Yesterday, I rode 70 miles in the desert. It wasn’t just any desert; it was Death Valley, Calif., and I can promise you it’s named that for a reason. I set out for California with every intention of riding the full 105 miles to Jubilee Pass and back. But Saturday morning, my goal changed. I only wanted to ride 97 miles because in December, my grandmother would’ve celebrated her 97th birthday.
The night before my ride, Jesus called my grandmother home while she was surrounded by my family. When Saturday morning arrived, the ride became something else; it was no longer just about diabetes. It was about my grandmother and about my family. I felt so incredibly selfish for being in California. I almost didn’t come knowing she might not make it through the weekend, but my family insisted I finish what I started. I woke up Saturday to text messages from my cousins encouraging me and reminding me she was the one who taught me to be a fighter. They reminded me this ride wasn’t about me at all. And they were right.
That 70 miles meant more to me than you will EVER understand. I rode through pain, through dropping blood sugars, through high blood sugars and through many, many tears. That doesn’t deserve any special accolade because 315 others did the same thing, and they are absolutely amazing people! But for me, it was the most difficult thing I remember doing in my 30 years.
I planned to ride with several people, but our paces changed the plan. I rode alongside a mom and daughter from Seattle — Renea and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is 15 years old and a type 1 diabetic as is one of her brothers. Renea is an angel and was my lifesaver more than once during the ride. They knew about my grandmother and were determined to help me clock my 97 miles. But it wasn’t in the cards. Turns out, I have limitations after all.
At the 35-ish miles rest stop, we were told to turn around. We hadn’t made the cutoff time to continue to Jubilee Pass, and we were going to have to settle for 70 miles. We got permission to ride six more miles and turn around so we could at least log an 80-miler for the day.
We refueled our water bottles and headed back. With 19 miles left to go, I was hurting. I was extremely hot, high and felt the urge to throw up. I took a SAG (support and gear) ride back to the next rest stop. From there I had 10 miles to go. I started along those last 10 miles, and I struggled. They hurt intensely, but I kept pedaling. I made it until I had two miles to go, and I waited there for Renea and Elizabeth. When they made it to me, they had a coach with them. Dan from Wisconsin. There are no words to describe those last two miles. I had to stop and walk for a second and Renea, Elizabeth and Dan stopped with me.
About one mile away, you could see the stop sign at the top of the hill. From there, it was one mile downhill to the finish line. Renea and Elizabeth set off for the last mile and Dan waited with me. I was crying, and I’d hit my wall just like my cousin warned I would. One mile. That’s all I had left. But that one mile was uphill and might as well have been Pike’s Peak. Dan helped me catch my breath and asked if I was religious. I smiled and said yes and he turned around to show me his calf. On it was an Ironman tattoo with “Psalms 140:6” beneath it.
“I say to the Lord, ‘You are my God!’ Hear, Lord, my cry for mercy!”
And just like that, there was my Jesus in the desert where I’d prayed all day He’d be. Dan from Wisconsin had no idea what that verse meant to me. He had no idea I’d lost one of the most special people in my life the night before. Or that the mercy I needed was both physical and emotional. He had no idea I’d been praying for this ride and the 316 riders since February. Or how many of you were praying for me back home. He had no idea, how in that moment, I was riding for my family — for my grandmother. I climbed on my bike and stared at the white line along the shoulder. I didn’t look up till I could hear the cheer from the top of that hill.
The tears started there, and by the time I cruised into the finish line, I couldn’t stop crying. Emotional was not the word for it. Jeff was the first person I saw. Then Ross and Sarah. I rode in four deep with Dan, Renea and Elizabeth. I don’t know how I did it, but I’m certain it had absolutely nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with those people mentioned above, countless others in California, my family in Tennessee and especially the words you have prayed over me for months.
I did it because of you, and I did it for you. Together, we raised more than $4,000. Together, we fought to cure diabetes and we will continue the fight until there is a cure. Together, even if in spirit, we crossed that finish line as a family. So thank you. To everyone in Death Valley, to Aly and everyone with JDRF and to all of you, we did it!
Thank you seems so inadequate to say. I was told this weekend would change my life. It definitely did that. I was told it would be an experience I’d never forget. It will definitely be that. But as it turns out, we didn’t cure diabetes in Death Valley so I guess that means I’ll have to keep on riding to cure diabetes. I didn’t get 105 miles, but I got 70. And something tells me my grandmother would have been proud of that, too.