By Tommy Naples
I’m writing this on Tuesday night, after finishing my first AngelRide over the Memorial Day weekend.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around those two days, but I’m compelled to get these thoughts on paper. Let’s get the adjectives over with right away. Physical, exhausting, fun, memorable, meaningful, exciting, nervous, intimidating, challenging, sweltering, Life-Changing.
That last one, what was that again?
The others are pretty obvious, given that the AngelRide wakes you up at an unGodly hour to start your days of pedaling – constantly pedaling. Cadence, have to remember it’s the cadence. Also, given that the first day, where we are expected to finish 85 miles, all uphill, and this year doing it across the surface of the sun. Someone said it hit the mid 90s. I’d like to add the factor of riding in the direct sun most of the time, on blacktop.
You arrive at The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp, have dinner, go to the theater, make friends with Ibuprofen, and hit the sack until you wake up to another 50 miles that will bring you closer to home.
The course designers meticulously studied topographic maps of the Nutmeg State to plot most of the 135 miles over every hill in Connecticut. Glaciers bulldozed these hills thousands of years ago with the sole intention of having AngelRiders cycle (or walk) over them. As a FIRST YEAR rider, I had nothing to compare it to. I could practice all the hills and all the distances that I could imagine, but nothing compares to that Saturday morning where you have butterflies in your stomach, and you dread looking like someone who has never balanced on two wheels before.
And then there was that Blue wig that I had sewn to my helmet. But let’s get back to that last one again.
When you arrive, you get to sit at a few talks, like the safety discussion and an intro of what the AngelRide is and what it does. Somewhere interspersed between all of the talks you hear a few people say to the group that this is a life-changing event. I take that in like I take in the instructions for the ride; Single File, Car Up, Car Back, On your Left, Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, Drink, Pee, No IV.
“Hi, friend, are you drinking enough? What color is your urine?”
1 Mile to Next Rest Stop (Means there is a BIG ASS HILL between here and that Rest Stop). It gets easy to absorb Life-Changing like you do these other things. I did at the beginning. Oh, I heard it said a few times and I thought, you know, they may be right, this can be Life-Changing, but it doesn’t sink in yet.
You see people you may have ridden on practice rides with. You meet new people that you have never met before. You sit at dinner or breakfast, or in your cabin, and you talk about stuff that you now have a common experience with. “Hey, what did you think about that ridiculous hill before the lunch stop?” “Did you see how beautiful the Barkhamstead Reservoir is?” “I’ve never ridden in heat like this, have you?” “What color is your urine?” You aren’t even thinking yet about if this is Life-Changing.
For me, things started to look differently on Sunday, when we reached the last rest stop. I had been asking all weekend when we stopped “What town are we in?” I was posting my progress on my Facebook page for my friends, many who had donated on my rider page. I would write, “Starting in Norfolk,” “Somewhere in Granby,” Somewhere in East Windsor,” and so on.
On that last day, Sunday, when we arrived at the last rest stop, I asked someone where we were. They said, you are somewhere between Stonington and Mystic. Mystic? I can’t be in Mystic. They assured me that yes, we were close and that we only had FIVE MILES left to go until the AngelRide Finish Line.
That was the exact moment when Life-Changing hit me like a hammer to my bike helmet.
In 5 miles this was all going to be over for 2016. I felt a bit of sorrow knowing that this would soon end. I thought about what we all had done in those two days. I thought of the fun and camaraderie between us, I thought of the shared experience that we will always have and that nobody can take from us. But more importantly, I thought that a shy, introverted guy like me who dreaded fundraising had motivated enough friends to donate $2,000. This was a small part of the overall donations to fund The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp and the Hospital Outreach Programs that will make a difference in sick children’s lives, but I felt a part of something. It is something greater than each of us.
I know now that it was Life-Changing because I will never be able to not do for others. This event confirmed that side of me. I didn’t want this AngelRide to end. But end it did, and now I have this void. A void that I do not like and I will not stand for. The only way for me to find any comfort is to vow to do this again as long as I have health, sanity (well, ok, maybe we don’t need that much sanity), and a bicycle. I’m all in! I will never forget this weekend and I look forward to future Memorial Day weekends.
I want to thank every person who rode or fed or administrated or cared for during this last weekend. I will remember you all because of what we accomplished, because for me, you all made it Life-Changing.