Monday, September 12, 2011

Victory Junction and the Old Guy on a Bike

It has been a while since I have felt inspired to write anything. Saturday changed I have a million things I want to say and I'm not sure that I can remember them all. I suppose that all I can do is give it my best shot and see what appears on the page.

For some time, I've wanted to get back into biking. I used to ride all the time and it was very relaxing. After my accident, I was a bit reluctant to get back on.....and I didn't exactly get what could be termed overwhelming support from the home front. As time passed, I found I still had the urge to ride, but there remained some doubts and questions.

In July, the urge returned with a vengeance. I finally decided to look for a cheap bike and give it a shot. (Note to self and all reading, buying a cheap bike was a huge mistake. I should have gone with my instincts and purchased a better bike right up front.) After a few weeks of looking in semi-earnest, the local Wal-Mart had a bike on sale. It looked good to I loaded it up and carted it home. Did a quick check on the assembly, made some minor adjustments and voila.....we're off!

That night, I tooled around the neighborhood until my butt was sore, then decided to call it a night. Riding became a daily ritual. Each day I rode a bit further and for a bit longer until I was just over a week in. While cruising around the neighborhood and displaying my prowess on two wheels, I ran over a rock on the roadway. Said rock turned the front wheel violently to the right causing my elbow to make hard contact with the neighbor's mailbox, which in turn, caused me to swing abruptly to the left and directly into a large rolling garbage bin. Brilliant discovery number are way better than sandals at offering protection to your feet. My sandal clad right foot impacted the garbage can in a manner not recommended to the faint of heart. The impact broke the big toe and the toe next to it, as well as ripping the nail almost completely from the big toe. There was blood....lots of it.

For a normal person, this might be the end of the story, but not for me. I managed to get myself in the house....applied liberal doses of Betadine and hydrogen peroxide, wrapped the big toe in a gauze pad to provide some cushioning, taped the two mangled toes together and went out and completed the 5 mile goal I had previously established for myself. I can tell you that the pain was pretty intense, but something told me I needed to complete the ride. It wasn't easy, but I managed to make the full 5 miles.

The following day, the foot was too sore do anything more than hobble my way to the local clinic. They took one look and said I should go to the ER or a foot specialist. I didn't think it hurt enough to merit sitting for hours at the I opted to return home and read my email. In my inbox was a message from the Victory Junction Camp telling me about a charity bike ride to raise money for the camp. Having long been my favorite charity, I decided it was time for me to really make a difference. I would begin training immediately and participate in the ride.

On the surface, this seemed like a pretty simple task. The camp offered advertised rides of 15, 30 and 62 miles in length. Given that I only had a bit over a month to prepare, I decided that signing up for the 15 mile ride would be the best plan. I sat down with some computer workout software and came up with a training program that would have me up to the 15 mile mark in short order.....and ultimately have me ready for the big event. Each day, I increased the riding times and distances until I was doing 15 miles with no problem. Riding here in the mountains seemed like a great way to prep myself for that simple charity ride down on the Piedmont. In the two weeks leading up to the ride, I alternated 10 and 15 mile rides.....10 miles at a brisk pace, 15 at a more leisurely "charity ride" pace. My toes were slowly healing and I was feeling pretty good about myself. I rode in all sorts of weather, from blazing hot to pouring rain. In the last couple of days before the event, I almost broke my arm patting myself on the back for how well I had done in the preparation department.

We need to jump back in time though, as there is a parallel track to this story. As part of the obligation associated with participating in a charity ride, you are also expected to raise money for the cause you are attempting to support. I did not immediately register to participate in the event, knowing full well that my toes and my general lack of physical conditioning could be a show-stopper. I made up my mind that when I had completed my fifth 15 mile training ride with no issue, that I could safely register and participate in the Camp Event. On August 29, I completed my fifth greater than 15 mile training day and decided that I was good to go for the event. Late that evening, I filled out my registration information and on the morning of  August 30, I officially became a registered participant. Now comes the hard part....raising money. There are some effective tools for fund raising that come with your registration. I immediately put them into action and naively expected the money to just pour in. I wasn't asking for much....hell, I told people that a buck would be great and that anything more than that would be incredible!

People began asking questions about the event and I seriously expected the floodgates to open and the donations would come pouring in. The ice was finally broken when my wonderful (and by now, very, very supportive) wife made a donation. That was followed by a donation from a friend since Kindergarten days. Ultimately, I received donations from four additional families and friends that understand just how important this cause is. If you are hung up on seeing how much I raised, I will include the link to the donation site, where your contribution will help make this story that much better!

Just to keep the story interesting, during the course of  preparation for the big ride, we were faced with Hurricane Irene, impending surgery for my wife (your thoughts and prayers on September 13 would be greatly appreciated), the anniversary of 9/11 and Tropical Storm Lee, which absolutely devastated our hometowns in upstate NY. Most of our family was out of harm's way, but our son Jon's home was extensively damaged, as was Jan's rental property next door. Jon, his wife Teresa and their two kids are fine, but their home and many possessions didn't survive. Sometimes it is very hard to be 700 miles away.

But, I digress. We worked around the distractions and decided that it was important to complete the charity ride.  At 4 a.m. on the morning of September 10, I set out for Randleman, NC and the Victory Junction Camp. The drive over was very serene and I had lots of thoughts racing through my head, not the least of which was switching from the 15 mile ride to the 30 mile ride, just because my training had been progressing so well and I was feeling great. I arrived at the front gate shortly after 8 a.m. and immediately developed a lump in my throat. Just pulling in, I could feel that I was in a very special, very important place. I snapped a few photos at the front gate and then headed to the parking and registration area.

Check-in was quick and painless....and surprise of surprises, my registration number was 43. NASCAR fans will understand the significance, but for the uninitiated, 43 is one of the numbers associated with the Petty family, most notably "King Richard". I took that as a great sign of things to come.

As I mentioned earlier, I spent the drive over contemplating switching to the 30 mile ride instead of the 15, based on how well I felt and how well the preparations had gone. I ultimately decided to stick with the original plan, especially since this was my first attempt at anything like this. During the training leading up to this, I had tried to follow a similar route to the one that was laid out by the organizers on a neat little smartphone app entitled "Map My Ride".  Data gleaned from the app indicated this would be a very flat ride with only a net elevation change of  50 feet. Just walking from the parking/registration area to the starting point, it became obvious that there was over 50 feet of elevation change in just that short span. The worst was yet to come!

We had a few minutes to look around before we set out. Like most of the riders, I had a banana and a couple bottles of Gatorade to make sure we were hydrated and fueled. Everyone spent some time looking around, stretching, having the on-site mechanic double check their bikes and just generally reflecting on the surroundings. Unless you are totally numb from the hair down, I don't know how you can't get a sense of awe and respect for what a fantastic place the camp really is. It wasn't hard to understand why some very big names in sports are willing to lend their names, funds  and endorsements to the Camps. From Paul Newman to Tony Stewart to Kyle and Pattie corporate sponsors like Bass Pro Shops, Norfolk Southern, Sunoco and donations from everyday folks like you and me all go to making for a magical place. At 9:45 we had a safety briefing and thank you for participating session. I think most of us had lumps in our throats by then.

At 10 a.m., the green flag waved and we were off. The first mile wasn't too bad. Many of us learned quickly that you didn't want to try to keep pace with the boys on their fancy road bikes. A group of about 7 of us settled into a routine that we managed to keep for about 9 miles. It became painfully obvious after the first climb that the 50 elevation change bit was totally wrong. There were a number of climbs far longer and far steeper than the climb out of my development.....and I can tell you that climb has stopped a lot of people. By the time I got to mile 10, there wasn't another rider in sight. There were camera crews at several vantage points along the course as well as one crew in an ATV that followed a number of different riders along the way.

Somewhere after mile 10 one of the support vehicles followed me until the rest stop at mile 12. I was plagued by wicked leg cramps on almost every climb from mile 8 on. I can tell you, the thought of stopping crossed my mind more than once. This ride was far more complex than what I had trained and prepared for....but I found myself thinking back to the kids that I was there to support and there were no more thoughts of stopping or giving up. It became a quest, a rite and flat out necessity to finish. My GPS later showed over 585 feet of elevation differential....a far cry from the 50 in all the lead up information. The 15 mile route also turned out to be 17.89 miles, but in the didn't matter. I made it! I made the "victory lap" of the camp on completion too.

After cooling down a bit, eating some bananas and drinking copious quantities of  fluids....(did I mention the temperature and humidity? Let's just say that it added to the overall experience).....I had the opportunity to spend about 45 minutes talking with Linda, a volunteer on a regular basis. You couldn't help but be infected by her charming accounts of the kids, the camp and the whole experience. Suffice it to say, our conversation only reinforced the importance of the Camp and the value of our fund raising efforts. The dining staff then provided all the riders and guests with a fantastic luncheon, followed by a concert in the Dale Jr, Amphitheater.

Eventually the day drew to a close, we loaded up our bikes and everyone headed home....a little tired, a little sore, but with hearts filled with the joy of knowing we had been a part of something very special. I'm pretty sure I get the award for the longest travels of the day.....over 450 miles in the car and on the bike....not too bad for a somewhat out of shape 55 year old!

If you've taken the time to read this, would you please also take the time to consider a donation to Victory Junction? Big, small or in between, every bit helps.....and 100% of your donation goes directly to support the campers!

I should add this little post script. On the drive home, there was a loud explosion and my bike visibly jumped in the rack. On inspection, I discovered the front tire had blown out....there was a huge hole in both the tire and tube. I'm glad it happened when it did and not when I was flying down the final descent at nearly 40 mph....I suspect that result would not have been pretty.