Why I cycle 150 miles through the Midwest to Benefit the American Lung Association

To me, the longer days and rising mercury of spring mean one thing: Get on that bike! Each day is a countdown to June 8-10 and the Lake Tour Bike Trek, a three-day 150-mile ride from Crystal Lake, Illinois to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin benefitting the American Lung Association. It’s something that I’ve grown to rely on over the last three years, as a motivation to get in shape, raise funds for charity and accomplish a goal that’s well outside my comfort zone.

That said, it all began as an attempt to impress a guy. My guy, that is, who, for the past six years has participated in the ride. An avid cyclist, Neil rides 10 miles to and from work every day, and on weekends, for fun, he participates in 100-mile rides. Me? Three years ago, I’d just moved to the city and met him. When he asked if I wanted to ride 150 miles (I believe his exact words were, “Anyone can do it!”), I barely hesitated before saying yes. Then I realized I didn’t even have a bike.

Thanks to Craigslist, I quickly bought a bike I loved: a 50-plus pound heavyweight Trek cruiser whom I named Old Heifer. With its wide handlebars, floral frame and cushy, giant brown seat, I never thought twice about its lack of aerodynamics and its overzealous heft. I rode it relentlessly, and a couple of weeks before the race began, I made it up to about 40 miles. I was confident I could handle 50 miles each day.

What seemed even more challenging than the mileage was asking friends and family to help me raise the required $800 in donations. To me, it felt akin to begging. So before sending out any requests, I did some soul searching. I sat down and thought about what this ride really meant. Both of my grandmothers were smokers, and to this day, I can still hear their crackling, breath-taking, torturous coughs as they fought for air. My parents smoked, but managed to quit before any real damage was done. I smoked, too, but quit years ago. With that in mind, the journey was growing personal—there was a lot more to it than impressing a man. I emailed a host of friends and family, explaining my involvement in the ride and asking for support. The giving began immediately, and with each gift, my confidence grew. As I watched the donations climb to more than $800, I tingled. I was amazed at how supportive friends and family were, and I felt really good about making a difference. I swore I would not let any of them down.

When the day arrived, I was too ignorant to be nervous. I hopped on my Trojan-like steed and took to pedaling. And pedaling. And pedaling. I watched men and women zip by me on hills, barely breaking a sweat as I huffed and puffed my way to the top. “But,” huff, “I,” huff, “trained!” I said to myself, noting their sleek, light bikes as they zoomed by. The huffing continued over the course of three days and countless hills, but in the end, I did it. I managed to complete the entire 150 miles and I didn’t even come in last (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

This will be my third year participating in the bike trek (I’ve since upgraded my bike for a more appropriate fit), and I’m thrilled to return to seeing new and old friends. In its 27th year, the bike trek has developed a loyal following, and each person has his or her own unique motivation. Over the years, I’ve ridden along with a 10-year-old kid, with a grandfather-son-grandson team, with asthmatics riding for a cause, with memorial participants riding for family members lost to emphysema, lung cancer, COPD and other diseases. Two years ago, I rode with Chicagoland residents Troy Kindle and Stef Murdock. Both were riding for different teams, and had never met one another. They hit it off, and in September 2011, the two married. Troy will be riding again this year, and Stef, who has asthma, will be volunteering for the ride. I’ve also recruited my own cousin, Liz Crider, who’s traveling to Chicago from St. Louis, so that we can both memorialize our shared grandmother.

I never would have participated in the Lake Tour Bike Trek had I not met Neil, and I never would have guessed how important this kind of ride can be. Over the last three years, the 150-mile ride has taught me the value of training and discipline, and it’s taught me that even seemingly unattainable goals are well within reach. I’ve learned that the joy and challenge of cycling through the bright green farmland of Illinois and the hilly lakeside of Wisconsin is as good for your body as the fundraising is good for your soul. And I’ve accepted the fact that spending a little bit more on a bicycle goes a long way.

And that’s not all. This year, the three-day ride is just the beginning. Neil and I are using the trek as training for our summer vacation. In July, the two of us will cycle nearly 500 miles from Chicago to Canada, crossing the border to a whole new level of adventure.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Lake Tour Bike Trek or showing your support please click here.

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