Was my last JDRF Ride to Cure really October 2019? It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago, but the COVID era has a way of warping our perception of time. And my photo album confirms that, yes, it really was.
From 2008 until 2019 I was immersed in the Ride to Cure in a lot of ways. I coached and filled several leadership roles in helping shape, promote, and execute the Ride program. Until I took a step back because it was important for other faces and voices to come to the fore, I was on stage at most events. Ride became part of my identity in a way that could be comfortable and confining. Even though my interests in JDRF expanded and I devoted an increasing amount of time to supporting the organization’s mission through marketing and volunteer activation, to many I was always “Coach.”
JDRF pressed pause on the in-person Rides during COVID, and the timing was a relief. Like everyone, I was going through a lot of personal and professional changes between 2019 and 2022. Trying to stay healthy, new jobs, divorce, dating again, focusing on being a single dad, boredom with cycling, volunteering in other areas of JDRF, and spending time on other interests gave me excuses to hang up my bike and step away from Ride for a while. And I gladly took the opportunity.
I didn’t plan to ride in 2023. I’d heard from several folks that the JDRF Ride had changed and was missing something. I wasn’t keen on cycling again. I didn’t want to step back into the persona of “Coach.” I have a job that keeps me busy and often on the road. I have good excuses.
Two things brought me back: My support for JDRF is stronger than ever, and I wanted to support the organization by fundraising. I have wonderful friends and family who answer the call when I ask for donations, and they came through for me this year (if that’s you — thank you!).
And, there’s a singularly wonderful person who I met through the Ride, years ago, and who I’ve been friends with since. That friendship led to a series of adventures together, and to more. When she mentioned that she and her son, who I also met at his first Ride to Cure, would be riding for their tenth time, I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a weekend and signed up.
The same, but different
Last weekend we rode at the JDRF Ride to Cure in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It was and wasn’t the same Ride I was used to. And that’s okay.
It was (mostly) the same course, the same host facility (La Crosse Center), the same Wisconsin August weather (hot-ish, muggy), the same beer on tap everywhere (New Glarus Spotted Cow, for sure), the same places I’d frequented at Rides before (the Bodega and Turtle Stack, to name two), and many of the same people I hadn’t seen in person since 2019.
But 2019 was a different lifetime for me, and being back felt different. Believe me, I was ready for a different kind of experience.
I was a rider and not a coach, and came to the Ride with my own goals. There were two: Have fun, and ride a few miles.
I had more time to share with the people I wanted to share it with. I wasn’t attending coaches’ meetings, preparing for nightly programs, leading seminars, or jumping from conversation to conversation. Because we weren’t staying at the host hotel, I could be as immersed, or not, in Ride as I wanted to be.
I stopped into the old places (a beer at Bodega, and a quick hello at Turtle Stack), and spent more time getting to know new places. That included a couple of lunches at Pato Azul (duck tacos! margaritas!), walking through Riverside International Friendship Gardens, and browsing the stacks at the wonderful Pearl Street Books. As much as I loved my years of coaching and total Ride immersion, the downtime and slower pace were magical.
Ride Day felt much the same, but with a few twists: Early breakfast, move to the starting line, pick a starting wave (we went to the back so we could be slowpokes), then roll. Some changes to the program caused grumbling and made the timing seem off (“Do we go now or what?”), but eventually we inched forward, clipped in, and rode toward the bridge across the Mississippi River. That was the first time I’d been on a bike (in this case, not my bike but a sweet borrowed Kona gravel bike) outside in almost three years, but you know the saying and quickly it felt perfectly natural. Team-Jill-Connor-Debbie-Ian enjoyed an easy ride to rest stop one, voted for tacos, and turned back. We were done by 10 am, after 30-ish miles, and before the heat and wind kicked in.
I didn’t realize it until I showed up, but after a break from Ride, this was the exact Ride experience I needed. I loved it. We (Jill and me, Connor’s a maybe) are already talking about where we’ll ride next year.
JDRF is a cause that’s dear to me, and for years I participated in their Rides to Cure–more than 50 of them, in fact. After taking a break, I’m back and riding in La Crosse, WI. It’s not about the miles for me, it’s about raising money that supports critical research and advocacy that can change the lives of people with type one diabetes and their families.
The ’08 edition of Bike Virginia (aka The Crooked Road Tour) was my third time on the ride, and the first time I decided to completely skip camping. I knew I would miss the long lines in front of the crowded shower trucks, but what the hell.
The tour started in Bristol, VA. We (John and I) rolled in Friday afternoon and found our way to the Midway Baptist Church for registration, where we picked up our red ride bracelets (red means "meat-eater"; it went splendidly with my black Harden The F*** Up bracelet), luggage transfer tags, and Chamois Butt’r sample. From there we checked in at the local Holiday Inn, which we scoped out in the hope of telling the difference between postmasters and cyclists, a task made harder by the fact that both factions seem to be armed to the teeth with cans of Halt.
We were on our own for dinner, so we caught a shuttle bus downtown, scavenged some food, watched the Holy Ghost Tent Revival for a while, and went back to the hotel for some rest.
The next morning we established a pattern that served us well for the entire ride. Sleep until 6:30, eat a leisurely breakfast, start late, then use our superior speed (at least compared to the feeble and lame) to overtake le peloton and arrive at dinner before all the food was gone. But on this first morning we made a brief stop at the Starbucks so I could fortify myself with a double espresso, made all the sweeter by waiting behind a high maintenance cyclist who had to have her drink steamed to a specific temperature. Trouble, I figured she was.
Day one was a super duper ride. Lots of rolling hills, chip and seal roads, and nice scenery. There was a cool climb to the top of South Holston Dam. I was enjoying it so much that I even smiled and went about my day when I encountered Ms. 145-freakin’-degree-latte stopped in the middle of the road, at the top of a hill, clogging everyone’s path while she consulted her map.
Let me diverge from my travelogue — because frankly, how much of a blow-by-blow do you really want anyway? — and point out some of the idiocyncracies of riding with 2,000 other people:
There is a small but dangerous subculture of the cycling community that sees no harm in stopping in the middle of the road, whenever and wherever they like, because there can’t possibly be anyone else trying to cycle down said road.
Though you may pass many a rider when pointed uphill, those same riders will bomb past you on every descent and you will learn what scary bike handling looks like.
Many riders appear to assume that Bike VA is merely an extension of their local ride, and that all riders are bound by the rules of that local ride. You will get yelled at for ignoring one or more of those rules.
There are two ways to signal that you are passing another rider. The polite way ("On your left!") and the accurate way ("Hold your line! There are two thousand other cyclists on this road with you, so don’t act surprised when one of them passes you!").
Does that sound negative? Perish the thought.
Really, and I’ve made this point before, it’s an exceptionally well-organized ride. The routes are great, support is great, the food this year was not bad (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way), and the people along the route (volunteers, locals, etc) are fantastic. As organized rides go, it’s hard to beat.
John and I ended up with about 300 miles over the five days. There weren’t any major climbs, there was enough climbing to make each day’s ride a good workout. We ate some good food and listened to quite a bit of good music (in particular, check out the Dixie Bee Liners), stayed in a really nice little town (Abingdon, VA) and saw a lot of good scenery. Which is, in total, what these rides are all about.
The Roaming Ride headed over to Triad Park tonight. I had an ulterior motive for choosing Triad Park: The VeloWife was organizing a picnic there for our Meeting (Quaker-speak for church), which meant I could hop off my bike and dig into some barbecue. Perfect.
This being the Roaming Ride, we went looking for hills. The first was a warm-up on Pumpkin Ridge Rd, followed by the long climb around Mt. Trashmore (a local dump), a fast run up Linville Rd, then the grind up Bunch Rd. Mission accomplished. We wore out everyone’s legs while logging 28 miles.
“The Petersons are a family of four from Issaquah," it begins. "They like to hike, go to the movies, watch American Idol. A regular suburban bunch. Minus the SUV. Minus any car, for that matter. The Petersons don’t drive. They haven’t since 1987. As the rest of the country frets over the highest gas prices in history, the Petersons carry on as usual, biking, walking and riding the bus wherever they need to go.”