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.).