“Why? Why did I do it?” I have been asked that more than once and have thought about it quite a bit. The truth is that I don’t have a definitive answer but instead have some reasons.
One possibility is that I am crazy. In fact, a number of people have opined just that. Personally, I prefer to think of it a bit differently.
The first time it was to do something I had long thought of. The idea of riding to someplace, and not an out and back ride as we normally do, was intriguing. Although I had done destination rides before, obviously none were of the scope of a cross country ride. The thought of seeing lots of small town America was also of interest. Probably the main factor, however, was the challenge aspect. I ride quite a bit but I am far from the fastest or best cyclist of those I ride with. Setting out to ride across the country and then actually doing it just seemed like something I should do and would like to be able to know that I had done. The vague idea turned into a concrete plan when Nick Bloisa immediately and without reservation said he would join me. As he said before we started, there were only 2 options: we would either complete the ride or we would return in an ambulance.
The extreme heat – some days we rode in 110+ temperatures – and endless miles of nothingness of the first ride had me saying that that would be my last such ride. That was reinforced by the sense of relief and accomplishment when we reached Saint Augustine to finish the first ride. Now that I had done what I set out to do, there was no reason to do it again.
However, with the passage of some time I started to feel as though I had avoided something important. As I said, the Southern Route through the Mojave Desert, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas was extremely challenging during the summer with temperatures that weren’t meant to be ridden in, not to mention the humidity of Alabama, Louisiana and Florida. However, I knew that I had chosen the flatter route. So that I wouldn’t forever feel as though I had avoided the mountains, I decided to ride the Northern Route. Plus, there was the added challenge of riding by myself since Nick had said, perhaps wisely, that once was enough. There is something very different about riding all of those days and miles by oneself. There is no drafting, no socializing and no pushing each other, explicitly or implicitly.
Of course, when I say riding by myself I mean being the lone cyclist because I definitely wasn’t alone since Alejandra agreed to join me as the driver. Her help was indispensable and her company and encouragement were greatly valued.
Another factor in doing a second ride, and then a third, is more difficult to articulate or even for me to understand. Although I missed being away from home and all that that entails, I had reoccurring flashes of memories of stretches of the ride, or places that we went through, and they held an indescribable appeal. Part of that was because the passage of time muted the memories of discomfort and exhaustion. The memories I did focus on left me with a sense of restlessness. There is a strange appeal to the routine of preparing and riding daily, of going through new countryside and numerous towns I would otherwise never see. Of having everything focused on one goal.
I once equated repeating these rides to an addiction. However, with more thought I realize that there is a major difference. From what I understand, the addict enjoys the addictive activity while they are doing it – i.e., getting drunk or getting high – and it is afterwards that remorse and the vow to not do it again happens. Until, of course, the next time. With me it is different. It is while doing the ride that I sometimes ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” After all, it is tiring, at times it has been unbearably hot and humid, the miles and the days seem endless and at times it hurts. It is after the ride, after succeeding and with the discomfort a memory rather than a present reality that I “enjoy” the ride and become tempted to do it again. Though possibly a stretch, and I certainly have no first hand experience, but I have compared it to a woman giving birth. No one is wanting to do it again while having the baby yet most women who have one end up with more, often intentionally. With time, the pain becomes only a memory and it is not the factor it was while actually being experienced.
I recently talked about the appeal of a long ride with Dave Bagley, one of the riders at home. His thoughts were important to me because just a couple of weeks before I left on my recent ride he had ridden from Moraga to Santa Monica, although he was completely self supported. Dave said that the ride provided him an escape from the thoughts and worries that he frequently lives with during his every day life.
While I find that the focus on riding, or of finishing the ride or even just enduring it, has my regular life fade into the background, I don’t exactly think of that as an escape, maybe because I don’t normally find my thoughts to be particularly worrisome. I will say, however, that for the 2 months of the ride the process, and the goal of finishing the ride, pretty much constitute my universe and there is something liberating about that. That isn’t to say that I don’t miss home and all of what home entails, namely Sandi, my kids, grand kids, pets, friends and just the familiarity of home. But in some ways the ride is a very selfish time because my main focus is on what I am doing and what I am trying to accomplish. Yes, having a well defined goal and then accomplishing it are major motivators for me.
Knowing that I have such a ride in my future also gives me a goal while I am at home. It is motivation for my riding, it is something to work toward and it gives me something to look forward to.
A commonality of the first 2 rides was that each had vast expanses of desert and high plains that I rode through and, quite frankly, I don’t want to do that again. It was just too barren for my taste. However, the latter part of Laura’s Ride North, from about Michigan to New Hampshire, was beautiful. It was green, there were a lot of trees and frequently lakes and rivers. That riding was much more enjoyable for me.
After the first 2 rides the mention by Ryan, my youngest son, of riding the East Coast made some sense given those memories because it would involve riding through the type of scenery I find most attractive, namely the hills, forests, green and water of the north and the ocean and beaches of Florida. So that was on my mind before Laura’s Ride Atlantic Coast.
After the Oregon to New Hampshire ride I had my bike repainted with a map of the USA put on it with lines showing the 2 west to east cross country rides together with the words, “Twice Across.” The thought of being able to add a “+” after “Twice Across” and a line running from Quebec City to Key West became increasingly appealing to me. That became a compelling goal.
The satisfaction of helping to raise money for a very worthwhile cause helped cast what otherwise might be a bit crazy idea in a more reasonable light. The 3 rides have now raised almost $40,000 for late stage breast cancer victims through the Lazarex Cancer Foundation and that adds meaning to what might otherwise be a totally selfish endeavor.
The thought of sharing the teamwork that Ale and I developed also held an appeal. And of course the idea of still being able to do this type of ride was a huge factor. The Laura’s Ride card I passed out mentioned a 71 year old rider. When people asked if I am really that old I said no, I am 55 but all the riding makes me look at least 71. But I admit to a certain satisfaction of being able to do this at an age when many, if not most, could not even consider the possibility. Yes, ego is part of the answer to the question, “Why?”
A problem with something like this is that the excitement, or even satisfaction, of completing the challenge is not nearly as high as would be the low of not succeeding. That provides me a huge motivation for completing the ride; not finishing what I set out to do is simply unacceptable. So, again, ego comes into play.
It is misleading if I have created the impression that the riding is all suffering because it isn’t. At least not all the time.
There is the satisfaction of getting to the top of a climb after what seemed like a never ending struggle. The completion of each day’s ride is also its own reward.
But what is particularly special for me is the almost metaphysical feeling when I am able to power along on a smooth flat surface with my legs pumping in a rhythm – I sometimes think of a metronome or of an engine’s pistons – with the countryside whizzing by and I still have the strength to accelerate or to power up an incline. That feeling of speeding along under my own power and without the aid of gravity or a motor is difficult to describe. It is not only satisfying, but almost sensual. It is when I truly feel one with my body and experiencing that helps make the difficult parts of the ride worthwhile.
I was glad to reach the end in Key West but for some reason it was a bit anticlimactic. The congratulations some of you sent are greatly appreciated but there is a sense that it was just a matter of repetition. Just keep doing what I was doing, hour after hour, day after day, week after week and many miles after many miles. There was repetition but nothing dramatic like the crazy fast ride that Bill Simmons recently did in a mountain bike race over difficult terrain or the fast multi day ride Anson Moore did over lots of miles with thousands of feet of climb. (Both Bill and Anson sometimes ride with us.) They both did something that most of us couldn’t do regardless of how hard we tried whereas I feel that any of the people I ride with could do what I did if they tried. However, I draw some satisfaction from knowing that there can be a huge gap between being able to do something and actually doing it.
I know that of anything I have done in my life, that which probably makes me most unique is that I have ridden across the country and that I have done it more than once. I am not saying that is the most important thing I have done; I certainly hope not. I would like to think that helping raise 3 great kids, having helped a number of clients over the years and even playing a role in changing some corporate behavior for the better was far more important. But I am sure that far fewer people have done the equivalent of my rides than have raised good children or helped people during their careers. So yes, there is some satisfaction in doing something a bit different. I can’t say that that satisfaction is any more significant than what someone who wins a hot dog eating contest feels, but it is a sense of accomplishment nevertheless.
So, will I do it again? I have also been asked that more than once.
Sandi says she won’t believe me until at least a couple of months go by because I had said never again after each of the first 2 rides. I will say, however, that I promised Sandi and Ember and Trace, my grandchildren, that I will be home next July 4, which would be the first time in 4 years.
On the other hand, the thought of riding the West Coast from the Canadian border to the Mexican border has already crossed my mind and it took a lot longer before I had even considered the possibility of another long distance ride after the first 2 rides. There is something appealing about the symmetry of in effect riding around the perimeter of the USA: Laura’s Ride 2016 skirted our southern border, Laura’s Ride North did the same to our northern border, Laura’s Ride Atlantic Coast went the length of the East Coast and Laura’s Ride West Coast, possibly from Vancouver, Canada to the Baja border, would complete the rectangle. Plus, if I were to ride on the West Coast, perhaps I could get someone in our group to join me for part of the route. However, I would have to schedule differently so that I would be home on July 4 as promised. Although I jokingly said at a recent “Glad To Be Home Party” that if I did it again, it would be more appropriate if I do it for a geriatric cause, a Laura’s Ride West Coast would in fact be to again help breast cancer victims through the Lazarex Cancer Foundation. Time will tell as to whether such a ride is in fact in my future.
I have so many things to be thankful for.
I am thankful that I had the time to do this ride and that life has gone well enough that I could afford it. I am grateful that my health was such that I could even consider the challenge. I am grateful that I am able to write this after having made these rides with literally thousands of cars speeding past me. I took all of the admonitions to be careful to heart but I know that pure luck is also a huge factor.
I am thankful for Sandi’s support in encouraging me and in assuming the extra responsibilities of being at home without me. Her fund raising has also been instrumental in having these rides raise what we have. In fact, but for her initial suggestion, there would not have been a “Laura’s” Ride.
I have said it before, but it is so true that it bears repeating; I am immeasurably thankful for the help and companionship that Alejandra has given over all 3 rides. It was a stroke of good fortune when she responded to my ad for a driver back in 2016.
Maria, my assistant/legal secretary/friend since I started my practice 35+ years ago, has provided help from home, dealing with the website, keeping track of donations and just generally providing the help that she has for all of these past years.
I also repeat my thanks to Patty for leaving her family to help for 2 weeks, from Charleston, SC to Ft. Lauderdale, FL, despite having trips to Toronto and Taiwan in her near future. She effortlessly got into the routine and was great support and encouragement. Saying that I was crazy and expressing amazement at me riding in the heat and on some of the busy roads were in their own ways motivation for me.
Johnny filled in after Patty had to go home and his help and enthusiasm were also essential as was the fact that he drove everything home while I took an airplane.
Thanks again goes to Adam for creating the laurasride.org website and for helping Maria with some technical questions.
Great thanks also to our sponsors who have generously helped support this venture and to everyone else who has donated to the Lazarex Cancer Foundation in the name of Laura’s Ride Atlantic Coast. As of writing this, Laura’s Ride Atlantic Coast has raised $8,600+ and that number could increase. This is in addition to the $23,000+ that Laura’s Ride 2016 raised and to Laura’s Ride North’s $8,100+. These donations, which YOU have made, have helped not only breast cancer victims but also me personally (no, I didn’t benefit financially, but knowing that the rides have had that kind of support has helped me greatly and have truly been a significant motivation).
Thank you to all, and until next time,