Sunday, June 9, 2013

Climate Ride California Coda: The ICM Century Ride

Ok, I said the last entry was final, but since the Climate Ride California venture was about raising money for, among other things, my charity, I Challenge Myself, how could I not report on ICM's 2013 Century Ride, held in New York City on Saturday, June 8th? And, for the first time, emboldened by my recent conquest of California's hilly and gorgeous climes, I decided to participate with the kids as a rider.

First, we had to get past Hurricane (or was it Tropical Storm?) Andrea. The whole week prior to the ride, my executive director, Ana Reyes, our Americorps volunteer, Benji Marx, and myself were in constant contact trying to figure out whether we could postpone to another date, if it were necessary due to heavy rain, without losing some essential combination of our coaches, kids and/or volunteers. The logistics weren't pretty. Finally, we decided that, if need be, we could probably push the ride back one day, to Sunday. But by late Thursday and early Friday, the forecast had mellowed and it looked like, at worst, we might start our ride day with a light sprinkle, but then be all right. So we stuck with Saturday.

And lucked out. No rain at all, and even more than a smattering of sunshine. Pretty excellent conditions overall, because it also wasn't too hot.

The route was from the George Washington Educational Campus, in Washington Heights at 191st and Audobon Ave. (one of our participating schools), up past Van Cortlandt Park to the beginning of the Westchester South County Trailway, where we met up with the other participating schools: Bronx Aerospace and Validus Prep (our fourth school, East Side Community, had an unforeseen ACT exam conflict, and will separately be riding a metric century next weekend). From there, we simply followed the Trailway north, all the way to Carmel, NY -- and then back again. Almost exactly 100 miles (my route, below, was a bit longer because I rode to GWEC and back before and after the ride).

The start was a bit iffy. We had changed our 7:30 a.m. meeting spot to a parking area near the beginning of the South County Trailway because the heavy rains leading up to the ride made our originally planned route, meeting at and riding out of Van Cortlandt Park on about a mile and a half of dirt trail, unusable. But, as with any last minute change, our due diligence wasn't perfect. Our new meeting spot was in a low-income residential neighborhood that didn't exactly love the idea of bicyclists congregating outside their homes early on a Saturday morning. When two of the residents -- who, I somewhat uncharitably must point out looked remarkably like meth addicts out of Winter's Bone -- came out screaming at the top of their lungs about, ironically, how our noise was waking up hard working people -- with one of them bare-chested with two large handgun tattoos on his torso pointing down to his groin -- it was our cue to apologize politely and speed up our departure.

The trail was extremely wet from the torrential rains the night before, and it meant everyone, and their bikes, got pretty dirty from wheel spray. But it also meant that, for a Saturday, the trail was pretty empty, which made for great riding. And the rain runoffs caused the neighboring streams to be gorgeous, as they were full and running fast, at levels I had never seen before. Fortunately, with one exception, the trail itself was not flooded. Just a lot of puddles. And two trees down that we had to navigate around. The one exception was on the brief street portion that connects the South County Trailway with the North County Trailway, where on one road we had to detour around, parked cars were literally up to their windshields in water.

But the story of the day is the kids.

Now, as a preface, I will freely admit there are times when one is a board chair, and dealing with fundraising, board meetings, organizational issues and...did I mention?...fundraising, that one's energy and enthusiasm can begin to flag. But seeing our kids in action, and their superb riding and behavior and joyful spirits, was an amazing recharge of my batteries.

First of all, hardly any of the kids sagged. Maybe 3 or 4 tops. One girl crashed pretty badly, and was bleeding from the side of her torso, her knees and her elbow and, only on my insistence, sagged to the next stop, about 4 miles. There, however, she said she was good to go -- and what was I do? Of course I let her go, and she finished strongly, matter-of-factly, without complaint or apparent difficulty.

Which was the case, literally, with all the kids. First, they were really strong riders (faster than me, for sure, although I'm glad to say that I could still take them -- or at least some of them -- on the climbs). They were also team players who stayed together and supported each other. The group with which I was riding suffered a total of 13 flats, an unheard of number in any of our past centuries. Each time, the kids would stop and, in something akin to an Indy 500 pit stop, flip the offending bike upside down, remove its wheel, and go to work speedily replacing the inner tube. They were courteous and well-behaved. They were disciplined riders, generally maintaining good spacing and single file formation. They called out obstacles, signaled (mostly), and were polite to runners and others we encountered. They were enthusiastic and excited. Get this -- they even acted like kids -- shouting out for the echo effect when we rode through underpasses, chattering happily about how much they were going to eat at lunch and at the post-ride dinner celebration, joking about who would get the next flat, and just generally being joyful and showing pride in their undertaking.

It was a pleasure to participate in and behold. And if I had any doubts beforehand about the benefits and usefulness of our program, they were completely dissipated by the end of the ride. That doesn't mean we couldn't be a stronger organization, and reach more kids more efficiently, but I can say with confidence that we are making a real difference in the kids' lives that we do touch.

The second story line of the day is the ride volunteers. We had scads of them. Many of them repeat volunteers. Sag van drivers. A lunch driver. Riders from local bike clubs riding as sweeps, sprinters and companions. Finish line celebration organizers. All freely and happily giving up basically their entire Saturday to help out. And, uniformly, at least within my earshot, praising the day and the kids and saying they were looking forward to helping out again next year. The volunteers were terrific, and really reinforced for me the difference that individuals, acting collectively, can make.

So, I have spent a lot of time in this blog and related emails asking for financial support for ICM -- and, if you're so inclined, we certainly will continue to welcome your contributions. But I want to use this post to urge something different -- if you're not already, get involved as a volunteer with a charity or organization you care about. You can make a meaningful difference with something other than money, and the personal payoff from helping others is not to be underestimated. In the case of the ICM Century Ride, I think it's fair to say that while each of us may have volunteered for his or her own reasons, all of us derived enormous pleasure in seeing the direct impact of our participation: ICM's students doing something really remarkable -- riding a bicycle one hundred miles with competence, joy and pride.

OK, that was maybe a bit too preachy, so let's wrap up with the familiar. Assuming  you're still reading at this point, here's the full route I rode on Saturday:

As always, thanks for reading and your support!

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Few Final Thoughts

What's a blog without a wrap up? Even if done from the comfort of home several days after the ride end....

As was the case when I first rode Climate Ride in 2011 (on their NYC to DC route), I found the whole experience to be fun, challenging and more than a bit inspiring. In total, there were about 130 of us, most of whom rode the full 330 (or so) miles from Fortuna, CA to San Francisco in the course of 5 days.

Again, I was very impressed by the passion and commitment of the mostly younger folks on the ride (even if one of them said, in what I believe she thought was a compliment, that I "so reminded her of her dad." Sigh). Many of them work in businesses or roles affiliated with the "green" economy or climate change, and they talk about what they are doing, and trying to do, articulately, intelligently and with enthusiasm.

The participants' energy and optimism - and general overall positivity -- carried over to their biking and the whole trip experience. They were friendly, encouraging and helpful in all respects that I can think of. I love living in New York City, but it's too easy sometimes to become somewhat jaded and cynical as a result. Climate Ride was a real recharge of my batteries, and reminded me that each of us individually, and all of us collectively, can make a real difference.

In sum, it was an excellent experience. I'm proud of the riding I accomplished -- the hills, the distances and the wind -- and awed by the scenery and views. As importantly, I'm delighted to have helped raise monies for such excellent organizations as Climate Ride and I Challenge Myself. Obviously I couldn't have done it without your help and support. So thank you all for giving so generously to supporting these causes, and my riding, with your donations. It was very much appreciated.

Maybe even a few of you will consider doing Climate Ride yourselves in the years to come? I would heartily recommend it -- even (maybe) the camping part! I am also pleased to report that the organizers no longer proudly tout special vegan days or meals -- instead, opting to provide "omnivore" and "vegan" options at each meal. Yes!

Yours, one last time, from the (figurative) road.


P.S. If you're feeling flush or generous or both, contributions can still be made on my donation page here.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Day 5 -- Over the Golden Gate Bridge and Back to San Francisco

If I had thought (albeit incorrectly) that Day 4 was going to be a piece of cake, surely Day 5, in going from Olema Ranch, CA to San Francisco, CA, with only about 41 miles of distance and 2260 feet of climbing, was going to be a less arduous day?

Not so fast, I'm afraid.

First, the Climate Ride organizers wanted to get us over the Golden Gate bridge, into the parking lot of Sports Basement (where we originally gathered on Day Zero to take the bus north to Fortuna), by 11:15. This was so that we could then all ride en masse to San Francisco City Hall, for scheduled speakers on environmental topics, starting at Noon. Unfortunately, this schedule meant they wanted us eating breakfast by 6 a.m. and on the road by 6:30 a.m.

Didn't quite happen. At least for me. Although I'm proud to say that I did at least pack up camp and make it out onto the road by about 7:30. Where some pretty strenuous climbs, including one Category 4 (our only non-Category 5 climb other than on Day 2) awaited. And although the total climbing for the day was "only" about 3000 feet, the gradients of the climbs were as, if not more, consistently severe -- in the 8% to 12% range -- than anything experienced to date. It was some seriously hard riding. Although with some seriously excellent payoffs in terms of views at, and descents from, the top.

It was also pretty thrilling to get over the last large climb and ride down into and through Marin County and Sausalito (where we were warned that the cops like to ticket bicyclists who go through red lights), with the knowledge that the Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco proper, were not too far away.

Of course, even with time being tight, I insisted on stopping and taking some pictures, and otherwise tried to enjoy the ride in my own way. Which meant that I narrowly missed the gathering at Sports Basement and had to ride directly to City Hall, arriving in the proverbial nick of time at about 11:55 a.m.!

Consistent with Climate Ride protocol, the obligatory bicycle hoisting photographs were taken, and we all collected to listen to Paul Hawken (noted environmentalist and author of numerous books, including The Ecology of Commerce) and others speak.Definitely a fine and fitting ending to the day, and the week.

America's Cup Racing In San Francisco Bay!

With Bob and Rachael Loper

This time also with our new friend, Libby

Paul Hawken addressing the masses....

Blake Holiday and Caeli Quinn, two of the principals of Climate Ride (Caeli is a co-founder  with Geraldine Carter, not pictured)

I made it!!