(Sunday) September 1, 2002This is the final day of preparation before we hit the road bright and early tomorrow to begin the 2002 Five Points of Life Ride. It is a day of somewhat nervous anticipation, and also a day of relaxation and kicking back. The road we have all traveled to get here has been intensely personal for each of us, yet is has also been just as enlightening.
The day started early with an overnight thunderstorm. The locals say that it was a serious storm, but every team member that I spoke with slept right through it, myself included. I awoke at 6:30 AM, and upon walking around (while everyone else was still sleeping) found myself quickly awed by the serene and timeless beauty that I found when looking out over the water at a stunning sunrise. Time seemed to stand still while I took in the morning, both personally and with my cameras. Where we are staying in International Falls (Sha Sha Resort) is almost at the end of the earth it would seem. The resort is on a peninsula at the end of the road, and if you want to travel further (Which many people arriving here do) a boat is required.
The team breakfast was at 8:30 AM, and our waitress (with that wonderful Minnesota accent) was made our first honorary team member, and was presented with a Five Points of Life Ride tee-shirt for her excellent service to our large group of actually well mannered, and easy going folks. After breakfast it was off across the bridge to Canada, where we looked at the sights, reveled in the fact that we had left U.S. soil, and of course stopped at a Donut Shop. (Which I believe was required to be allowed back into the U.S., eh?) :-)
We also got the first taste of what the PR machinery will be like, in that a video crew from Johnson & Johnson (Our premier ride sponsor) arrived this afternoon to start documenting the 2002 ride. Today was the day for personal interviews of each rider, and while I know I could have (and have been told I will learn through sheer experience over the course of the ride) done a much better job at what I said, it went pretty well.
Heather Being Interviewed
The day closed with a "Fish Fry" of wonderful Minnesota Walleye, and a short team meeting. After that it was back to the room to pack and figure out what goes where in all of our gear. A last minute prep of a few details on the bike (double checking the spare tube, etc, that I packed in there when the bike was still in Florida) and I am as done as I can be at the moment. Time for some (much needed) sleep. Tomorrow is a big day for all of us, and it starts out bright and early!
One other detail worth mentioning! On Saturday August 31st, the Gainesville Sun ran an article on my participation in the ride. Take a look at the online version of Gary Kirkland's article (However without the photos that were in the print edition).
(Monday) September 2, 2002At 7:15 AM this morning, under overcast skies and a cool breeze, the dream of becoming a Five Points of Life Rider actually became reality. We stood lined up in a semi circle for about 5 minutes of PR photos and video crew footage, and then it was off and away. A tremendous sense of living each moment to the fullest along the way came over me, a reminder to enjoy this journey and revel in all that it is. The beginning was slow with the team getting comfortable with each other's pacing, position and just our general riding abilities. Lots of time spent riding by the video crew without either running them over (as they crouched down almost in our path to catch a low angle shot) or looking at the camera. It was fun for us at least, although they had to hustle their tails off to leapfrog us to get their next shot.
The first scheduled event stop just after 15 miles of riding was easy paced, but getting back on the road shortly after that was when the rain started. And that was how the rest of the day went. Lot's of miles spent in our rain gear avoiding the spray of the wheel of the rider in front of us, and just being wet. It was cold (62-64°), but most of the riders were well enough prepared in their gear to handle it with ease. At times the rain would let up and give us a bit of a break, but for other long stretches it would be strong and steady.
Roadside Snack Break
One highlight for almost everyone was at about 40 miles out when we went by a huge field of sunflowers. We had seen it on our drive up to International Falls, and had made a point then that this would be a photo stopping point. Most everyone thus went out and stood in the field of sunflowers and had a rather surreal photo taken. It was a nice break, and we also had an impromptu snack break along the side of the road (during a brief moment of sunshine, which was the only sun that we saw during the entire ride).
By the time we had reached our hotel, we had our team skills down pretty good. The support crew had gone ahead with just a few miles left to have the trailer ready for us, and had arranged for a way to get everything cleaned up from the rain and dirt sprayed all over us and our bikes. After an assembly line bike washing session (with a hotel provided garden hose), it was time to hit the room and a nice hot shower. Dry clothes never felt so good! :-)
The day ended with a team dinner, and a small celebration for a personally important day, that being the almost overlooked detail that today is my birthday. Everyone sang Happy Birthday, wore silly party hats, and gave me a really nice birthday card. Last year's birthday was strong in my mind (Kellie and I having dinner on September 2nd, 2001 at the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center, with a beautiful full moon and fireworks off in the distance), but I can't imagine a better group of people to spend my birthday with if it can't be Kellie...
(Tuesday) September 3, 2002Since we did not have to be at our first event stop until 2:00 PM today, we did not need to start riding until 9:30 AM. This made for a nice morning to check email and have breakfast and take it easy for a bit. And when at 9:30 AM sharp Cate (Cate Boyett, our wonderful Five Points of Life Ride Supreme Commander) walked through the hotel lobby saying it was time to go, it was like a firehouse when the alarm rings. Everyone instantly grabbed their bikes and shoes and headed for the door. There is a time for relaxation, but when Cate says jump we know that it is indeed time to get going!
Today was a day for a variation on the weather list of ways to challenge us. We had a huge crosswind for most of the day, occasionally having a tailwind that had us going 27 mph almost without pedaling, but then at times we also had a killer headwind that had us going 14 mph pushing as hard as we could go.
When we reached our 2:00 PM stop (University Medical Center in Hibbing, MN), we wound our way in through the loading dock (Which was where we parked our bikes) and then up a few stairs and down a few corridors, at which pont we were instructed to "Go on in". It was a very unusual and powerful feeling to walk into a room full of people and have them applaud loudly just for having us be there. I don't know what to make of that feeling yet, but give me a few more times to experience it before I decide anything more about it.
This was also our first big event where everyone had to talk. Gary Smith did a wonderful job of being the lead person for the day, and then we all said a bit about our personal connections to the Five Points of Life, and why we are on the ride. In a similar manner to the video interview back at "training camp" in International Falls, while I believe that what I said went over well, I instantly thought of better ways to say it after it was all over. Oh well, I have been repeatedly told there will be plenty of time for practice over the course of the ride! After speaking, we then spent time talking with the people at the event, and of course taking photos. It is at times amazing how the people that do the work in donor recruitment are so deeply passionate about what they do. They certainly impress me with their level of commitment!
Hibbing, MN Event
We then got back on our bikes to make the rest of our journey to the hotel near tomorrow's event. We also got to experience the first flat of the ride. About 20 miles before the end of the day, yours truly was rolling along in the middle of the pack, when I heard a "pling" sound (as something went flying from under my rear tire) followed by a "fwish-fwish-fwish-fwish" sound that indicates that whatever I had just run over also punctured my rear tire.
Our support crew is indeed incredible. I am pretty quick with changing a flat, but I had barely been stopped for a minute when I had two vans and the trailer right there with me to help. This made the tire change take all of about 6 minutes total, including refilling my Gatorade bottle. And while one crew member was getting out the floor pump and taking the dead tube that I tossed to him, another support crew member was spraying me with insect repellent (to keep me from being mugged and dragged off into the woods by the mosquitoes that were seriously swarming around me), while yet another support crew member was holding my bike. Once that was fixed, it was off to finish our day of riding. And to add to our day, since we started late this morning, this also meant that we did not arrive at the hotel until 6:30 PM, with a total of 87.4 miles under our wheels for the day.
I ended the day with some quick touch up work on my bike (I had a brake cable starting to stick from the rain yesterday that washed all of the lube out of the cable housing) and then it was off to a hot shower, at which point it was time for dinner with the rest of the team and the staff for tomorrow morning's event. 10:00 PM already? See you tomorrow!
(Wednesday) September 4, 2002After two days of rough weather, we were concerned that luck was not in our favour yet again, when the weather reports all predicted temperatures in the low 40's for this morning. But lo and behold, we dodged that bullet and actually had temperatures in the low 60's to start our day under clear and sunny skies. We also had it logistically easy today, as we only had one event in the morning for the regional blood center in this area. But that was OK with us, as we had a bit of distance to cover before the day would be done.
It was another long day, reaching 85.2 miles. However we did get into Brainerd, MN (Yes, the same Brainerd as in the movie Fargo), at 4:00 PM, versus the previous day's 6:30 PM. I am now officially behind in the "Rider Flat Count", as Burnette took over the lead today and now is credited with 1.5 flats. (His half flat was because he had a defective tube that only lasted 100 yards after the first repair, so we couldn't nick him a full flat point for that one) We spent a large portion of the day in a "2 minute rotation" in the paceline. This means that each rider that comes up to the front only stays there for 2 minutes before dropping back. This keeps each rider from getting too tired and keeps things a bit more exciting, versus sitting in the same position for an extended period of time.
The day ended with our usual team dinner, and for some reason it seems I was a little more hungry today. I have found that a high percentage of my meal is carbohydrates (Pasta, potatoes, rice, bread), versus some of the other riders that greatly prefer to have large amounts of protein (such as steak) instead. So if anybody talks to Kellie, tell her that I haven't forgotten to eat. (Which is what usually happens when she isn't around to remind me!) :-)
(Thursday) September 5, 2002It was a beautiful day for riding. Under sunny skies, a bit of wind was the only thing we could complain about. Total mileage for the day was 70.0 miles, with us arriving in St Cloud just before 4:00 PM. I was the only one today with a flat tire, and I didn't discover that until just before I went to sleep, and while checking my bike found a flat rear tire. (That's 2 for me total)
The distance to today's first scheduled event was just over 6 miles, with us getting a tour of a blood bank in a hospital in Brainerd. After that it was on the road towards St Cloud, with us discovering that we can orienteer pretty well on the fly. We missed one turn on a poorly marked road and had to test our wits by navigating by the seat of our bicycle! (Actually, we get great navigational support from the support vans traveling along with us, so they really did the route changes on the fly) And just in case anyone wonders what there is to do out here in rural Minnesota, I think you only need to check out the church activities listed on the sign in front of the local church to find out!
Rural Church Sign
When we arrived in St Cloud, we got to tour the American Red Cross "Emergency Response Vehicle", which they call an "ERV". Nothing like a 4-Wheel drive vehicle that looks basically like an ambulance with lots of fun features to bring out the kid in all of us! All of the team members took turns kicking the tires and begging to get a chance to drive it. (No luck however)
After that it was time for dinner courtesy of the Red Cross, and then time for some sleep. Now, I could tell you that a few of the team members snuck out for some Dairy Queen, but I wouldn't want to let out any of our team secrets. So just remember, you didn't hear that from me! :-)
Oh, and I also found that I could sunburn my head with my helmet on. It turns out that the vent slots in the top of the helmet are big enough to let in enough sunlight to give me some rather odd looking stripes on my upper forehead. I don't notice it (It's not like I spend a lot of time looking at my own forehead), but some of the support staff seem to find humour in me earning my "stripes". Some days it gets to be hard being the only sane one in this rather crazy bunch of people! :-)
(Friday) September 6, 2002At last night's team meeting, I was the one that was chosen to be today's ride leader, mostly because today's destination is pretty much my home turf. Just to throw in a few extra flavours to the ride mix today, we also had to be at our NMDP (National Marrow Donor Program) Press Conference by no later than 1:30 PM. So in a mutual team decision it was decided that we would ride out of the hotel at 6:00 AM, to ride what we thought was to be a 75 mile riding day. And while we did make it on the road at 6:10 AM, that was when things got confusing to say the least. We did not have "turn sheets" for today's ride. A turn sheet is a list of road numbers with distances and which direction to turn. Instead we had 10 pages of 8-1/2" by 11" maps that were sent to us by someone that supposedly knew the route. That map also came with the caveat that no one they know rides bike from St Cloud to Minneapolis, so we were doing the unknown for the most part. But after yesterday's wonderful day of finding our way into St Cloud, how hard could it be to get out of St Cloud? Let me give you a hint as to how far we made it. We got lost on our very first turn.
Jason Loading Bikes
We finally found our way out of town, thanks to Cate Boyett (Supreme Five Points of Life Ride Commander in Chief) who did a very good job of leading us the rest of the way into Minneapolis with very little further confusion. We did have only one lunch break (15 minutes, which I think is a record for shortest rest stop of any kind so far, let alone a lunch break!), and we rode pretty fast the entire day. Well, save for the 5 flats that we got throughout the day. (4 bike tires and 1 trailer tire) Once we got through the rural suburbs of the Twin Cities and actually got to the edge of Minneapolis, the navigation was indeed easy, as for me this was territory that I have ridden many many times before. There was that one hill that got all of the riders attention (Going East on St Anthony Parkway at Central Avenue in Minneapolis), but then there was simply the cruise past the golf course and we were at our destination. The days total was 90.9 miles, with about 13-15 miles of that being added in due to backtracking to find the right route. Jason had just washed the support trailer last night, so it would looks it's best for today's trip into our first large scale event of the ride. Well, the trailer got mud all over it from one of the turns when we had to back track over our course. (Sorry Jason!)
We finally arrived at the NMDP Press Conference in Minneapolis at 1:35 PM, which was 5 minutes later than our "drop dead" time of 1:30 PM. But we rolled in honestly having just arrived, and the cheers and applause from the crowds were utterly humbling! These people know how to greet people, with us riding a path through a very loud and cheerful crowd. It kind of made me feel like I might have accomplished something today after all!
I have talked at length about the bicycle riding part of the ride today, which is really important in some ways, but is also just a formality in other ways. When we were at the NMDP Press Conference, we got to see up close in person just how important the Five Points of Life are. When we saw the 10 year old girl that is alive today because of the bone marrow transplant (that she got from a previously anonymous donor whom she met for the first time today), that had everyone pretty much emotionally charged. And then we met a 5 year old girl that is alive today because she has the heart valve of another girl that died in a car accident. To then see the mother of the girl that died come up on stage, to tearfully tell how she missed her daughter something terrible, but how she is glad that something good could come out of their tragedy, had everyone (and I mean every single person in the entire auditorium) misty eyed. Talk about putting things in perspective...
(Saturday) September 7, 2002
Today's event in Minneapolis was a "fun" ride scheduled over to a local blood center (Memorial Blood Center in Minneapolis) which just so happens to be the first place I ever donated blood. It was a slow paced 2 mile ride, (Complete with Minneapolis Police Officers on bikes giving us a "Police Escort") and then time spent talking with donors. I met some very nice regular folks, who for no reason other than it being the right thing to do, show up on a regular basis to donate. After the event was over we had the rest of the day off. So what do I do on my day off? I go for a bike ride of course! I decided to head down towards the Mighty Mississippi to ride on some river roads that I have spent many hours riding on when I once lived in this area. It was also nice to have some quiet time alone to be able to shoot some photographs of some beautiful bridges and architecture in this beautiful city.
On the bicycle front, it would seem that my week old leather bike saddle (aka bike seat) and I have come to an understanding. I realized today that I had no awareness of my saddle on yesterday's longer than average ride. My bike dealer said it would take a week of long days to break it in, and I guess he was right. (Thanks Mike!) I did manage to spend some time going over my bike, checking everything out, and making sure all of the bolts and clamps are tight and secure. I need my machine to be in tip top shape if I expect it to perform at it's best. Now I just have to clean it thoroughly (You would be amazed at just how much dirt gets on our bikes every single day, even on dry roads), and I will be all set for tomorrow.
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