"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit." ~ Albert Schweitzer
I have received numerous odd looks this week when co-workers asked me how I spent my vacation. I suspect when they saw my tan and relaxed disposition, they assumed I had spent a week lounging on a beach (which wouldn't be a stretch). They appeared a bit shocked - as they should be - when my response was that I spent the week cycling across Iowa in 100 degree temperatures and sleeping in a tent. Shocked that I didn't step foot in a single air-conditioned resort hotel with a swimming pool. Shocked that there were no spa visits, gourmet dinners, relaxing afternoons poolside or sleeping in until I naturally woke up.
A common question to my explanation that I spent the week riding my bike was "WHY??"
Well, why not?
Why not spend a week camping with 75 strangers - actually 10,000 total?
Why not spend a week surrounded by 75 caring supportive individuals?
Why not spend a week with 75 other cyclists that "get it"....that understand that cancer has taken a toll on all our lives in some way or shape.
Once again, participation in a Team LIVESTRONG event has rekindled that fire inside me.
I was constantly taken aback by the generosity of my teammates and the hospitality of the Iowa communities that welcomed 10,000 plus cyclists into their towns, creating havoc on their traffic and the simple trip to the grocery store.
I left my home on July 20th just one person....just one member of the Team LIVESTRONG RAGBRAI group....just one cancer hater....just one runner that was attempting to take on the most challenging event of her life.
I returned home on July 28th a part of something bigger. I returned home as part of a community.....still one person but one with 75 new friends.....75 new supporters and cheerleaders....75 individuals that together were willing to turn this runner into a cyclist.....that took the time to slow down as they rode by me to make sure I was okay....75 others that made me feel as though I was not alone in the aftermath cancer has created in my life.
Among those that I had the pleasure of experiencing their inner spirit....
- The teammate that only knew me from our team Facebook page yet opened her home to me - a complete stranger - so I could appreciate one last night of comfort in air-conditioning and a bed. I had no idea at the time how valuable that would be. This wonderful teammate became my guiding light all week and took this RAGBRAI virgin (yes, it is tradition to call first-timers virgins and "mark" us with the word spelled out on our calves) under her wing, teaching me the important RAGBRAI ropes of camp life and enjoying the ride.
- The entire LIVESTRONG staff that made sure to welcome me with support and enthusiasm regardless of the time of day - before I had my coffee at 5 am or when I was the last to roll into camp at 6 pm....this also was the case when they would come along me on the route during the day. The minute we all arrived in Sioux Center, the feeling of being at a family reunion was evident.
- The gentleman that recently celebrated his 75th birthday and pulled me aside after I completed my ride on day 3 asking to ride with me the next day. At this point I was contemplating not riding anymore. I hadn't verbalized that to anyone yet I suspect this wonderful caring man recognized this in my demeanor. He never left my side the next day - through the sun, 110 degree temperatures and strong headwinds. This 75 year old man made me ride behind him and blocked all the wind for me. He made sure my water bottles had ice in them. He made sure I ate along the way. He kept me entertained with his fantastic stories. He bought me my first soda in 6 years - a very delicious Mugs Root Beer and made me realize that soda is like an energy drink....only better! Without Gene, I certainly would never have gotten over this RAGBRAI Hump Day and was able to continue the rest of the week with relative ease - at least mentally!
- On that same day, we were joined by another teammate at a little past the halfway point when the day began to heat up....and the wind just continued blowing. This gentleman is a true cyclist and trains on the hills in Tennessee and Kentucky. A bit different than the terrain of flat middle of nowhere corn-country that I ride in. He could have just chatted with us for a moment and been on his way.....been back to the camp and enjoyed a shower, a few beers and the company of our team. But no.....although I suggested numerous times that he go ahead, he would not. He stayed with me the remainder of the day and helped me improve my cycling. These two men were willing to stop whenever I needed to - in case you didn't know, I HATE running, cycling etc in the heat. Give me a 40 - 50 degree day and I am in heaven! As we went up hills, Don could have hammered right up them but he stayed at my side and actually offered to push me up. Much to his dismay, I did get off and walk up one....but I was going so slow I suspected I was going to fall over.
- The Lenox Bike Club.....a group of complete strangers that without any questions - other than whether I was a Hawkeye or Cyclone fan (I got lucky and said whichever team has LIVESTRONG colors) - provided me a ride back to camp with their team when I ran out of steam. If they had not, I would have sat waiting for the SAG bus for hours upon hours. As a matter of fact, I came across this bus two other days and they remembered me - even asked if I needed a ride again.
- The lovely lady in the second town we stopped in that approached me and my friend as we sat in her shaded yard. We were just 2 of 10,000 that rode by her house that morning yet she approached us with an offer to use her bathroom. Just opened her home to two complete strangers. Then proceeded to fill our water bottles with ice and water.
- The amazing families across Iowa that turned on their sprinklers and hoses to cool us all of as the temperatures rose.
- The various teammates that took the time to set-up my tent for me while I was still out pedaling across Iowa because I was so much slower than everyone else. What a fabulous treat!
- Numerous teammates that gave me hugs, high-fives and encouragement although I was the last one back each day. They had more faith in my abilities to succeed that I had in myself.
- The complete stranger from Wisconsin that rode up alongside me around mile 20 and took a thoughtful moment to ask who Brian was (I had a "In Memory of Brian" card on my bike). We had a wonderful time chatting and before I knew it, I had ridden 90 miles - 70 with this stranger that I know consider a friend.
- Our team mechanic. He humored me and my complete lack of bike knowledge - always willing to make the tiny adjustments to my bike that I should have been able to handle on my own.
The list goes on and on and on. Numerous teammates pulled me up hills during headwinds, gave me cycling tips along the way, entertained me with funny stories. Little did they know I was on the verge of tears at times - that I just wanted to quit.
THIS is why I spent my summer vacation riding my bike across Iowa. Otherwise I never would have met these incredible human beings.....my life would be that more empty for not having crossed paths with these people - some for only a moment or two.
It reminded me that in a world that we are surrounded by reality t.v., terrible senseless shootings and bullying, in reality, people are good. People are generous. People are thoughtful and loving. You just need to open yourself up and find them!
There is no question in my mind that I will participate in RAGBRAI again with Team LIVESTRONG.....just to rekindle my spirit through all these amazing souls!