This all started when Jakob asked me if I wanted to do the Ride 2 Recovery again this year. After last year’s experience spending three days in the Rev van with Pinkey in 100-degree heat and listening to Spanish music, I told him that I wouldn’t miss it for the world. As the days counted down, I got more and more anxious thinking about all of the quality time I would soon be having with “the most interesting man in the world” and, ah… the stories I would have.
Learning our lesson from last year’s very busy first morning, we stayed the first night at the hotel with everyone else. When I went upstairs to go to sleep, I was looking forward to the next few days. As I walked into my room, it felt like a freezer. At first, I was thinking that this is great! It’s so hot out and I’m in an icebox. As I lay down to go to sleep, I tried to turn the A/C down but I couldn’t! There wasn’t even a plug that I could pull to shut it down. I went to sleep with all of my covers on, wearing sweats. My last thought of the night was “and it begins.”
Waking up in the icebox that was my room, I thought, “where’s Pinkey?” For those of you who know of my first night with Ride 2 Recovery last year, Pinkey and I shared a very special night, to say the least. Knowing that I was the only one in the bed, I got up and was looking forward to the day. As I made my way down to the bike room, I met up with Pinkey and Tyler. We were blessed with Tyler, a tech who Shimano sends out just for these types of rides. Not only was he a Shimano tech, but he also had what most men would call their dream truck. Armed with this massive truck with four wheel-carriers, two bike racks, and enough tools to build a small town, I was happy to have Tyler on board.
As the morning went on, we started to get more and more stragglers coming into the bike room. With Pinkey and Tyler doing last minute tune-ups and adjustments, I knew that we were in good hands. I thought that things were going way too smoothly. The next thing I know, I have a line of people waiting for bike fits. Even as an experienced fitter, with the amount of people coming in to get fits, I had finally met my match. One of my customers from the Rockville store came towards me, and I knew that I had to impress him with the fit. With my customer in the trainer, I had to work my magic… and work it I did. There have been very few times when I have come to tears in recent years. The look on his face when he could pedal the bike with no pain brought tears to my eyes. This is why I do this ride.
After I gave an excuse about something being in my eyes, we went to take the van to get it checked out by the K-9s and the security detail before going onto Fort Myer for the opening ceremony. As I was standing by the van, waiting for the riders to come down the hotel ramp, I heard a car come by and a voice yell out, “hey Paper!” I looked over and, to my amazement, it was Jeremiah Johnson, the guy I knew from our shop in Stafford and who rode Ride 2 Recovery last year. Jeremiah helped me cope a little with some of the issues I had when I came home from the Middle East when I drove him home from Richmond last year. I never thought that he would remember me, much less know what I looked like from the back. We only had a minute to talk, but this shows how good these men and women are and that it’s the little things that can help us through, like riding a bike.
As we drove past Arlington Cemetery, seeing the riders go by once again brought a tear to my eye. Pulling up to the field that overlooks Washington, I knew the ride was about to start! I thought, “great- now these guys can get out there and have fun.” After a brief delay, the police gave us the green light and we were on our way. With Pinkey as the driver for the day, I was given the camera. Well, let me tell you- I think that I’ve found my hidden talent. I took these pictures like I was the paparazzi! I was doing whatever it took to get the right picture, including hanging out of the window and snapping away.
With traffic getting heavy at points, Pinkey got the nickname Mario Andretti. The best part was that I found the bullhorn that was left in the van. Little did Pinkey know that there was a siren button. Can you blame me for hitting the siren button and hanging it out the window? We needed to move through traffic, and with Pinkey at the wheel, we were well on our way.
Not much else happened until we got to the U.S.O. stop for lunch. Pinkey had boxes of food and water in both hands, and I was stuck doing tech support. Not much tech support was needed at the time, but it gave me an excuse to talk with some of the guys. Don’t judge me, but I started to cry again when some of the guys came up to me and hugged me. They thanked us for being there and said that they couldn’t be doing this without our support. Seeing these grown men, missing limbs, as happy as they were just from being outside and riding a bike made me see that there was more to life than the little things that I was stressing over the previous day.
Waking up in the hotel room on Day 3 was a surreal feeling. I guess with the little sleep we got and the heat, it was as if everyone was moving just a little slower than usual. It was my day to drive and I wasn’t going to let Pinkey show me up, so I hit the road with my coffee and told Pinkey to start taking the pictures. With the riders getting out much earlier than the day before, everyone was ready to go. The ride was about 20 miles more than the day before but the riders weren’t going to let that stop them. The riders were split into two different groups: group A, the slower group, and group B, the faster group. What got me was that most of the people in group B were the ones who were missing multiple limbs. I looked at Pinkey and said, “you have no excuse for not riding anymore!”
As the day went on, nothing out of the ordinary happened. Pinkey took the pictures and I drove like a mad man. We got to the hotel early enough to take our time fixing some of the bikes, and with three tech vehicles next to each other, it was a thing of beauty. It was an explosion of tools and handcycles and bikes everywhere. We then had dinner at the American Legion and, once again, it was amazing! I can’t say enough about the men and women who support the riders with the food and service that they provide. As we were bussed back to the hotel, I couldn’t help but start exchanging war stories with some of the guys and, for once in a long time, I felt that brotherhood again. I went to sleep that night saying to myself… today was a good day.
For some reason, waking up was getting harder and harder. Maybe it was those comfy hotel beds, or maybe it was the heat from the day before. Either way, I can tell you that babies don’t even sleep that well. With a bagel and coffee behind us, Pinkey and I made our way to the van. I have to say that it was a little upsetting knowing that today was going to be our last day on the ride. Don’t worry- I didn’t cry again.
Throughout the ride, Pinkey and I both made friends, but one person stood out. Tim is his name, and he served his country well in the U.S. Army. At first glance, Tim looked like a healthy man with nothing wrong, but there was something about him that just seemed a little off. After talking with him, we found out that he was in the process of retiring and had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He has been fighting it for a couple of years, he told us, and was going in next week for surgery. As Pinkey and I sat there speechless, Tim went on to say that he had been looking forward to this ride for months and that it’s what kept his spirits high when he was undergoing treatment.
After talking with Tim, I started to realize that all of the men and women on this ride are dealing with something, and not just the ones who were missing limbs. Some are suffering from cancer and fighting battles, even though they are home. As the day went on, Pinkey and I started to talk about what amazing people these riders are, and that after seeing them ride as hard as they did, the little things really don’t matter anymore.
I can safely say that Pinkey took more away from this ride than he wanted to. After meeting the people we did, it was hard not to stay to the end down in Virginia Beach. Although we had to, we were still reluctant to leave. As Pinkey was taking the last set of pictures, I was hugging goodbye some of the people I knew from last year and, of course, Tim. The ride back home was long, but for some reason, neither Pinkey nor I seemed to mind.