Those are the two questions people ask about the Friends for Life Bike Rally, usually in that order, the second following quickly the heels of the first.
Here’s my answer to the first: It was tough. For an excellent description of the nature of the kind of tough, read this from our team co-captain, known in the blogosphere though not on the bike as The Yarn Harlot.
Personally the riding on any one day wasn’t challenging. I regularly ride more than a 100 km in a day. And I’ve been riding long distances with groups for awhile. But the accumulation of those days is what makes it tough. Also, Day 2. It would have been tough on its own. Wind, rain, cold–not to mention starting wet and cold with very little sleep.
It was also really wonderful in ways I hadn’t expected. I really liked getting to know people over the course of the rally. I liked riding with different people on different days, some fast, some slow, some chatty, others not.
That’s the nice thing, you’re not doing it alone. There are almost as many crew as riders. They’re involved in planning and preparing food, transporting gear, setting up each new site, route management, road safety, bike fixing and more. Oh, and giving massages. Loved that. There’s a very strong team atmosphere that’s part of the bike rally. I thought our team co-captains did an amazing job.
Our team co-captain put it like this:
I’m sure many of you have imagined what it might be like to do something like this. It’s staggering. The sweat, the tears, the exhaustion – camping in the rain, riding 660km, bathing in the lake… it is all balanced in the end with love, and generosity, and kindness. In these hours before we leave, it’s that love, and generosity and kindness that I want to write about. I know I’ve said it before, and I really mean this: Riding your bike to Montreal does nothing to help sick people. Nothing. You could do it a hundred times, and without the support of people like all of you who donated, it wouldn’t change one little thing about the world, or the way it can be for people who are suffering. It is what all of you have done – your generosity, that turns the action we’re all undertaking into real change. Real kindness. Real love.
My team raised note than $150,000. See here. The rally as a whole raised more than a million dollars. I’m happy to have chosen to mark my 50th birthday by contributing to this beautiful effort. I’m proud of, and thankful to, all the friends and family who sponsored my ride.
There were also some beautiful roads and terrific riding though gorgeous parts of the country. See photo below.
Could you do it?
Sure. Buy a bike if you don’t own one, start training now if cycling is new to you, and follow the spring training plan and you’ll be fine.
I actually think that most people could do the distances required by the rally. There are morning and afternoon breaks and people ride at a wide range of speeds.
Training well means you can ride faster, get to camp earlier, and feel strong the next day. I was happy with the effects of all the bike riding I’d done in advance. Most days I arrived at camp mid afternoon thinking I could have ridden a bit more, if need be. And I woke up each morning ready to ride again, not sore. (Again, I’m ignoring Day 2 the way people who’ve given birth choose not to dwell on the worst of it.)
Different people find different aspects of an event like this challenging, other than the riding. I love camping, think the indoors is overrated, and I own some pretty nice camping gear. 🙂 I sleep happily and well in a tent and when I’m tired noise doesn’t bother me much. But I got the sense that not everyone shared my love of the great outdoors.
One friend who did the rally in years past said he found the social demands challenging. It was too much like summer camp, he thought. I’m a nerdy professor and spent time alone with books quite happily and no one dragged me out of my tent.
Now another friend who loved that aspect of it said it was like the queer summer camp he never had as a kid. That made me smile. I’d say the sexual orientations of the rally participants, riders and crew, were all over the spectrum. If you’re curious there were quite a few opposite sexual couples. But it was a totally lovely experience for me, as a bisexual, to be in a place where the majority of people were gay and assumptions weren’t made about sexual orientation status.
I’m proud of succeeding at the physical challenge and proud to have been part of this event.
Oh, I also loved our triumphant arrival into Montreal. See the storify version here.
I’m very happy with my choice to mark my upcoming 50th birthday by riding in Friends for Life Bike Rally in support of the People with Aids.