Dear family and friends,
I’ve been so excited for this experience since I first decided to go in late 2017. My teammates who’ve been, and keep returning, can’t stop talking about how difficult and yet how absolutely awesome it is. So after riding two JDRF rides last year, I decided the Death Valley ride was the one I wanted to do more than any other. First, I had to get in. Registration was expected to fill up and close early. And it did, within hours. But I registered as soon as it opened and I got my spot along with 3 other Indiana State riders: Gary Martindale, Kevin Garner, and Tony Gabriel.
I’ll give away the ending now: it was even better and more remarkable than I had imagined!
We left for Las Vegas early Thursday morning, where we met with the other JDRF riders and staff to hop a bus and travel to the Oasis Ranch in Death Valley National Park. I saw Hoover Dam from the plane and the Vegas strip from the airport, both of which were firsts for me! After stopping briefly to pick up drinks and snacks, we left Nevada and drove into California and into the park. The scenery was simply amazing. Already I wanted to be out in it.
Since we arrived early and our rooms weren’t yet available, we decided to go for a short ride. We changed, hopped on our bikes and rode to Zabriskie Point. Jon Doyle, a new friend from Novartis, joined us for the ride. It was a beautiful sunny day and the ride uphill was challenging and slow but well worth the effort! The views were beautiful, and it was a great way to loosen up after all the traveling.
We headed back for the welcome dinner. Our team was joining about 300 other JDRF riders from around the world. Together, we raised more than $1.4M with this ride to improve the lives of those with T1D and to continue fighting for a cure. The staff and volunteers make it very special and most of the event was outside: dinners, speeches, and awards…under the stars, the moon, and the awe-inspiring darkness.
Friday morning was the mandatory safety meeting. I learned not only how important it was to drink but also to eat during the ride to stay well hydrated. The JDRF staff also shared some of the logistical challenges they face holding the ride in the park to keep the riders safe and the SAG stops stocked. I hadn’t thought about it before, but if we needed more ice or water, we couldn’t just run to the corner store! It’d take hours! What the JDRF staff and volunteers manage to accomplish is really amazing. Since we’d done a warm-up ride on Thursday and our bikes were ready to go, we spent the remainder of the day sightseeing. It was spectacular! We rented a Jeep, and went to Ubehebe Crater, Racetrack Playa, and Rhyolite Ghost Town. It took us quite a walk to get to the moving rocks at Racetrack Playa…but WOW! We didn’t see another soul. And the quiet was profound...we actually stopped to listen to the silence. There were ghosts in the ghost town and amazing puppets. It, too, was more than I hoped for!
Ride day dawned bright and early. As I walked to breakfast, the sun was beginning to peak over the mountains. It was breathtaking. We ate, got ready to go, and met at the starting line.
Although we were each riding our own ride, we wanted to start off together, as a team.
And off we went!
It was a short one mile uphill from the ranch, before the ride really felt like it began. I found myself settling in and smiling a lot! The temperature was still a bit cool as we rode in the shade of the mountains. It was almost perfect! Cool temps, slight downhills and smooth roads. As the riders spread out, it was a simply joyful 50 miles.
During hill training over the summer, I’d focused more on longer less steep climbs as I wanted to be sure I could finish the ride. Kevin had explained much of the end of the ride was uphill, and it would be after already riding 93 miles in the sun and heat. Somehow I lost sight of Jubilee Pass. When I go to the last stop before Jubilee Pass and the halfway turnaround point, I was feeling pretty good! I asked one of the volunteers how much further until we turn around. Only 6 miles…YAY! She said, “it will likely take you an hour to an hour and a half.” Wait! What??!! I wasn’t expecting that answer. I refilled my water bottles and had an extra bag of chips and headed out. It wasn’t too bad to start, with small rolling hills. And then I turned left, happy to move to a flat road. But I slowed down, and it was hard! It wasn’t flat at all, but rather the beginning of an almost 6 mile climb. I couldn’t see the top, and it felt like it went on forever. I had two goals: Stay on my bike. Don’t stop. I focused on patience and persistence in a way that I never have before. As I got closer to the top, my teammates passed me as they rode downhill. Kevin turned around and stayed with me. I did it! We had all made it to the top of Jubilee Pass.
We rested briefly, but we wanted to get underway quickly as we still had 50 miles yet to go. The downhill was not the fun ride I expected. It was very bumpy and very fast making it rough on my arms and upper body. The challenge continued after Jubilee Pass. It was hot, we rode in bright sunlight, and there was a fairly steady headwind. I was so tired, mentally and physically. Yet, I knew I didn’t want to quit, no matter what. At the next SAG stop, I took a longer break to rest, poured water on my head and ate. I started to have a bit more energy. Kevin was waiting at the rest stop with me. We focused simply on reaching the next rest stop each time, only on riding the next 8 miles. I learned a new trick and packed ice in the grooves in the top of my helmet. It kept me cooler as it melted! I was going to finish the ride. The last 7 miles were more rolling hills than the straight climb I had anticipated. And the last mile was mostly downhill! I pushed myself to go faster, and then the finish line was right there!!! I’d actually done it. I had ridden my bike 100 miles in Death Valley!
It was an absolutely amazing experience, and one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I can’t describe the joy, the elation, and the peace. And I can’t wait to do it again next year!
I know I’ve said much of this before. And I’ll keep saying it…Thank you! I couldn’t have done this without the support and encouragement of my teammates. All of the training rides, the laughter, and the coaching throughout the season kept me going and reminds me that family comes in many forms. And I couldn’t have done this without your generosity and support. You were with me every pedal stroke, for every mile.
Together we did this; Together we’re making a difference!
P.S. Please visit my ride site to see previous summaries and how I did with my fundraising! https://www2.jdrf.org/site/TR?fr_id=7373&pg=personal&px=11310645