"Does it feel a little like coming home from summer camp? Try as you might to explain, no one understands the magnitude of what just happened to you." My friend Laura posted that comment on my Facebook wall and she pretty much summed up my frustration with trying to put together a blog post. I'm still not even sure what just happened to me or to us as a group for that matter-the impact comes in waves of memorable moments, feelings, and impressions. Without exaggeration, the entire adventure from fundraising to training to seven days of riding, has been, for lack of a better word and at the risk of sounding like a character in a surf documentary, EPIC.
Honestly, I think I was completely delirious for Days 2-7 of the ride. I've had to dig deep to accomplish a lot of physical activities but I've never had to dig THAT deep. There were many days where my sole focus was to make it to the next hotel and complete the miles before sunset. I wouldn't even let myself think about how I was going to pull off the next day or any consecutive days, it was irrelevant in the moment I was in. Now, I know I was not finding the solution to world peace by completing this ride but I had set a goal and I was completely determined and hell bent on accomplishing it. And because I'm such a fan of living in the moment, we had an awesome time and a ton of great, gut laughs despite the rain, terrain and pain the first 5 days handed us. This ride was, at many times, the most fun I've ever had.
I may not be able to articulate what "happened" but I do know my life is forever enriched by this unique and powerful experience and I know I am not alone in this sentiment. It's one of those chapters in a person's life that becomes more meaningful with time and reflection. I got to ride with some of my favorite training buddies who were patient and supportive when my legs just couldn't motor any faster than what they were giving, and I was fortunate enough to meet new friends from other parts of the country, many of which were challenged athletes who define heart, perseverance and soul. From the riders, to the organizers, to the incredible support staff working their tails off at all hours of the day and night, I have walked away with a deep affection for many off these players. As far as I'm concerned, it just doesn't get any better than that. Furthermore, I believe our year of fundraising was a record breaking year for the Million Dollar Challenge, as we raised well over 1,300,000.00 for the Challenged Athletes Foundation! Cool, huh?! With that, I'll let pictures tell a bit more of the story (and there are a TON of them)...
Pure muddness is right. With several days of rain and riding in rural farm towns, this picture pretty much sums it up. I was a muddy S.M. for much of this ride; we were ALL muddy. But honestly, that was the fun part. I felt like an 8 year old kid whose mom said, "Hey, go outside and ride your bike in the rain and mud with all your buddies for as long as you like!"
The first night was spent in San Francisco and the energy was all very exciting. We were going to begin a very long ride, early the next morning, and we were all eagerly meeting new friends and getting last minute details settled. It will probably come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, but I lost my room key and got locked out of my room within the first 30 minutes of arriving.
During our orientation meeting, I looked over and noticed a man sitting down who looked a lot like Robin Williams, only shorter :) It turned out that it actually was him and he had stopped by for a visit to support the event. Robin Williams has been involved with CAF over the years and just decided to pop into our orientation and say a few words that night. He didn't disappoint in the comedy department.
So, here we are, all geared up and ready for the big roll out from San Francisco!
My two buddies and huge cheerleaders, Fred Liebel and David Lee. I've spent a lot of time with them over the last year and a half- time I will never get back, HA! These two guys did all 620 miles on handcycles! They are ridiculously tough.
All lined up for last minute announcements and a beautiful rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" by a fellow challenged athlete, Samuel. He doesn't need a last name. He's like Cher. Notice Mark Johnson, the photographer, behind us. That guy was EVERYWHERE on this ride and took some of the best photos ever.
Here I am riding along with my little buddy, Bill Walton (unlike Samuel, Bill's name is one of those that is usually said first and last), and I think that looks like one of his besties, Dan. I love Dan. We spent many training rides together and not only is he a sweet man, he taught me a few things about riding in wet conditions which ended up paying off on this trip! If it's not Dan then it's definitely Kevin, and he's cool too.
Dr. Jeff, Richard and I climbing up a hill after lunch on Day 1. There always seemed to be food BEFORE a climb which added an element of cruelty and giggles to the ride.
This is what the world looked like for most of the days...
And here are my people, sans Diane who is taking the picture. Chris, a.k.a "Sister Christian," Kristie Nation one of my new favorites all the way out from Utah, and Richard Whittington- Vikki Whittington's husband (I now know who the real boss in that family is and I love her!) Diane saved the day by giving me her trash bag, Kristie gave me her shower cap. We were having a gay old time in the rain and mud and I was SO stinkin' toasty it was like a mini sauna in there until the winds picked up and the temperatures seemed to drop. Poor Diane was a popsicle by the time we made it to lunch. She sacrificed her own ride to keep me warm since my rain jacket was in my day bag which never actually made it to the lunch stop. All along I thought she was wearing a rain jacket of her own but it turned out to be nothing more than a windbreaker; with no meat on her bones, she was soaked and flash frozen. Diane truly is a ride leader extraordinaire!
I love this next picture of Kristie and I. There's just so much about it that makes me smile. At some point during this day, an MDC rider, Joe W. rode by and yelled, "OH MAN! Someone threw away a perfectly good Shelby!" I'm sure there are some who would beg to differ...
Okay, I have GOT to take a moment to tell you about Ms. Michelle Nation, Kristie's sister and SUPER FAN to us all. She was amazing. Michelle came along for the sole purpose of cheering her sister on and she quickly became the best thing that ever happened to our group (after Tina's PB&J SAG sandwiches, of course). In the pouring rain, and I mean pouring, she would show up with a Starbucks order made just right for each of us. She followed us along the entire route, cheering us on as we made our way up some slow grinding hills and even went so far as to dress like a complete foolio to make us smile. She honked, she waved, she snapped pictures, she smiled, she laughed, she supported....see, she truly earned her name. She was SUPER FAN and we loved her for it. I am so lucky to have met these two crazies!
Two other great ladies I had the pleasure of spending time with, Kelley Fox (Kelley raised over $30,000 for CAF!) and Muffy Davis. Both ladies endured crazy conditions on this ride and I don't think I ever saw them without a smile. If you could only have seen what we were riding through, you could appreciate the amount of mud that was flying in their faces with each rotation of their hand cycles. I loved their humorous take on all of it. After a day of riding through the muddy farm roads, Muffy said, "Oh, there's no question that I have E.coli at this point, I'm just hoping my body is strong enough to fight it!" As soon as Muffy said it, I paused as my brain processed the fact that it wasn't "mud" we were eating and getting plastered with all day...it was farmland mud which can only mean one thing. Sometimes I'm a little slow on the uptake but when I get it, I get it and...BLECK! We all ate a lot of "dirt" that day but our hand cyclist buddies experienced it on a whole different level and lived to tell about it.
Steven Peace, one of our CAF athletes from Operation Rebound. Steven got stuck with me for a few legs of the ride. Boy, does he talk a lot.
Gil Magallanes and Chris Self. Two more members of Operation Rebound. I loved riding near these guys because they always sounded like an old married couple. I could never hang with them for long because they were obviously strong but they definitely gave me reason to smile when I saw them. Their wives, Sherry and Dana, were equally as tough and just as much fun as their husbands. I heard a rumor that as soon as Gil and Chris laid their bike down in La Jolla, Gil immediately announced, "I want a divorce!" HA!
I don't know why this is here. Another "action" shot?
After 114 miles from Big Sur to Pismo Beach, I made it in just in time to see this sunset. I'd say this was the view from my room but all of these pictures have been ripped off again so I can say with confidence that it's not. But the view from my room looked EXACTLY like this and I am so glad I was encouraged by my buddy Jojo, to slow down and just take it in (being one of the last riders in every day, it was always a mad dash to shower and get to dinner). I think this was when I decided I was going to make Jojo be my friend; she didn't have much of a say in the matter,I'm pushy, HA! I'm old enough to know now that friends who slow each other down and help each other stay present in their moments are always the best ones to keep (...and the funny ones, too. Don't ever lose touch with a friend that makes you laugh! If you have a friend that meets both criteria, JACKPOT!) I think a lot of us had the sense to pause for this Pismo sunset - I had a hard time deciding whose picture I should steal off of Facebook.
Here's Stitch with his little buddy, Cody, one of CAF's spokespersons. Stitch has participated in the ride in years past and came on this year to support the challenged athletes. A little story about Stitch and I, he came to me very apologetically one morning because he didn't feel like he was giving me enough attention and support as one of the challenged athletes he was "charged" with assisting. I was FINE and told him he didn't ever have to worry about me because I had an awesome crew I was riding with. Well, as luck would have it, a nice rain started just as we were getting ready to roll out on our 119 mile day. Panic set in for me. I knew how long the previous day of 114 miles had taken me to do in the rain, I barely made it in as the sun was setting! I was worried that if we had more rain on this day, there wouldn't be enough daylight for me to complete the miles. I immediately ran back to Stitch and told him there was one thing he could do for me and it would be to not let them pull me or my people off the course when the sun went down, even if it meant following us in a van. I just really, really, wanted to complete every mile and knew the day was going to be tough. It would have been frustrating to get pulled off with less than 15 miles to go after working through the day I knew it was going to be . He said he wasn't supposed to do it but agreed and said I had to keep it a secret- I only told 4 people. Maybe 5.
Sure enough, it was completely windy, rainy and getting dark with about 15 miles left. Every time one of the support vans came rolling by, I was sure they were going to pull us off the course. Diane had a rear view mirror and would give me a report whenever she saw one of our vans coming upon us. I told her, " Pretend they're kidnappers, ride as hard as you can and whatever you do, don't make eye contact!" So for the rest of the ride, whenever Diane saw them coming, she would yell out, "Stranger Danger! Stranger Danger!" and she and I would start sprinting with a surge of energy that even I was impressed by after 11 hours of riding. I usually fell apart pretty quickly though because I was laughing so hard and the van didn't so much as slow down for us.
As it turned out, I wasn't the only one making my way in after dark that day. Day 4 ended up being what Diane coined the "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," day. If you've seen the movie you'll understand what that means. It was one of those days where just when you thought things were bad, something else would happen to such a degree, it was comical. It was one of those days where we were so tried in our will to finish that we found ourselves laughing hysterically, a lot.
One of the problems that impacted everyone, including the entire support staff, was the record number of flats that people had. I know there were well over 100 flats that day. Almost everyone I talked to had more than one, some had as many as four. At one point, as we were heading inland toward Solvang, it looked as if someone was sitting out in the prairie with a beebee gun, taking riders down one by one. People were sidelined everywhere and the second a flat was fixed, another one would happen. No one seemed to be able to move without one member of their group having to change a flat. It was remarkable, really. My plan worked out perfectly and I'd like to thank those sweet, toothless teenagers I met for their help in slowing this pelaton down for me. Here are some of the remnants...
Pictured here are two more friends that came in after dark. Roselynn on the left, my roommate for two of the nights, and Kelly on the right. Kelly and her husband actually rode in with Diane and I, while one of the vans lead us in with their headlights. It was a frickin' blast! There were four of us riding as fast as we could, in the rain and dark, to make it to the hotel before some higher up finally called it a day for us. I was loving it- it felt a little like we were trying to get E.T. back to the spaceship! We were pretty elated when we pulled into the hotel in Santa Barbara sometime around 7pm.
The next day, I was so tired and so sore, Diane decided to give me a ride to the bike rack. I know it looks like my eyes are closed in this picture, but if you look carefully, they're not. I'm THAT puffy! Notice the Coke in my hand at 7 am. Another indication I'm delirious.
Here is a great picture of the OnSupport team that worked day and night to keep our bikes clean and running. When they weren't servicing our bikes in the evening, they were driving around in vans during the day to give roadside assistance to whomever needed it. These were some quality guys and I regret that I didn't get to spend more time with them. It just seemed they were ALWAYS working (or maybe I was just always riding).
The "office" parking lot. Can you imagine servicing all of these bikes, every night?
One of my best friends, Zabelle, met me in Santa Monica and we don't have a single picture to prove it. It was such a nice treat to have her there and share some of the experience with her. So dumb not to get the picture! Zabelle has written a few chapters with me over the years so it was great to have her company on this trip. Scout also met us in Santa Monica so it was a double treat. Just before we rolled-out the following day, we grabbed a shot for Bill Holland. Three happy customers!
Paul and I leaving Santa Monica. It appears I only hang out with tall people now.
From Santa Monica, we rode into Newport Beach where my family met me for the night. Here's Lorenzo and my dad just as my group rolled in. Looks like they were having a sucky time.
Mom and Dad and Delia Kay.
My little brother and his sweet little family, Andrea and Delia. I'm so glad everyone made the trip out to Newport. My mom even convinced my Uncle Don to come and it made for a great evening of family and celebration.
This is one of my best friends from high school. Ms. Kristi Recchia. Kristi was a huge help and mastermind behind the tiki bar fundraiser I did. We were also joined by another childhood friend, Melissa Fontes and her family (again, picture failure).
Here is a group shot of the 13 challenged athletes that participated in this year's ride. I'm in there somewhere, completely honored and inspired by the company I keep.
The last mile of our ride included a climb up Torrey Pines. I was not looking forward to that last hill but I was happily greeted by my friend and coach, Brian Maiorano. He came with a bag full of candy and fed my face the whole way up. It was just what I needed-I'm looking a little spent here at mile 618ish and I can thank Mark Johnson for being there, once again, to photo document the moment.
I sent Brian the picture and he sent it back with a note that said, "I took the 'red eye' out." My biking equivalent of a limp turned into a head-to-head race between Ironman champions, Macca and Wellington. My friends are funny.
Speaking of Ironman champion, Macca, he too joined us on the ride down the coast. Truth be told, I didn't see him much as he hangs with a fast crowd but I did manage to steal a couple of photo ops with him, this one being the most entertaining. When I told Phaedra he was riding with us, she reminded me of a picture she had taken with him a couple of years ago in Kona. Not to be outdone, I made sure I got the same picture just before we rode into La Jolla.
HA! Nailed it.
The ride into La Jolla Shores was really an unexpected treat. There were so many people there to cheer their friends and family in and I was fortunate enough to have some of my favorites show up to meet me as well. Once again, I didn't get pictures of everyone and my cousin Macie (and roommate, no less!) and her boyfriend, Kevin, are totally unrepresented here. How did they escape the cameras?! They were everywhere?! arg.
Here are Scott Rhodes and Dean Roeper, Co-Chairs for the MDC event but more importantly, two great guys that I have loved getting to know over the past few months.
Me riding in and trying not to eat it in the wet grass.
An unflattering picture of me hugging Liz but a reflection of an honest sentiment, nonetheless. She has been another huge supporter of this journey and always seems to have just the right things to say at all the right moments. Between Liz, her husband Danny and their two daughters, I have to say, the Pappas/Simonellis, SHOW UP!
Liz, Linda, Sally, Pearl and Liana. Sally has also been at every event leading up to this day so it was super cool to share it with her. Linda is a dear friend from work that completely surprised me and made it an extra fun greeting!
Kyle and, long-time friend, Lynn Howard. Kyle was a volunteer who had the glorious job of loading and unloading luggage everyday and making sure it all made its way from point A to point B. He still never answered some of my burning questions about people and their luggage. But he's not off the hook yet.
Lynn was my master teacher about 17 years ago and we've been friends ever since. I have yet to meet anyone that can top her sense of adventure so it's always fun to share this kind of stuff with her! (she also took a lot of these pictures)
I just think this is a sweet picture of my dad meeting Scott Rhodes, both great men.
My mom and I :) I don't know, maybe it's the flowers and my short stature but I'm kind of getting a "jockey in the Winner's Circle" vibe off this picture. I missed my calling, for sure.
I love any picture that captures someone laughing really hard.
I also need to thank those friends that were not able to physically make it to California but whose words of encrouagement still met me via text and phone calls. I'm not kidding, they made a HUGE difference. You were present. I felt it!
Below are probably my three favorite shots taken during the ride:
We couldn't resist the cabbage patch picture, even though it cost us about 45 minutes to clean up afterward.
Inspired by the famous Tour de France photo...Chris, Kristie, Diane, Me and Mike...so ridiculous.
And from Mark Johnson of Ironstring Photography, another favorite. Me and Bill Walton solving the worlds problems ...or just sharing a laugh but it's a start anyway.
The Magic Makers:This entire entry would not even have been written because there would be no tale to tell if it weren't for the hard work of the following people. I was so impressed, from start to finish, with the amount of commitment, enthusiasm and fun that came from the volunteers and CAF employees. Many of the volunteers used their vacation days to follow us on this trip and support us with SAG stops, medical, technical, and personal needs. They were so incredibly dedicated, patient and encouraging in tough conditions; I think they may be the true inspirations on this ride. Here are some of the key magicians who wormed their way into my heart. I LOVE these people!
Kyle, Kristine, Nurse Sharon, and Dr. Mike
Linda and Momo!
Momo, Jojo, and Ally
And of course, Diane and Tina!
And I think this is the sweetest picture of all. Vikki Indermuehle is the organizer for the Million Dollar Challenge and she faced days of her own challenges with the rain adding layers of complexity and logistics to an already tough event. She did such an amazing job; I think Kristine's face says it all. We are all so stinkin' proud of her! She' definitely earned her event planner crown for this one!
So that's it. Officially the longest blog post ever to cap off the longest ride ever. I have loved every minute of this year-long journey and I so appreciate all of my friends and family for their support and encouragement along the way. I have formed some of my most treasured relationships out of my involvement with CAF and I'm looking forward to continuing to get the word out about this foundation. The impact it has had on my own life is imeasureable; my hope is that I may be able to, in some small way, continue to return the favor.
I have no idea what's on the agenda for future goals but I'm sure I'll come up with something that scares me just enough to excite and motivate me. I always do...When asked if I plan to participate in the Million Dollar Challenge next year, my internal response looks and feels something like this:
Yet another incidation, I may still be a bit delirious.