On the second day of my 32-day cross-country cycling trip last summer, I was ready to quit. Most of the other two dozen riders hailed from places like Maine, Wisconsin, Washington — states where cyclists train on real mountains. My Central Florida training regime of 300 miles a week had coughed up little more than speed bumps.
As I settled into my bowl of oatmeal on that second morning of the trip, the tour operator approached the table where several of us were inhaling breakfast. “So, how are you doing?” he asked, directing the question to me. No wonder he was asking me: Not only was I from a sea-level state, I was also the oldest female aboard this ship of fools.
PAC Tours co-owner Lon Haldeman, by the way, is the pioneer of what we now know as the Race Across America. He crossed the country by bike in just nine days in the 1980s.
Laughing like a nervous Floridiot, I responded, “Well, yesterday’s ride was the equivalent of our annual event back home called the Horrible Hundred.” This towering legend of a man looked down on me and said in his signature deadpan tone: “It’s about to get more horrible.” And it did. Even seasoned cyclists gasp at the thought of riding an average 115 miles a day for a month. But more than the miles, it was the elevation that punished this flatlander.
On that second day, we climbed so high through the North Cascades that snow hugged the ground in mid-July. As I reached the peak, I had enough endorphins left to hold my head up, knowing I was not the last rider to reach the mountaintop.
Then the last rider passed me on the descent.
As I collapsed onto my hotel bed that night, I confided to my roommate, Lisa Portelli of Winter Park, that I was feeling defeated. We had done more than two “Horrible Hundreds” in the span of 48 hours, and we had 30 more days ahead.
What got me up for that next bowl of oatmeal — and the next dose of this never-ending hazing ritual — was the realization that the trip was not about me. A month before I left for the trip, I had launched a Wheels for Words campaign on the Go Fund Me platform, with all proceeds going to the Adult Literacy League in Orlando. Friends and family donated more than $4,000 in honor of this trip. Grade-school friends, my husband’s friends, former co-workers and neighbors were among the contributors.
I lay awake that second night knowing that it would take more strength to email donors about quitting than it would to rally. How could I quit a bike ride when some of the League’s students were sacrificing their time and catching three buses to attend classes so they could learn to read and write English?
As the dust settles on all of our New Year’s resolutions, it’s now clear to me that building a fundraising team holds you accountable. We all have people in our lives who want to see us realize our ambitions — people who will show their support with donations to a key nonprofit.
On the trip, our merry band of riders continued its trek across 11 states and parts of Canada. But not all the riders made it to the finish. Even with plenty of fuel and help from the tour staff and each other, the mental exhaustion and heat got to some of the riders.
In the end, I rode the entire 3,569 miles from Seattle, Washington, to Rye Beach, New Hampshire, accepting a ride only for about 1.5 miles when my cable snapped in the Tetons.
The trip made me realize that helping people in our community learn to fill out a job application, get a GED, read a menu and follow prescription directions was much more worthwhile than riding across the country.
Framing it as a fundraiser helped me connect with the Adult Literacy League on a new level, and I am now honored to serve on its board of directors. Our hope is that more people will pin their goals to similar fundraising campaigns.
It’s better than going alone.