The last rest-stop of the Scenic Shore 150 was at a farmhouse in Door County, surrounded by rolling fields and patches of trees. It was hot and there was barely a cloud in the sky. At the farmhouse, behind a table with snacks and beverages, a woman stood with a hose, ready to spray anyone who requested it or any child who wandered within range. I walked over, covered in sweat and glowing in spots where my sunscreen wore off. “Hose me down!” I requested. I went from overheated to freezing in a second. I thanked her for the thorough saturation, she thanked me for riding.
I am never thanked for riding my rusty old bike. At the end of the 150 mile ride, my brother seemed willing to thank me if I would just get rid of the bike he listened to squeak and squeal for hours and hours. But at every rest stop as volunteers were thanked for handing out bananas or icy rags, they would shout back, “thanks for riding,” squeaky bike or shining example of the best the bike world has to offer.
Every ride can feel rewarding in its own way whether you’re just doing it for personal exercise or to significantly lower your emissions- you feel like you’ve done something good for yourself. Charitable rides add another factor: you’re doing something good for other people.
The Scenic Shore 150 is a (approximately) 150 mile ride from Mequon to Sturgeon Bay, stopping overnight in Manitowoc. The ride is organized by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Wisconsin Chapter and riders are required to raise at least $300 for the organization, besides the entrance fee. To be nihilistic, you can argue “what is the point of these rides?” Money gets raised before the race and leukemia and lymphoma aren’t fought from a bike.
My brother and I joined the ride after our father was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in the fall of 2011. He doesn’t like to talk about it nor have it discussed at family get-togethers, so it sits as a gigantic elephant in the room. My family and I respect his wishes that we pretend things are normal and keep conversations to sports or politics, but as he loses weight and energy, things can’t go on as usual for him. He doesn’t go to the gym anymore and his formerly ferocious appetite has declined to smaller and smaller meals. We still try to not bring up his condition, but on the worst of days he’ll vent, “this truly is a horrible disease.”
We certainly are not the only family to watch a loved one suffer, but sometimes it certainly feels like it. When bad things happen people often feel targeted- “why me?” or “why us?” It doesn’t help that a lot of the information on the internet concerning leukemia is outdated, dimming hopes and confirming fears. I’ve noticed a lot of my family members suffer in their own isolation, saturating themselves in their own anxieties about the situation and often telling me, “I read on the internet that there isn’t anything that can be done,” which isn’t true anymore. Part of the struggle for both patients and those around them is the feeling of isolation and helplessness that often goes along with the disease. No one wants to discuss it and as it becomes a casual part of your life, it becomes harder to hold back.
In Manitowoc, at the end of the first day of riding, a volunteer went to the stage. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me to see all of you here,” she said, holding back tears. A thousand riders and close to 300 volunteers listened. It really was encouraging to see everyone out. Many people had their own stories about the disease, either tragic or inspiring, and many people just came for a nice bike ride through Wisconsin. Either way, the fact that there were so many people willing to spend at least some of their time helping the cause was inspiring. As the money raised went towards research or patient support, the event (the bike ride and everything around it) helped everyone able to participate feel more hopeful and less alone. No matter what the cause, charitable bike rides can help other people feel supported and encouraged.
Despite the somber reasons that drew everyone to the ride, the mood was anything but somber. Tents quickly filled as people completed the first day, grabbed a pitcher of beer, and listened to live music. The site was a couple hundred feet from the beach, where many people dunked themselves immediately following the ride.
Back at the final rest stop, seven miles from the finish, people who were panting and about ready to give up a few miles back were now smiling and happy. The ride was almost finished and a large group sat around talking about their favorite parts- where the lake looked the best, their favorite little towns along the way, or the state forest. No matter how challenging the ride was, the last seven miles had to be enjoyed.
After winding through Sturgeon Bay, across the bridge and down the main thoroughfare, we finally made it to the finish line. To the right were signs made for those who didn’t overcome their diseases , to the left was a large group of volunteers ringing bells, banging pots, and cheering all the riders who came through, and at the end was beer, food, and lots of people ready to have a good time.