Monday, March 12, 2012

Lessons from the Ride

Top 10 lessons I learned from the Ride 2 Recovery Gulf Coast Challenge. 

 I recently participated in the Ride 2 Recovery Gulf Coast Challenge and the Tallahassee Hero ride, not as a cyclist, but as a support driver and ride nurse. 

The cyclists rode 450 miles from New Orleans to Tallahassee.  With ride 2 recovery, every day is someone's birthday and this ride was no exception.  The ride began on March 4, 2012, my "21st" (50th) birthday and ended on March 10th with a 24 mile honor ride in Tallahassee, FL.  I can think of no better way to spend my birthday than with my ride 2 recovery family.

I'm driving the "Delvin" out of New Orleans
Ride 2 Recovery is a mental and physical rehabilitation program for healing heroes and features cycling as the core activity.  For those of you who rode from New Orleans to Tallahassee, I tip my ride 2 recovery cap to you, you are my inspiration.

Riders at the USS Alabama

This group has become a second family to me and I have learned much from them.  Here are some of the more important lessons I’ve learned, in no particular order.   

Lesson #1: I don’t know diddly about “riding” a bike.  What I know about riding a bike I learned as a child on my bike with tassled handlebars and banana seat.  I had a road bike in college that I somehow managed to ride all around Tallahassee, FL, something I would not be able to do at this time, but I’m inspired to get in to good enough shape to be able to do this once again.  Currently I own an older steel frame mountain bike.  Yes, I said steel frame, which is a laughing point among serious riders.  My goal is to get a “real” bike with a carbon fiber frame and to have it fitted to me.  I have learned that I will need to have my seat and petals and shoes adjusted to me.  If one of the pros makes a suggestion, listen, they know what they are talking about and will make your ride easier and more comfortable.  

Speaking of shoes, lesson #2:  The important thing I’ve learned about clips is to not only clip in, but more importantly clip out.  When you clip in you are attaching your shoes to the pedals which means you are attached to your bike.  Clipping in means you can use your peddling energy more efficiently.  It also means that you must clip out before stopping, unless you are one of those cyclists who can balance while standing still, or you will fall over, bike and all.  It happens more frequently than you think.

Lesson #3: What you wear is important.  While it is important to wear snuggly fit bibs and jerseys for better aerodynamics, what I’m talking about is what you wear on your skin.  Sun screen will not only help prevent uncomfortable sun burn, but also the interesting tan patterns that the holes in your helmet will make on your forehead!  Don’t end up looking like an alien, use sun screen. 
Another important thing to apply on long rides is chamois butt’r®.  Chamois butt’r is used to prevent friction in all those friction prone places such as where your body meets your seat.  Chamois butt’r keeps your butt bett’r. 

Lesson #4 is more of an observation: Women can hold it, men not so much.  It seems that women, out of necessity, have learned to hold it.  Men, on the other hand, see every tree, fence or gas station as a call to pee.  It’s almost a pavlovian response.  It’s as though these place have a magnetic attraction and cause an almost instantaneous urge to urinate in those with a Y chromosome.  Every few miles, or so, a male rider will jump off his bike and run behind a tree or into a gas station, do what they do and then catch up to the rest of the group.  I have yet to see a female rider do this.  Female riders will line up at the port-a-potty, while the men line up along the fence.  In all fairness, when there is a bathroom, the men do line up and on a ride like this, the men greatly out-number the women, so it is a rare time when the women’s line is significantly shorter than the men’s, and it has been pointed out that this is not natural. 

Lesson #5: The legion riders are awesome!  They block traffic and keep our riders moving.  Without them, the riders would be stopped at every red light.  We’d still be in Louisiana.  Police escort can be hit and miss. 

In Mobile, AL, the police escorted through the tunnel instead of making the group go an additional 8 miles around even though bicycle traffic is forbidden in the tunnel. 

In Liberty county Florida, group C was “pulled over” by the police for blocking traffic.  Once we got to Tallahassee, the police escorted us all the way to the hotel.  They were also great during the honor ride.  For those of you who don’t know, the route all the way is marked by orange arrows on the ground so that the riders know which way to go.  Bruce does a great job making sure the route is marked and also reviews the route every morning during the ride brief.  The Tallahassee honor ride was not marked and the police were the only ones who knew the route.  There were only two of us riding in support vehicles and it became difficult to catch up with the group when a rider, male of course, would stop to relieve themselves at a gas station or to fix a mechanical problem.  This wasn’t a problem if the rider had a radio, but we had to keep tabs on those without a radio because the route wasn’t marked.  Most of the time I was able to watch the riders in the rear view but there were times I had to slow or stop and ended up behind the traffic.  One time I was way behind traffic.  I managed to maneuver fairly close to the pack but still behind a few cars with no way to pass.  All of a sudden the cars parted, as though they were the red sea, and I see a police officer moving traffic out of my way to catch me back up to the group.  That was a first and was greatly appreciated.  All riders made it to the finish, 24 miles, no crashes and no pick-ups.


Lesson #6: The support riders and pushers are the reason everyone makes it to the ending point every day.  The lead riders communicate with the support riders in the back and keep the group together.  They are the motivators and are also pushers.  Pushers are those who are the stronger, more experienced riders who physically push other riders.  They help push the hand cyclers and recumbants and also the upright riders who fall behind.  It is the pushers who get those who stop for a tire change or to relieve themselves or who simple fall back behind the group, back to the group.  They not only ride the miles but do it pushing others, sometimes with head wind gusts of up to 30mph with blowing sand.  Take a gander at their calves some time, you’ll see how they are able to do it.  I seem to be over-using the word amazing, but that's what they are, amazing.

Chris Swan and Terri Quirk
Lesson #7:  The Ride 2 Recovery staff are unbelievable.  They coordinate everything so well.  Everything is planned and taken care of.  It’s so well planned that many of the riders don’t even know the hard work that was put in to get everything done.  I don’t want to mention names because I’ll forget someone, but they all work together and do their jobs incredibly well.  One person I will mention is Chris Swan (he coordinated everything in all the towns we pass through, from the school visits to the police escort to the buses that shuttle us where we need to go) not because he is any more important than any other staff member, but because he’s our ride 2 recovery groupie, a weird stalker or crazed fan, we frequently see along the side of the road, in his blue ride 2 recovery shirt, cheering the riders on.  Kudos to Chris for riding, and completing all 24 miles of the Tallahassee Honor ride. 

Lesson #8: Accident prevention tips: 

·     Do not adjust your odometer or mess with anything near the spokes while moving: OUCH!

·     Watch where you are riding and pay attention to what is in front of you or you may crash in  to a stopped bike or vehicle. 

·    Every once in a while I make a decision that I look back later and think, boy I made a good decision.  This happened while driving along the beach.  While catching up to the group after stopping to pick someone up, I almost missed the group that was pulled over in a parking area and I missed the entrance.  I pulled up in the exit, I said to my passenger “I’m stopping here, I don’t want to get stuck in the sand.”  I did not ride on to the side of the road as shoulder and stayed in the exit even though there was a risk of blocking traffic.  I soon learned how good of a decision I made.  Right after we left the parking area, we came around a curve and saw one of our compatriots stuck on the side of the road.  Another vehicle also, from what I understand, got stuck.  Tip: Don’t drive on soft sand.

photo by Lisa Scherr

photo by Lisa Scherr

·    When the EMT’s ask you where you are, make sure they know that you didn’t know where you were BEFORE the crash and that not knowing where you are now is not an indication of brain injury.  They will look at you strangely if you mutter something about being at about mile 20.

·    Don’t grab onto vehicles.  If you do, don’t be surprised when you end up face down on the pavement answering the question “Do you know where you are?”

·    The nurse (me) will attempt to allow you to ride if at all possible, so if the nurse says you are not riding it is because it is not safe for you to ride.  It may be because you passed out and tell me you had pizza for lunch when there was no pizza.  The nurse will not allow you to present a dangerous situation to yourself or others.  If you cannot stand, you cannot ride.  I will not hold it against you if you don’t know where you are, I probably don’t know where we are either. 

·     Breakfast is important.  Some hotels have better pre-ride breakfasts than others.  It’s kind of weird that one of the fanciest hotels we were at had the worst breakfast. Some of the high carb breakfasts will burn off fast and will not last.  Make sure you have snacks with you and replenish your supply at rest stops and lunch.  While I enjoy the company, the goal is to ride your bike to the finish.   Most popular ride snacks: slim jims for the salt, snickers for the salt and all around energy boost, bananas are good for the potassium to prevent cramping and some people swear by the rice krispies snacks.

Lesson #9:  While many of the wounds are visible, not all are.  Traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as some physical injuries are not visibly evident.  Many of those who gain the most attention in the group are those with physical injuries you can see.  Those with missing limbs, prosthesis and wheelchair bound.  They are the ones the news crews flock to because the viewers can see their injuries.  The wounds that cannot be seen are just as real and just as important.  Ride 2 Recovery assists healing heroes with all kinds of wounds, both visible and non-visible.

Lesson # 10: Ride 2 Recovery makes an incredible difference in the lives of healing heroes.  If you are reading this, go to ride 2 recovery and see if they are coming to a town near you.  Come out and cheer on our healing heroes.  Better yet, click on donate/sponsor a rider button and make a donation. 

I was given a Gulf Coast Challenge sticker by one of the riders for being there with them from beginning to end.  I don’t deserve the sticker, I didn’t ride the ride.  I will, however, keep the sticker to remind me of what can be accomplished if you put your mind to it, to motivate me to keep going, to ride further and not give up.  It is a reminder of those incredible riders, if they can do it, so can I.  I thank you for the chance to experience these unforgettable rides with you, and I am honored to be a part of the ride 2 recovery family.


Fabulous photos by Tiffini JonesVanderwyst :
My photo of Tiffini Jones Vanderwyst

See all of Tiffini's Gulf Coast Challenge pictures.


  1. Great read Lisa. Entertaining and informative about cycling and Ride 2 Recovery. Loved the pics! Enjoyed seeing Chris Swan on a bike. How often do we see that?!

    Let me add, that it was comforting to know you were there to take care of us should we get hurt.

  2. I really enjoyed your article, thank you!

  3. Great article. We are training for the R2R Texas had some nice notes for us first timers!