Have you ever had a moment that was so awe-inspiring that you couldn’t experience it enough? A moment that was so full of fulfilled expectation and emotional detail that you felt as if you’d burst with the joy of the experience. Yet at the same time however, you felt like so much was happening that you were missing some of it. Your brain only had the ability to process so much. At the point that the experience surpassed your ability to take it in, you gave in to it and allowed the moment to catch you up and sweep you away with it. Suddenly, you were hurtling through this moment, the control out of your hands. You felt like you were part of something bigger than yourself. When the moment ended, you felt elated and fulfilled. You didn’t say much too the people there with you, because words wouldn’t have been enough. You just basked in the satisfaction and took that feeling with you through the day.
I had a moment like that when I was among thousands of cyclists that took the bridge.
It was at the 37th annual American Cancer Society Bike-A-Thon in 2009. We started the 67-mile ride in Philadelphia, PA at the base of the Ben Franklin Bridge. I had so much anticipation and excitement coursing through my veins.
I had trained for this ride. Up until that point, I had been increasing my ride distance from my normal 20-mile road rides to weekly 38-mile rides. On the two weekends preceding the Bike-A-Thon, I had done a 45-mile and a 50-mile ride. I was ready to ride the longest distance I’d ever gone in my life.
I had raised money for this charity ride. I personally raised over $400. My team, PHH Mortgage had collectively raised thousands of dollars.
I was with George and a group of C paced riders. I had friends in the group and we were all wearing matching jerseys.
It was a beautiful morning and I was so excited to ride from Philly to Mays Landing, NJ. We were loaded up with water and snacks. There were numerous rest stops along the way with food, drinks, and bathrooms. At the end, there would be a finish line and a cheering crowd. There’d be a picnic lunch, bands, free massages, and raffle prizes. Our families were going to be waiting at the end.
The lead up to the launch was a whirlwind of activities. Racing along the highway. Parking very far away from the event. A mad scramble to set up the bikes. Riding through the cobblestone streets looking for a porta potty. Searching for our teammates and squeezing in. Anxiously waiting. Hearing the horns sound. No one’s moving? Then finally, we began inching forward.
It was hard to balance the bike while going that slowly and being packed in like sardines. I mostly shuffled my feet and kept my butt off the seat. Finally, the people in front of us started riding. I mounted and clipped in. We were off. We were already on the bridge at this point. I looked to the side to see the water, but couldn’t see through all the riders. We got up to about 7 mph and were able to start passing people. I tried to keep close to George. I was a little nervous about people crashing in front of me.
Once we got about halfway up the bridge, we were moving at about 12mph. I could have gone faster, but it was just too crowded. It was amazing to be with so many cyclists. As far as I could see in every direction there were bikes. Fast race bike with kitted riders. Hybrids with moms on them. Mountain bikes with teen boys. Little children with baskets and bells. Absolutely amazing. We reached the top of the bridge and I chanced a look over the edge. The water was shining like a sea of diamonds in the sun. The breeze was pleasant and the air smelled good. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of peace. What a reward for raising money for the fight against cancer. Somehow, I felt like I was getting more out this than the people who’d benefit from the fund raising efforts.
As we crested the top of the bridge, we picked up speed. I was braking regularly to keep it under control, yet it was still so exhilarating! I felt the rhythmic bumps every time I rode over the seams in the road. My senses were alert as I watched the riders in front of me. I was flying and not even trying. I’d never gone down a hill that was so long before and I loved every minute of it. A photographer that I didn’t even notice snapped our pictures. The bridge ended and I felt the switch from momentum back to pedaling under my own power. I looked around and realized that we were riding on the highways I driven many times. I felt high with the knowledge that they’d closed the roads through many towns so that we could do this ride.
My gratitude at being able to experience such an amazing ride was overflowing. I thanked the cops at the intersections. I thanked the rest stop volunteers who passed out food so freely. All the cyclists were so friendly and happy. I think we were all intoxicated with the joy of riding our bikes and by the unity of being with so many like-minded people.
I’ll never forget that day. Some rides pass into obscurity due to being “just another ride”, but there are other rides that will remain crystallized in your memory forever. The feeling in the air, the excitement of being in the staging area, the rush of adrenaline as I flew down the Ben Franklin Bridge…All these memories will stay with me. What an awesome day it was when thousands of cyclists took the bridge.