Reflections on the 2014 Hampton Roads Tour de Cure

This past April, I participated in my third Tour de Cure in a row. For anyone who doesn’t know, it is a road cycling charity event which raises money for the American Diabetes Association. This is a huge event which takes place in many cities around the United States in early spring each year. It is a very well-organized event with entertainment at the start/finish, many well-stocked rest areas, and SAG support throughout the course. Most events have ride distances from 10 miles all the way up to 100 miles.

My first year, 2012, I rode the 65 mile route. I rode it solo, and at that time, it was the furthest distance I had ever ridden. Needless to say, this was a fun yet tiring ride. Of course, making this ride on a 1999 Trek 5500 race bike was less than pleasing as well. By the time I hit the 40 mile mark, my posterior was screaming and cussing at me for having a race saddle which was completely lacking in any padding.

My second year riding was my first ever century (100 mile) ride. I was very excited about this ride, but it almost didn’t happen. Participation in the Tour de Cure ride requires a minimum amount of $200 in donations be raised by each participant. I will be the first to admit my salesmanship skills are seriously lacking. I couldn’t sell a bag of groceries at a grocery store! The night before the ride I had already given up hope of actually riding because I was only at $95. Told you I wasn’t a good salesman. I hadn’t prepped my bike at all either. I had just laid down to go to sleep when I received a text from my mom saying she donated the remaining amount and to have fun on the ride! I was ecstatic! I thanked her profusely, got my butt right out of bed and quickly got my bike ready. It was going to be an early morning and a long day.

I rode the 2013 Tour de Cure with a group, Team Portsmouth. The ride leader kept the group on a very conservative (slow) pace. The full 100 miles took us a bit over 9 hours and we were the last group to finish. This was unacceptable to me. The pace we kept was much slower than I was comfortable with. But I didn’t complain. I enjoyed the scenery and I enjoyed the socializing. However, I was determined that the following year I would complete the 100 mile ride solo at my own pace.

Before I begin though, let me back up a bit and explain how I got to where I was at that moment. I was born June 12, 1975. Only a few months before, my dad had bought his first road bike. It was a 1974 Motobecane Grand Record. He would go on to purchase many other Motobecane bikes and ride and race them throughout much of my childhood. Cycling was in my blood from birth. I had many BMX bikes of my own, and all through my youth they were my main means of getting around.

It wasn’t until I was 32 that I got my first road bike. My dad gave me a 1987 Trek 400 Elance as a gift for my youngest child being born. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. The cycling bug in me came out of hibernation and I hit the ground running. I joined online forums, subscribed to cycling magazines, and of course, talked to my dad, who was a wealth of cycling information and advice.

Right about the time I started thinking about the 2014 Tour de Cure is the time I got the most crushing news of my life. My dad had been diagnosed with liver cancer. The cancer took him much too quickly, and on September 8, 2013, my dad, my mentor and hero passed away. My ride in the 2014 Tour de Cure would be dedicated to his memory.

I will also admit that I can be a bit of a procrastinator at times. In preparing for the 100 mile ride I think I completed maybe 100 miles total in training rides, mostly on my indoor trainer thanks to a particularly harsh winter here in Virginia. Now, anyone who rides knows for a fact that this is not even close to enough training miles. However, I am fortunate to have been blessed with athletic genes, a strong heart and lungs (and a stubborn brain).

Fast forward then to April 4, 2014. The day of the ride. This would be my test of endurance as I would be riding solo and without the benefit of being able to draft in a large group. I would be fighting the wind head on!

The morning was cool, bordering on chilly. I think there were about 500 riders in total, and most of us were hoping the sun would hurry up and peek out from the clouds and warm our bones. There was, as usual, a certain electrifying excitement in the air. Those of us doing the century were to be the first group to leave. We were all amped up and ready to go. I was so excited, in fact, that it wasn’t until the beginning of the singing of the national anthem that I realized I had left my water bottles in my car. Ugh! As soon as the anthem was done, the ride began, but I had to ride first back to my car to get the water bottles. No big deal.

Otherwise, the ride started off without a hitch. The sound of freewheels ratcheting, tires humming on the road and the clicking of shifting gears were music to my ears. There were many groups of riders chatting away among themselves. I was having conversations too. Only my conversations were completely private. I was talking in my mind to my dad.

When he was alive I didn’t talk to him as often as I would have liked. I regretted that now. I was saying things that I wish I had told him more often, like how much I loved him and how thankful I was to him for being so stern with me in my upbringing. He did a lot to help me be the disciplined, respectful person that I am today.

As the miles clicked by and my legs started burning, I could feel his hand on my shoulder, pushing me along. I could hear his voice telling me to keep going and to never give up. So I kept pedaling along, ignoring the pain and trying to focus on my breathing and ensuring that I was staying hydrated. There were so many times throughout the ride that I was regretting the lack of preparation prior to the ride. Still, I kept going. I wouldn’t quit, no matter how much my legs were telling me to.

I took advantage of every rest stop to empty the bladder and refill the water bottle (not at the same time, though). I kept the calories going in to keep my energy levels up. I stretched my legs and worked the kinks out of my shoulders and neck as best I could. Then after a few minutes I was back in the saddle cranking on the pedals once again.

By the time I got to the last rest stop I was near completely exhausted. My tank was empty. My legs felt like they were filled with cement and my brain, and perineum region, were damning me to eternity in hell, but my resolve to finish strong was still there. The last 11 miles were spent in deep conversation in my mind talking myself through the remainder of the ride. I could hear my dad telling me no matter what, he would always be proud of me. At long last, I could see the finish line. A full 8 hours after departing the starting gate, I was back to square one. Many of the riders who rode the 10, 30, 50 and 65 mile routes were already gone, but there were still plenty of volunteers and family and friends there cheering us on.

I crossed the finish line and my heart swelled with pride. I got off my bike, walked it off the pavement, leaned it up against a wall, crouched down… and broke down crying like a baby. I cried out of pride because I made it 100 miles solo. I cried out of relief that it was over. And I cried out of grief because at that moment I missed my dad incredibly, even though he was there with me the whole way. Once I regained my composure, I called my wife to let her know that I had made it back safe and sound without incident. No flats, crashes or falls is always a good thing.

In his will, my dad left me all of his bicycles, bike parts and tools. The 2015 Hampton Roads Tour de Cure will find me riding one of those bikes in his honor. I’m sure he will be there helping me along in that ride as well. I miss you dad!