Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Killington Ride to Cure - Report

So, what do you pack for a late August visit to Vermont? The weather is as changing as the departures board at O’Hare. Temperatures can rise up in the 90’s or fall way down in the 30’s. And with tropical storm Danny approaching to confuse the fronts, Canadians, geese—oh yeah, and the weatherman—be ready for anything. I watched the forecast intently for the 10 days leading up to last Saturday’s ride and saw the prediction steadily deteriorate. I took a very full duffle bag of clothes to the airport.

I arrived in Killington via airplane and charter bus Thursday around 3:00 pm. Jessica, Braeden and Sarah, a family friend, were already on location. They were checking out Ben & Jerry’s headquarters. I was about to have fun, too.

I met several of the riders, volunteers and JDRF staff at dinner Thursday evening. It was here that I was officially adopted by the Loon-a-Tics from the Minnesota/North Dakota Chapter. The Loon-a-Tics came about their name quite creatively. The members of the chapter are primarily from Minnesota, whose state bird is the Loon. However, Minnesotans often quip that it “ought to be the mosquito, or even the tick” according to one of my new riding partners. So, these fine folks couldn’t resist the opportunity to be humorous, which, as it turns out, is something that remained true throughout the whole weekend.

Everyone participating in the JDRF Ride has a connection to Type 1 diabetes. Everyone has a personal and compelling story. There is a great catharsis that happens when individuals gather at events like this. People have common burdens, common fears, and an empathy that helps melt away pain and frustration. And in Killington we also shared a goal of curing this wretched disease that, so far, never goes away. Let the healing begin.

Friday began with a great breakfast followed by a check-out ride of only about 2 miles. It was important to make sure the bikes had traveled well and were still in tune after reassembly before setting off the next day on a very long ride. Friday’s weather was so nice that several of us thought we should go another 98 miles and put this one in the history books. By that time, the forecast was for 100% rain on Saturday. Friday ended with a great carb-loading meal of pasta dishes. We all headed to bed early.

Before we move on to an accounting of Saturday, I wish to mention the great surprise I received on Friday afternoon when I made a trip to my hotel room. I stepped off the elevator into the hallway and saw that several doors were decorated with handmade posters thanking and encouraging the riders. I turned the corner and saw that I had a poster, too! It was twice as large as anyone else’s and had tiny little hand prints on it. I soon saw that names were written inside each hand print and that the names were of Type 1 children from back home. This was a very touching moment. Someone went to a lot of effort to pull this off. The emotion of the moment overwhelmed me, and I sat down to weep. Thinking of all those kids who felt this ride was important lit my fire. Can we get on those bikes yet?

Saturday began with the alarm clock buzzing at 4:45. Luckily, the temperature never got as low as once predicted, just 6 degrees above freezing. It was 55 when I called up the weather report. Heavy rains were falling, and the wind tugged at the needles of every fir tree in sight. We anxiously ate breakfast and drank extra coffee while we waited to hear whether the start would be delayed. Then came the report: we would start at 8 o’clock, not 7. I went to my room and took a nap. At last it was time to face the elements. I strode out of the hotel at 7:20. I would not return for the next 10 hours.

You have never seen such a collection of chartreuse, yellow, orange, and every other manner of high viz colors as was assembled at the start line. There were some 360 riders standing astraddle their bikes waiting on the national anthem. Rain drops collided noisily with helmets, windbreakers and bike frames. When the music had played, the start was indicated, and an impressive wheeled column began snaking off into the murky stew of fog that blanketed the Vermont countryside. The Ride was on!

The start was fairly dangerous due to an initial steep decent, the close spacing of riders, and poor road conditions. Vermont, as I would gradually learn, has a devil of a challenge keeping their roads from cracking. I allow it is due to the extreme winters. Whatever the cause, long, inch-wide fissures open up in the asphalt and run in the direction of travel. They wait like thin-lipped monsters hoping to gobble up a cyclist’s narrow tires. Few escape once their tires fall into such an abyss; the outcome is most certainly a crash to the pavement. Aware that cycling rewards focus, I kept my attention on the broken road. Luckily, no one near me was involved in a crash.

The first 12 miles were mostly downhill. Too bad we’d have to ascend all of this later, I thought. Some of it was quite steep. The first break station was located near the bottom. I stopped to devour a bagel because breakfast suddenly seemed long time ago. The next dozen miles were plain running except for two short sections that were stripped of asphalt on either side of a bridge in a construction zone. I mused that this stretch of road was reduced to gravel to make us feel better about the portion that was actually paved. However, I was actually very grateful that this stretch could be navigated on the bike. A road crew was reportedly working into the night previous to smooth it out just for us; otherwise, we would have had to walk.

Jessica, Braeden and Sarah were working at the break station at mile 24, called Rochester. It was uplifting to see them. Braeden was on his way to becoming a mascot for this particular stop. He had an infectious gleam in his eyes and welcomed cold riders with his laugh. Several Type 1 riders came into this station throughout the day needing to borrow testing supplies. Often, their own supplies were waterlogged. So, Braeden would get to know these riders as they use his glucometer and test strips. I was suddenly very glad that Jessica, Braeden and Sarah had wanted to volunteer at a break station.

After a snack and refill of the bottles, I hugged my family and launched. The cyclists were spaced out well now, and I was hitting my stride. The road followed the floor of a long valley, and the miles melted quickly. I had to climb a small rise or two before the next stop at mile 31. It was on one of those short climbs that my front derailleur failed to work properly. It had succumbed to the paste of road grit and water that was quickly building up on everything. I wondered whether other parts of my bike would slowly quit functioning as the grime further accumulated.

There was a nice break station located at mile 42. I ate and refilled bottles while a mechanic sprayed some lubricant on my derailleurs. I stayed a moment too long and got cold. But, the hills that dominated the next several miles promised to warm me up. Boy, they were steep. The course this year was essentially a 50-mile out-and-back. And, while it stands to reason that nearing the halfway mark of a long ride would be encouraging, I felt quite discouraged Saturday. I found myself at the low point in terms of energy on those tall hills. Further, I was as far away from the finish line as possible. And, suddenly the roads were empty of other riders. It simply got lonely. But fortune wouldn’t turn her back on me! There was a bombing downhill run to reward me for the hard work, and it lead straight to the rest stop at mile 57. There I had a bottle of Cytomax, which is most nearly the equivalent of human rocket fuel. Within 10 or 15 minutes I was moving much better and no longer watching for circling buzzards.

I motored on swimmingly (it was still raining) and paused only briefly round mile 69 for more drink and food. Quickly, I found myself at Rochester once again. This time the Rochester stop welcomed riders in grand fashion. There were 6 or 7 ladies lined up like so many Rockettes doing high kicks and chanting “J-D-R-F!” They wore street clothes, except one, who was wearing a hula skirt and coconut shell brazier over her warmer garments. Others lining the road had cow bells and horns. Each rider was received in a wonderful blanket of cheers. What a boost to the tired spirit! Plus, the whole thing looked hilarious and made me laugh. Jessica, Braeden and Sarah were still serving at this stop when I passed through. I loved this surprise. They mixed up some more human rocket fuel and sent me on my way. Only 24 miles to go!

My right knee began to complain about all the hard work and gave me something new to think about before the 12 mile climb to the finish. After a final snack at mile 88, it was time to assault the 1,200 foot ascent to the end. It got steep at times, but only twice did the pitch really push the limits of enjoyment. It was about 4 o’clock when I made the approach to the finish line. A huge gathering cheered, whistled and clapped as each rider rode into the parking lot and across the finish line. Some riders were crying. All smiled and laughed. What a ride. What a wonderful experience.

I covered 100.85 miles in 6 hours, 48 minutes and had a blast every second of the way.

Saturday’s ride was followed by a fun celebration dinner of hamburgers and hot dogs. It was a nice way to end a great weekend. Sunday was a travel day. Noteworthy was the loss of the left engine on the plane taking me from Philly to Greenville, SC after we reached cruising altitude. We diverted to Richmond, VA. USAir flew an empty plane up from Charlotte to pick up the stranded passengers and ferry us on to GSP. The crew and USAir have my appreciation for the fine job they did getting us down and home safely.

At this point, I am left reminiscing about the Ride and considering the possibilities for next year. I absolutely do want to participate in the Ride again. It was such an awesome experience. And all the effort is for a cause that is very important to my family.

I truly can’t thank my donors enough for the contributions they made. Like I have said before, you are essential to this endeavor. The progress you are helping make toward finding a cure to Type 1 diabetes is so deeply appreciated. Thanks for following my progress and cheering me on. I am proud of what we have accomplished.


  1. Congratulations Allen! An awesome accomplishment, and and an awesome write-up... You should consider a career as an author... ;-)

    And I especially like how non-chalant you were about an airplane engine failing, and having to be diverted to RVA!

  2. Allen -
    It was a pleasure meeting you at the Ride. The Loon-A-Tics were happy to have you as a member of the team! Sorry I did not get to meet your family but I do recognize them from your pictures since I did see them at the rest stop. As Deb and I told you, we have 3 diabetic children that now have their own families. We pray for a cure as well as help JDRF any way that we can. We work and pray for a cure for not only our children but for others as well just like Braeden. Hopefully we will see you next year on another Ride! By the way, you truly captured the spirit of the Ride in your Blog - great job! Doug Olson

  3. Allen,
    I just finished reading your blog and, through my tears, I want to thank you for doing such a fine job of recounting the highs and lows of the Killington ride! It was such a pleasure to meet and "adopt" you as a Minnesota Loon-a-tic at dinner the first evening. Doug and I have been in your shoes as parents of a very young child with diabetes...3 times over! It's not easy...but what a blessing to see the outcome of all those years of striving for good control and optimum health as we watch our sons and daughter with their own children now! Keep pressing on, Allen. One day Braeden and all of the others affected by Type 1 diabetes will know the freedom of The Cure! Debbie Olson

  4. Allen,
    I have to agree with Doug & Debbie ~ you have a special talent for writing how we all felt and what we all experienced. I believe that about the time you were alone on the hills I was at the Wooden Bowl Mill having a maple bowl shipped home. (So what if my break was a little longer than recommended!) I am looking forward to riding with you again.

    Congratulations on your ride - you are a hero.
    Christine Jakubowski


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