In June I participated in the AIDS Lifecycle (ALC), a 545 mile bike ride to raise funds and awareness for AIDS/HIV research, care, and prevention. I am new to cycling as a sport and this was my first time doing the ride, which this year had 2200 participants and 700 support volunteers, all of whom raised over $15 million dollars.

What follows is not a play by play of my experience (check out my Facebook, Instagram or Strava feeds for that piece of the story) but rather an effort to gather in one place the things I learned.

As a 42 year-old adult I find that I am able to stay comfortably in the boxes I create for myself. It’s easy to shy away from or avoid things that challenge me unless I create those challenges for myself. Cycling, and in turn ALC, have proven to be among the most significant challenges I have tackled.

If you are a regular reader here you know I love a list, so here goes.

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Grinding it out on The Quad Buster
  • I was bad at this when I started. Really bad, like “almost fell off the bike bad” trying to climb up my first hill. But I stuck with it and got better. And now am a stronger, more skilled and confident cyclist.
    • Takeaway: I’d forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner, to really struggle. It had me thinking a lot and connecting with the emotions many of my students will encounter, especially the 9th graders. Empathy for the win.
  • I wanted to quit, a lot. Didn’t want to get up for training rides. Wanted to bail on long rides early. Didn’t think I could get up for the 6th day in a row of being on my bike for 12 hours.
    • Takeaway: I pushed through. I let the “I wanna quit” voice run it’s course. I didn’t give up. And again I found myself thinking of my students and how, especially during marching band season, there are times when they don’t like what they are doing and want to quit. And that those feelings are normal and a part of the experience for so many. They were for me. Learning how to work through tough spots when I wasn’t calling the shots was a huge learning moment.
  • I can do things now that I could not do before. I cycled to the summit of Mt. Diablo. I did 109 miles in one day. I rode over 800 miles of training prior to the 545 miles I did for ALC. I felt proud of something I had accomplished.
    • Takeaway: Hard work pays off. And the cumulative journey of the training process set me up for success. In the end the achievement of finishing the ride, while significant, was really the icing on the cake in terms of the overall experience of training, growing, and learning through riding.
  • I learned to listen to my body. Drink when thirsty. Eat when hungry. Sleep when tired. That it’s ok to go slower when that’s what your body can do. And that’s it’s awesome to go faster what that’s what your body can do.
    • Takeaway: trust that little voice, that little tug, the tap on the shoulder…however it manifests itself in your life: pay attention. I learned that my mind and body are capable of giving me all that I need to know if I’m listening.
  • In the company of many new people I was reminded of the beauty of community. Of knowing how to ask for help. How to swallow my pride and reach out to those around me. People are willing to help if you’ll only ask. And then be ready to pay that forward.
    • Takeaway: as a band director I am focused pretty heavily on creating and fostering a community. Being on the ride helped me remember what it means to be an active part of a community. I wasn’t calling the shots. I had to show up and do my part every day to offer help and support and ask for it when I needed it. Another good reminder of the world I hope my students are able to live in as a part of my band.
  • Working together with 2200 people towards a common goal was magical. There were tears of joy. Tears of sadness. Tears of exhaustion. But the conviction of all of us getting on the road together at 6:30 am and getting something done…something physical, something philanthropic, something human…it was all so satisfying.
    • Takeaway: it was important to be reminded what it meant to be a part of a group. Though I was riding alone I was never alone. And being a part of a group like this was something I have missed. My appreciation for the very existence of something like high school band for my students deepened as a result.
  • I was not the best at cycling. I am a very competitive person and it was hard to be passed by literally hundreds of people a day when my skill or my sore legs prevented me from keeping up. I struggled with feeling like a failure at times because I wasn’t in the group of the strongest riders.
    • Takeaway: It wasn’t about being the best. It was about doing my best but my best kept changing each day. Some days were easier, some very hard. But in the end the only person I had to compete with was myself. Though this wasn’t a race, my competitive urges came to the surface regularly. I had to learn how to channel those urges in a way that moved me forward without crushing me. I made peace with my limitations and learned to actually enjoy what I was able to do instead of resenting what I wished I could do.
  • And in the end, there was grace, there was humanity, there was decency and perseverance. ALC is called The Love Bubble. And the energy of this community carried each of us in exactly the way we needed.
    • Takeaway: I realized firsthand what it means to be a part of an organization that cares so deeply for both the participants and the broader community of those affected by AIDS/HIV. And for those that we ride in support of and often in memory of. I feel a renewed clarity around supporting and guiding the biggest”why” of  my teaching: the students. I will keep finding clear language to express the value of caring for not only ourselves but for those around us.

Thank you for reading. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted and I appreciate those of you who have stopped by to be a part of my journey!

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My beautiful teammates Christina and Steven

With gratitude,

Jonathan

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2 thoughts on “That Time I Biked 545 Miles

  1. LOVE this! Thanks for sharing. I signed up to ride next year and would like to,find a group with which to train or a training plan. I’m in the Central Valley. Any suggestions?

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    1. Official training rides will be posted on ALC website but I think that’s only after the kick-off ride, in the meantime you could look for ALC groups on Facebook and ask there (you could also check the 2017 rides to find those close to you and check if there are FB groups with those names). I did the ride this year as a beginner and strongly recommend the official training rides to get used to ride in groups and practice the ALC safety rules; the rules may seem excessive but they are necessary when riding with 2000+ people. Don’t miss the climbing clinic even if you know about gears (I didn’t) they cover the mental aspect of climbing and really boosted my confidence. Have a fantastic ride.

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