It was the annual Spokes of Hope ride. Without a word or hint to the organizer and with a very late registration, I caught the organizer, Cindi Hart, off guard when I walked up to registration. Hugs ensued.
I was given a special placard as “Cancer Veteran” and we veterans lined up 50 yards back from the other riders. When it was time for the opening ceremonies we rolled past the other riders as they cheered us to the start line.
A bagpiper played and we rolled out with a great police escort. Cindi was at the front and, in one mile, when she peeled off, I pulled off with her, not knowing if I would see her at all during the day and I had to leave immediately after it ended. Cindi urged me to go and catch up with the other riders, and eventually, I did.
Or at least I started to. I had to work my way through some slower riders (probably riding shorter distances) and then could finally see the lead group or some riders dropped by them. This was a very small ride and I didn’t realize it but if I didn’t catch on somewhere I would be riding 100 miles solo.
I could see the group and timed them at 2:00 up the road. It took about five miles but I got it down to 1:00. I really wasn’t closing the gap. A couple of riders dropped off the back and I caught and passed them but did not catch on before the first rest stop.
The ride was well-supported if 50 pounds of bacon is support. (It is.) We were at a Love’s Travel Plaza and I walked inside to use the rest room. There was bacon. There were smoothies which were still frozen. Cookies. I grabbed a smoothie and a spoon and was digging at it when most of the riders pulled out. I hated to throw away a smoothie and Ken and Cindi Hart were at this stop so we chatted briefly.
Again, Cindi urged me to go “ride with someone” and when I saw two cyclists pull out I went with them. I met Nathan and Julie from Fishers, Indiana. They were first year cyclists, both triathletes, attempting to complete their first century ride. I’m not sure they wanted me or welcomed me to ride with them but they were stuck with me. We were going to do this.
We rolled into Stop 2 together and I waited for them to roll out. We were now a team. A Century-completing team.
Not long after we left I saw another couple farther back. I thought I would slow the pace, let them integrate with us and give us five. That would give us a physiological and psychological advantage. Todd and his wife rolled by and I jumped on their wheel. Nathan and Julie did not follow. I let Todd go and dropped back with my friends.
At Rest Stop 3 we were told we were last on the road except for a tandem. This is when I realized this was a very small ride. And then Todd and his wife (I don’t know her name) pulled in. They had made a wrong turn.
A volunteer told me to try to keep us together (which I was trying to do) but Todd pulled out and ahead. But we eventually pulled them back and integrated once we all started talking. We had 40 miles to go.
I tried to go to the front and set the pace. The wind was often in our faces and I thought it would help my friends if I rode in it. After Rest #4 I rode at the front almost all the way back. At one point I thought Nathan and Julie were dropping back so I let Todd’s wife ride up front. It worked.
We rolled into Zionsville and, as we came to the finish, I let the four of them finish first. This was also Todd’s first century. Well done, my friends!
Overall I averaged 16.4 mph for the 100 miles. Not bad but it wasn’t the 19 mph I averaged, solo, in the first 18 miles. I had an offer at Rest #1 to ride with a group at 19-20 mph which would have been cool but they took off while I was in the rest room. And if it was speed I was after, I could have taken off at any time but this was much more rewarding. I was very happy to shepherd new riders completing their first century. And they must have averaged at or near 16 mph for their first long ride.
At the finish I was greeted by Cindi. We posed for a few photos then I had to leave. The 7.5 hours on the bike (six of them moving) would be easy compared to the 7.5 hour drive ahead of me.
EPILOGUE: One rider, a cancer veteran, posted that he rode most of the miles solo. Although he seemed upset at first, he used the time to reflect on his cancer journey. At first many people are by your side but eventually one finds oneself facing the journey alone.
I experienced sort of the opposite. I had a journey and could have ridden it alone. But I chose to ride with others instead to encourage and support them. And that was the best thing for me too.