I made it back to Michigan after a week in Iowa with Team LIVESTRONG. Three loads of clean laundry are ready to be put away. My tent and sleeping bag are aired out and clean. My bike received some TLC. My friends are all at their respective homes. I returned to work yesterday (at least physically; I’m still mentally adjusting). After a week of biking in Iowa with friends at the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), raising awareness and money for LIVESTRONG’s programs and services for people facing cancer, decompressing from the real world, and achieving a personal goal as a cancer survivor….well, I’m ready for more biking adventures. Or adventures in general.
While last year was fun being on the support team, it’s true that you don’t really understand RAGBAI until you bike it. My friend told me so many stories from on the route, and I saw picture after picture of fun that I was hooked before I left last year. But I didn’t ‘get’ RAGBRAI until I got on my bike and joined thousands of other cyclists on the route from Orange City to Harper’s Ferry.
There was a lot to experience and enjoy during the week. Admittedly, it doesn’t usually take much for me to enjoy any adventure that I’m on. I love the excitement of being in new places, trying new activities, food and more, meeting new people, making new memories. I’m a fairly ‘go with the flow’ person, especially on vacation. But I knew this would be a special week. Not only was I attempting to ride my bike many miles in Iowa, raising money for LIVESTRONG’s programs and services, and hanging out with friends, it was also a recognition (personal goal) of 20 years since my bone cancer diagnosis. I needed to show myself that I could accomplish what I set my mind to, titanium rod in my leg and all. While I was nervous driving into the week, there was no doubt that I was going to open myself, my heart, to making the most of this special week.
I enjoyed so much during the week. Here are just a few of my favorite experiences:
Spending time with friends. My teammates live around the country so we don’t see each other as often as we’d like. I was excited to spend the week with some of my great friends, and have the opportunity to make new friends. No matter where I was, riding my bike, eating lunch, standing in line for the shower, riding in the RV to the next campsite, driving to Iowa, there were great conversations to be shared. I reinforced special bonds with current friends, and discovered kindred spirits in new friends.
Riding my bike. Is it funny to admit that I love my bike? I love the freedom and power I feel riding mile after mile. Knowing my legs and my body, which survived some torturous chemo to kill cancer, is strong enough to bike mile after mile. Sometimes I marvel that it took me so long to purchase a road bike, but maybe it was never the right time until the time that I did buy it. I loved biking through Iowa, enjoying the scenery and towns from the freedom of my bike (although I started deeply sighing at the sight of the large wind turbines, which typically meant a lot of wind to bike through/at)! I gained so much confidence as a cyclist by the end of the week (shucks, I can now even stay clipped in and not look down to remove/replace my water bottle. Don’t laugh, I had to work at trusting my balance for this achievement!).
Welcoming communities. One of my favorite experiences was exploring the small towns along the route. What a way to see Iowa! Some of the towns had banners, bands and community members waving and cheering as the cyclists approached the towns. Many children set up lemonade stands along the road (I stopped at one on Thursday – the little girls were so adorably excited!). The overnight towns hosted entertainment, food and drink vendors, games, and more. Imagine being a small town, with a very small population, that suddenly has an influx of thousands of bikers, tents, RVs, shower trucks, vendors and more! I fell in love with these small towns. So very different from the busy suburbs of metro Detroit.
Enjoying life. There were some definite emotional ups and downs during the week that brought tears, but overall I laughed a lot. My teammates are funny with the stories and antics we shared. The sun shone most days. My body felt awesome riding my bike. How can you not laugh? I loved the moments of sharing stories with teammates and others along the route. I loved the impromptu whiffle ball game (where I discovered an almost embarrassing competitive side to myself – except I think I laugh too much to be considered serious competitive). I felt healthy, free, relaxed and alive.
Meeting new people from all across the world, from all walks of life. I met a doctor, farmer, college student, fellow marketing colleague, teacher, chef, retirees, and bum traveling around the country (that’s how he described himself!). While the average RAGBRAI participant’s age is 46, I saw young, old and in between on bikes. I even saw a dog riding in a basket and Batman.
Stopping along the route. There are many opportunities to stop along the route for a rest, food or drinks. Back Pocket is a popular ‘watering’ hole to enjoy Iowa craft beer. The ‘pass through’ towns are full of vendors selling food, drinks and merchandise. The meeting town (half way point) is packed with entertainment, food, drinks, merchandise, games and more. These are the best places to people watch, meet up with other teammates and soak up the moments of RAGBRAI.
Helping others. Team LIVESTRONG is at the event to raise awareness of and funds for the nonprofit’s programs and services that support people affected by cancer. Our team raised $145,000 (you can still donate!). Throughout the week, I had wonderful opportunities to share information on LIVESTRONG, listen to others’ cancer stories and share my own, and my dad’s, to help others. Every moment was inspiring and motivating. I always come home from these events wondering how else I can help others in their journey with cancer. There is still so much to be done; I’m grateful I can help where I can.
The week could not have closed in a more special way. At the end of our journey, standing together at the Mississippi River, one of my teammates asked some of us to stick around. When she approached me and took my hand, she asked me if I’d help Terry share our adventure. Terry is her husband who died from cancer. As she sprinkled his ashes in my hand, my heart immediately warmed at the honor of sharing this moment with her, and him (and of course I cried at the honor being part of a beautiful moment). As a small group, we stood together on the dock and sprinkled the ashes into the Mississippi River and across the soft breeze. As I looked at these special people, and at the great river flowing beside me, as I heard laughter and yells of accomplishment from others dipping their bikes in the river, I was reminded again of how precious life is, and how grateful I am to be alive to enjoy it.
So, my friends, spend your days being happy. Sometimes we must make tough decisions to find that happiness. Sometimes we have to struggle first to then find our peace and contentment. Sometimes we have to look in the opposite direction to find the path we are supposed to walk. Life is full of adventures. I’m ready for the next one.