A week has passed since the 2013 Ride From Reno and Huntsman 140 ended and I’ve been thinking about both events ever since we crossed the finish-line at Huntsman Cancer Institute on Saturday, June 15th. In a way it was like Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’: It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.
My family and I intended to leave Centerville, Utah, for Reno on Wednesday, June 5th, but due to work constraints didn’t get away until Friday, June 7th. Along with Janet and Josh who, with me, started this little adventure called ‘The Ride From Reno’ 12-years ago, we had our beautiful daughter, Megan, her sweet 14-month old son, Miles, and our wonderful 11-year old grandson, Braxton with us. We didn’t know Braxton got car sick, and it took us 3 ½ hours to make it to Wendover (120-miles from home). Not exactly an auspicious beginning.
We arrived in Virginia City late on the 7th to stay at my dad’s home for 2-days before the ride began. Our daughter Heidi, and grandchildren William and Hailey, met us there and we all had a wonderful time visiting, laughing, and enjoying one another’s company.
Fast forward to Monday, June 10th. All of us who were participating in ‘The Ride From Reno’ met at 6:45 a.m. at the arch in downtown Reno: Jason Bleak; Ravell Call; Todd Handy; Rich Linton; Mike MacDonald; Scotty Medine; Larry Peterson; Joe Plater; Dan Sellers; Darcie Strong; and, Brian Van Uitert. Four of those who joined us this year were new to the Ride and the other 8 were veterans.
After lots of pictures, smiles, nervous laughter, and a word of prayer, we were off on the first leg, which ended at my dad’s home in Virginia City, of this year’s 667-mile ride. We watered-up at my dad’s, and after a lengthy dissertation from me about the descent of Six Mile Canyon, we were off.
I should say Six Mile Canyon can be treacherous. The road is steeply downhill, narrow, cars occasionally come from the uphill direction, much of the road is in morning shadows making it nearly impossible to see potholes, and the corners, many of which are really tight, sometimes have gravel on them. In other words, there’s lots to be nervous about descending Six Mile Canyon.
I was the first bike to start down the descent. I distinctly remember looking at my computer and seeing ’30-mph’ and that speed, although not particularly fast, made me a bit anxious and I began feathering my brakes. Just as I did so, Jason passed me like I was standing still. He was sitting on his top-tube for maximum aerodynamics, and to get his center of gravity as low as possible. And, we were just starting into the first real corner! I thought to myself, “holy crap, Jason, slow down!” By the time I was out of that 1st corner, I could see Jason ahead of me, starting into the 2nd corner. “At least he’s out of the saddle,” I thought, seeing him standing-up a bit. “Hopefully he’s slowing down.” By the time I made it out of that 2nd corner, Jason was out of sight. I was still at 30-mph when I went into the 3rd corner and was stunned and shocked as I pulled through it and saw a cloud of dust still rising from the dirt shoulder on the left side of the road. There lay Jason, covered in blood and dirt. I hit my brakes as hard as I could and quickly made a u-turn to get back to the site of Jason’s crash.
We all gathered around and were mortified at what we saw. The force of the crash had nearly ripped Jason’s kit off him. He was standing, regaining his bearings, and he was literally covered in road-rash, blood, and dirt. Jason told us he had no broken bones but, pointing to his bike, told us his SL4 wasn’t so lucky: it was literally broken in half. Less than 30-miles into our 667-mile ride, tragedy had struck. We had a cyclist down and there wasn’t a darned thing we could do about it . . . . or was there?
First and foremost, we were so blessed to have Dan Sellers, and his wife Marian, with us. Dan is a board certified plastic surgeon as well as a board certified hand surgeon and works with the intricate (if you ever want/need plastic surgery, or hand surgery, he’s definitely your man!). Dan began cleaning Jason’s wounds and instructing others on what to do. He began applying Tegaderm to some of Jason’s road-rash while others in our group dabbed the dirt out of massive areas of road-rash. All this took place while blood continued flowing down Jason’s legs, back, arms, and sides. I had the privilege, along with Mike MacDonald, of cleaning off Jason’s buttocks (what happens in Nevada stays in Nevada!) If you’re getting a bit queasy, it wasn’t a pretty site.
While all this was going on, Jason told me to get a fresh jersey for him from Chandler, his wonderful daughter and terrific support, and he then went back to his car and got the spare bike he’d brought along.
Then, without fanfare, Jason rode off, dripping blood, down Six Mile Canyon while the rest of us composed ourselves, unable to believe what we’d just witnessed. I won’t fill-in many more details but, Jason rode every inch of the 667-miles of the Ride From Reno and the Huntsman 140. Those of us who were with him knew what had happened, the extent of his injuries, and the absolute pain in which we knew he had to be riding. And we just marveled.
I knew Evie and Allison were on his mind but, I’ll also say he was able to do what he did because Jason is one of the most dedicated, focused, committed, passionate men it’s been my honor to meet in this life. Integrity is more than a word to Jason . . . once he’s given his word to something he’ll move heaven or earth to make sure it happens.
Day-2 was no cake-walk, although the descent of Pinto Summit was a total blast! Austin Summit, Bob Scott Pass, and Hickison Pass were all tough, but the wind on Day-3 was horrific. At one point, between Ely, Nevada, and the spot where the road turns East towards Connors Pass, the wind was so bad and hard from the west it nearly blew several of us over. On the descent of Connor’s, I was taking a corner when I felt my front wheel being picked-up off the road by the vicious cross-wind. Scared me to death. I immediately hit my brakes and, by the time I came off the descent, I could see the others in our group 2-miles ahead of me! I’ll never look at Reynolds Forty-Sixers the same way again. Great wheels for head and tailwinds . . . awful wheels for cross-winds of any kind.
Day-4 started with a 5-mile slog up to Sacramento Pass, which is a place that has become sacred on the Ride From Reno. It’s a lonely, desolate, place where we stop to remember all those who have cancer and those who have had cancer. It doesn’t matter to us whether or not the person has survived their battle or not; it’s a place of remembrance. It’s where we each write on the road with chalk the names of those whose names are special to us individually. Some of those names haven’t been spoken in years . . . for example, one of the names I wrote this year was ‘Myrtle Cain’ , my maternal grandmother. I miss Grandma Cain.
There was such a strong outpouring of emotion on Sacrament Pass this year none of us were able to contain ourselves. Tears poured freely and unashamedly. There were many hugs between us but emotions were so intense that few words were, or could be, spoken. Cancer is an awful, damnable, disease. A disease that impacts the family and friends of its’ victim. And each of us wrote feverishly on the road. Name after name was written, some repeated by others in our group. I personally wore out innumerable sticks of chalk and, once I got down to the nub, I replenished with a new piece . . . . I’m certain I used more than 15-pieces of chalk that morning. I witnessed each of our group doing the same and all I can say is it was a sacred experience I’ll never forget. It was an honor to be with each of the Ride From Reno riders, and their support crews, that morning.
We motored-on, passed the Nevada/Utah stateline, crossed Snake Valley, and traversed No Name Pass before we headed-on to Delta. The ride into Delta seems to take forever! The road is so long, and so straight, it seems as though any progress happens at a snail’s pace. But make it to Delta we did.
That evening, June 13th, I asked our collective group to share how this year’s ride had impacted them. Nearly every person spoke, telling the group how this ride had affected them in a way they’d never imagined. You see, this ride isn’t about riding a bike. Each of us are passionate about bike riding so don’t get me wrong here. But, The Ride From Reno is much more than a bike ride. It’s an extremely challenging, somewhat dangerous, life-changing event. It’s about the Benjamin’s . . . raising money in the effort to find better tolerated, less toxic, treatments for cancer and, ultimately, cures for the >200-types of this damnable disease. That’s the bottom-line.
I know many reading these words will not understand, and it’s simply my own personal weakness and lack of ability in explaining what this ride is like. Unless you’ve been there and had the spirit of gratitude wash over you while you were rolling down the road or suffering up a climb, I simply can’t explain what it’s like. Unless you’ve been in the embrace of another sufferer of cancer, or fellow-sufferer on the bike, shedding tears you can’t account for, it’s nearly impossible to explain the ride and why we do it. But, do it we must. For our families and for your families, all in the hope that the day will come no one will have to suffer with/from cancer again.
Friday, June 14, we took as a recovery day in Delta. A few rode 25 or 30-miles, I think Todd ran that day but, for the most part, we laid low in anticipation of the Huntsman 140 on Saturday, June 15th.
June 15th dawned bright and glorious. The Reno Riders decided ahead of time we’d ride the final 140-miles together. When we got to the starting-line I was simply amazed at what I saw! I knew there were ~500-riders who would be joining us that day but I wasn’t prepared for the ~140-riders who joined us in Delta! When Janet, Josh, and I started this ride it was me on the bike and Janet and Josh in the car driving support. Today, ~500 would be joining us, with ~140 at the starting-line in Delta. I was overcome. And it only got worse.
I was in a bit of a fog when a gentleman walked-up to me and said, “Hi. I’m Jeff Haller.” You could have pushed me over with a feather. I looked into his eyes and immediately knew who he was . . . he didn’t even need to tell me his name. All I could do was lower my eyes and weep. You see, Jeff was my ENT/oncology surgeon 13-years ago who resected both my necks, removed my tumors, and put me back together. Statistically, with Stage IV Head & Neck cancer, I stood a 0% to 25% chance of surviving 5-years, yet he put me back together. And there he stood before me, resplendent in a yellow cancer survivor’s jersey.
Shortly after doing my 2-surgeries, he left Huntsman Cancer Institute. The stress and pressure of being one of the best ENT/oncology surgeons in the country was more than he wanted to put his family through so he uprooted them from Utah and moved them ‘home’ to Billings, Montana. Last year he returned to HCI as a patient, and underwent treatment for the exact same cancer he’d treated me for 13-years ago! Both Janet and I were overcome with emotion and hugged and thanked him for all he’d done for us. It is because of Jeff Haller, whose hands were guided by a kind and loving Heavenly Father, that I am alive today. And I got to ride the Huntsman 140 with him.
That was the start of my day.
We rolled through the farmland surrounding Delta and stopped just a mile or two from the huge power-plant where we gave everyone in the peloton a chance to write in the road with chalk the name(s) of the people for whom they were riding. Think Sacramento Pass.
I met Brett Wetzel (I may have his last name wrong) along the ride. He wasn’t in a survivor’s jersey but it was impossible to not notice he only had one leg. He wasn’t wearing a prosthetic device; he simply didn’t have a right leg. And he rode with tremendous strength. I was so very, very, impressed. At the feed, just before Elberta, I saw Brett and had to ask if he’d suffered some type of military injury, or what had happened. He told me he’d have been in a survivor’s jersey if he’d registered in time but, he hadn’t. He had bone cancer 5-years ago and lost his leg to this damnable disease. He may have lost that particular battle but, as I witnessed that day, he definitely won the war! Cancer, you SUCK!
We rolled-on toward Saratoga Springs where we passed Rob Berman and Jeff Haller (Jeff had flatted). I couldn’t stop myself from turning back to help pull Rob & Jeff to Westlake High School. I wasn’t there for more than a few minutes when Larry Peterson pulled-up; he’d come back to help out after he saw me turn back. What a friend. Thank you, Larry.
Shortly after we got back on the road, Rick McGurk Sr. passed us driving Mike MacDonald’s truck. I remember hollering, “let’s catch his draft!” as I jumped out of the saddle to draft behind Rick Sr. We were moving so quickly, and I was only a foot or so off the truck’s rear-bumper, that I didn’t dare look down at my computer. When I finally looked, a few minutes later, my computer read: 28-mph. I looked behind me and no one was there and I felt so badly! I’d taken the truck’s draft and left my friends in the process. I hope they’ll forgive me!
Once I arrived at Westlake High School things quickly became a blur. Kathy McGregor was there . . . it was Kathy and Mark’s home in Saratoga Springs we stopped at for years before our final assault on the leg to HCI. Sadly, Mark, who was one of the kindest people you’d ever meet, passed away from cancer. Yet Kathy has kept the tradition alive by joining us at the High School once our numbers became to large for her home. Others were there as well but, I’ll never forget seeing Mark Sykes.
Mark is a great friend and member of our cycling club. He, and his wife, Meg, are 2 of the kindest, most generous and gracious people on earth. And Mark has been suffering with cancer for ~1-year. Today Mark was going to ride with us, in spite of the fact he’s been undergoing treatment. We left the High School with Mark in tow and I don’t think there was a dry eye in our group, nor do I believe anyone in our peloton could have been more proud than to get to share the afternoon with Mark. What an inspiration he is to each and every one of us.
After 40-miles we arrived at Huntsman Cancer Institute and I don’t think anyone was prepared for the emotions we felt as we rolled across the finish-line. All the pain, all the suffering, all the stress, all the emotion, all the joy, all the humor, all the happiness, all the euphoria, and all the excitement seemed to percolate to the surface. Most of us had leaking eyes, which was totally OK. We’d done it. We finished what we’d started out to do. Mission accomplished.
Until next year.
Which brings me to the last few paragraphs of this ‘War and Peace’ post. I got to spend the week of June 10th with some of the very best people on earth. People for whom kindness, grace, generosity, respect, integrity, and honor are a way of life. Jason, Ravell, Todd, Rich, Mike, Scotty, Larry, Joe, Dan, Darcie, and Brian are exactly those kinds of people. Their support crews of Chandler, Chelsea, Ray & Karen, Jo Ann, Vicki, Scott, Marian, Denise, and my amazing dad, Jim, are those kinds of people as well. And I got to spend a week with them. I am a better man because of it. And I thank each of them for allowing me to share with them ‘The Ride From Reno’ and the life-changing event it is.
I think all this can be encapsulated in an experience my sister, Laurie, and her family had as they were leaving HCI on June 15th. As they got to the bottom of the hill, they came across a woman with a bike, standing beside the road. She was sobbing. Recognizing she might be in trouble, they quickly turned their car around and approached the woman. It turned-out she was part of the Huntsman 140 but had ‘run out of gas’ and could go no further. She couldn’t quite see the finish-line from where she’d stopped but she was so close. Her mother, father, and brother were there and explained how important it was to her to finish. But, between sobs, she explained she could go no further. My brother, Coleman (who rode with us from Westlake High School), and brother-in-law Mike, told her to get on her bike and then proceeded to push her up to where she could see the finish-line, where she got her ‘second wind’ and was able to cross the finish-line under her own power.
To me, that exemplifies the true spirit of The Ride From Reno and the Huntsman 140. It’s something we have to do even though sometimes we can’t explain why. It’s certainly not about us; it’s something much, much larger.
I read a quote a few weeks ago that went like this: A person who thinks little things don’t matter has never been alone in a room with a mosquito. Perhaps that’s part of the reason we do this ride each year. We know that, together, we DO make a difference.