(Sunday) October 13, 2002Almost everyone felt like sleeping late today, as it is one of the only days off we have had in the past 42 days. For those few of us that wake up early regardless of the day, this was a good day to go for a bike ride that had no route sheet or timing to it. We went off with no plan at all, and it was a beautiful day to be out in the quiet of nature, to smell the freshly dug peanuts and listen to the numerous birds that seemed to be there solely for our entertainment.
The rest of the day unfolded similarly for us. Maybe a load of laundry to be done, or a walk over to the local outlet mall a few blocks away, or possibly even a big nap while watching a movie on TV. I guess you could call the day lazy. About the only thing that makes it difficult is that we are so used to being on the go from early morning until late in the day, so it is hard for some of us to just put all of that on hold for one day, especially when it is a day in the auspices of a hotel, far from those comforts of home where we could find plenty of ways to kick back and relax much more easily.
Today also marks the beginning of week seven of the ride. Six more days of early morning riding and daily events and all of the rest of the carnival that is the core of this ride. A week from today all of us will be going our separate ways. The team of riders spent some time tonight talking about the ride and all of what it has meant to us, and how it has touched each of us. It is very interesting to hear how this has impacted each of us differently, although we all shared the same experience. I guess along the course of life, depending upon where we start out, this adventure has led us to a different place, one that is unique for each of us.
(Monday) October 14, 2002We ride through a lot of beautiful places along the course of our days, and today was no exception. However on this day we went one further, and had the pleasure of seeing one of the most private of lakes, surrounded by pristine trees, in an area full of wildlife in it's natural habitat. You would think this would be an area that had been untouched by anyone in our lifetime, if ever. But it was an area that has been fully mined of phosphate, and the land was then reclaimed back to use as nature had once provided it. It was a truly a place of beauty, one where I could spend a lot of time with my Nikon and numerous rolls of film. Our purpose for seeing this great location was because we were guests of the PCS Phosphate mining company in White Springs, Florida. This is a company that has for many years given of itself, and their returning the land back to nature is just one example of this philosophy. Their blood drives typically far exceed what is normally expected from a company of their size. They truly do understand just how important the gifts of life are that they have to give, and they share them as much as they can. It was quite a surprise to be in the company of such good examples of what we only wish was the norm for everyone!
Our second stop for the day was at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch in Live Oak, Florida. This is a unique place sponsored mostly by private donations, that benefits youth that have problems in their home life. Several of the boys had the great fun of riding their bicycles in with the team. Rodney even went one further and traded his bicycle with one of the boys for the duration of the ride, an honour which is indeed great. After riding in, we had a chance to tour the ranch and meet with some of the boys and their "families", before sitting down to the evening's dinner and events. This event was somewhat different in it's pitch to the kids in attendance, and I think that we walked away from it being just as touched by the boys and the ranch itself, as they were with all of our cool bikes and what we had to say to them.
Rodney & Dale
(Tuesday) October 15, 2002
With the overnight rain, we had low expectations for a good day of riding. But, as luck would have it, the weather had taken a break, and we only had overcast and cool weather to deal with. So it was off early towards our first stop of the day, a blood drive at a near by high school. Lots of possible donors to recruit, and we pushed the message to them in a variety of ways. We also had some fun afterwards doing things like the live school announcements over the school's closed circuit TV system. Then it was off towards our next destination, another school about 35 miles away. This school had a more receptive, albeit smaller audience. This was a fast delivery, as we only had a very small window of time before we had to leave for our next and major event of the day.
All along the course of the day the riding may have seemed very much the same to all of the other riders, but it was a very different day for myself. I did not need a turn sheet to know every turn, and before we rounded a corner I could tell the other riders what to expect. This is my home turf, and some of the roads we traveled today I have rolled my bicycle wheels across to the tune of possibly a hundred times. At one point I was riding up an incline (Call it a hill if you prefer) and just started laughing. Another rider in the back of the pack asked what was going on. I explained that when I was training during the Summer, this had been a hill. One of those that was best dealt with in a low gear or even standing up to crank up to the top. Today it was barely worthy of a downshift or two. It would appear that the hill had gotten easier somehow. Perhaps the 2500 miles on my bicycle odometer has some influence on what I now consider to be hard riding?
Where we arrived at the end of our pedaling for the day was the highlight of the entire ride for me. I finally came home. We had a scheduled stop at a blood drive taking place at the campus where I work for Medical Manager. I was thinking it would be a low key stop at a blood drive that was going on there, much like many other events we have attended over the course of the ride. But as we rode up the driveway, I could see a huge crowd of people outside waiting for us, and even more correctly they were specifically waiting for me. It is a truly unbelievable feeling to know that these are people that you know and work with that are there to share in your personal triumphs. One of the hardest parts of the ride for me has been the anonymity of the crowds that we see. So many wonderful people, but none of the faces in the crowd are faces that I know. Day after day the world is full of strangers, and that can be very wearing in it's own way. Today erased that with a crowd of people that knew my name without having to read it off my badge. People that take pride in knowing me and cheering me on during this great adventure. For me it's just a case of doing the right thing, but I guess in accumulation it has added up to more than that. And while I really do not do any of this for my own self, with days like today it does seem like it has truly been noticed. And I don't know of anyone that doesn't enjoy a moment of sunshine in the company of friends like those with me today. Thanks for making it such a bright and sunny day, even if the weather was all rain by that point.
The day closed out with a dinner held in honour of the team, sponsored by the Gainesville Cycling Club. Most of the people in attendance were riders that I have spent a lot of miles training with, and again it was nice to be in the company of people that all know exactly who I am. The food was great, the company was great, and I very much felt welcome. It appears that today was confirmation of that which we all know. There's no place like home...
(Wednesday) October 16, 2002I awoke in my own bed this morning. Of course I was up late working on my ride log, and then the alarm went off at 5:30 AM so that I could be "at work" at the first event of the day by 7:00 AM, so it wasn't like I had the life of leisure for the day. But it was nice for at least a little while to take a small break from the ride. In just a few short days I am sure that I will miss all of this craziness in a huge way.
Today's first event was a breakfast at the main offices of LifeSouth where I go to donate on a regular basis. So many faces in the crowd that I know today, and some very good food. (Hey, I do get hungry every now and again!) A local TV station wanted an interview from me, one of the other riders was being interviewed by a local radio station, and everyone was having fun. An extra special treat for me was that Kellie was also there with me to see what some of the carnival atmosphere is like along the course of the ride. Of course that also made it very hard for both of us when she had to drive off to work, and I had to ride off towards the next stop along the ride.
Mike & Gigger
People along the course of the ride have done some pretty creative things to decorate their bicycles. Nancy has a dinosaur named Fred on the front of her handlebars. Fred was the favourite toy of her son Sean who passed away while waiting for a heart/lung transplant, so Fred travels the miles with her in Sean's memory. Everyone else on the team has a dinosaur somewhere on their bike that was given to them by Nancy. Others have plastic license plates (Both full size and the small novelty ones) attached to their bikes. Several of the riders have bells, which add great fun for the kids that we ride by and when we roll into a school. One of the riders even has a frog puppet mounted to the front of his handlebars. I don't know if it is just being silly, or if it is in response to the hectic pace of the ride, but everyone has their own certain personal style to their bike. It has been a long ride, and these bikes of ours have gotten us through rainy days and sunny days. Up some serious hills and around a lot of curves. They have even gone the wrong way a few times without question, so they must trust us as much as we trust them! :-)
(Thursday) October 17, 2002To say that today's weather was not what we expected, is to put it simply. We started our day with the coldest temperatures of any day on this year's ride. It was 52° at 7:30 AM when we started cranking out our daily miles. And the one thing that kept it in perspective was the report that it was 17° in International Falls, MN where we started our ride just shy of 7 weeks ago. The weather did make for some beautiful scenes this morning, as you could see the breath of the rider in front of you, and there were some spots where the sunrise was brightly back lighting some fog along the side of the road. Some amazing scenery indeed. And when the later morning arrived, it was much warmer in short order, so the day was easily salvaged. Now we just have to wonder about tomorrow morning's temperature...
It was a great breakfast and fun meeting people at our first blood drive stop of the day. Then it was off into the warming sunshine towards our next stop, a lunchtime blood drive. It seemed that the pedaling kept getting easier as we went along, and we discovered we had a very good tailwind for a change. With our sometimes crowded schedules during the day, we usually show up just in time for an event if not a few minutes late. Today was different, with the first group arriving quite early, with big smiles on our faces from the fast pace of the morning ride. All of our riding should be this easy!
Five Points Sign
Dries Kruger at the Gulf of Mexico
Once our lunch stop was completed, it was a few short miles to our hotel, which just happens to be about 7 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. We would not have known this except for the guest riders in our presence today know the area quite well. So after quickly dropping off the bikes, almost all of the riders hopped back in the vans for a field trip to the beach. This was a special moment for some riders that have never been to the Gulf before. White sands, palm trees, lots of shore birds and fish, and generally a wonderful bit of what people think of when they imagine Florida and water.
Tonight's event was special for two reasons. Very good food, and lot's of fun. While we were serious at times in our talking to the sponsors during our "Red Shirt" dinner, we also at times were a bit silly. Several riders did their imitation of other riders and their mannerisms. We have all heard each others stories enough times by now that we could impersonate each other pretty well. This makes our impressions like that of a caricature artist that points out things about us that we never noticed before. But it is all done with the playful teasing that only a family of close people can do, so it is all for fun, and everybody enjoys the humour that we seem to share a lot of at times. I am certainly going to miss nights like this...
(Friday) October 18, 2002Imagine a day with no wind, no stop signs and no red lights over the course of 60 miles. That would be an accurate picture of the day that we had today. The way the day started we thought it would be very cold, but it ended up being 52° (Which is a tie for the coldest day with yesterday morning) by the time we started riding, and it warmed up quickly. We rode about 5 miles on the road, and then we turned onto the Suncoast Trail which runs from Brooksville, FL down to Tampa, FL. This trail is a huge step up from most of the rail/trail paths that I have seen and certainly any that we have ridden on this ride. And with a fairly good tailwind, the bikes were indeed flying along towards our destination for the day. After about 35 miles of riding where we reached the end of the trail, we were joined by sheriff escort motorcycles and cars. These guys were not only good at what they do, but they were also some of the most personable officers that we have met. Dries (One of our South African riders) almost got handcuffed and tossed into the back on a squad car (humourously of course) for asking the officers if they always had doughnuts in the car! The police escort was well executed, and took us literally right to the very heart of downtown Tampa to the convention center with hardly even a slowdown of any sort. This type of riding is not only easy for us to do, but it is also a blast to be part of something so raucous and getting that much attention. No, these types of days will never get old!
We had a few different events for the day, starting with Lifelink, an Organ Procurement Organization (Also know as an "OPO"). They welcomed us to their facility with a highly talented musical group from Busch Gardens in Tampa, and then a wonderful reception and tour of their facility. Then it was time to hop on the bikes for a one mile ride to Tampa General Hospital for more tours and meeting lots of patients in the transplant wing. Once again we learned just simple all of our troubles are once we met with a few of the transplant recipients and their families. Here is a bit of trivia for you. Did you know that when a person gets a kidney transplant, they don't take out their existing kidneys? In most cases the recipient ends up with four kidneys, the two original kidneys and the two new ones! Pretty amazing stuff.
The Sheiks of Morocco
The day ended with one of the longest dinners we have had over the entire trip. Part of it is because we have a number of guests with us for the last few days of the ride, and part of it is because we only have one more day of dining left before we go our separate ways. For the very last time we were given our ride instructions and schedule for the following day. I truly think the hard part for most of the riders will be on Sunday morning when we have no schedule to follow. It is typical that we don't get our schedule for any day until the night before or in the morning, so we normally wouldn't worry about Sunday until Saturday night or Sunday morning. And after 52 days in training camp and along the ride, following the schedule and doing what we are told and when, it will be an interesting transition back to the regular world. I did have one friend comment that I may get confused at first when I enter a room and no one applauds or even pays any attention to me. Nah, it will be a nice change to be anonymous for a while. Of course if anyone does recognize me and make a fuss, that won't be too terrible to deal with. :-)
(Saturday) October 19, 2002Remember those cops that just about took Dries (Pronounced "dreese", rhymes with "fleece") away for his comments about doughnuts? Well, just to show how serious they were about it, they made a delivery in his honour at 6:00 AM this morning. What they had for him were numerous boxes with a dozen doughnuts each, and several large containers of coffee. Shortly thereafter each of the team members got a call to show up and help get rid of the evidence of their visit. While we don't give doughnuts a second thought, to the South African riders they are one of the highlights of their entire trip to America. Maybe our guests have a knack for police work? :-)
Gandy Bike Bridge
The day continued along like normal (If you consider anything in this lifestyle of riding bicycle every day for weeks on end normal?), with a Johnson & Johnson video crew, along with a squadron of (Tampa) police outside the hotel waiting to escort us to the edge of the city limits, where they would hand us off to the sheriffs department at the (Pinellas) county line. Our rendezvous point was the Gandy bicycle bridge across Tampa Bay. Our timing was such that we had about 10 minutes to kill before we headed into St Petersburg, so we sat there for a bit, admired the view, and of course I took photos of everything and everyone there.
While waiting there, some people got silly. OK, so it was really one team rider that was being really silly for the most part. (Yes, I do have the photos to prove it!) And not to say who that was, but it wasn't hard for her to convince the other riders to be silly along with her. :-)
When it was time to roll, we headed out again, separated into two groups. All of the team riders in the first pack, and all of the guest riders a short distance back. At the bottom of the bridge two riders stopped long enough to pick up two large flags, one American and one South African. We then rode along about one mile further to arrive at the offices of Florida Blood Services. We roll into the parking lot to cheering and applause. We stop our bikes and suddenly things change very abruptly. Riders and support staff are hugging others riders and crew members. Many of them are crying. Lot's of hand shaking and hearty congratulations. Then it hit me. We are done. No more riding. This huge roller coaster has stopped and passengers are now being asked to disembark. Someone comes along to take my bike, which is not an uncommon thing to have happen when we arrive at an event, but today it was much more noticed than any other day. All I can do is close my eyes, take a deep breath and reflect upon the power of the moment. We have indeed done what it was that we set out to do, and the ride is now one of historical significance.
Bill E and the South Africans
After a while the official closing ceremony started and we were all presented with an engraved Five Points of Life Ride medallion in the shape of the star that is part of the Five Points logo. We each say some closing words about the ride to the crowd assembled, and then it is time for food and mingling with a crowd one final time. It is at times like this that you realize how poorly words are at describing the depth of emotion and camaraderie, and the sense of accomplishment of something so grand. For each and every one of us involved, this has been the most significant single adventure that we have undertaken. Trying to wrap it all up, and to then attempt to share it with people that are not part of the ride is hard to do, even for someone that has been doing it daily for the past seven weeks.
After we talk and eat and some riders take advantage of the massages available, it is time to ride to the hotel 10 miles away. The group of us riding decide to take a small detour and stop by the St Petersburg Pier as a personal ending to this auspicious day. We take a few photos, congratulate each other, talk to a few people nearby who are curious about what we are doing there, and it is at this time for me personally that the riding feels complete.
The Pier in St Petersburg, FL
We ride to the hotel, and it is back to work again. The Johnson & Johnson video crew wants to do a closing interview with each of us, we have tons of items in all of the vans and support trailer to pack up. Some riders have bikes to tear down and pack into bike boxes, and there is a lot of activity. I packed up all of my stuff, packed in a few dozen tee shirts for friends and family, and I was done. Time to take a shower, get ready for the evening dinner, and then head out. A few people took a van to do a very brief sightseeing tour of the area. Since I knew the area, I took my cameras with me and walked around the area. At the end of my walk I was at the pier where we had stopped earlier, which also happened to be the location for the evening's celebration dinner. Kellie had arrived a bit early and was there waiting for me. Time for a few more photos and then dinner. The dinner's highlight was the final chance for team rider Gary Smith to do one of his traditional, albeit non standard toasts. Gary has done a toast at dinner every single day of the entire ride, and it simply would not be a Five Points of Life Ride dinner if Gary did not have his humourous words to make the evening special. Thanks Gary for being such a gracious and irreverent host for so many weeks!
I could go on with further minute details, but basically "it's all over but the crying". I personally packed all of my luggage and bike gear and my bike into Kellie's truck at the end of the evening. And just before midnight, it was time to head home. I took a moment before I got in the truck to leave to let my heart say goodbye to all of what has happened over the course of this ride. I am sure that tomorrow's sunrise will be much different, and life will start to wander back to what most people consider to be normal. And I guess it is indeed time to board the train for the real world. But this mission, this team, this ride, and certainly this adventure is now a part of who I am from here on out.
Thank you to everyone that has followed my writings over the course of this ride, and even some of you far longer than that back to the beginning of my training. It has been an honour to be the "unofficial" reporter of each day's slice of life that was the 2002 Five Points of Life Ride. If you liked what you read and have not spoken up, send me an email to let me know if I touched you in any way with what I shared, or even if I just made your day a little less serious for a moment.
Your author at the end of 2,794.2 miles of riding.
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