This past weekend I participated in a 70-mile charity ride for the Aptalis Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. I had never gone that far on the bike and didn’t think I could make it. It was hot, dry and hardly a bit of shade could be found (sorry East Coast Frankenstormers). I didn’t train, only relied on my commuting and a prayer to get me through. What I found was that charity rides can be no-stress, fun ways of challenging yourself on the bike and feeling stronger as a rider. I had way more fun than I expected and learned to love these kinds of rides. Here’s why I would sign up for every charity ride I could find:
1) The cheerleaders! You exit the starting point – cheering. You come to a rest stop – cheering. You exit the rest stop – chanting. You come in sweaty, exhausted, and so tired to the finish line and you want nothing more than to be off the bike finally - cheering loudly! How can you beat that? The volunteers of a charity ride have smiles on their faces despite being up earlier than you, are counting on you to support the cause and do what those with cystic fibrosis (or many diseases) cannot, and are REALLY, REALLY glad you came. You can’t help but smile when you pass the cheerleaders, and frankly, you should smile big. You are great for getting out there and pushing yourself! Too bad you can’t have a cheering section everywhere you went. Your chain falls off on 4th Ave near Fairfax. Woohoo, you can do it! You are climbing that not too steep but annoying hill on Sunset Blvd near Dodger Stadium. Go! Go! Push! You pedal your way into work on a Monday. YAY! You’re grrrrr-eat!
2) The food & drink! Charity rides can be big or small, but they will always come with perks for participants. My CF ride held the start/finish at Golden Road Brewery in Atwater Village and there is nothing like a cold, refreshing pint of beer after a long, hot ride. Most charity rides will have lunch provided, a bagel spread for breakfast, even food trucks at the finish area. The fun snacks at the rest stops along the route can be sugary sweet but just what you need. I definitely did not need to eat two peanut butter and fluff sandwiches. Fluff!
3) The route! Like I said, I had never done 70 miles on the bike before this. Maybe 50 miles if I round up somewhere. The route map was provided days in advance so you can drive it or follow it on Google Maps to get comfortable beforehand. I was really excited to see we were heading to Long Beach! I’ve heard of long journeys on bicycles down to this alt-transpo mecca but I didn’t think I could ever do it. Now was my chance to learn the safest route and the rest areas on the way so I can now do this trip anytime I like. There are varying distances you can sign up for, so there are options for all the riders in your group. Charity rides can teach you about new routes, new hills to train on, new sharrow lanes or bike paths you hadn’t seen before or could translate from online map to real life directions. It’s a great way to learn to ride more of your city!
4) New friends! I signed up for this ride alone. Mostly because I didn’t think I could do 70 miles and figured it was easier to bail at the first sign of struggle without answering to someone. And just as I expected, I thought I was going to turn around at the 20 mile mark, then the 25 mile mark, then again…until I met a group of women riding their first 70-mile route too. Sharing laughs and getting to know each other made the time fly by, helped me forget about the burning in my legs and absolutely kept me going to the finish line. We found we shared a lot of passions and interests and now keep in touch and have things planned together.
To become a stronger rider and to challenge yourself to the next level of riding, I can not recommend charity rides enough. There’s no competition to beat the fastest time so there is more room for camaraderie and fun. Heck, it took me almost 6 hours to make it back to the finish line and I don’t care. I experienced a great day on the bike and can’t wait to sign up for my next charity ride.