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.
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.
I needed a brief vacation, and Montreal was a convenient place to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in far too many years. That’s how I ended up there for a long weekend, and while I normally would have spent the entire time wandering the streets, chasing interesting photographs, and sampling local food, very little of that happened this time. Aside from a pleasant Friday spent roaming Old Montreal, weather the rest of the weekend was cold and snowy and that made sipping bourbon on the sofa and talking into the wee hours far more appealing.
All that’s to say if you’re looking for a guide to Montreal, this is not your place. But I can offer my abbreviated greatest hits:
La Banquise, which is a classic stop for poutine, had a line out the door so we went across the street to Microbrasserie Pit Caribou (951 Rue Rachel E). They have local microbrews, including a tasty blond IPA, liquor, and charcuterie that featured ridiculously good bacon. It was packed, but the staff was friendly and we got a table quickly.
Montreal bagels are a thing. I don’t remember where we bought them, but I liked them and strongly recommend not thinking, “a bagel is a bagel,” because these are not what you’re used to eating, at least if you live in the US.
I’m a fan of Les chocolats de Chloé, where I bought citron, rhum et raisin, and banane chocolates. They were fantastic. They were even better for breakfast, or so my friend told me.
I have a Ferris wheel fetish, so we rode the La Grande Roux. The visibility was terrible and it was snowing, so our timing wasn’t great. But I was on a mission. If you’re in Montreal, pick a clear night and ride it.
One more travel note: This was my first trip with Global Entry, and bypassing the line made all the hassle associated with getting approved worth it. Step up to a kiosk, take a selfie, go straight to passport control. Easy.