Slow down… and enjoy the ride!

For the second time, I rode as a ride marshall for the Cystic Fibrosis Cycle For Life.  Taken right from their website:  “This unique event empowers participants to take action and demonstrate their fight in finding a cure for cystic fibrosis in a tangible, emotional and powerful way.”  I remember riding this route for the first time last year and thinking to myself “This is the perfect bike ride!”   Seriously, this ride has it all!  Beautiful views along the California Coastal Trail in Half Moon Bay, a challenging climb up Tunitas Creek Rd (2000 ft!), amazing redwood forest, a killer descent, country views and all the pizza and beer you could ever want waiting for you at the finish line.  Rest stops were provided every 10-12 miles and the SAG support and encouragement from volunteers along the route was the best I’ve ever experienced.  The fundraising minimum is only $150 for this amazing ride and that money goes to a great cause.

I learned of this ride from my friend Liz, who happens to be responsible for putting on this event every year.  She was looking for some ride marshalls last year and thought of me and my friends at Travis Air Force Base – the Air Force Cycling Team.  So, it’s becoming a tradition now, we put our team jerseys on, add a bright orange ride marshall vest and ride along to help stranded cyclists with flats or emotional support during a climb.  🙂

I started this year’s ride with a performance of the National Anthem on trumpet.  As an Air Force trumpet player, normally, when I perform alone, it’s for bugle calls or more commonly, Taps.  It’s a tremendous honor to do so, but it takes an emotional toll to play those heart-wrenching notes for friends and family of a fallen brother or sister.   It’s never easy.  I always look up information on the person I’m playing for, to find out as much about them as I can.  I think about them when I play.  I think about their families.  I think about the life that often ended too soon.  I think about how they served our country, selflessly.  It probably makes it a little more difficult to get the notes out, but it also makes it more meaningful.  This is how you get the spirit of that person in each note.  It’s the part of the job that I never take lightly.

Our vocalists get to sing the National Anthem at baseball games, ceremonies and other major events.  Same honor, but completely different purpose, completely different feeling.  So, it is always a nice change and a lot of fun when I get to play the Anthem as a solo trumpet player.  Also, I nailed it.

After playing the Anthem, I waited for all the riders to take off and got my things together to assume my duty of the day:  sweep.  When you ride sweep, you ride as the last rider, to make sure that no one gets left behind or stuck with any roadside emergencies.  So, I took my time.  I stopped and took pictures, enjoyed the views and leisurely enjoyed the ride.

I don’t normally ride very slow, actually I normally ride as fast as possible — all of the time.  I like to burn through the climbs and enjoy the descents.  I love riding, but I also love pushing myself.   But, I learned while riding with the Bike the US for MS team last year, that sometimes, slowing down, enjoying the views and the companionship of the other riders makes for a much more memorable experience.  You can even do this alone.  Last year, I took my pair of waterproof headphones and ripped off the left earpiece so that it would be more bike friendly.  Now, I can listen to music or podcasts with my left ear (roadside) open to hear what’s going on in the world while my other ear is jamming.

I should also note that I always ride with a mirror.  I have one of those that clips on to my sunglasses and I never ride on any road without this.  I think it’s absolutely essential to know what’s going on around you and especially what’s coming up from behind.  We can’t be too safe out there with all the distractions that drivers are prone to, we need to do everything we can to be more alert to what’s going on.  I love cycling but I hate that we are moving targets and that most drivers don’t even see us.

Back to the ride ….  I had a rider with a flat around mile 8 but that was an easy fix and he was on his way.  Thanks Bike the US for MS for teaching me the skills I need to get back on the road quickly.  We had a lot of flats last year.

Rest stop one was pretty deserted by time I arrived.  There were two riders that took off after I left the starting line so I wanted to wait for them to find out what route they were doing.  I was assigned the 100k, and by that time, all of the 100k riders had come and gone, so when I found out the two late starters were riding the 40mile route, I took off.

I was so far behind the other riders that I was sure I wasn’t going to catch up to anyone.  I was on the 2000ft climb when I came across Jeanine.

Bless her heart, she was climbing at 2 miles per hour.  I caught up to her and started chatting her up, hoping to distract her from the pain that was climbing on a new bike that she rented for the day.  Last year, she volunteered and was so moved by the experience that she decided to raise money and do the ride for her niece that has Cystic Fibrosis.  What a cool thing to do!!  She’s no stranger to difficult feats of physical strength – she’s done some amazing backpacking hikes, so she knows how to push herself.  And that she did.

What I found most inspiring about her was how determined she was.  She didn’t care that she was the last rider.  It didn’t bother her when she had to get off the bike and walk it up some of the really steep segments.  She was a little bothered that I had to follow her the whole time, but that was more of a concern for me, she didn’t want to slow me down.  But, nevertheless, she pushed on.  Most of the time, when I come across riders that are that far behind, they are struggling.  They are complaining.  They are ashamed.  This wasn’t her at all.  She was totally enjoying the ride.  She was taking in every single moment.  We would talk about how quiet it was out there, how clean the air smelled, how cool it would be to live out in these beautiful country settings.  She talked about her husband, I talked about Toby (duh!) and when we each needed some time to ride to ourselves, we just did, naturally.  It was wonderful and reminded me of the camaraderie I felt with my #transamfam last year (we rode the trans america route and quickly became a close family).

It really was a great day.  I didn’t want to pressure her or invade her space, so I mostly tried to keep a nice distance behind her – to let her really enjoy what she came out to do.  She was riding alone that day, and I wanted her to do that, but have the security of knowing that someone was right behind her if she needed anything.  When she wanted to know about the route or ask a question about Toby, she’d just slow down a bit and there I was, but mostly, I was just a distant shadow.  I knew she was completely engaged in the moment when I had to catch up to her to let her know that she missed one of the turns.  I think she did it on purpose, just to give me a feeling of accomplishment, because other than that one turn, she needed nothing from me.  No flats, no bike issues, she would have finished that ride just fine had I not been there.

As we passed the location of rest stop 3, I realized that we were so far behind that they closed the rest stop.  Packed everything up and left.  Since J didn’t have an odometer or any real idea where we were, she had no idea that there should have been a rest stop.  So, I caught up to her, worried about how she might take the news.  “Ummmm, so rest stop three is gone already and we have another 10 miles to the next rest stop.  How are you feeling?   Need any food or water?”  And she was so nice about it.  (I would have been so angry!!).  She was content to just keep riding.   Shortly after the SAG caught up to us and offered to fill up her water and throw snacks at her, but she politely declined.  She really was so pleasant about everything!  I should learn to be a little more like that!

We finished our ride at 3:45pm and all that was left at the finish line were volunteers, packing up all the gear.  We had three volunteers waiting for us, cheering and ready to put the medals around our necks.   It really was an accomplishment.  Riding uphill at a much slower pace that you are used to is a slow burn — prolonging the pain.  But it was special.  I’m glad she wanted a picture at the end of the ride — you can see the joy on her face.  She was so thankful to me for riding with her but I think I appreciated her more.  She taught me an important lesson that day.   Slow down – and enjoy the ride!   Life is precious and amazing and it’s these experiences that I want to look back and remember.  Congratulations Jeanine, you are awesome!!!

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