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.