Labor Day weekend was about celebrating my nephew and his wonderful bride, and spending time showing Jill my hometown of Knoxville, TN.
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, a 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.
I can’t wait.
What to do after several stressful but rewarding weeks? Unwind with a cruise up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. While sipping my morning coffee I plotted out a route that would take me to Galax, VA, but the prospect of fighting winds around Fancy Gap convinced me otherwise. So, I gassed up, headed up 421 N, with a detour to see the newly renovated Wilkesboro Speedway, then joined the BRP just outside of Boone. From there, I rode north, stopping at almost every scenic overlook.
At highway 16, I turned south to North Wilkesboro, stopped along 421 for an iced coffee, then blasted home in time to go grocery shopping.
Sis-in-law Amy and I explored the wilds of northern Baltimore County, and hit a couple of breweries after a hike. If you’re near the Pennsylvania border, stop at Black Locust for a flight. You won’t regret it.
Saturday I headed north to Virginia, away from the worst of the thunderstorms that were developing. The weather app suggested that if I could stay clear of storms by 11 am, I’d be in the clear for the next couple of days. I brought along a change of clothes in case I roamed too far from home and wanted to turn my day trip into a two-day trip.
The ride to Fancy Gap, VA was a breeze. All highways and Interstate, no rain. When I jumped on the Blue Ridge Parkway it looked like I had mostly clear skies ahead. It wasn’t until I got to Groundhog Hill that I noticed a storm chasing me. I’d stopped to take a few photos then felt a drop. And another. And many more. I scooted away, continuing north, until I outran the rain for a while before passing under another cell that left me a little damp.
I got off the BRP at Floyd, VA, thinking I’d look for lunch. The crowds in the center of town convinced me to keep going, so I turned onto 221 N with the idea I’d continue on to Roanoke and find a place to stay. Going out town, this place caught my eye and I stopped for a biscuit and superb latte. If you’re in Floyd, visit. You won’t regret it.
The break gave me a chance to look for rooms in the Roanoke area. Dammit, it was graduation weekend. After looking at a string of overpriced hotel rooms, my mind was made up — I turned south on Hwy 8 and headed home.
That choice had its benefits. The route is lovely and I got to check on one of the few remaining covered bridges in Virginia.
All in all, not a bad day on the bike.
Four days in Florida and no plans? Sure, and very few photos as well. Because swimming in the lazy river, consuming boat drinks, and playing cribbage didn’t seem photo worthy at the time.
But there was the giant ferris wheel at Icon Park. You would think riding a giant ferris wheel would be simple. But at Icon Park, it’s not. Before boarding, you have to navigate the many people who want to document your ride so they can sell you photos or try to get you to gamify your experience. All this, when you just want to stand around on the giant wheel and watch the surroundings. It’s exhausting.
And there was Celebration. I hear the governor is going to build a state prison on top of it. Pre-prison construction, it has a nice sushi restaurant and not enough parking.