Tour de Cure, Gloucester, MA, June 10, 2007



Last year when my brother was stuck in the hospital for five days, after having dropped 20 pounds and having his blood sugar skyrocket, coming to grips with being diagnosed with diabetes, I felt pretty helpless. I live on the opposite coast, and he didn't even have a phone in his room. I'd talk to my sister (who got him to go to the doctor in the first place, and could visit him) and parents who got longer updates from her, but I couldn't get in touch with him directly. I tried to be supportive from afar, but I wanted to do something more.

Friends of mine had done charity bike rides before, for AIDS research and the MS Society, I'd gone to their fund raisers and welcomed them at the finish line, and thought that maybe I could do it too. I ride to work every day, year round, 5 miles each way, and I'm in pretty good shape. My only worry was that my knees are pretty beat up: patella femoral syndrome the left that started when I was about 10, and a bike accident three years ago that resulted in me going around a corner on my right knee and has resulted in a diagnoses of loose ligaments. I found a brace that supports my right knee, and I have exercises to keep my kneecap in place on the left, so I figured I'd do some training rides, and see what happened.

I did 25 miles or so the first time, everything was fine. I picked up a rack trunk on my way out to the Decordova (my goal for the ride) and it reduced the weight I was carrying on the bike significantly. Next weekend, 36 miles, still fine, and I got practice riding in rain for 2 hours. I went on vacation the next weekend, and didn't find time to rent a bike to continue training, but the weekend after that I was able to do 40 miles, finding out that the mercury hit 30C by the time I got home. My goal of doing the 100km route (60 miles or so), seemed reachable. I stepped up fundraising and easily reached the minimal requirement of $150. I checked out the Diabetes site and saw that at $500 I would get a bike jersey as a prize, and kept bugging people. :) I reached it, and went a bit beyond, topping $700.

I was ready, the money was ready, time to ride.

Getting to the start

A couple of friends of mine were throwing a going away party the night before the ride. I'd packed up all my gear for the next day (rain was in the forecast), filing the rack trunk with tools and Clif bars, and then realised that I had to repack for night riding, digging out reflective bands and lights. I was just going to go from 8-9 and get back home and into bed by 10. Hah. Made it there at around 8:30, terrified the whole time that I'd get hit with a car door, or get a flat, and then got caught up in conversations and didn't leave until after 9:30. I was yawning, which was a good sign, but I had planned to take a bath to make me even sleepier, and that pushed bedtime back to 11 (after putting the bike up on the car, and repacking for daylight riding, knowing that I was going to be a bit out of it in the morning).

I pushed back my alarm to 5:30am, in an effort to eek a bit more sleep out of the night. Morning still came far too early, but at least the sun was up. The forecast had dropped from 30% chance of rain to 10%, but I still kept my rain gear with me, wearing the jacket for the back pocket. I wore my long sleeve jersey and my new mountain bike shorts (so in love with them), and my newish walking shoes - I'd been having problems with the joints in my feet as well, and the PT gave his stamp of approval on these for biking (firm soles). I also put on my elbow brace that I usually use for typing, in an effort to mitigate the road vibrations travelling up my arm (worked like a charm). And of course the knee brace, which luckily for my self respect was the only medically necessary thing that stood out. Made tea in my travel mug, dropped a new CD into the changer, and hit the road for the hour drive up to Cape Ann at 6:20. I was a bit nervous that I'd be late, check in started at 7am and went to the 8am start, but I encountered other cars and trucks sporting bikes as I hit 128N. I was going to follow them, but ended up passing and finding the school where we started on my own, it was just off the first rotary in Gloucester.

I pulled into the half full parking lot, grabbed my donation envelope and rider waiver form, and walked (quickly - it was a fair distance) to the school cafeteria where the check in tables were. The line was only a few people long, I was early enough. First table sent me to the $500+ table, where the check in guy rang a cow bell for me. :) I'd filled everything in okay, so he sent me off to get my numbers. Red on me, black on the bike, with safety pins and twist ties for each. The yellow cue sheet was in the packet as well, with a grainy google map on the back. They gave me a yellow bracelet to wear as well, and it took me until about mile 40 to twig to the fact that this was supposed to remind me to follow the yellow arrows. I is smart sometimes. :) The 50km route was marked with orange arrows, and the 30km route with white (I think) - I hope that there wasn't anyone riding who was colour blind, the yellow and orange were similar enough to make me have to double check which was which. Luckily, they ended up following the same course for most of the way, and the break was a clean one.

Back to the car to get the bike off, the wheel on, the rack trunk on, the brace on, and I totally forgot to put my lock back onto the holder. Ah well, I was able to leave it hanging about without worries. Rode back to the start in front of the school main doors, and reset my bike computer's odometer back to 0 miles. I pulled up perpendicular to the road as it wasn't obvious which way we'd be heading out, and found some space in the crowd. I was number 51, and I saw numbers up into the 100's as people found their spaces. Mostly road bikes, running lean and stripped down, a couple of mountain bikes, and one kid on what looked like a department store 10 speed. My poor working class hybrid wasn't much to look at, but I customised her on purchase to get the gears right for me, and having been used to hauling all my gear to and from work, I was confident that I could keep a decent pace without all that extra weight. I had a waist mount camelbak for easy access water and one water bottle in a cage on the frame. I'd taken off my jersey in the washroom and pinned my number to it at all four corners, hoping that it would hold in the wind.

A woman with a megaphone was running around trying to find someone, and it turned out that he was one of the riders, hiding in a sea of spandex and bike helmets. He came up eventually and gave a short speech, and they started us off at a bit past 8am.

The Ride

It took about three miles for the pack to spread out to single file, and the faster riders that started in the back were still passing me for another few miles. I started to worry that I'd be the last one to finish, or even ignobly picked up by the sweep van that was scheduled to start at 2:30. I pushed myself a little bit, but eventually remembered my mantra during training: "ride easy". I kept my cadence constant, shifting on all the hills, and minimising stress on my knees. We started off heading up to Rockport, and I waved at Tim and Jessica's house on the way past, but it was way too early in the ride to think of stopping in. I blew past the first rest stop at mile 7, not wanting to lose my rhythm, and was happy to see that not many roadies passed me even after that. I passed one roadie fixing a flat, called to him, he was okay, settled beneath a tree on a village green. I stopped briefly at the rest stop at mile 14 to check if I had to check in, but it turned out that they'd just grab your number as you went by (putting my bike number on the front turned out to be a good idea). I had a tiny cup of gatorade, and continued on. This segment was the best, winding along the edge of Cape Ann, the Atlantic Ocean twinkling under bright sunshine on my left, and providing a sound track of breaking waves. I stopped to take a picture along here, where the twin lighthouses were guarding a bay. There was a bit of sand on the road in spots, but nothing dire. At various points the wind would bring a wiff of salt water and drying seaweed to my nose, and I breathed deep.

I was anxious for the 20 mile rest stop as it held a promised bathroom. It turned out that it was a bit further on than I thought, and that was slightly demoralising. I'd not brought anything to mount the cue sheet where I could read it while riding, but since the yellow arrows pointed the way all the time, I didn't really need it. I'd glance at it to check for warnings of upcoming hazards and then tuck it away. I stopped at a stop sign to dig out a Clif bar (takes me about 2 miles to eat one while riding :) ) and check the map, and realised that 20 miles is a different proposition than 20.6 miles, and kept going. They had a table set up under some trees, with water, gatorade, and some snacks, and the port-a-potty was fairly far from it. I left my bike near the table and walked, enjoying the chance to move my legs in a different patter. I finished my Clif bar, had some more liquids and stretched out my hamstrings. Then, onward. I also took some time to brush pollen off of my water bottle, and my shorts, and my face. :/ I'd had to stop to blow my nose a few times, my allergies were in full force, everything was coated in yellow.

I'd had a couple of friends express some interest with joining me, but it didn't pan out, so I was generally riding on my own. I was leapfrogging the father and son pair where the 12 year old was on a 10 speed. The father was loafing on his road bike, the son would drift out into the road each time he shifted or grabbed his water bottle (though I shouldn't talk, when I depleted the camelbak, I went off the road completely the first time I put my water bottle back into it's cage, I was just lucky it was level and firm dirt and I popped back on before I had time to blush). They weren't very friendly though, as when we were all at the 40 mile stop, I tried to strike up a conversation and they weren't going for it.The volunteer manning the 40 mile post was quite nice, chatting with people as they came in. One woman wearing her father's company team jersey said it was her first charity ride, but "she did triathalons". The volunteer said that this was probably good for keeping in training, and she seemed to agree. At the same stop, in the shade of another school, with another walk to the port a potty, a woman on a mountain bike (part of the puffin peddlers team) was hanging around a bit to wait for the rest of her team, but we ended up heading out at the same time when she gave up on them. I was with her for a bit, but she was slow on the hills and I'd pull away a bit. A couple also fell in with us, the man pulling ahead then waiting for the woman, who was doing a decent pace, just less than his. I text messaged Cris from the 40 mile stop to let him know that I was 2/3 done. We were away from the coast now, on winding two (or 1.5 in some places!) lane roads surrounded by forest. I think we came fairly close to Marblehead at one point, as we passed a bit of beach with tumbled red rocks that reminded me of some beach bouldering that I'd done. My left big toe felt like it was falling asleep at a couple of points, but I'd wiggle it for a bit and circulation would come back - come to think of it, that happened on my last training ride as well.

The route started to get hilly now though, as we did the second half of a figure 8 inland. The worst was yet to come, though. A pair of couples out on a Sunday ride passed me in the side roads section, and I saw a couple of club rides in matching outfits going the other way. I kept looking for TdC numbers on their bikes to make sure that I wouldn't have to do a U turn somewhere and double back. At one point I came to a stop sign just below the top of a hill, where I had to turn onto a busy two lane road. I was in a low gear to make it up to that point, but had to go up onto the road still. Traffic cleared and I went to push the first pedal, and the bike's front wheel came off the ground and my wrist bent back at a painful angle. I was able to get going, but that smarted, and I babied my wrist for a few miles. I had a wrist brace in my rack trunk, as I'm prone to gettin tendonitis from silly things (like scratching my head), but I didn't need it, thankfully, as it calmed down soon enough. There were also some disturbing noises coming from my bottom bracket and left pedal, but they also went away within 10 miles. Very odd, but I'm glad of it. There were a couple of turns where a few of us would congregate to check maps, they'd warned us that in the last ten miles there would be other yellow arrows, and we'd have to look for a TdC subheading. There were lots of spray painted markings on the road, from Dig Safe ones outlining pipes, to traffic ones marking where distance markers were supposed to go. I didn't go wrong until the end though, the route markings were quite clear, before, at, and after the turns.

My odometer started to race ahead a bit, I was expecting the 55 mile rest stop (why only 5 miles from the end? might be where all the routes came back together) a mile before I got to it, that was a bit of a slog. I get into a different head space when I'm looking for a stop rather than just tooling along, getting miles under my wheels, and time seems to slow down. I was eating fairly well, forcing myself to reach for a Clif bar every 10 miles or so. It wasn't as hot as my last training ride, but I was trying to drink fairly constantly as well (but I wasn't sweating out as much water as that 30C day, so had to stop more). The temps were very comfortable, around 20C the whole day. The wind was light, only an issue in a couple of places where it was blowing down hills that I had to climb (much muttering of *this isn't fair* occurred at those points).

Things started to look a bit familiar again, and I did a left onto the coast road in Gloucester, weaving in between two lanes of stopped traffic. A look ahead revealed what was going on: the drawbridge was up. A cluster of TdC bikers was bunched up as well, waiting for the bridge to go down. We ended up spreading out into a lane as we had to make an immediate left and go up a steep hill. I was almost taken out by two road bikers who tipped off their clipless pedals as they couldn't maintain speed at the gear they were in, but I managed to weave between them and spin up the hill. Hah. :) The 55 mile stop came into view, got some gatorade, the mountain biker caught up with me again, and we took off together again. She bailed at the next big hill, getting off to walk her bike up. It was *almost* as tough as my training hill, the rise up to Belmont along Trapelo road, fairly steep and running for a ways. I made it up no problems, love the granny gear. Almost home, the cue sheet ended at 59 miles, less left than I'd ride to work in a day. A cluster of cyclists were stopped at Cherry Street, saying, "that's where the school is", and then a driver asked us if we were looking for the Tour de Cure and said it was down Cherry Street. No yellow arrows, though, but we took off anyway. Right up another steep hill. Cue swearing. Turns out that the cue sheet would have taken us around the hill. Ah well, we made it up the treacherous curves, and cruised into the school lot, glad for the long drive way to hide which way we'd come. ;) It was an example of how my brain shuts down when I'm that tired, I was willing to follow the herd instead of trusting to the yellow arrows that had guided me so far.

I rolled up to the finish line to the sound of cow bells and cheers, and gave my number to the final check in person. I sat on my bike for a second, glad to be stopped, and kind of wondering, "what next?". I pulled my bike off to the side and went in to use the bathroom and see if there was a check in table or anything. Nope. No sign of a pile of REI bags like a lot of people were holding. The free lunch wasn't looking good to me, I finished up a last bit of Clif bar and headed back outside. The finish line check in guy said that the goodie bags were off to the side, I went back in and only saw plastic ones, so grabbed one anyway, as it looked like it had some coupons. Checked the clock, saw that it was 1:40pm. I'd been riding for 5 hours and 40 minutes, with a few 5-10 minute breaks. As I was getting back on my bike to ride down to the parking lot, a teenaged boy groaned as he got back on his road bike and commented, "Oh, man, it hurts to get back on after 30 miles". I just smiled at him and didn't verbalise the "yeah kid, try it after 60" that was running through my head. :) The woman who was part of the disparate speed couple saw me pulling my bike off to the side and said "I can't believe you did it all on that bike", I just shrugged and said it was my commuter bike and left it at that, but I should have talked a bit further to see if she was being dismissive or admiring, as the comment has kind of stuck in my craw. Thinking of how I came in before a slew of road bikers and passed some on hills, I think that my training was good enough to overcome the limitations of the bike.


I stretched out a bit while leaving messages for Cris, trying to coordinate picking him up, and hobbled a bit as I unpacked everything from the bike and got it onto the car's roof rack. I got a return message from him as I was on the road, and swung by Hanscom Civil Air Terminal to pick him up. I put in an order for take out sushi via cell phone, and stopped to pick that up before we got home. We didn't demolish it, I was still working on that last Clif bar I guess, but the water and iced tea levels in the house dropped significantly. :) I took my stuff off and out of the car while Cris showered, then took my own (bliss). I had to ice my knees for a bit, and he came by to say he was going to sleep at around 6pm or so. Never heard a peep from him the rest of the night. I realised that I didn't have stuff for breakfast, so I unpacked my rack trunk and re-set my bike for cargo hauling and rode over to the supermarket. My body is still craving fruit, so I picked up apples and strawberries and oj, and grabbed a protein drink for recovery purposes. I made myself a smoothie when I got home, and settled on the couch with a new ice pack on my knee and a book. I managed to stay awake until 11pm, but then headed to bed for the best sleep ever. :)

A few more donations are still coming into the site, I think it's open for another 6 weeks or so. I have to figure out what to do with one cheque sent from Canada, if it gets here before I head up to Toronto I can deposit it then. Monday morning's ride to work was ... slow. :) My right knee (the old injury) is creaky, the hamstring is horribly tight despite stretching, but at least the left is fine. I probably should have work bike shorts today, but went with my regular exercise pants and did a lot of shifting to find bits to sit on that weren't bruised.

This was my first bike ride for charity, and I have to say that the American Diabetes Association made it easy on me. Their web site helped with fund raising, the route was marked, the rest stops were fairly well placed. I probably over trained, after watching Cris do unsupported long distance touring over the past two years, that was what I was prepared for. I'm glad that I brought my own food, though. The route wasn't as hard as what I'd trained on, which I'm told is a feature of charity rides, which are meant to be accessible. And I'm glad that I was able to do something concrete in the fight against diabetes. Stay healthy, bro.

Back to my diary page.