Last weekend on the Memory
Ride, a 150-mile bike trip across the state to raise money for research on
Alzheimer's disease, I expected someone to compare biking with battling a
medical scourge. That's the typical pep talk at these "ride for a cure" events:
The strength and courage it takes to get over big hills on a bike is like the
fortitude and bravery required to face a devastating illness.
This time, no one said it. Maybe when the illness is a baffling loss of memory, the kind of excruciating slide that can fracture families and leave caregivers in despair, there's no comparison.
People at other "disease" bike-a-thons, such as the AIDS Ride and the Pan-Mass Challenge (to fight cancer), often relate the cyclists' physical stamina to the ordeals endured by patients and their families. Certainly there are big differences between these two types of challenges, physical and emotional, but the analogies do ring true.
"Just being regularly physically active has some significant mental health benefits," says Patty Freedson, an exercise physiologist at UMass-Amherst. "Certainly it helps in terms of stress reduction. And it's important whatever challenges are in front of you in life that you take care of yourself. You need to be strong and mentally all there. Staying active makes you feel better," she said, and thus better equipped to cope.
In other words, get yourself in shape for pedaling a long haul, and you can handle the really hard stuff.
Perhaps because many of those on the Memory Ride were experienced cyclists who were confident about the climbing in the Berkshires, going the distance from Pittsfield to Boston was a given. Talking about their experiences and motivations after dinner at Camp Putnam in New Braintree on Saturday night, the riders barely mentioned that day's sweat; it was all about the tears wrought by Alzheimer's.
Several people said they had felt helpless seeing the disease change a parent or grandparent, and participating in Memory Ride gave them a way to do something -- for the cause and for themselves. About 50 riders and nearly as many volunteers on the support crew got donations.
Riding with a friend who lost his mother to Alzheimer's, I expected just another day on the bike. Physically, it was. I knew I had the legs for the roller-coaster road, and I spent my energy and refueled as needed.
But I hope I was building more than muscle. Physical fitness can gird a person's mental toughness, too. If pedaling shores up the ability to meet an emotional challenge, whether that's a loved one's long-term illness or anything else, then that's compounded interest on a pretty painless investment.
When the Memory Ride ended at the Statehouse in Boston last Sunday, the organizers announced that the "ride to remember," in its fourth year, raised some $70,000 for Alzheimer's research. That goes in my memory bank.
TIP OF THE HELMET to Ed Chviruk of Worcester, age 70, who last weekend completed his third self-supported bike trip across the continent in five years. Chviruk started in mid-May at Fairbanks, Alaska, stuck to the Canadian side of the border all the way to Ottawa, then came home through New York and New England. He had an awful lot of rain, but tailwinds sped him across flat Saskatchewan, and he only had one minor mechanical problem, a broken spoke, on the 4,300-mile trip.
TIP OF THE HELMET II to Thomas Sullivan of Paxton, who finished the Mount Washington Bicycle Hillclimb on Aug. 19 in 1 hour, 21 minutes, 32 seconds, placing a very respectable 32nd out of 111 men in his age category (40-44). Other strong finishers from the area included Don Morse of Millbury, 1:29:08, 27th place out of 60 men ages 45-49; Ronald Burzenski of Boylston, 1:36:30, 17th place out of 28 men ages 50-54; and Dick McKinstry of Northboro, 1:40:16, fifth place out of 10 men ages 60-64.
Ultramarathon cyclist Ed Kross of Framingham will give a slide presentation about his ninth-place finish in the 1999 Race Across America at a meeting of the Nashoba Valley Pedalers at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11 at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church, 435 Central St., West Acton.
The Thunderhead Alliance will offer a one-day workshop to train bike advocates Oct. 28 in Hartford. This is a chance for grass-roots activists, transportation planners, and staff and board members of bike-related organizations to gather blueprints and make connections. For details visit http://www.thunderheadalliance.org/ or contact the Connecticut Bicycle Coalition, (860) 527-5200.
This is the last bicycling column for the summer, but bike season continues well into fall. As for gearing up for next year, VeloNews and Inside Triathlon will present the New England Veloswap & Expo from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 21 at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton. New and used bikes and accessories will be on sale. The event also features test and demo rides on road and mountain bikes, interactive displays and entertainment.
Admission is $6, free for children under 12. Discount coupons are available online from VeloNews. Proceeds benefit MassBike, the New England Mountain Bike Association and the Connecticut Bicycle Coalition. To reserve a booth, call (303) 440-0601, Ext. 222. For general information, call (800) 811-4210, Ext. 222.