I don’t know why I’m going to attempt this tonight; part of me thinks I’m too exhausted and emotional to be doing a blog post right now. The other part of me thinks that with my emotions this high the time is perfect. So I guess I’m going with that part of me.
I’ve been home about 2 hours now from this years Citrus Tour. First and foremost, before going any further. A huge, teary and heartfelt thank you so very very much to everyone who has supported me, both in donations and spirit! There are not enough words to express how much this means to me, to my family and to everyone all over living with MS. Every little step of help is like a huge giant leap for those of us living with this disease.
I didn’t ride this year, well, I didn’t ride a bicycle. After struggling to tackle the hills through the Lake Wales ridge the last two years I decided to volunteer this year instead. J joined me and we became SAG (support and gear) drivers; specifically picking that role knowing how short-handed they were for this critical position last year. SAG drivers primary goal is to make sure the riders are ok. So they spend the day driving back and forth, up and down the route checking on the riders, ferrying tired/ill/injured riders forward, supplying additional much-needed hydration, and words of encouragement.
My weekend of volunteering began Friday afternoon when I headed with Mom and Dad to pick up two of the donated loaner trucks from Greenway Ford in Orlando. For the past several years they have every so graciously provided use of pick up trucks for SAG and HAM radio SAG drivers to use. We got those down to Bok Tower, the beginning and end of the ride and immediately got to work. The site needed to be set up and ready for the 1300+ cyclists that were going to descend on the area the next morning. We set up the tent area for the SAG drivers to meet and load up their coolers. Then we helped set up the VIB signs (very important banana, those who raised over $1,000 in donations) and then headed over and spent the next two or more hours helping riders to get their packets, instructing them on the documents inside and wishing them well for the ride.
Saturday began at 4:30!!! Yes, that is AM, although it felt like the middle of the night. We had a SAG driver meeting at 5:30, had to load up our coolers with ice and water and most of the drivers had to be out on the route before the official start time of 7am. J and I were scheduled to work the first leg of the 75 mile route (yes, you read that right, 75 miles) and were the last SAG vehicle out of the start. I liked that, it meant I got to cheer on the riders leaving and we got roped into helping keep the mass exodus a bit more orderly.
I won’t bore you with all the details of the weekend. There was a lot of back and forth, “Are you ok? Need a ride, need some water/etc” going on. And making sure our riders were safe, especially on Poinciana Ave (Blvd? St? whatever!) on the way to the Caribe Royale, Saturday’s stop point. Please, everyone reading this, PLEASE read this request! When you are driving, please remember that in most states a bicycle is considered a vehicle and is legally required to be on the road with you. PLEASE be careful of any bicyclists you see. Please remember that they may not have a bike lane, or a shoulder and for some bikes it may not be safe for them to go onto loose gravel/sand/grass. I ask you this because sadly driver’s seemed to be impatient/callous regarding our riders.
I’ll step off my soapbox now. One thing we did notice was that even though we didn’t actually ride, J and I still felt as drained as if we had peddeled those 50 miles from Bok Tower to the Caribe. But I know our exhaustion wasn’t even close to what those riders felt.
Dinner was your typical banquet buffet, but we were so hungry we didn’t really care much. I forget the name of our keynote speaker, but she has been a prominent figure in women’s cycling over the years, and is also living with her own diagnosis of MS. Following the keynote speaker came my favorite part of the night. This seems to be a tradition for the Mid-Florida Chapter’s bike events and never fails to choke me up. The lights in the room are turned down and everyone is told to take ahold of the orange glow sticks at our placing. Then the MC reads off a list of reasons why people are there, why they rode the 50, 75 or 100 miles in the hot Florida sun that day to be repeated on the next day. Why they give up their weekend to volunteer to make sure the riders are kept safe and healthy. And the MC asks as s/he reaches the reason closest to the heart of the audience, to break their glow stick, stand up and hold it as high as possible. So by the end the room is glowing orange as everyone in the room stands waving their sticks in support of this fight. It’s an incredibly beautiful and moving sight.
Today was a repeat of yesterday although it seemed more people were in need of assistance to the next rest stop or the end. J and I ended up going back and forth between Bok Tower and the lunch stop, the first rest stop on the 50 mile route. We didn’t take one single person to the actual finish line, instead everyone we took wanted to have the personal pride of riding themselves through the finish line. So we dropped them off at the entrance to Bok Tower and they pushed themselves the extra mile and quarterish to the end. It’s a feeling I completely understand, my first year even with my quad muscles threatening to give out, I crossed that finish line on my bike, the one thing I swore I’d do.
Even knowing how difficult the hills in the area are for me to master, I actually missed being out there on my bike. I’m wishing I had decided to suck it up and push myself through those hills. Maybe next year. If I start riding tomorrow 🙂 I want to be out there proving to myself that MS isn’t going to stop me from moving. I want to ride because I CAN, because if the lady who is paralyzed can do it, and Lt. Dan (think Forest Gump folks) can do it, so can I. And next year, if I go ahead and do this (yes, I’m putting the IF in there, at this moment tonight I’m not ready to fully commit) I want to be a VIB again. I’m proud of the $432 I raised to help in the fight this year. But next year, I want to do better, I want more people to be able to benefit; I want more money to go to research so a cause and cure can be found. And even if I SAG again next year, expect to see me doing what I can to get that VIB status. And I hope that next year I’ll see many of you joining in the fight, and see you at that banquet dinner waving your orange glow stick.