Friday, November 4, 2016

Ride to Cure Diabetes - Amelia Island

We've now done this for 12 years in a row. By this, I mean participating in a destination ride with the purpose of raising money to help fund research into a cure for Type 1 diabetes. Last weekend this adventure took us to Amelia Island in Florida. It was a great location, a great route, and even greater people.

The West Michigan Ride Team - Amelia Island Squad
There were 700 riders from across the country at the Amelia Island ride. Our West Michigan team was represented by 46 riders and about a dozen additional volunteers. Mary and I and a few of our team mates arrived about noon on Thursday. This gave us an opportunity to check out the hotel, which was situated right on the beach and featured a very nice pool area with hot tubs and a restaurant with a gorgeous view. As other people arrived we talked, swam, and caught up with JDRF friends we hadn't seen since last year. Thursday night dinner was good and big. With all the riders, staff and volunteers, there were 1,000 people in the ballroom.

Friday started with breakfast and a research update. It is amazing to see the advances that are being made because of the money raised by JDRF. Next was the "rule of the road" meeting and a quick tune up ride. It was quick for two reasons. First, we are just testing the bikes to make sure everything worked okay after the transport from Michigan to Florida. We'll get plenty of miles in on Saturday. Second, half the team was heading out for a guided kayak tour on the ocean and we needed to be to the put-in by noon.

At every JDRF ride they give us Friday afternoon off to explore the area. We've taken advantage of that on various trips by hiking in Death Valley, kayaking in Tennessee, and scrambling up the side of a mountain in Lake Tahoe. This kayak trip took us across the Intercoastal Waterway to Cumberland Island in Georgia. That's right, before we did a 100 mile bike ride we kayaked to another state. Sea kayaking is very different that the rivers we've been on in the past. While we didn't see any dolphins or manatees or sharks in the water, we did see wild horses, starfish, sand dollars, and all kinds of sea shells. Cumberland Island was beautiful and well worth the trip.

At dinner on Friday night they award jerseys to the top recruiter and fundraisers. Out of the 64 chapters represented at this ride, the West Michigan chapter was the #5 fund raiser. The ride in total brought in $3,000,000 - making this the largest ride ever, both in terms of number of riders and money raised.

Official JDRF Ride photo of the author.
Saturday was Ride Day. We've been training for this since April and now it's here. Even though I've done this 12 times, it's always a bit surreal to finally be at the starting line. The adrenaline is pumping. Everyone is taking photos. There's talking and laughing and crying. We're all waiting for the sun to come up so we can get started on a ride that is going to consume us for the next eight hours.

The course was interesting. One of the coaches said the challenge was creating a 100 mile long route on a 15 mile long island. We started by heading north to Clinch State Park. (Side note: that's where our kayak trip left from on Friday.) We worked our way over to the town of Fernandina Beach, where we were stopped by a train. That was a JDRF first. After some quick thinking by the coaches, we rerouted around the train and got back on the course.

Next we went over a big, busy bridge. It was the biggest climb of the day. We were in Florida after all. At first we thought a flat route would be easy. The problem with that type of route is you always have to be pedaling. With no downhills you never have the opportunity to just coast. However, we rode in a pace line of 8 to 15 people all day. If you weren't on the front you could soft pedal a little from time to time. But generally, we were always pedaling.

Speaking of pace lines, we rode with a great group. With 46 people on our team there is a wide variety of talent levels. After training together all year we kind of know who rides the same speed. So quickly after the start of the ride our team breaks up into six to eight smaller groups. Our group kept a pretty good pace all day. At one point before the second rest stop I was on thr front and someone behind me mentioned there were a lot of people behind us. I figured she meant the dozen or so of our team. When we rolled into the rest stop I found out our line had 50 riders in it.

The half way point rest stop was back at the start/finish line. This made it easy for people who were doing a 50 mile route. To get the full century we needed to ride south along the coast for about 13 miles, turn around at the rest stop and ride back to the start/finish/rest stop. Now we had 75 miles in and quite a few folks decided that their day was done. The rest of us headed back out on the same southern route to the same rest stop and then turned around and rode to the finish. So the entire route consisted of a 50 mile loop followed by two out and back legs on the same road. Like I said earlier - interesting.

Tom and Mary. Safe, sound and smiling for 12 years in a row.
We rolled across the finish line with our group of a dozen West Michigan riders. The scene was incredible. All of our team mates who had already finished were there, along with dozens of riders of other teams. They were yelling and applauding, giving high fives and hugs. Volunteers put medals around our necks and we had a celebratory beer. It was a great ending to a great day. And, most importantly, we helped raise millions of dollars to fund a cure for Type 1 diabetes.

Thank to everyone who contributed to the cause. Because of you we are closer to the cure.