Just about a year ago, around this time, I decided to participate in something I had always wanted to do, but had never been healthy enough to undertake. It was the AIDSLifeCycle ride departing from San Francisco and arriving in Los Angeles six nights and seven days later. Normally, this journey on a bike isn't something you jump into a couple of months before it takes place.
But, leave it to me to decide spontaneously. Fortunately, I’m not the only spontaneous person in my family. When I asked both my sons if they would join me, my oldest didn’t hesitate. “Sure, I’ll do it,” he casually responded. Neither he nor I knew what we were getting ourselves into. And, it was probably better that way.
So here we were, mid-March, joining another 1800 HIV/AIDS advocates. The AIDSLifeCycle ride raises money to provide critical services for the afflicted. The fact that it’s a fundraiser and a ride makes it appealing. On one hand, you’re supporting a worthy cause: in order to participate in the ride, you must raise at least $3,000. On the other hand, you’re in for the experience of a lifetime, which, for my son and me began with a practice ride of 75 miles from Santa Monica to Palos Verdes and back.
Prior to tackling the Palos Verdes ride, we were advised to try out our new equipment. New bikes, shoes with cleats, helmets, biking shorts, gloves, and jackets. My son and I had never ridden a road bike with cleats, but we certainly looked the part. (Move over Lance Armstrong, my outfit is cooler than yours.) In fact, I had not ridden a road bike since I was twelve! First, I started out mastering cleats on flat surfaces. Then it was time to try something more challenging.
A very patient and generous friend took my son and me to Malibu for our first hill along Pacific Coast Highway. Ten feet up the hill I fell on my side. Ten feet further, I fell again. Ten more feet…fall. Always on the same right side, always because I couldn’t get out of my cleats fast enough. After about eight falls (I love my helmet!), I “quickly” realized that if your road bike isn't moving, you'll fall. I knew this, but my muscles didn’t. They weren’t cooperating. In fact, every ten feet, my muscles went on strike.
Black and blue lesson #1: build muscle before you plan on climbing a hill.
The day of the Palos Verdes ride, AIDSLifeCycle management, highly organized and made up of the nicest, most helpful people I’ve ever met, gathered the riders around for a pep talk. They said, ”Whatever you do, respect the rules of the road. The police will stop you if they catch you running a stop sign.”
From the moment riders hit the road, they jockeyed for position. They zoomed by my son and me, an endless stream of, “On your left!” shouts as they passed. We ended up somewhere in the middle, among the ‘laid back’ group of riders. When I reached Manhattan Beach, I saw a stop sign before me and stopped. Suddenly, flashing lights in the sun, a black and white car. I released my cleat in time, just before falling over from exhaustion.
“Do you know you ran a stop sign?” the officer asks. I stared at him. Answering ‘yes’ wouldn’t have been honest. I had been much too focused on making it to the next lamppost to notice a stop sign. Answering ‘no’ wouldn’t have been honest either, because I had seen the stop sign right before considering a mirage of the road buckling before my eyes.
The very helpful “Roadies” rushed to my defense. Instead of answering the officer, I stared at him and…burst into tears. He stepped back, “That’s never happened before, that someone cry when I give them a warning,” the officer said, which only made me sob more. What had I gotten myself into? How the hell was I going to ride 575 miles if I flaked after 45? How was I going to get to Palos Verdes?
I stood next to my bike in tears holding the warning from the officer who had quickly left. The roadies kept asking, “should we drive you to the next pit stop? Do you need someone to ride with you? Is there anything else you need besides tissues?” I blew my nose, shook my head and thanked them.
I knew what I had to do. Two words, three max. Keep going or…you’ve got this or…just do it or…you and me or…try harder (take your pick). I got back on the bike, clipped into the pedals and moved forward. Just to that next garbage can…just to that next tree…just passed that little hill up ahead…Five miles later, I saw my son sitting on the pavement next to his bike sipping water, waiting. We continued on our way together, my son slowing down every time I fell too far behind (damn you twenty-year-olds!) The roadies drove by in intervals and shouted from the car, “Are you all right?!” I gave them thumbs up and continued riding.
Harsh lesson #2: if you think you’re in shape, think again.
The Palos Verdes ride was an eye opener for things to come. Thankfully, we did get in several more rides before the big event. Still, it’s only on the last day of our major journey from San Fran to LA that I got it. After a week of putting my fake hips and knees through long hills and deep valleys, smooth surfaces and bumpy ones, I finally felt confident on my bike. I had built up my muscles, including the one in my head. Tenacity.
Joyous lesson #3: never underestimate your abilities. You’ll be surprised how much you really can do.
The time has come for another AIDSLifeCycle ride. If you know anyone who is participating, open your wallets so that some unsuspecting person like I was has a chance to develop his/her Tenacity.