Aug 3 – Aug 9th, 2009 I rode my bicycle 520+ miles from Burlington, Vermont to Palmerton, PA to raise money to fight cancer.
This blog entry documents that ride. It would be a struggle and a large effort to probably read it all, but I tried to capture what it was like for me as a first time rider in PPRAC – the Perimeter Ride Against Cancer.
I didnt want to leave too much out, and feel badly about not remembering everyone’s name or including every amazing thing that happened.
In general though, I give thanks to the many people who organized this event, the cooks who gave me nutrition, and the support vehicles who gave me water, advil, and encouragement. Everyone involved in the event shared such amazing energy and kindness to each other and to me.
Initially, I signed up to do the ride as means to kick start my training and get back in shape to start back into triathlons. I also have had this vision of riding cross country to raise money for concussion treatment and cluster headache awareness. I needed to start long distance riding at some point, and when a friend sent an email soliciting donations, I joined his team.
I knew it would be hard and I did not train NEARLY enough to feel comfortable. The longest ride I completed was 65 miles. I only rode 1-2 times per week. If that. But friends said I could do it, and to think about those who donated in the names of their loved ones. A quote from my buddy Craig, “Being out of shape just means it will hurt more, but you will survive”.
Maurice and I drove to Emmaus, Pa and stayed with his friend, Mark Taylor (referred to by either name) who owns a bike/coffee shop and an impressive collection of albums. We met up with some other cyclists for dinner and Belgian beers. I was surprised the bar had an interesting wine selection as well, and I tried the Oysters with a Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc and another from Oregon. I was dining with super athletes, and I remained calm, I had accepted the fact I’d be the most out of shape, and I would just take my time.
I woke up on in the middle of the night on Taylor’s couch screaming, “Where am I, where am I?” before settling down and apologizing to Moe who was sleeping on the floor.
So I was hungover when we woke at 5:45 to go to the bike shop. Met some more extremely fit folks, and then on to the church. 63 of us total?
An interesting service (which I left briefly to be hungover sick in bathroom) and singing of “the wheels on the bike go round and round.”
Moe donated his vehicle for support, so we and ~10? others took it instead of riding in the tour bus. A tractor trailer transported everyone else’s bikes.
I drove the van straight from Palmerton to Burlington in the pouring rain and was glad for it. I was nervous and not my most social self, it gave me something to focus on.
In Burlington, we beat the tourbus and had a late lunch at a brewery. I had one small fruity beer – hare of the dog, afterall.
Then we were off to the YMCA. I helped unpack the tractor trailer, then I questioned whether I’d sleep on the elevated track or gym floor. Not wanting to roll off, I chose the floor.
Then it was off to the VFW for a spaghetti dinner. I began to get VERY nervous. I really worried I would not make it the first day, let alone 6. I was definitely the most out of shape.
So, I learned each night we’d eat and have a meeting to talk about the next day’s ride.
We got our first cue sheet. 92 miles. We would only find out a day’s route the night before. I think this was good, so I could focus on just getting through the day, even though this in itself was overwhelming.
New riders introduced ourselves, and spoke about why we were riding. Everyone took red ribbons to put the names of who we were riding for on the back of our jerseys. Mine was for my Dad who died of mylofibrosis, and Aunt Judy who survived breast cancer.
Hard to sleep that night. Kept waking. Once I saw someone dream-cycling under their covers. (At least I think it was pedaling he was doing)
DAY 1 – 91 Miles
I woke up in the morning to find my bike computer was damaged by the rain. Others had left already and I was freaked out. Some ppl were hitting a coffeeshop, but I wanted to hit the road quickly to give myself all day to ride.
Eric, the guy who set the route, rode with me. He was super nice, but I felt bad for holding him back. I have not admitted this til now, but the ride started out by goign up a hill. I have no idea on grade, it really wasnt that bad. But I was scared. What if I couldnt make it up? What is I lost my chain and couldnt get snapped out of my pedals and fell in front of people. But I rode up the hill, and realized quickly I may have made a mistake bringing my carbon fiber bike, instead of one that has a granny gear (to make going uphills easier). Later that week others would tell me my Specialized Ruby racing bike was not really geared for uphills, and how I could replace things to make it easier.
At any rate, we did seem to make good time and it was nice to talk.
Great lunch 40-some miles in. The day was beautiful. Countryside and mountains in Vermont. A backhoe followed me up a hill and I felt like a kid playing Jaws in my aunt’s pool. MUST OUTRUN the backhoe!
The hill wasn’t too bad, but it was long, and as I started to feel tired, a butterfly chose to accompany me up the rest of the hill. I was amazed at the beauty of it.
At one point on the ride, we crossed my first milestone of the trip – my longest ride ever – >65 miles! I felt pretty good on the finish that day, and learned my bike computer was dried out and working!
So, a great dinner, spaghetti again? Route announced. Sleep came quickly. Wake. Breakfast. Ride. The days followed this routine, but each day had amazing events and people.
Every night people volunteered their time and food to feed us. VFW, American Legions, Rotary/Kiwanis clubs. They all had stories to share as to how cancer touched their lives. It was very moving.
DAY 2 – 76 miles – (plus 2 for getting lost)
The second day more closely matched my vision of the ride I had planned. I left a little early, and listened to tunes as I took my time on the hills. I didnt know our pace from the day before, but now with a computer, I could see my avg. Slow up the hills, 5-7 miles, and on flats and grades 11-15mph. Now downhills were AWESOME. I had my fastest speed ever clocking in a 40 mph speed!!! A couple of times I tried to jump on to the end of a passing pack, but I could not stay on for very long. A sad 10 seconds? If that? But hey, for the brief time, my avg was 17-25mph.
At the end though, I was feeling great, and even missed a turn doing an extra mile uphill! I asked a trucker who was up this hill for directions, and enjoyed the mile ride downhill. It was more difficult to get moving this time, and I took advantage of a massage for the back of my neck and shoulders.
Another feature of the evenings was that people who wanted to would share their personal stories of friends and family who suffered from cancer.
Two riders shared their personal stories of battling cancer that night. This was very moving. One man quoted Churchill, which was interesting since references to him seem to follow me around. I had brought my book on synchronicity that has Churchill in the first sentence. Later in the week, I shared this book with him. a young woman shared her story. Afterwards, she said she forgot what she had wanted to say, as she had to follow the Churchill quote, but she was truly wonderful, and shared things that were very moving. Sleep came very easy that night, but got a ton of mosquito bites which made themselves known very annoyingly during the next day.
DAY 3 – 92 Miles
Okay – so maybe you arent looking closely at the cue sheet. But take a look at mile 88. See it? Did you? It was the Ommegang brewery. This was an awesome carrot dangling in front of me as I spent the day mostly weaving around strangely aromatic Amish horse poo and passed pretty farms. I felt much stronger this day, and I jumped onto a couple of packs – staying with one for a few much quicker miles.
The payoff was worth it. Sean gave great samples. 3 Philosophers was maybe my favorite, and others that I dont recall. They were all good. I got my first beer jersey here.
The end of the day was another 2 miles down the road. Dinner was NOT spaghetti and meat balls – but awesome BAR-B-QUE!!! Pulled pork, beef ribs, corn on the cob. Yum!!! The owner told a very touching story of reconciling with his father after decades of not speaking, when he called to tell him he had cancer. His dad never got to see him open the rib joint, but he felt his spirit was there with us doing our ride to raise money to fight cancer.
Day 4 – 85 miles
I lost a little bit of steam this day. It might have been the bar-b-que the night before, or it might have been the fact that lunch was not where it was supposed to be. I spent time with a support team looking for it on my bike, then pushed on. Not knowing where it was made it more difficult, because I kind of like being able to count down in my head how many more miles I had to go.
My knee started hurting too. I had messed that knee up with marathon training one year, but I think it was more from when I tore the meniscus snowboarding. Whichever, it started to hurt, and I began to fear not finishing, and needing to decide to quit to save my knee. I pedaled using mostly my other leg, and didnt want to quit.
I iced it at lunch, but didnt want to spend too much time there because most everyone had left already. I made it to Airport road. I did know however, that this road was REALLY steep. So steep in fact, I had to stop. I was a bit disappointed, because there was no way I could get started again on it. Walking up the hill was just as difficult as riding. It was so steep, I kept slipping as I tried to climb the hill. I walked on the other side o my bike to find some traction in the grass. I do not know too much about grades. But I was told this one was 25% and the steepest in PPRAC history.
I dont remember the rest of this day. I think I rode with a very nice person that also had a bum knee. Or maybe that was the day before. My knee lasted the day, and I was glad I did not give up. I iced it more at dinner and kept taking advil. I noticed in the bathroom mirror that night, my face was very swollen. My body was taking a beating to be sure. At dinner, I learned I wasnt the only one that walked. With eyes closed, all that dismounted clapped their hands.
I camped outside that night. I caught up on Facebook, and was thankful for the friends encouraging me on my ride. I also started to jot down notes of what i wanted to say if I decided to share with the group. I got very sleepy, and thought I heard an animal outside the tent. A bear? I dont know, because I was too tired to care and passed out.
Day 5 – 102 – plus 2 for getting lost
The day of 102 miles was seemingly impossible, but as with all others, I decided to just go for it, take my time and not worry. I rode with Moe from lunch on. It was windy, hot, and slow moving through the rich, black dirt, farmlands. We took water from support vehicles in a winery parking lot. Such torture not to go in! There were seeming threats if we didnt keep moving we’d be forced to quit for the day. Not really encouraging, but we pushed on. I tried to tell Moe to abandon me, I felt so bad for slowing him down, but he was supportive. We were the last in, and many cheers greeted us as we arrived, the longest day. I think the day took me almost 11 hours (including lunch stop).
I was so tired that night. It was our last night together. Beers, lots of talking. I decided to finally share my story about why I was doing the ride.
I shared about my dad, my aunt, my cousins, my friends…it all came out jumbled, but people seemed to most enjoy when I mentioned how I first started biking after I lost my dad, changed jobs, and divorced after being married only 6 months…people murmured, and I said, “yea he was a shit.” Unplanned, but a light moment. Later Greg told his wife (also a Judy) how I was a free spirit, sharing from my heart, and obviously not an engineer. He couldn’t believe when I interrupted to say I did in fact have an EE degree, it was just so hard to organize so much that I wanted to say, especially being so tired.
Day 6 – 72 miles – LAST DAY!
I called my Aunt Judy to tell her I was riding the last day for her. Being that it was Saturday, she was at a garage sale, of course, and wished me luck with my ride.
I rode the first 20 miles with Darren. The miles flew by, as we talked. We got passed by a group of guys who started to past as we neared the crest of a hill. I heard Darren tell one of the guys, She is a Descender! As I past all of the guys in the pack. Now, maybe my bike was geared better for going downhill, (it sure wasnt for uphill) or maybe it was the extra weight I had on this skinny in shape guys, or mind over matter and I just like downhills better, but I really enjoyed it. Darren and I parted ways on Shades of Death road, where we stopped for a bit when another rider in our group passed someone they knew from home. The coincidences abounded during the week.
Shortly after, I climbed a hill and stopped at the top for a drink, and met a woman having a garage sale. She was a cancer survivor, and thanked us for riding. She was just diagnosed again, and having the sale to clear out her house to settle in for the winter for a good fight. I told her I would do the rest of the ride for her. She shared the story of Shades of Death road – a mystery a lot of us riders were guessing at. I had thought maybe there was a slaughterhouse, but no. The name came from story that there was a ghost of a girl that would appear there. Glad we rode through in daylight!
I continued on and got lost after lunch and added two miles for myself. I got back on track and was able to ride with Moe, Stacy, Jeff, and Ray.
To get to Palmerton, we crossed the Blue Mountains. I was afraid to be so close, and not sure if I could climb!
But I did, and then I got my reward, the downhill! After reaching the bottom, it was a nice flat into the town of Palmerton.
The last turn of the ride was a right onto 5th. I counted down, 9th, 8th. Some streets in between. Then 6, then some state name, more streets then 2nd. I missed the street!
Ray chased me down to tell me I missed the turn. The signs were crooked, so I missed seeing the 5th. We headed back and turned up 5th to see a large arch way of balloons. I was super glad to have finished the ride!
People (cleaned and showered) high fived me and gave me congrats. I tried to congrats back but was really overwhelmed. And then, a woman told me congrats.
It took a few seconds to grasp the situation, but it was the same woman that had the garage sale! She and her husband drove 50 some miles to be at the finish!
The entire event was an amazing experience. It was well organized, and there was so much love and energy poured into the event that it had a major impact on a lot of people, riders, supporters, and spectators.
I really hope to be a part of it again, and hope that everyone will be back!