Lone Star Ride 2009 wrapped up after 168 grueling miles with an emotional closing ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 27 at about 5 p.m. We laughed and cried and remembered and hoped for a better future.
I felt much the same at the closing ceremonies that day as I did on the trail throughout the weekend (although I cursed and said, "Seriously?" more than a few times on the trail). That weekend was, hands down, one of the absolute best weekends of my life.
I challenged myself both physically and emotionally. I cried, I laughed and, boy, did I sweat!
Before that weekend, I had not spent more than a mile at a time on my bicycle, and I did not learn until 5:30 a.m. on Day One of the ride that my bike was less than optimal for the type of riding I was challenging myself with (I have a hybrid and really needed a road bike). Still, I pushed my body harder and drove myself further than I would ever have been able to imagine.
Because the route was so long and arduous, I spent a good bit of time riding on my own, with only my thoughts to keep me company.
I thought about the people I have lost in what I consider a short life. I thought about the people I still have and sometimes, too often actually, take for granted. I thought about the people I was riding for; the people who needed me to ride because they were unable.
I thought about the pain I was in and how much I wanted to throw my very heavy bike down a friggin’ hill.
And then I thought about what was driving me in spite of the incredible pain in both my knees, my right hip and the intense burn in my quads.
Even as I wiped dead bugs from my sunglasses and road crud from my face, I thought how blessed I was to be able to climb back on my bike and just keep going farther than I ever thought I could.
I started the ride last year not having any idea really what it was I was getting myself into. I woke at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning and was at the American Airlines Center by 5:30 a.m. I did not know any of the people surrounding me — but that did not last long.
Everyone was so warm and welcoming and friendly.
I was introduced by a stranger to two other strangers who would be staying in "Tent City" with me that night after 91 miles on the road. I met some of the road crew who would be riding along side us to help us, sweep us in if we needed and, most importantly, to provide the encouragement that kept us going mile after hard mile.
One member of the moto crew even road beside me as I traveled a bridge over Joe Pool Lake to ensure my safety.
I don’t think I can explain very well how I felt those two days, other than to say I felt incredibly blessed. Although I had to climb off my bike and walk up the steepest of two different hills, I was driven to complete each and every mile. So I climbed back on and peddled away. Saturday I was on my bike for 9.5 hours and rode 91 miles; Sunday I was on my bike for 9 hours and 77 miles.
When I look at photos from that day, I have to say I look happier in some of them than I had felt in a long time. Possibly it was exhaustion, but I think it was really something more.
That’s what I accomplished last year. Knowing that people believed in me and shared some of their very hard earned money, at a time when each and every dollar counts, meant so much to me. I heard their voices in my head as I pushed on,. I could not imagine stopping — although there were times I really wanted to — knowing who was depending on me and who was behind me.
This year, I am riding again. What’s different is that this time I know what to expect. What’s not different is that there are still people depending on me — and the other riders — to help raise the funds that will make their lives better. And I still need those voices in my head to help spur me on. I hope you will be there, too.
Willow Burk-Havrilak is a member of Team Blazing Saddles. You can visit her donation page at http://tinyurl.com/34dwroh.
The 10th annual Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS will be held Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 25-26, beginning and ending each day at the American Airlines Conference Center in Arlington. To register as a rider or crew member, to donate, or just for more information, go online to LoneStarRide.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 04, 2010.