bike hybrid, which was heavier than Jenny ever could be, so I had that going for me. When I wasn’t training and riding my bike I was playing Ultimate Frisbee and running around 2-3 times a week for 2 plus hours at a pop, so I was building up endurance there, and lastly I am stubborn.
So I started the ride feeling great and started to gauge how things felt. I just pedaled. I lost my group at some point. Why? Because at that point I wanted to be certain I would hit the cut off point before 11. That meant I had 4 hours to travel 50ish miles. I would stop at each break area for more water, for either Gatorade or the other powdered drink we used, ate a snack, had a pickle or pickle juice, and took two electrolyte pills. This was the routine, pedal, talk to people, pass people, and hydrate. Between the first two breaks a rider went down in front of me, so I pulled over and made sure he was okay and steered people around him. Once that sorted out, I continued on. Break stop three was where I was supposed to hit by 11. I got there a little after 10 and the legs still felt great.
At this point we were told there was a hill, really the only hill on the ride and this was the push for the 100 miles. So I started climbing. I will be honest with you at this point I was traveling with riders again and this hill if you want to call it was really nothing for me. Thank you Vernon, NJ for the hills to play on. At this point, a second rider went down in front of me. Once again, I stopped, helped divert people, and held the bike of one of the ride coaches until things settled down and continued my own ride. Once I got to the top of the hill I thought I was free and clear. Apparently they forgot to tell us this route had nasty rolling hills. For those of us who used significant energy to climb the hill, we were annoyed, plus it was getting hot at this point.
At this point I was locked in and just kept up the same routine of hydrate and refill where I could. I know I started counting roughly the miles I had back and looking for landmarks I might recognize. The last 30 miles were rough for me. I know I told people the last 15 miles, but honestly the last 30 dragged as I was now at the I need to finish point. I was still happy and excited, but I was tiring. Mind you if you saw me at 15 miles to go, you wouldn’t have known it.
I filled up my water bottles one last time, forgot to give my Camelbak a little extra water, because it was only 15 miles. I chatted with some of the people from my original group that were there. This is where the “accusations” of deception really started. Oops. The last 15 miles truly took their toll on me. At this point the temperature had to have been in the mid 90’s and there was no shade. I went through so much water and around mile 6 I was out. Should have filled Camelbak. Oh well, I have learned. Also at this point, one begins to realize just how much a bike seat hurts and how little help the padding provides the rider. I did not want to sit down to pedal. Yet, I had to finish.
Coming back into the town of LaCrosse was exhilarating. People used the phrase #bikeface on the ride. That is basically the happiness the rider exudes as they are crossing the finish line, the smile, the satisfaction of the ride well done. At this point, I am not sure what my face looked like coming into the finish line. I was happy, boy was I happy, I was tired, too. Yet also at this point my emotions were all over the place. To come through the town to a finish line of people cheering and clapping for you, the volunteers with signs yelling thank you and ringing bells and cheering you on leaves you speechless and slightly teary eyed. So I may have been smiling, I may have been slightly crying, I am not sure at this point. Only the pictures will tell.
After crossing the finish line, I was awarded a finishing medal and was finally able to hide in some shade. Aly, who had been following my progress found me, helped me get checked back in, brought me some water, and a cool towel and I think I may be forever indebted to her at this point. Once again, I ran into some of my riding group, who came in either before me or just after me and we cheered the end of the ride, but also each other on. They were so proud of my riding and pacing and the distance I hit. I was happily eating an ice cream sandwich, hydrating, and finally wandered back to my hotel room to nap and shower.
Honestly, this is where it really hit me. Over $9,000 raised personally, over $1.4 million raised as a whole, 430 + riders 60 of whom had type 1, what an amazing weekend all for one goal, to help find a cure. I really can’t say what this meant to me. I am still processing it. But I can tell you, this ride is something worth doing. This ride is something you need to experience if you are able to.
Outside the door to my room was this sign:
I don’t know the child who made it for me, but I know that she was thinking of me and encouraging me as I pedaled towards my goal. For that I cannot thank her enough. So many people supported me this weekend, from those who supported me on the ride both in their donations and prayers, but also those who encouraged me all weekend.
I now know why people say these rides are life changing, but more than that, I now know why I will most likely decide to climb on my bike once again a year from now and do this all over again. JDRF’s goal of turning type one into type none will come to pass and I want to be part of those efforts. I want to know I helped make a difference. I encourage you to consider it too. You don’t need to be an athlete, you really just need to own a bike and be willing to give it your all.