50 miles – With The Help Of My Friends

RWL 3 Orlando on Seminole Wekiva Trail

RWL 3 Orlando on Seminole Wekiva Trail

On Saturday, June 29, 2013, 19 Orlando cyclists gathered to commemorate the anniversary of the “Ride With Larry.” The original event took place in South Dakota between June 21-25, 2011. That ride was led by Larry Smith, a gentleman from Vermillion, SD, who has lived with Parkinson’s Disease for 20 years. Larry rode over 300 miles across South Dakota to raise awareness for Parkinson’s and, quite frankly, to just get on the road and have fun with his family and friends. I had the privilege of taking part in the final day of that epic ride and crossed the finish line with Larry. I wrote about that experience in an article titled, “The Most Exhilarating Ride of My Life.” It was a particularly special day because my son, Brian, accompanied me on that ride.

Riding on the front row with Larry - Original RWL 2011

Riding on the front row with Larry – Original RWL 2011

Last summer, a group of Larry’s friends organized a one-day 50-mile anniversary ride in South Dakota. I wasn’t able to fit in a trip to South Dakota, so I organized an event in Orlando with friends from Commute Orlando and CyclingSavvy. Keri Caffrey created a route and named it the “Great Loop.” It was exactly 50 miles, starting at the Cady Way trailhead in Orlando, heading north through Winter Park, Maitland, Altamonte Springs, and Heathrow; turning east to Lake Mary, Winter Springs, and Oviedo; then southwest back through Orlando to the original starting point. Nine riders took part and had a great time. This year, we selected Saturday, June 29, 2013 for RWL 3 / Orlando. We dusted off the “Great Loop” map and posted an invitation. The ride was open to the public and no RSVP was required. Based on those who did respond, I expected between 6-8 people. I was thrilled to see a total of 19 riders show up.

Jen Everland and John Alexander on RWL 3

Jen Everland and John Alexander on RWL 3

One of the reasons that Parkinson’s awareness is important to me is that I was diagnosed with it in January, 2010. I’ve learned about the benefits of cycling as therapy. To get more comfortable on my bike and improve my bike handling skills, I took the CyclingSavvy class in Orlando three years ago. Since then, I have logged about 2,700 miles on my bike. My neurologist (a Parkinson’s specialist) agrees that my bike riding has helped slow the progression of my symptoms.  My goal is to ride about 100 miles per month. That being said, my mileage has been down a bit the past few months due to a heavy work travel schedule and a lot of afternoon rain storms. For cyclists, nothing beats time in the saddle to stay in top condition or prepare for a long ride. I have to admit, I wasn’t as prepared as I would have liked for this long ride. My daughter, Jen Everland, agreed to join me for the ride. She had taken the Cycling Savvy class in March and a week later we completed the 25-mile route of the Orlando Tour de Cure Diabetes Awareness Ride. Jen had decided in advance to do 25 miles of RWL 3 and drop her bike off at my house, which coincided with the midpoint. A wise move on her part.

Some of our ride companions

Some of our ride companions

We arrived the Cady Way Trailhead about 7 am the day of the ride. Just before we made the last turn, an unusually-shaped yellow vehicle passed us going the opposite direction. We unloaded our bikes and got set up for the start. The yellow vehicle rolled in as well and turned out to be a velomobile, a human powered vehicle (HPV) enclosed in an aerodynamic shell. Fred from Daytona Beach owns this WAW model and had towed it behind his electric car which he parked at a recharging station for the day. He had gotten slightly turned around before arriving at the starting point. The 19 of us certainly represented a cross-section of cycling options – the WAW, three Catrike three-wheeled tadpole trikes, a Bacchetta two-wheeled recumbent, two Electra Townies, a RANS crank-forward bicycle, and eleven more traditional road / mountain bikes. Quite a sight to behold, and a delight to view as noted by the many positive comments that our group received from onlookers throughout the day.

The beginning of the ride was reminiscent of last year’s ride. We were on our way shortly after 7:30 am to take advantage of the cooler early morning temperatures and get in as many miles as possible before the rain which had been predicted for the day. The group made its way northbound through Orlando, Winter Park, Maitland and Altamonte Springs. The streets were virtually empty and we were able to ride two abreast most of the way which allowed for lots of pleasant conversation. Fred missed out on most of that since he’s quite isolated once the cover for the WAW is in place. I rode next to Jen and also spent some time chatting with Dave, the Marketing Director for Catrike. After passing through a portion of the Altamonte Mall, we crossed over I-4 on E. Central Parkway and then picked up the Seminole Wekiva Trail.

About 20 minutes later we arrived at the location of the newly installed “Ride With Larry” painting, the work of local artist Jeff Sonsken. I had asked Jeff to paint a mural commemorating the original Ride With Larry and he graciously agreed to do so, installing it on the fence on the trail a few weeks before our RWL 3 ride. Everyone was thrilled to see the finished work and pose with it for photos.

Jeff Sonsken, Seminole County Artist of the Year with RWL painting. John holding his original RWL shirt (signed by Davis Phinney)

Jeff Sonsken, Seminole County Artist of the Year with RWL painting. John holding his original RWL shirt (signed by Davis Phinney)

We continued northbound on the Seminole Wekiva Trail, taking the tunnel under Lake Mary Blvd., passing the AAA headquarters on International Parkway, and then crossing the bike / pedestrian bridge over I-4. From that point we headed south on Reinhardt Rd., controlling the lane until we picked up the Cross Seminole Lane. Jen split off after we arrived at Greenway Blvd. as planned. I’m so proud of her for being part of this ride. I felt pretty good at that point, though will admit to being tempted to call it a day at that point since I was less than a quarter mile from home. However, I rode on and mentally assessed my status — legs felt good, breathing was relaxed and easy, didn’t feel particularly overheated, but was beginning to develop pain in the ball of my right foot. That was a flare up of metatarsalgia (also known as “stone bruise”) which had been a problem when I did my first metric century (100 km) on the Ride 4 Ronald ride last September. Extra padding and two pairs of socks had helped up to this point but were proving to not be enough protection.

Group on the Trail 640We crossed Highway 17-92 on the Cross Seminole Trail and I got some assistance getting up that incline with a push on the back from Larry Gies. He had been one of my “guardian angels” on last year’s RWL 2 and the Ride 4 Ronald, continuously coaching and encouraging me. He jumped right back into that role on this day. Little did I know how many “angels” would come to my aid throughout the balance of the afternoon. The group stopped for lunch at Tijuana Flats at the Winter Springs Town Center. I knew from last year that I wouldn’t be very hungry, so I only ordered a small rice and beans. I found that I couldn’t eat more than one bite — which I probably should have taken as a sign of dehydration. We’d travelled about 30 miles and I hadn’t completely drained my 70 oz. Camelpak. I should have consumed about twice that amount of electrolyte infused water by that point. The mantra, “Drink before you’re thirsty” began to play in my head.

As we gathered to resume our ride, Marty Smith, a person whom I had just met made an extraordinary gesture. He offered to let me ride his Catrike. He’d heard that my foot was hurting and figured that the different riding position would take some of the pressure off it. I gladly accepted the opportunity — both to help relax my foot and because Catrikes are just so much fun to ride! Marty recently moved from Connecticut to Central Florida and happened to see the RWL 3 Event on the Commute Orlando website. I sincerely appreciate him making the exchange, and do believe that he had some fun trying out my Townie as well. It took all of two seconds to become familiar with Marty’s Catrike Villager and I was back in business. Switching to the recumbent for about fifteen miles certainly helped me complete the entire route.

Being at “street level” it was only natural to ride next to another Catrike operator, Mark Egeland. Not only is Mark an overall cycling enthusiast, he is also a Partner and General Manager of BIG CAT Human Powered Vehicles, LLC — the company that designs, manufactures and markets Catrikes. The company was founded in Winter Garden and has recently moved their production facility to Orlando. Mark and I had plenty to talk about. I first became familiar with Catrike during the original RWL in South Dakota. Larry Smith rides a Catrike since it is more stable than a two wheeled bike. One of Mark’s dealers, Harlan Krueger from Harlan’s Bike and Tour in Sioux Falls, South Dakota took part in the ride and helped members of the Parkinson’s community become familiar with the ease and fun of operating these nimble buggies during test rides. To witness the joy on the face of one woman who thought that she would never again enjoy the fun and freedom of cycling, but was able to do so on the Catrike, was very moving. One person even won a Catrike that week due to the generosity of Mark’s company.

We also talked about the release this fall of the “Ride With Larry” documentary. The film has been submitted to the Orlando Film Festival which is taking place from October 16-20. The film deserves to be shown, not only for the awareness that it brings to Parkinson’s Disease, but the dramatic effort that Larry and Betty Smith put into planning and executing their 300 mile ride. We also talked about Ataxia, another neurological illness which affects balance. My knowledge of that disease was very limited until I read some posts by Richard Wharton, owner of Cycling Center, Dallas and a Cycling Savvy Instructor. Richard had coached a young lady named Emily who is living with Ataxia to complete a 25-mile ride on her Catrike. Mark knew Emily well and was wearing a Ride Ataxia jersey to show his support for her efforts and others battling that disease.

John and Mark clearing the Cady Way Trail Bridge

John and Mark clearing the Cady Way Trail Bridge

While we were “gabbing on” about a whole variety of topics, Mark was taking his place as another of my guardian angels. When we approached the second to the last bridge – one that I had walked last year – Mark coached me through the set up and road through it  with me with words of encouragement. Going up the final Cady Way Trail Bridge over SR 434, he actually helped push me to the top – right at a point when my energy was waning. Mark Egeland is just an overall good guy. He loves life and is running a company that is having an incredibly positive experience on many lives. I’m honored to now consider him a friend – that’s what happens when you share an experience like riding 50 miles with someone.

Support came from so many of the other riders throughout the day. For example, I’ve been on some “First Friday Rides” with Keith McLane before and he remembered my mentioning that my son, Brian, had graduated from the University of Southern California as Keith had. For this ride, Keith elected to wear a USC kit. At one point I passed him and simply stated USC’s motto, “Fight On!” – more so for myself, but in appreciation for his being part of the ride.

With about seven miles to go, I swapped rides again with Marty and mounted my trusty Townie for the final section. The time on the Catrike had provided the relief that my foot needed, but dehydration and overall fatigue was settling in quickly. I was sliding back in the line and beginning to mentally doubt if I could make it the rest of the way.

Right at that critical point, Keri Caffrey dropped back from her lead position, placing her bike directly in front of me and simply said calmly, “Stay on my wheel.” We had picked up a headwind, so she was allowing me to draft off her, but more importantly gave me a singular point of focus. I blocked out everything else around me but her back tire. It was as if the ultimate Top Gun pilot was leading a comrade with three out of four engines burned out back to the landing strip of an air craft carrier. Keri has been my mentor and friend ever since I took the CyclingSavvy class. She is one of the strongest and smartest cyclists that I know. If she said “follow her” — that’s what I was going to do.

We were soon joined by Lisa Walker, another one of my heroes. There was no way that I could fail at this point as long as I followed these two. Keri knows what I am capable of, so as we rolled into the final mile she quietly stated, “We’re going to pick up the pace now.” We began to pull ahead of the group. Then she said, “Bring us home” and with my last bit of energy I sprinted for the “finish line.” The Davis Phinney Foundation’s motto is “Every Victory Counts.” Completing this 50-mile ride, on this day, with three and a half years of Parkinson’s under my belt, was indeed a personal victory. However, a victory — like so many — that I accomplished with the help of my friends and love of my family.

Anyone up for a bike ride?

RWL3 Orlando post ride 640

Here’s the group coming over the prettiest trail bridge in Seminole County:

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