Riding For a Cure
If you had told me a year ago, as I hobbled around on an arthritic knee, that I’d be completing a 15-mile group bike-ride through Manhattan streets (in 89-degree heat, yet) I’d have suggested you see a good psychotherapist. But on a fine June Saturday, I did just that—riding in the Tour de Cure, an annual cycling event that raises funds for the American Diabetes Association.
Both my parents became diabetic later in life; I’ve been told by my doctor that I’m headed down that road myself if I don’t do something about my weight (which I am). But mostly, the ride was just a challenge I wanted to meet as a new cyclist.
Okay, so I wasn’t starting out from 54th Street at 6:30 a.m. and biking all the way up to Stony Point (as were the 100-mile riders) … or beginning at 7:30 a.m. and heading up to Dobbs Ferry (the 55-mile route). I wasn’t even riding up to Inwood, as were the 30-milers. But the 15-mile circuit—which took us downtown to SoHo and across Worth Street, up the East Side, into Central Park as far north as 104th Street, around and out of the park at 90th Street, and then back down the West Side to the pier on 54th Street—felt challenging enough to make me drag my butt and bicycle home (on the subway) feeling like Lance Armstrong.
After checking in at 9 a.m. and affixing our numbers to our shirts and bikes, we were led through a brief warm-up (primarily stretches) before heading out in a cloud of excitement.
Riding in Manhattan traffic is not my forte … and had it been my first time, I would have been a little freaked out. (Some 641 riders participated, not enough to qualify for lane or street closures.) But there’s safety (or at least visibility) in numbers, and I wound up with an escort of volunteers partly through an embarrassing accident. Barely out of the gate and stopped at our first traffic light, I whipped out my camera to document the moment.
When the light changed faster than I anticipated, I struggled to put my camera away with one hand after we’d taken off … and tumbled off my bike onto the road, splat! Camera and body were intact, but my bike’s brakes were jammed tight, and I had visions of being knocked out of the game before it had even begun. But thanks to the repair efforts of one of the volunteer escorts riding along with us (whose name, alas, I never got), I was back in business after about 20 minutes … and still not too far behind.
The pace of these congenial riders was a good match for my own, so I followed them for the rest of the course; it was as good as having my very own personal OnStar. There were some very cool-looking arrows at various points along the way indicating our respective routes (depending on mileage) that I was so tempted to capture in a photo … but knew better than to risk life and limb, and waited until I spotted some at a point where we were well out of the way of traffic.
Once we turned up the East Side, there was no shelter from the sweltering late-morning sun, and my lone water bottle was quickly depleted. As the combination of strenuous exercise and allergies turns me into a mouth-breather, I was becoming dehydrated as well as overheated, and knew I wouldn’t make it three more miles uptown to our only official rest-stop. At my pleading, we stopped at a vest-pocket deli to buy water (a move that the entire group appreciated), and I downed one bottle and stockpiled another. Semi-refreshed, we forged on uptown to Sutton Place, where a tent—set up with orange slices, water, fruit-and-nut bars, and ADA-approved sports drinks—awaited us (and where I ruined my cheap watch when I gratefully plunged my arms elbow-deep into the ice-water in which the drinks were floating).
After a decent break that brought my core temperature down to something resembling normal, we headed west and into Central Park. It was nice to ride without cars for a change, but now we had hills to deal with … and the “biggie,” which I had successfully climbed twice before without having to dismount, proved just too much in 89-degree heat (and with 10 miles already under my belt). I admit it: I walked my bike up … and welcomed another rest at the top afforded us when our fearless leader stopped to aid another cyclist whose tire had blown with a loud explosion while he was taking the hill.
Exiting the park and heading back down on the West Side, I finally felt (with just two more miles left) that we were within sight of the goal, despite the hottest afternoon sun that I had ever ridden in. Exactly three hours after we’d started, I headed back to the pier, past the whistling and clapping welcome committee (whose whoops I returned), and dismounted to grab myself a vitamin water and a lunch bag. The biggest treat afterward? A mini-massage by one of the students from the Swedish Institute who had massage tables set up to unknot our aching muscles!
Would I do it again next year? In a heartbeat! I’m hoping I can go for the 30-mile route. (And thanks to everyone who helped sponsor my ride; you were all with me in spirit as I pedaled along!)