This is the Ride for World Health, not the Race for World Health. Thank goodness for that, because this was my first time on a road bike, on a road, riding with other people, in traffic, and with clipless pedals. Overwhelming is an understatement of the mountainous 20 mile team practice ride our first day in San Diego. I didn’t even know how to shift yet – something Jody and Dana taught me later that day. So how did I end up on this team, anyway? Well, it all started on Facebook… I knew Eliza, the CEO of R4WH 2013, from pre-med classes in college at the University of Michigan, and I saw that she had posted something about recruiting medical students for an epic bike journey across America. As a medical student and runner, I thought to myself, how hard could it be? So I asked Eliza about it. Her response was, “The ride is open to individuals of all fitness levels, but usually only appeals to people who are capable of doing it. I am quite confident that you qualify.” With that, I signed up! But first, I needed a bike. I purchased a Specialized Dolce Elite Compact a couple of weeks later, and rode it a few times on a local 10-mile bike path until the weather got cold. Other than that, I only ever cycled on my indoor trainer over the winter. Michigan winters are no joke. But I continued to run and completed the New Orleans Half-marathon just one week prior to the start of R4WH, so I thought I was ready to go. I got dropped off in Columbus, Ohio with my bike and my bag and no clue what I was getting myself into on March 16th, not even one day after finding out that I matched into an Emergency Medicine Residency program in Michigan near home. I’ve never kept a journal before, but I decided to start one with this trip, and I’m thrilled that I did, because now I can share my experience with you. Here are some summaries and excerpts:
March 17 – Departed at 6am for a 38 hour road trip from Columbus, OH to Indianapolis to pick up Will, to Albuquerque to pick up Dreas, to our final destination in San Diego, CA. We had two 12-person vans (Team Gold and Team White) and a Budget cargo truck for 13 people and 15 bikes. It rained from Indiana through Texas. We played games like 20 Questions and the Alphabet Game, and listened to all sorts of music, with emphasis on Taylor Swift, Macklemore, and Jay-Z’s “H.A.M.” We encountered Oklahoma’s toll roads requiring $1.15 in exact change, Chris ate a samosa from a shady truck stop in the middle of the night, and we sampled Date Shakes and Cactus Shakes in Dateland, Arizona. We drove seriously close to the Mexico border, passing through several check points and inspection stations, and finally arrived at Mission Valley Resort, where we crammed all of our belongings and our bikes into 4 hotel rooms.
March 19 – Rider orientation/retreat, complete with a swarm of thousands of bees interrupting our “fix a flat” session. So I never really learned how to fix a flat tire – minor detail. Josh and Joel flew in that day. And I ate my first Taki – it’s like a flaming hot cheeto with a hint of lime, but hotter. We had our team practice ride 20 miles out and back into the rocky mountains surrounding San Diego (not “The Rockies”). It was really hot and sunny out, and Cody wore every article of team gear he owned – poor life decision. It was my first time riding through city streets and I wasn’t comfortable taking my hands off the handlebars to signal yet. It actually wouldn’t be another 3 weeks until that happened for me. And once we got out of the city and into the mountainous roads, I didn’t know how to shift and use my gears; Michigan is mostly flat, after all. So during our rest break at the halfway point, Jody and Dana taught me all about the gearing of my bike. Thank you, ladies! It definitely made the ride back more interesting for me – I had all these new things to focus on, besides my burning leg muscles. Afterward I ate my first of many PowerBars. PowerBar is one of our amazing sponsors offering a line of several sports nutrition products. And then we headed to the beach to dip our back tires into the Pacific Ocean in anticipation of dipping our front tires into the Atlantic at the finish. I felt pretty beat after just 20 miles, and the official ride hadn’t even started yet. I was clearly in a little over my head, but its mind over matter, and the only way home was to bike, a lot… 3,457 miles to be exact.
March 20 – Day 1: Woke up at 5:30. All the girls were packed with bags loaded into the Budget before the boys. Frosted mini wheats for breakfast. My legs were sore and stiff from the practice ride. We left at sunrise after team cheer, “What do we ride for? World health!” Chris and Pankti went ahead to Julian to go give lectures all day. We rode the first 20 miles through the San Diego city streets in morning traffic, which was slightly stressful for me, but we stayed in a large orange group. Then the gigantic endless mountain climbs began, full of the most breathtaking views. The sun made the ride hot, and I reapplied sunscreen several times. Just before our lunch stop, I got my first flat tire. I was clueless as to where to begin, not even knowing how to remove my rear tire. Luckily, Jody changed it for me and we continued on. Jing was on crew driving the SAG (support and gear) van. He passed us and gave false hope that the lunch stop would be sooner than it was. He said one mile to go, which meant five. These became known as “Jing miles” for the rest of the ride. Saw lots of donkeys, sheep, horses, dead snakes, one large cat, an ostrich, and a brush fire. Lunch consisted of PB&J’s, powerbars, hummus, celery, and Chobani (another amazing sponsor – so much yogurt!). And for me, two Aleve – cycling is painful! (Rest stops are the best stops!) A few miles after lunch, I got a second flat, which Eliza fixed for me. At this point, my body was mad at me and I was mad at my bike. Finishing the ride was tough, but I stuck with Eliza, Liz, and Heather for the last 15 miles and we finished strong. Toward the end there was less climbing and it was very scenic in the mountains with a gorgeous lake that we got to ride around. We rode a total of 65 miles with a total ascent of 7444 feet. Rolling into the adorable little town of Julian was a relief – such a feeling of accomplishment and exhaustion, and a third flat tire to top it off. We showered at Camp Stevens and then slept at a church; pasta for dinner and delicious pies from the local librarian for dessert. And a side of poison ivy for poor Dreas.
Now let’s fast forward a little; it was a very long trip, 54 days in total, and I wouldn’t want to bore you with details. Skipping past the 20 mile and 4000 ft decent into the desert on Day 2 into Westmorland, CA, past my first experience doing mass loads of disgusting team laundry, learning to draft, purchasing new tires for my bike and new sunglasses because mine broke, finding orange pompoms and megaphones for team spirit, Jing’s shouts of “car back, car back” or “gravel right, gravel right,” and skipping past the layers and layers of sunscreen while still getting sunburned, losing my voice for a week and Sprint phone service for the almost the first three weeks, the evening guitar and harmonica jam session in Dateland, AZ, taking my first of many less than ideal showers, the evolution of Dan Djondo’s morning slow clap cheer, and learning basic bike and chain maintenance and eating tamales from Mexico in Buckeye, AZ, this brings us to our first rest day in Phoenix. I welcomed this rest day, as my entire body was sore and tired. And I was thrilled that we reached the first dot on our map!
A couple of teammates and I set up a bike trainer in City Square during peak lunch hours to fundraise and spread the word about who we are and what we are all about. For me, this was my favorite part of the trip – just talking to all the random people we crossed paths with. We stirred up a lot of interest, handed out tons of business cards, and by chance met three other medical students in the process, and later the mayor of a town in Mississippi! After all, every ripple starts from a single drop, so merely spreading awareness is a huge part of R4WH.
Then we set off into the sunrise toward the mountains of New Mexico, “the land of enchantment.” We saw some pretty astounding sunrises over the course of the trip – one perk of an eastward route. We went from cactus and desert sand dunes to forest and snow all in one morning. We camped once in Payson, AZ, and once was more than enough in the below freezing temperatures. We slept at a firehouse and a warehouse once also, but for the most part we toured through the churches and school gyms of America. I discovered that most gyms don’t get completely dark, and its best to sleep on the opposite side of the room as the snorers. And on Day 10, riding 104 miles from Snowflake, AZ to Zuni, NM, I completed my first century ride (a 100 mile ride). Conservative beast mode. That morning was bitter cold and my fingers hurt, but it was sunny and warm when we rolled into Zuni, an Indian reservation. They allowed us to attend their Apache dance for rain that evening, which was incredible to be a part of (sorry, no photos permitted). Jing introduced us to Blue Bell Ice Cream, with my favorite being the lemon bliss flavor. The next day we climbed up in elevation to our max height of 7900 ft at the Continental Divide en route to Grants, New Mexico. I was truly struggling by the end of the 76 mile ride, feeling mentally defeated and physically drained, but was able to call home and get a pep talk from my dad. I was definitely outside of my comfort zone at this point, and I’m too stubborn to quit, but I was starting to doubt that cycling was the sport for me. We only had one ride left into Albuquerque before two rest days there, and it was Easter Sunday. I survived the 95 miles, including the challenging “9 mile hill” along Route 66, with the support of my teammates and a fun Easter egg hunt during our lunch break. We called ourselves Team Happy Hour, and our motto was “Never hurry, never worry.” In Albuquerque, Jing was able to go to In-N-Out Burger, we saw several of the Breaking Bad film scenes, some teammates took a brewery tour, and Pankti bought a new road bike that fit her in place of the one she was currently borrowing.
I have a special appreciation for Jing, Heather, Matt, Joel, Djondo, and Dave for each hanging with me through some particularly difficult rides in the beginning. Thanks, friends! Jing’s handlebar stereo was also motivating, blasting Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us.” It’s pretty awesome to think that two of our riders had completed a cross country ride before – Liz in 2011 with R4WH, and Matt with Habitat for Humanity. They were both a huge help to me with all of their positive energy and support.
The Unwritten RULES of R4WH 2013:
1. In the morning, wear every article of cycling gear you own. It will be the coldest it’s ever been.
2. Never believe anything anyone says about the route or weather. It will be hilly with a headwind.
3. Always wear sunscreen and reapply it at every rest stop, always.
From Santa Rosa, NM, through Amarillo, Texas, and on to Weatherford, OK, we did 5 century rides in a row. By the end of this long week, I was finally comfortable enough to ditch my CamelBak hydration system and take my hands off the handlebars to drink from the waterbottles on my bike. Baby steps! We faced 25mph headwinds, constant rolling hills, dust storms, smelly cattle feeding farms, and some spectacular horses. I even saw my first road runner! Each day brought its own battle, but the wind is what really tested us. We had to face this as a team in double pace lines, and even then we struggled to maintain lines, communication, patience, and a decent pace. Teamwork makes the dream work! We even rode through a wind farm one day. We stayed in Shamrock, TX one night, the town that inspired the movie Cars. And we stayed at a YMCA in Weatherford, where I met a woman in the locker room who was so interested in our cause that she donated money, bottled water, and protein powder to us later that evening and offered to help with housing and dinner as future teams roll through. I found the kindness and generosity of people we met to be outstanding! We held events at both Eastern New Mexico University, where Jing threw the first pitch of their baseball game, and at West Texas A&M University, where we hosted an ice cream social with pre-medical students. Our next rest day was in Norman, OK, where our solidarity ride got cancelled due to rain, but we still held a very successful silent auction fundraiser. The weather got cold and the roads got exceptionally hilly throughout eastern Oklahoma, the vans got stuck in the mud a couple of times, and then we had another rest day in Tulsa, which marked our halfway point. We hosted a solidarity ride in the rain, celebrated a couple of birthdays, and lost a couple of portion riders at this point only to gain a few over the following weeks. For Cody’s birthday, “no longer a teenager,” he got thrift shop gifts of a Hannah Montana helmet, a red jacket, and a cowboy hat, which he wore quite often for the rest of the trip. The next day we rode into Muskogee, OK to participate in a church picnic playing egg toss, sack races, and ultimate Frisbee with the kids.
The weather warmed back up and we made our way into Arkansas, which proved to be a wonderful surprise – never having been there before, I didn’t know to expect gorgeous mountains, bayous, rice fields, and so many armadillos! Kyle made it his personal mission to save every turtle he saw crossing the road. We stopped by Planters Peanuts in Fort Smith for some photos on our short ride into Waldron, where we got to hike the Ouachita Mountains and watch the movie Heavyweights (“Buddy!”). This is about the time our rainy streak began. We rode in the rain as long as there was no lightening and visibility remained fair. (According to Dreas, if there’s thunder but no lightening, we’re still good… jokes are funny.) So our ride into Little Rock got cut short due to severe thunderstorms – Rack ‘em! While some of the team spent our free rainy afternoon at the Clinton Presidential Library, the rest of us played checkers and ate soft pretzels at The Flying Saucer. The next day was a long ride into Marvell, where we attended the local Friday night rodeo with some of the church members who hosted us that evening. And then before we crossed two state lines in one day, Mississippi and Tennessee, Joel gave us his insightful “Get this done” speech in place of morning cheer. Sometimes we all need to slow down and remind ourselves of why we ride and simply enjoy every moment of the journey. We had our lunch stop at a BBQ festival happening in Tunica, MS as we were passing through, and this is where we met the town Mayor and got several pounds of spicy crawfish donated to us. One thing we did really well on this trip was eat; we ate often and in mass amounts. And when we didn’t, we got “hangry.” You’re just not yourself when you’re hungry.
A day off in Memphis was busy with some medical students from University of Tennessee leading us to explore Beale Street, Mud Island, the ducks at the Peabody Hotel, the Civil Rights Museum, and of course our usual team laundry and bike shop stops. Three riding days later, and the beginning of the boys obsession with the game Mafia, we were in Nashville for another day off. Here we gave lectures to a youth group, my friend Dan from college joined us for the next week, and we explored Broadway Street, where teammate Kyle was able to sing on stage at Tootsie’s. Some of us were also able to get our bikes tuned up at Gran Fondo – many thanks to Chris and crew!
The ride out of Nashville and into Kentucky brought some hill climbs with it, but the scenery was totally worth it and I loved all the little waterfalls and streams along the road. We introduced Josh to Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” song – perfectly fitting for our trip. The weather took a turn for the worse; we faced constant cold rain for the next week. Our bikes had never been so dirty, and our gear was soaking wet. (“This is why we can’t have nice things.” –Duane) We rode past Churchill Downs on opening night, which obviously turned into a photo stop. And we stayed at a warehouse for WaterStep in Louisville, whose aim is to make clean water sustainable in about 30 countries. Very cool. In Aurora, IN we lectured to the community about R4WH, played basketball and ate an amazing home cooked dinner with them. In Cincinnati, OH, Eliza gave a detailed noon conference lecture about foreign aid to resident physicians at the Children’s Hospital – who knew Ohio was so hilly? Our ride into Columbus was our longest ride, 123 miles on a flat bike path, and the sun came out for the first time all week. I got my first flat since getting new tires in Yuma, AZ, and Matt was kind enough to fix it. We also rode past a manure geyser at a farm, it was the strangest thing. But it was a great homecoming for our Ohio State teammates. We spent the next 5 days hosting tons of fundraising events in Columbus, including a solidarity ride from Roll: (our bike shop sponsor), wine tasting, a concert and open mic night, and Global Health Day, while several teammates attended graduation proceedings at Ohio State Medical School.
Global Health Day was especially incredible, because the founders of both of our beneficiaries attended and gave lectures. It was great to put a face with the name finally, especially after reading Deo’s story, “Strength in what Remains.” Deo from Village Health Works in Burundi, Africa expressed his gratitude towards our contribution and crazy adventure across America. He explained that the motivation and solidarity used to start and maintain his organization within a community of conflict and recent genocide stemmed from the question, “What can we do together to help ourselves?” And Dr. Khan spoke all about her grassroots organization Empower & Advance. She emphasized that the Haitian people don’t want charity; they want resources to help them help themselves; people helping people. My teammate Heather is lucky enough to be a part of the launch, as she is going to help jumpstart the organization in Haiti for the first couple of weeks in May 2013.
We had excellent weather all week in Columbus, and of course the day we left to ride to Athens it was pouring rain with poor visibility. We rode about 42 miles before having to rack the bikes for the second and last time of the trip. So instead, we visited Ash Cave and Jing and Zorko played in the cold waterfall. The next day we entered “wild and wonderful” West Virginia and encountered some truly steep mountain climbs, and of course in the rain, too. I got a flat, and for the first time I changed it all by myself with a little coaching by Zorko. I was pretty lucky, because some others had many more flats than me; I think Will had 20 flats or so? We had some long rides with lots of climbing for the next few days until we reached Virginia, but all in all, West Virginia was my favorite state. It was so pretty there, with waterfalls and raging rivers and mountains at every turn. There was this adorable little fishing town called Cabins that we passed through; it was so picturesque and quaint! We even took a lunch break one day and hiked 3 miles up Seneca Rocks. One day we rode up in elevation from the lush, green valleys of early summer to the mountains where it was still early spring and the trees lacked leaves. We tackled a number of category 3 and 4 hills, and enjoyed a couple of really fun downhills with tight turns. We crossed the Eastern Continental Divide at 3300ft elevation. And to get to the Virginia state line, we conquered our final category 2 hill of the trip on an almost 4 mile long climb with over 250 ft/mile elevation gain. “Don’t stop when it hurts, stop when you’re done.” At this point, I had been riding for 5 weeks and had become more confident, stronger, and much more comfortable on my bike and riding in groups, so climbing mountains wasn’t dreadful or as painful as the first two weeks of the ride. And as crazy as it sounds, I realized that I found myself actually having fun with it. It’s like that saying goes, “Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere; and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.” Maybe I like cycling after all?
Going into DC, we rode together almost the whole day. We started on open back roads along old civil war trails, “the peloton consumes all,” and then ended the day on bike paths into the city. We rode up to the Lincoln Memorial and took team photos on the steps in the rain. Some family members greeted us – I absolutely loved meeting everyone’s families along the ride! Then we rode around the National Mall, Capitol Hill, and ended at the Jefferson Memorial when storm clouds began to roll in. The next day was Day 54 of 54 and Mother’s Day, and there were a few bridges to cross in Maryland that don’t allow bike traffic, so we racked the bikes on the vans to drive that portion and finished the final 45 miles of riding into Bethany Beach, Delaware on our bikes together as a team. Remembering to when we dipped our back tires in the Pacific as a group of strangers, 3,457 miles later we stormed the beach and dipped our front tires into the Atlantic Ocean as besties. We had been through so much together – forming, storming, norming, performing, and beard growing for the boys. And I had come such a long way from wanting to quit in Grants, NM. I’m ecstatic that I stuck with these guys to the finish… We did it!
It’s been a week since the ride ended and I returned back to Michigan safely. Let me just say, driving west and away from the sunrise on the way back to Columbus, OH was a very strange thing. Since then, I’ve been battling a cold, staying busy with moving, completing residency paperwork, and taking care of my puppy who missed me, but I’ve found time to get my bike tuned up so it’s ready to ride again, completed a Tough Mudder race, and of course staying in contact with my teammates. We have dispersed across the country from coast to coast –some of us are headed to Portland, Maine, while another is headed to Los Angeles, California for residency. Heather is already in Haiti helping to launch Empower & Advance. Cody is now a 30 in League of Legends. Josh is sick too, like me. Pankti got engaged (Congrats!). Jing is probably stretching; he is the most flexible person I know. Matt has been celebrating babies, engagements, and weddings with his friends and family. Blake has been helping clean up after the Moore, OK tornado, and thankfully both he and Erin’s family are alright after that disaster. For such a diverse bunch, we got along great and I look forward to keeping in touch with everyone over the next few years as we each begin a new chapter in our lives.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ernest Hemingway
|3/15/2013||MATCH DAY||Match Day|
|3/17/2013||Vans leave at 6am||2270||Drive to San Diego|
|3/18/2013||Arrive in SD by 7-8pm Monday||San Diego, CA|
|3/19/2013||Retreat in SD for all riders||18||Team practice ride|
|3/20/2013||San Diego, CA||Julian, CA||65||First Riding Day|
|3/21/2013||Julian, CA||Westmorland, CA||67|
|3/22/2013||Westmorland, CA||Yuma, AZ||96|
|3/23/2013||Yuma, AZ||Dateland, AZ||67|
|3/24/2013||Dateland, AZ||Buckeye, AZ||88|
|3/25/2013||Buckeye, AZ||Fountain Hills, AZ||64|
|3/26/2013||Phoenix, AZ||Day off in Phoenix|
|3/27/2013||Fountain Hills, AZ||Payson, AZ||65|
|3/28/2013||Payson, AZ||Snowflake, AZ||87|
|3/29/2013||Snowflake, AZ||Zuni, NM||104|
|3/30/2013||Zuni, NM||Grant, NM||76|
|3/31/2013||Grants, NM||Albuquerque, NM||95|
|4/3/2013||Albuquerque, NM||Mountainair, NM||67|
|4/4/2013||Mountainair, NM||Santa Rosa, NM||109|
|4/5/2013||Santa Rosa, NM||Portales, NM||115|
|4/6/2013||Portales, NM||Canyon/Amarillo, TX||108|
|4/7/2013||Canyon, TX||Shamrock, TX||97|
|4/8/2013||Shamrock, TX||Weatherford, OK||116|
|4/9/2013||Weatherford, OK||Norman, OK||73|
|4/10/2013||Norman, OK||Norman, OK||Day off|
|4/11/2013||Norman, OK||Chandler, OK||70|
|4/12/2013||Chandler, OK||Tulsa, OK||73|
|4/13/2013||Tulsa, OK||Tulsa, OK||19||Solidarity Ride/Day off|
|4/14/2013||Tulsa, OK||Muskogee, OK||52|
|4/15/2013||Muskogee, OK||Fort Smith, AR||88|
|4/16/2013||Fort Smith, AR||Waldron, AR||39|
|4/17/2013||Waldron, AR||Hot Springs, AR||90|
|4/18/2013||Hot Springs, AR||Little Rock, AR||28|
|4/19/2013||Little Rock, AR||Marvell, AR||114|
|4/20/2013||Marvell, AR||Memphis, TN||94|
|4/21/2013||Memphis, TN||Day Off|
|4/22/2013||Memphis, TN||Milan, TN||100|
|4/23/2013||Milan, TN||Waverly, TN||66|
|4/24/2013||Waverly, TN||Nashville, TN||63|
|4/25/2013||Nashville, TN||Day Off|
|4/26/2013||Nashville, TN||Glasgow, KY||98|
|4/27/2013||Glasgow, KY||Louisville, KY||100|
|4/28/2013||Louisville, KY||Aurora, IN||95|
|4/29/2013||Aurora, IN||Cincinnati, OH||36|
|4/30/2013||Cincinnati, OH||Columbus, OH||123|
|5/1/2013||Columbus, OH||Day Off|
|5/3/2013||Columbus, OH||Global Health Day|
|5/4/2013||Columbus, OH||40||Solidarity Ride|
|5/5/2013||Columbus, OH||OSU Graduation|
|5/6/2013||Columbus, OH||Athens, OH||42|
|5/7/2013||Athens, OH||Harrisville, WV||77|
|5/8/2013||Harrisville, WV||Elkins, WV||97|
|5/9/2013||Elkins, WV||Petersburg, WV||58|
|5/10/2013||Petersburg, WV||Fort Royal, WV||74|
|5/11/2013||Fort Royal, WV||Washington, DC||99|
|5/12/2013||Washington, DC||Bethany Beach, DE||45||Last Riding Day|
|5/13/2013||Bethany Beach, DE||Day off|
|5/14/2013||Drive Back To Columbus, OH|
A special thanks to everyone who supported us along the way and made this awesome adventure so successful!
And to my wonderful teammates – there will be days when you don’t think you can ride a bike across the country, and there will be a lifetime of knowing you have. Congrats guys, you really are amazing! May the wind always be at your back
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!