What I learned in my JDRF Ride to Cure Training, Part 4: (The one where good friends remind me they are still here)
I don’t even remember how I found out about it, since I’m new to cycling. I think I may have just been google searching to find supported rides in the greater Boston area. In any case, this past Sunday morning I got up bright and early (have I mentioned I am not a morning person) and drove into Boston with my husband to ride in the annual Hub on Wheels event. I was really just looking for some more experience riding with groups (since 99.99 percent of my riding training has been done alone. Well, alone expect for random fishermen who wave hello to me, whales that jump out of the ocean and wink at me and cute horses and sheep and even oxen that cheer me along the way. But yeah, pretty much alone).
As is always the case with this ride, I rode away with way more than I’d signed up for. Let me explain.
The ride started at City Hall Plaza; really, the heart of the city of Boston. As soon as we got there, it was clear I’d be getting my wanted experience of riding with others: the MC was just announcing they had 9,000 people registered. The line at the start was deeper than I could even see. My husband Sean suggested we just wait for the start where we were (about 40 feet beyond the start) and jump in, rather than take the time to go wayyyyyy to the end of the line.
I was terrified. First of all, I bet all the wicked good people would be at the front. Second, little ole’ me, who’s been riding along quiet country roads and yelling hello to Oxen, would have to jump into a scrum of cyclists and start pedaling away. Before I did it, it had the feeling of jumping into, oh I don’t know: a bull run. But I remembered that five months ago, I was secretly terrified to jump into this entire Ride to Cure thing. And yet I did it. And I’m pedaling along in that journey pretty well.
So I sucked it up and jumped in. And survived. And away we went. The ride’s highlight is that a road called Storrow Drive here in Boston is closed to traffic that day and you get to fly along Storrow, which hugs the Charles River (stop here and sing Dirty Water quickly and then proceed), and winds you past Cambridge on one side and the Back Bay on the other.
This was special to me right away. First of all, it was a glorious fall morning: crisp air, sun sparkling off the Charles and the windows of the buildings. But more so, we rode right along one of my favorite diabetes places in the world: the spot of the annual JDRF Walk to Cure. As I passed it, I thought of all the memories we’d made there, all the hope I’d found there and the just plain gloriousness of all that is the diabetes community. It just made me … happy.
Eventually, we turned and came back along Storrow. At one point, I could quickly look right into the belly of Fenway Park. Now let me explain something to you: there is no place on earth that brings me more peace, happiness and faith than the top of a mountain on a ski day. It’s always been that way. There is just something about that world and that setting and that air that clicks with me. I can have all the troubles in the world weighing me down, and one quick run on a mountain makes me right.
In recent years, I’ve found a second place: Fenway Park. Anyone who knows me knows I love my Red Sox (even this year. So there.) But I love Fenway too. It really is like a Cathedral. I step in there and just feel … transported. So peeking there that morning felt like a cosmic “you’ve got this!” sent out to me. Little did I know, there was more to come.
The ride then cut out past the middle of the city by winding along the Jamaica Way, where I used to work at the Boston Parent’s Paper a long, long time ago (and where I recently picked up an amazing ride donation from Samuel Adams Brewery. Get some Sam Adams today! And now back to our regularly scheduled show). It’s just a really pretty part of the city that some folks don’t even know about. Cool, old homes with history, park settings and trees and sweeping views kept us happy all along the route. We rode along through he Arnold Arboretum, a real Boston jewel that many forget to take advantage of.
Then the route volunteers waved us to the right (and by the way, this was a very well supported ride. I’ll be doing it every year.) Interestingly enough, we were waved into the Forest Hills Cemetery. Now this may sound strange, but Forest Hills is huge, and beautiful, and worth visiting even if you don’t have a friend or family member laid to rest there.
I’d not been there in years. And here’s the thing: I do have family members laid to rest here. Which brings me to my first “goosebump moment” of my day.
My beloved grandfather is buried there. I just recently realized that while I’d bonded with my bike, I’d never named it. After much thought, I named her CeeCee. Lauren’s middle name – and mine – is Cecelia, named after my mother’s mother whom I never met because she passed away at a young age. Grandpa always loved that name connection, and all my life until he died at 93, I cherished him. And so did Lauren. In fact, when Lauren had some panic issues and learned self-hypnosis, the therapist told her to pick a happy spot to imagine herself in. her choice: grandpa’s big chair. When Grandpa died, I was honored enough to do his eulogy. But even more special was one of his prayers to the faithful: for a cure for diabetes. In that moment, it was like I knew he was up there working for my Lauren.
And here I was, on CeeCee the bike, riding for Lauren. Right past grandpa. I just could not believe it. It reminded me that not everyone who is supporting me on this ride is as visible as others. I pedaled along and thanked Grandpa for being up there for me.
Once out of Forest Hills we cut down through Dorchester, under the highway and then out toward UMASS Boston, right on Boston Harbor. The last time I’d been out of a car and in the sunny day in that exact spot was two years ago when Lauren had the honor of being a Kennedy family personal guest at the groundbreaking of the Edward Kennedy Institute. As we rode toward that construction site and toward the Kennedy Library, I thought about how much I still miss the Senator, and how much he did for Lauren (and me) in the years we were lucky enough to call him a friend. His impact on our lives continues, and we miss him.
Then I realized that in all my meandering down memory lane, I’d not looked at my odometer. Darn it. I had every, EVERY intention of taking note at Mile 23. My good friend Michelle’s son Jesse, who lost his battle to Type 1 Diabetes at 13 years old, would be turning 16 the day after this ride. I always think of Jesse every time I see a mile 23, but I really wanted to take some extra time this time. I clicked through my bike computer to get to my ride mileage, kicking myself for losing track.
And there, right in front of the Kennedy institute site, where I can feel the power of the spirit of my friend Ted Kennedy, I saw what mile I was at:
Oh. My. Goodness. I told Sean I wanted to stop for a moment and take in the moment. And it was incredible. I was marinating in a feeling of support. And compassion. And pride. And yes, the sorrow of missing people. It was a mixture of emotion that was just … well … beautiful. I’d not missed the mile marker at all. I was spot on. And I had to think that Jesse played a role in that. I thought of how 16 years ago Michelle would have been restless waiting to see her son for the first time. I thought of how this day, Michelle has to be restless again, waiting a much longer time to see her son again. And I thought of how I’ll be with Michelle on the Death Valley ride. I felt small. But I felt needed and loved. What kind of amazing gift was that?
The rest of the ride was lovely and fun – we even rode through a section called “Pleasure bay” that made me want to sing songs from Pinocchio.
We finished well and then dashed off to Joslin where I was speaking at an event. There, as I readied my power point for the keynote talk (which I was doing in my bike clip shoes. I remembered a change of clothes. I remembered mascara. I remembered a hair dryer to touch myself up. But I forgot shoes. Ha!) anyway, I heard a group walk in and looked up: Lauren’s dear friends from diabetes camp. I hugged them way too hard and just loved feeling them there.
Because I ride for them too – and for all the camp girls and jdrf friends and other friends we’ve met along the way. Being in their presence was a joy.
That night at home, tired from a long day of riding and then speaking, I felt my phone buzz with a new email. An alert for a ride donation, from a man I’d just met that day at the talk.
“Thank you for being in this with us,” my new friend and donor wrote.
And I have to thank him too. But I also have to thank all the friends who are with us all on this quest for a better life and a cure who might not be able to “see us” in a regular way. This day of riding happened for a reason: to remind me to have faith. And to help me “hear” from some dear friends.
But there’s one more part. Until this day, I had not let my husband bike ride with me. He’s an amazing athlete and could probably get on a bike with no training and ride a gabillion miles. I was afraid … afraid he’d think I wasn’t good enough. Afraid he’d fly way ahead of me and I’d be all stressed out trying to keep up. I need to say here: in reality he would never do any of that. Ever. He’s known me since I was a teenager and watched me work hard for so many things. He knows how hard I am on myself and he understands my determination. But he is honest too. If I was not up to par, he’d find a supportive way to tell me so. So asking him to do this ride with me was a big deal. I was kind of sort of ready to “go public” even if it was just to him.
We rode along at a nice pace and had a really great time. I never stressed and never had trouble keeping up. And when we were done, he put both hands on my shoulders and looked me square in the eye and said this:
“You are ready. You are absolutely ready. You’re going to nail this.”
And there it was: the confirmation I needed coming from the guy who knows me best. What better topping to a day of “hearing” from those who I don’t see every day anymore?
I’m a lucky gal.