After the first two days of Ride to Remember, I was tired but feeling so pumped about riding with my team again. My original plan was to see how I felt after Day 2, and from there decide if I was riding with a faster group, or staying back and relaxing. With my legs sore and an early start time, I decided I would rather stay with my friends than try to race out with the fast packs. Looking back on it, I can see that God had a big hand in this.
As the start time grew near, everyone was excited to start the final day. The course had very little climbing, in fact the only real elevation of note was the final climb on the Ravenel Bridge at the end. We expected smooth, quick riding as we went along. You could feel the energy in the entire group as we headed out with yet another police escort. Things were moving quickly, until the worst possible thing happened - we had a teammate go down. Road conditions, as well as unfortunate circumstances came to the ultimate downside of a friend on the ground, hurting. We all circled around and banded together to quickly check out her bike and give support. The EMS was there in no time flat, and decided that it was best for take her to the hospital to check out her wounds. While it was mostly scrapes and bruises, it meant that her day ended in Orangeburg. We attempted to get her bike, along with her husband's, onto a teammate's car for transport with much difficulty. Ultimately I ended up suggesting that we put the bikes on the sweep wagon until the 2nd rest stop, where my wife was volunteering and could take the bikes to the finish line.
After she was on her way to the hospital, we started back out again. At this point the weather had started to shift, and we had to ride through rain on and off. The energy of the group had shifted from excitement to nervousness, and everyone seemed to have the safety of our fallen teammates on our minds. The road conditions were not ideal, as there was a line of bad road right where the right side in a double pace line would have typically ridden. We had to shift the group to the left, which wasn't ideal, but it kept the need to actively avoid road hazard to a minimum. While the mood was rather serious after the crash, the EMTs behind us were actively working to cheer us up as we moved along. When we were in rural areas, they would broadcast music through their PA system, giving us something to banter about. Whether it was CCR's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" or Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle", the fact that they were trying to cheer us on (and up) was heartwarming. We slowly caught up with various slower moving riders, and picked up several folks on and off as we continued our trek.
In order to take the burden off of some of the others in the group, and to help keep our speed up some, I started taking extra long turns at the front of the pace line. This was helpful, as we were able to keep the pace up a little bit higher, but also detrimental as my tired legs were going to feel the pressure. Stopping at rest stops became a struggle, as they would start to stiffen up after just a couple of minutes of not pedaling. Ultimately by the 40mi mark, a few of us decided to strike out on our own so we wouldn't have to stop as long at the rest stops. While I hate that I ended up not riding with the folks I wanted to ride with so badly, I believe it helped both groups to be more effective. I would have preferred to ride in with my friends, and if I had to do it over again I think that I would ride back up to the top of Ravenel to ride in with them.
From the 40mi mark until we entered Charleston, the new group was much smaller, and our focus was on keeping a consistent pace and effort and being efficient on our stops to keep our muscles from cooling off too much. We started out as 3, and picked up folks on and off as we moved through the routes. We quickly caught up to, and passed, another pack of riders, and ended up picking up a few folks from there. By the time we got to the PB&J stop at mile 60, we had a handle on the efforts that we could put out. We rolled into the mandatory stop at mile 80 with no incidents, and had a slightly extended stop while we waited for our final police escort to guide us through US-17 in Charleston. After a few slices of watermelon, and a well received soda to fuel up the legs, the police arrived to lead us through US-17.
Unlike Day 2, the heaviest traffic section of the ride was guided by the local police. Through a heavily traveled divided roadway, it must have been a sight to see the group of us pacing behind a police escort at 20mph. The group had swollen to over 20, as multiple groups had come together at the mandatory stop. As we were escorted through intersections, and brought through the outskirts of the city, we moved quickly and efficiently. 230 miles into the journey, the efforts seemed like nothing as we rode along, and my spirit soared. We reached Ashley River Bridge and we were required to walk our bicycles across the drawbridge section. This was difficult, as walking in my cycling shoes on normal roads is difficult. Walking across the metal section of the bridge was slick, and it was easy for my cleats to get caught in the grooves. Luckily the section that we had to walk across was short, and we were back on our bikes riding into downtown Charleston.
While riding at sea level is nothing completely new to me, it was fun to ride through the historic downtown; waving at tourists and locals alike, passing horse drawn carriages, and seeing the bay just over our shoulder. We made our way by Market Street, and worked our way closer to the bridge. A quick lane shift into the bicycle lane, and we were on the Ravenel Bridge. I have to say that this part of the trip was everything that it was made up to be. The emotions of the journey we had just completed was overwhelming, but the ride wasn't over yet. The climb was not difficult, but with runners to our right and oncoming cycling traffic to our left, the small lane that everyone shared meant that keeping your concentration was critical. Having so many folks in a pack, climbing at different speeds, meant that it was even more important to keep our eyes open for potential hazards. The group made it to the top, and the decent was relatively uneventful.
Finally the emotions were just to much to take in, and I was able to just allow myself to be overwhelmed with everything. I had heard about folks getting over emotional at the end of hard efforts, but with the amount of support and the love that was shown to us as we had spent the past 3 days traveling across South Carolina in support of the Alzheimer's Association was unbelievable. Watching folks lining the road taking pictures and cheering us on was incredible. While I have been on more challenging rides, I cannot imagine that I will experience one that will be more rewarding than what I had just gone through. The best part was seeing our fallen teammates at the finish line, cheering us on and taking pictures! They had been discharged earlier from the hospital, and made their way to the finish to see us get through. I had to go give them hugs, as gently as possible, and get an update. Afterwards I was able to cheer on the rest of the team come across the line as well.
After getting to our hotel and getting a shower and changed, it was time for the celebration party. Hosted at the Citadel Beach Club, we had a chance to experience low country life with time on the beach and a seafood boil. It was a good time to just relax with our teammates again, and have a good time remembering the trip.
What an amazing journey. Originally I was unsure of if I wanted to do this ride more than once, but at this point I feel like there is no doubt that I will be riding to Charleston next July. It won't just be to ride with our teammates that couldn't make it this year, but to be a part of such a strong community that is making such a huge difference to families that are hurting. As of this writing, we have raised over $175,000 to help the 79,000 Alzheimer's patients in South Carolina as well as fund research to end this disease. It's unbelievable what this group was able to accomplish. Just a pack of 220 cyclists, making it personal and putting themselves out there to make a difference. Donations are still be accepted until the end of July, and you can help support us by donating via the Alzhiemer's Association's web site. Together we can #EndALZ