A week before Thanksgiving, I flew to Tucson for the third consecutive year to cycle 106 sometimes painful, sometimes exhilarating but in the end always gratifying miles participating in El Tour de Tucson. I easily (and at a much lesser expense) could have done the same locally as the Horrible Hundred was held the same weekend. Or, I could have spent the weekend getting a head start on holiday preparations.
Why did I travel halfway across the country to ride a bike 106 miles? I returned to Tucson to ride in appreciation for the people who supported my hoped-for accomplishment by contributing more than $130,000 toward the organization I work for, Rotary International, and its efforts to eradicate the crippling disease polio from the face of the earth. So, on Nov. 18, I was two of 18,000 wheels gliding through the Sonoran Desert, propelled by 9,000 cyclists including my Miles-to-End-Polio Team staff members and more than 100 Rotary Club members from Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Tucson and Evanston, Ill. Rotary’s fundraising target for Miles to End Polio this year was $10 million, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2-to-1 match.
Each year, I’ve been at the starting line with my staff colleagues, close to 12 men and women with the intention of riding in solidarity, but that was never the reality for the next eight-plus hours. They take off, and for the most part, I don’t see them until the photo ops at the finish line. At the starting line this year, while questioning my sanity, I found myself standing next to Jeff, a Rotarian from Jacksonville, whom I met back in June at a Rotary event. A few weeks after we talked about Miles to End Polio, he emailed to let me know he was registered to ride. We communicated via email a few times during the summer, so it was a pleasant surprise to find myself next to him. Eight hours and 106 miles later, Jeff, my “wingman,” as we referred to each other, and I crossed the finish line. He was giddy from having completed his first Century ride, and I was equally giddy at having improved my time by 30 minutes. It was no surprise that my teammates had been relaxing at the finish line for some time, but this time it did not matter, I had found my “person.” We had cheered each other on, laughed while struggling uphill (or zooming downhill), distracted ourselves from our screaming, painful legs with conversation and marveled at the landscape that unfolded before us. Having found my “person,” the ride took on a whole new meaning – fellowship, inspiration, encouragement.
Looking back a few weeks prior to heading to Tucson, I knew I needed to ride with a group but did not want to be “that person” who holds the group back because they promised a “no-drop” ride and now are stuck with a tortoise-like rider.
But members of the Nona Cycle Club convinced me via Facebook comments that it would be fun. So, on a sunny Sunday morning the week before heading to Tucson, I met Lake Nona Cycle Club at Canvas. Everyone was welcoming and reassured me that I would not be a burden or left behind in the middle of Narcoossee. Thirty miles later, while we were relaxing at Starbucks, I thought to myself, “I have found my people.” I came away with the confidence I needed to line up in Tucson, clip in with 9,000 other riders, hold a line, not panic when being passed and pedal on the shoulder of a busy road.
Early Sunday, a week after Miles to End Polio, I was at Canvas to set out again with Lake Nona Cycle. The pace was faster than last time, and I quickly realized I was not fully recovered from Tucson. I began to bonk nearing the halfway point, but several club members were quick to come to my rescue, providing a subtle “push” and the ability to draft. Much to my dread, I was at times “that person” – slower than the herd but not being cast out because of it. Back at Starbucks, I knew for sure I had found my people.
Cycling is often a solitary sport; we compete with ourselves, to be faster, to silence the negative chatter in our heads, to ride toward a goal or away from a disappointment. However, as I’ve learned, cycling is also about fellowship, new friendships and spending quality time with like-minded people. To all of you intimidated by your own fears and hesitant to ride with a group, just show up, introduce yourself, clip in and find “your people.”