America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride with Team in Training 2016

On Sunday I completed the America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride (AMBBR) 100-mile bike ride around Lake Tahoe with Team in Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This was my 4th event with TNT and was definitely the most special.

I started all of this (“this” = cycling) when I signed up for the DC AIDSRide in 2002. I wanted to give back to the DC HIV nonprofit organizations that were so amazing to me during the 30-day period after I got a false positive HIV test result (yes, it was really negative… yes, another story entirely). Over the course of several years I built a collection of “AIDSRide friends” who will always have a place in my heart.

When I came back to PA I started to rebuild my cycling group with Team in Training because the model was similar, and I was glad to hear that they make sure that 75% of funds raised go to the mission (not so with AIDSRide, as it turned out, and they went out of business). I’ve made some of the best friends I have now through TNT and this past weekend definitely reminded me of that.

About 5 years ago, one of our chapter’s coaches, Eric, decided to create a Facebook event for this year’s America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, as a celebration of the remission anniversary of one of our patient heroes. A bunch of us said yes, and we actually stuck to it. Eric and I actually did our first TNT event together in 2008, so I wasn’t allowed to say no.

We had one of the biggest cycling teams ever in the Eastern PA chapter because of Eric. And the chapter might not have chosen to send a team to Tahoe this year if it hadn’t been for the fact that all these alumni bombarded them with emails about Tahoe. The final tally was around 30 people, after all was said and done with recruitment. And by this year we had not just one patient hero to honor and/or remember by doing this ride. A super awesome dude and TNT cycling friend of ours died 2 years ago of cancer, and before our last (80-mile) training ride, Coach Fred read a story about him and played a slideshow of photos that had me making an ugly-cry face. So we rode in his memory, too.

This training season was MISERABLE. It freaking rained and rained and never went above 60 degrees. Granted we started in February, but by April we were all feeling pretty demoralized by the weather. But, as coach Fred says, “nothing you’ll experience on the bike will ever be as bad as what blood cancer patients experience.” So we sallied forth. We met at ungodly hours of the morning, froze our asses off. We changed flats, we muscled through rides with broken bikes and broken bodies. We crashed. We got up. We dealt with angry motorists. We raised our fundraising minimums and more. And despite how tough it was, we always joked and had fun on the road. We were always laughing!

It turned out toward the end of training that one of our two head coaches had to be in Germany for work over event weekend. This just happened to be Eric, the guy who started this whole thing in the first place (see “Facebook event,” above). It was a huge bummer.

But we all shipped our bikes and then we flew out to Tahoe at the end of last week, including a friend who had signed up with her husband but then gotten pregnant – she supported us through the whole weekend, carrying around her future cyclist. And friends from other cities who used to ride/work with TNT in Eastern PA flew out to meet us to ride or cheer/help along the course. We all had an incredible weekend together. It’s hard to explain how close you feel to people who have this charity endurance event mindset. (Side note: I have never had so many social media notifications in my life.)

Here is a bunch of us with our sweet airbrush tats at the top of the switchbacks on practice day.
Here is a bunch of us with our sweet airbrush tats at the top of the switchbacks on practice day the day before the century.

And the LLS “inspiration dinner” the night before the event was the most moving any of us had ever been to – for me, it ranked up there with the riderless bicycle ceremony at the AIDSRide. The speakers were amazing – one woman told her story of “life minus 1” – before her husband died of leukemia he asked her to do the ride with Team in Training that they had signed up for when he was diagnosed. She and her father did the ride together on a tandem, and now she’s a TNT cycling coach. I had tears streaming down my face – and I know there were a lot of others who did, too.

And we raised a bunch of money for LLS. The largest individual fundraising amount was $174,000! He was a 4-year survivor from Ohio whose 3-year fundraising total was $550,000! The 800 cyclists for TNT – 100 of whom were survivors – raised a total of $3.6 million. I’m so impressed. It means a lot to actually meet people who have benefited from the money we’ve raised. We had 3 survivors on our team alone, and one was celebrating her 30-year remission anniversary.

So, event day finally arrived, and at 5am (thanks, Fred) we all gathered to head over to the start. The sun was still rising, we ate a few nervous mouthfuls of bagel or whatever, and rolled over to Harrah’s. And we rode 100 miles to find a cure for blood cancers. The weather was amazing, too.

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The team getting ready to hit the road on event day. They’re peeps on our heads… born in Bethlehem, PA. lol

My little ride-day “pack” consisted of my ex roommate (who I met through TNT), her Iron Man partner in crime, and another TNT hero who rode across the country last summer to raise money for Team. We added one more who dropped back from our very front group for the last half.

Poster children / the pack.
Poster children / the pack.

We saw many friends along the way, and tried to give them all a “GO TEAM” as we rode by. At lunch, our friend who used to work for Team in Training in Philly and had driven from San Diego was at the ready to help. She literally RAN across the street to get me a Coke Zero when I said I was fantasizing about it. Another ex participant ran for sunscreen. Whaaaat?! And they did this for our whole team. Like I said, these people are amazing. We laughed, we pushed, I almost died on the 7-mile uphill that is Spooner.

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This is what I look like close to death. Not so bad, eh?

We screamed down the hill after Spooner (my max = 40.1 mph – not my fastest ever, but we were braking to take in the views). We ate fruit, energy bars, trail mix, potatoes, more fruit, more potatoes. We ate lunch at King’s Island beach. We rode all the way around Lake Tahoe, with a little swoop off the NW corner to Truckee and back. My stats:

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And we all made it safely and happily across the finish line! I’m so proud of everyone. There was a TNT victory tent, and a beer tent, at the end, thankfully. As we were watching a few more teammates cross the finish line, I noticed a buzzed head and sunglasses that I recognized – I yelled, “IT’S ERIC!” He had flown directly from his meeting in Germany and driven from the airport just in time to see half his team cross the finish line. It was a really special surprise for all of us. Again, more crying.

With our surprise cameo coach!
Right after the surprise coach cameo!

It really could not have been better in any way. Oh, and get this! Two of our participants even got engaged over the weekend (Roomie: “I SO wanted someone to get engaged this weekend!”)! Thank you to all of my amazing teammates and coaches. I love you. My heart is full. And that’s saying a lot for someone who’s getting married in 6 weeks!

For good measure, here’s a video TNT produced this week after the ride (it even features one of our peeps! Also, THAT’S what those kids were doing with that drone. Duh.).

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Sharing the Road

It’s not easy for cyclists or drivers to navigate sharing the road. The law states that cyclists are equal to cars but a lot of  drivers don’t know this, and some who do know it don’t care. There are also cyclists who do it wrong, too, by not signaling, not wearing lights, running stop signs. There’s a lot of confusion on both sides.

But does that mean it’s OK to be a moron? NO. Unfortunately you can be a moron and drive a car or ride a bike. My 2 Team in Training teammates and I had maybe the closest call any of us has had with a car on Saturday. All 3 of us felt the heat of this van’s engine and were all pulled in momentarily toward it by the air flow around it. It just makes me wonder how many more times I can tempt fate before I am hit by someone texting and driving. Another friend was hit last year on her bike by someone who ran a red light, and she is still recovering. It’s terrifying to be on the road, and it shouldn’t be. I know there are more and more bike lanes being installed, but that still doesn’t teach drivers to drive in the presence of bikes. Bike lanes appear and disappear, and drivers pay no attention to them anyway. Can we improve driver and cyclist education? I know my teammates try to. A woman came up to us as we were stopped at a Wawa recently, and said, “I don’t want to be insulting, but WHY do you people have to go on the roads? It makes me so nervous! They make bike trails for a reason!” We tried to explain the law and how many miles and the kind of training we were doing, but in the end her question was rhetorical. She walked away before we could finish.

At least that was a little better than the “GET OFF THE ROAD!” and aggressive honking we get at least once on every ride.

I’m probably preaching to the choir to most of the people who will read this, but I’d like to ask all drivers to remember and help spread the word that cyclists are legally considered cars. If you come to a cyclist, you can pass her, but if you don’t have a clear view to pass with 4 feet between you, just hang back for a minute. Don’t zoom around a blind corner past her while leaning on the horn. Don’t yell obscenities at her. Don’t throw things at her. Cyclists are people, too.

 

Run or Dye: I Didn’t Die

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Yesterday culminated a months-long journey to my first 5K. I bought a Groupon for Run or Dye back in February because it sounded like so much fun. The idea of being covered in color looked awesome and is something you’d never get at a cycling event. I thought it also might be a nice challenge to try running. Everyone seems to be doing it, and I’d done it before, albeit before a torn meniscus that still haunts me. I downloaded the RunDouble app and got started on training. I ran straight into a roadblock after a few weeks: knee pain. I ditched the Brooks shoes for a new pair of New Balance with their special inserts that have graphite arch supports, after going through their analysis (he said I had been using the worst possible shoes for someone with flat feet – awesome).

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Things got better with the New Balance because I was definitely able to run again, but still running sucked. Every training option – the track at the gym, the treadmill, the trail near home, running through town – was unpleasant. There was always pain that I discovered would sort of go away after about 10 minutes if I just ran through it, and then as the training runs got longer I really tweaked my knee by “running through it.” Every hill I ran I wished I were on my bike because I missed the reward of the downhill. Every curb I stepped off of brought a twinge of fear that I’d trip and fall. I even ran once in Central Park, when I was in the city for work, and although it was beautiful and interesting, even that had its down side: EVERYONE passed me. My friend Doreen was right – the more you run, the more you love cycling.

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Before, and after

Because of my knee I never really finished the entire RunDouble program. I got into week 8 of a 9-week program. So I had run only about 2.5 miles at once before getting to the event.
I originally signed up with one of my best buddies, who ended up having to travel for work on “race” day. Fortunately, Sister/Roomie (see related post, “Near Miss Weekend“), also signed up for the hell of it when I mentioned it to her. She completed Iron Man Lake Placid last year, so the thought of running with her sort of made me feel like an ass, since I could barely maintain a 12-minute pace. But she’s so wonderful that she made it fun. I got us slogan shirts in honor of our beastly bi’s. She got us some other appropriate accessories for getting covered in colored cornstarch.

PhotoGrid_1371311761981I must say the event was really fun. We ran around Citizens Bank Park, and at color stations volunteers chucked huge handfuls of colored powder at us. It ruled. The event has its roots in the Holi color festival in India (which is beautiful and of course is bastardized by these events, but I digress). And I ran at a decent pace and had no pain while I was there. There was no clock, but I think when we were actually running my pace was under 12 minutes. For this creaky cyclist, that’s pretty damn good. IMG_20130615_173018

I want to say this was my “first and last” running event, because I’m paying for it so thoroughly today, but you really never know. Roomie and I grabbed beers after the run and I actually heard myself saying I might consider doing another 5K. That was, of course, before my hip, knee, and foot got all hoogly-boogly last night. I’m going to get it all looked at. So you really do never know.

And now – time to saddle up on the bike!

A Cyclist Tries Running

I am truly a lover of the sport of cycling. I don’t follow sports aside from a bit of baseball, but I do read about and follow cycling, because I have put a few miles on the bike and I have a bit of an understanding of it.

I also have always said that I am not a runner. I have spent short periods of time jogging for exercise until my knees bother me enough that I give up. The last time I jogged outside was about 5 years ago, which included being pooped on by a bird, so that didn’t go all that well. Cycling has not let me down – no knee pain, no bird poop, and I can fly at up to 40 mph, which is quite awesome.

So I am not sure what possessed me to sign up for the Color Run 5K in Philly, except that it sounded like so much fun and a good friend wanted to do it with me. I got a couch-to-5K app and started training.

It wasn’t so bad on the treadmill or the track at the gym, but then I did a run outside. What?! I felt like I was moving through Jell-O. The scenery almost seem to be passing by in slow motion. I realized after that I am spoiled by cycling. It doesn’t take much effort to get going fast. Running, I almost feel like I’m going more slowly than when I’m walking.

I’m also using a brace and ice and my Brooks shoes, but the knees are still hurting. Some people say I’ll get addicted, but I just want to get through training so I can enjoy the 5K and get back on my bike.

Near Miss Weekend

I have three older brothers who from the sound of it were quite a handful as kids. Apparently, when they were young, they played a game on their bikes that involved riding as fast as possible straight into one another, sometimes missing, sometimes not. They called this game “Near Miss.”

Of course as a girl child I had no interest in any kind of game in which I intentionally risked my safety. But now, as an avid cyclist, I intentionally risk my safety just by getting on the bike, although I try my best to prevent accidents. And there are other risks I take, just like everyone else, to get “life” done. This weekend I came as close to Near Miss as I like to.

On Thursday after work I rode with Sherpa and another friend (ON MY NEW PINK TIRES), and afterward decided to finally stop in to the bike shop to get a lax rear brake fixed up. I’d been smashing the brake lever into the handlebar just to get it to grip, and a few weeks before I’d had a horrific experience with trying to get those brakes to grab with near-frostbitten hands on a 45-degree rainy ride. Anyway, I went to the bike shop and they took care of it.

Near Miss Part 1: On Saturday Sherpa and I did a ride with one of our best friends, who has earned two nicknames, Sister and Roomie. From the beginning of the ride, I was shocked at how responsive my brakes were — I barely needed to touch them and they grabbed the rims instantly. Wow, my brakes work! I kept saying. The ride was tough (I am fairly sure I was near fainting on the way up one of the hills). We were tired. Well, Sherpa and I were tired; Sis/Roomie was just peachy since she’s training for the Iron Man (she’s awesome).

So, at mile 44, with one mile to go, unexpectedly we came to a Y-shaped intersection where we had a stop sign and the oncoming traffic did not. Sherpa was ahead of me and saw a car that had no turn signal on, so he yelled “Stopping!” and I swerved to the left to avoid hitting him, and clamped my brakes – HARD – instinctively, falling back on the muscle memory from the brakes needing a lot of grip.

If you’ve never fishtailed a bike, I don’t recommend it. My brakes worked this time – the tires were completely stopped and I slid side to side all over the road and somehow had the wherewithal to let up on the brakes a little and stay upright. I don’t know how. The car ended up turning right, into the opposing lane that I would have skidded off into had I lost complete control. I rode for a few hundred yards, saying “Oh my god,” over and over. There were a few tears at the next intersection. Near Miss.

Near Miss Part 2: Yesterday, I had planned to paint the kitchen. I rolled color out on the walls, using a stepstool for the tall bits, then I switched to a ladder to get the ceiling edges with the brush. A few minutes into the edging, I stepped back, muscle memory thinking that I was still on the stepstool. I missed the step. Sherpa was, of course, on the other side of the oven that we’d moved out to paint around. He watched me fall, in slow motion, flat onto my back off the ladder. Amazingly, although I didn’t put down drop cloths or wear painting clothes, I landed with a full tray of paint upright in my hand and spilled only ONE drop on the floor, which probably flicked off the end of the brush.

Unbelievably, I am not seriously hurt. I mean, yes, everything hurts, including my legs from the tough ride and my back from hitting the floor. But I am really lucky. I keep thinking it has something to do with the residual magic that Manya left with me last week. I spent the night laying on ice packs and marveling at my near misses.

Just Another Day on the Bike

Sherpa and I have been taking advantage of the early spring by getting out on the bikes much earlier than usual. A couple of Fridays ago I got some extra hours in at work so I could cut out early on a beautiful Friday afternoon and we got on the road at about 5 p.m. Our planning for evening rides goes a little like this:

Me: Sunset is at 7:24.

Sherpa: So we have until 7:40 until we’re really in trouble.

Me: We have until 7:24 until you’re really in trouble.

This is funny now, but wasn’t funny two years ago when we went for a ride in the evening from his house and I expected that he’d turn us around and get us home before dark. Well, turned out I was the one to mention that the sun was setting and he seemed nonplussed. I am much more wary (TERRIFIED) of cycling in the dark than he is, and he doesn’t even call pitch blackness dark. It’s “mostly dark.” Mostly dark! Bah.

I digress. This ride was great, and full of surprises, as all bike rides tend to be. We dodged Canadian geese, we rode through what I call “Spring snow,” or falling cherry blossom petals, we pulled up at a red light and saw that in the car next to us was Sherpa’s business partner’s wife. We rode another few miles and hooked up to the bike path and ran into another friend of ours riding the path, who we then rode with for a few miles. I managed to pull Sherpa at 21 mph for a good few miles after that.

We stopped in front of the house at 7:30 and the sun was giving us a beautiful show. Just another day on the bike, and I love it. We’re really ironing out our cycling differences and Sherpa is convinced that we can do the MS City to Shore at an average of 19 mph this year. I keep shaking my head at him, but he says I underestimate myself. Anything’s possible, I guess…

2010, a Springboard

I like to tie things up into neat packages, and I’m trying to do that with my year. How can I describe it? Was it just a year like any other? No, definitely not – I started the year with a lot of hope and an open heart, working on my own Happiness Project, jumping in with both feet. I tried and learned new things, went new places, had a wonderful year with El Sherpa (“Aunt Jen’s New Boyfriend”), met new people, made new friends and kept the old. Was it a year of revelation? A little bit, in that I discovered what a truly healthy, adult relationship is like, but in essence – and thankfully – nothing earth-shattering happened in my life. Was it all sun and sparkles? No, I had surgery, and there were those AWFUL bits with Vladimir the roommate from Hades. And I crashed my bike. And really stressful stuff happened at work.

But when I put all this together, it feels like maybe the energy I put into focusing on good things when going got tough earlier this year finally came back to me, multiplied, by the end of the year. It feels like I jumped on a giant springboard, which sank, as they do, but then propelled me up. I have high hopes for 2011.