I’ve been staring at this blank computer screen for a while wondering how to begin this post. My thoughts are everywhere. I tried to consider my words while flying home from Lake Tahoe, but the excitement and adrenaline were still at the forefront of my thoughts.
It’s hard to explain a Ride weekend to someone who hasn’t experienced it before. It’s such a moving, powerful weekend that always leaves me feeling physically exhausted but emotionally full. I walk away with a sense of accomplishment and empowerment to do more, to go further, to work harder knowing so many others are on my team, knowing thousands have my back in this journey.
Lake Tahoe was my third JDRF Ride, and my first of this year. I’ll be riding in my hometown Nashville ride on Nov. 1. I worked hard and trained hard for Tahoe. For months, I’ve worked on climbing and endurance. I started running (and I hate running!) to help with my cardio, and I started working on my core with strength training. I even worked with my amazing friend Jennifer (a registered and licensed dietitian/nutritionist, wellness coach and type 1 diabetic athlete) on my overall gameplan. I’ve found a system that works for me on the bike and keeps my blood sugars (mostly) consistent during rides. I was ready for Tahoe.
But as much as you can train your body to work, redirecting your mind is another story. I don’t remember a time I was ever so anxious for something, especially a ride. My nerves were on a level of their own, and I was terribly apprehensive. What for, I have no idea. I can only imagine it was the combination of the unknown route mixed with my fear of the higher altitude.
Within a few hours of arriving in Tahoe, I had a headache and I was winded after running up the stairs. I sat through a session with the team doctor about altitude sickness, what to look for and how to manage it. After our short, 5-mile warm-up ride on Saturday, I was even more anxious. A small hill (not even a real climb) had me breathing heavily. I was thrilled to be back on my bike, but the practice run made me more anxious for ride day. After talking with others, my feelings of altitude anxiety were shared by most.
That afternoon, I headed to Emerald Bay with friends Susan and Jeff. (You can read Jeff’s Ride story here.) We hiked down to the bay, kayaked for a few hours, then hiked back up to the car. The kayaking was perfect. A bright blue, crystal clear lake with indescribable beauty was exactly what I needed to clear my mind and mute its doubts. At the top of a small island we hiked, I sat on a boulder taking in God’s beauty. I just started praying for the nerves to go away, the altitude changes to level out and for my blood sugars to cooperate. I prayed for all of my friends riding, and I thanked God for the opportunity to do this. To travel, to ride, to train, to take in this sort of beauty. It was a moment I needed to sit still in His presence and soak Him in. More of Him, less of me; that’s what I needed for this weekend.
Ride morning arrived, and we layered on our gear for a 40-degree start. Everyone was smiling and cheerful, myself included. But in the back of my mind, all I could think about was the switchbacks we drove up on our way to kayak the day before. They seemed steep and numerous, and I felt my anxiety returning. The countdown started, and I pedaled across the start line with Jeff to my right. It was the last time I’d see him on the ride. Speedy Gonzalez was gone in a flash. (He’s a rock star like that.)
The first 10 miles were flat through town. I felt good. My lungs were mostly working, and my legs were feeling good. I love a few flat miles before climbing to warm myself up. It usually takes me about 10-15 miles to settle into a ride anyway. As we began to ascend the first climb, my lungs were struggling to take in enough air. I tried to find a lower cadence and match my breathing with it. The climb broke at the first overlook, and it took my breath away in a manner that had nothing to do with the altitude. Lake Tahoe is spectacularly stunning, really.
I snapped some photos and caught up with my teammates to head into the switchbacks. As I navigated through the turns and the climbs, my lungs were really struggling. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath, but I kept climbing until I reached the first rest stop where we’d parked the day before for kayaking. My blood sugar spiked here and with no real explanation as to why. (I actually figured out why after the fact, which I reference later in the post.) I took a small correction and kept going. By the next rest stop, I was down but still higher than what I prefer to be on the bike. By the time I made it to the lunch rest stop, I was back in my happy range of 132. We headed out for Spooner Junction (the last steep climb), and JDRF Coach Steve Berube was joining us for the next portion. I climbed with Steve in Nashville, too, so I’m thinking there’s a trend developing here. (A trend I’m OK with repeating every year. He’s fun to climb with and a great encourager.)
The climb up to Spooner is long and gradual. (See the bottom row of the elevation chart here.) That first portion was a beast, and I huffed and puffed my way up. My legs felt great. My quads never burned, and my legs never felt tired or weak. That was encouraging because it means what I’ve been doing at home has been working. But my lungs. Good gracious, my lungs. I could not keep enough air in my body no matter what I did. At one stop, Steve shared some breathing techniques, which if nothing else, gave me something to concentrate on while I climbed. At the next rest stop, we thought we’d made it only to learn there was four more miles of climbing. I wish I could’ve bottled the group reaction when we all heard that news. It was priceless.
I anticipated the worst leaving that rest stop, but those four miles weren’t as bad as I thought they would be. I mean, they weren’t easy, but the first part of the climb was far worse than the last half. We pulled out of the summit of Spooner ready for what the map laid out as miles and miles of downhills. The map lied because there were decent rollers at the end. There was a huge descent right out of the gate of Spooner, losing about 700 feet of elevation in a four-mile span. I clocked 40 mph with a headwind. At one point, the wind shifted slightly to a crosswind, enough to rock me on my bike. It was in that moment I thought it best to tap my brakes a few times. No one wants to go out like that. But man, it felt good to have conquered the climbs and know the finish line was just a few more miles up the road.
While I thought the climbing was over, there were a few more (less threatening but equally menacing) hills to make it over before the end. That last climb, I was sandwiched between to L.A. riders (one being my friend Kiwi who I finished with in Nashville last year) and JDRF Coach Matt Schmitz. I remember looking down at the white line of the road and just pedaling. I was tired at that point, and my lungs still hadn’t caught their breath. I kept my eye on Kiwi’s wheel and that white line until we looked up and saw the hotel tower in the distance. Victory. We all yelled and cheered.
As I rode under the finish line banner, I saw Sarah, Susan and Jeff standing there cheering me on. I heard Aly (the ride development director) cheering, and I saw people waving and clapping, riders and supporters alike. The JDRF finish line is my favorite ride finish spot, hands down. Nothing will ever compare to those moments. I usually cry when I finish a JDRF ride, mostly because of the struggle and what I overcame while riding, but I didn’t Sunday. I did tear up a few times during the ride though, mostly at hearing other people’s stories for why they ride. Learning what motivates others to fund raise and train is one of my favorite parts of Ride weekends.
Sunday wasn’t an easy ride by any stretch. In fact, it was probably the toughest ride I’ve ever done. But I was strong, and it wasn’t a struggle like other rides have been for me. I can see improvement in my cycling, and I can tell the training is working. It may be slow moving progress, but the improvement is there and I’m using it as motivation to keep working. My lungs and the altitude were another story. I can’t do much about that, but I can work on cardio more this winter to help. For my next Tahoe ride, I hope to travel out a few days before and spend some time enjoying the views and acclimating to the elevation change. Tahoe has landed itself on my vacation destination list, and its beauty was stunning. If you’ve not been, make it a priority. It’s truly spectacular.
Another Ride weekend is in the books, and I only have to wait a few weeks for the next one. I’ll join my Middle Tennessee team on Nov. 1 as I plan for 100 miles on the Natchez Trace. I have a lot of work to do in the next two months to accomplish the goal. The mileage and hills I can handle, but there are time cutoffs so I need to work on my speed and pace the next few weeks. Lucky for me, I thoroughly enjoy riding my bike.
I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll continue to say it as long as it takes. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. To Aly, Mike, Lindsay and the entire Ride staff and bike room teams, thank you for the hard work to make this happen. To my fellow riders, thank you for another weekend that ranks among the best highlights in my life. To all of those with type 1 diabetes, thank you for what you do in this fight and keep working to manage well and live life to its fullest. To the JDRF coaches, you guys are my favorite! Every last one of you, I mean it. I love you folks more than words can say, and I am so grateful to have friendships with many of you! And lastly, thank you to my family, my friends, my supporters. I felt the prayers you poured over me, and I was touched by every encouraging word you posted and shared with me during this season. I am grateful to every dollar you donated and for every bit of support you give to help turn type 1 diabetes into a thing of the past. As a JDRF coach said this weekend, there’s only one letter difference between type one and type none — so let’s do this. Thank you! Thank you! I am forever grateful and honored you support me and allow to me to do this each year.
Today, Sept. 10, is my 32nd birthday and I can’t imagine a better gift to myself than pedaling 72 miles the week of my birthday in beautiful Tahoe–72 for 32. At the day’s start, I’m $490 short of my $4,000 goal. It’s the only thing I hope for this day–to reach its end hitting the goal.
If you’re still reading this far, thank you. (That’s the beauty of a blog–no editor to make me omit needless words.) Stay tuned for my Nashville ride adventures, coming soon to a blog near you. Looking toward next year, I’m thinking I might try Burlington, Vermont. You should come along, too! It’s the best fun you’ll have on a bike. I promise.