I finished my second Red Ribbon Ride yesterday. I feel the impulse to try to capture some of the most memorable pieces of it in writing because doing so brings such tremendous lessons for me. I share them with you in the belief that you can relate or learn along with me as I relate and learn along with you.
A very common phrase I picked up on this year on the Ride was “we ride because we can”. It’s a simple phrase really and on the surface it’s very clear what it means: we have chosen to do the Red Ribbon Ride because we acknowledge those in the world who have been affected by HIV and it’s common sidekicks like poverty, social stigma, and other illnesses prevent them from doing something like this. We ride because we love these people, because we have been moved by this issue ourselves, and we feel compelled to do something about it.
But this phrase took a lot deeper meaning for me on two particular times this ride. I’ll share them with you.
On day 2, we had before us an option to either do a 100 or so mile ride or a 75 or so mile ride. That morning I felt confident and hell bent on the 100. So when we got to the literal fork in the road when we had to choose, I went for it. I felt confident as this wasn’t my first time at this particular rodeo, I had trained pretty well for the Ride, and I had made it through the first day with relative ease and good physical fortune. Things started out ok, but then somewhere around mile 30, as I turned south out of the second pit stop, it was clear that the winds had picked up from the south as I biked directly into them.
It was hard. It was slow. It hurt. And those three assessments were all by mile 33! Holy hell how am I supposed to get through the next 70 miles? By the time I got to pit stop three, I had had it and I was spent. The nurse even picked up on it and asked me to sit down and rest for a while before I left. There I ran into Sandy, a ride veteran and perpetual positive spirit (and the one I confided into at an earlier pit stop that I’d never ridden any where close to 100 miles in my life) who invited me to ride with her and her companions, Michael and Austin. I was hesitant to say yes because I knew I couldn’t keep up and that I would hold them back. And then I realized in this moment that I wasn’t telling myself I can, I was telling myself I can’t! And then it really dawned on me: this 100 mile day isn’t just going to be a physical test, it’s going to be a mental one. Maybe mostly a mental one.
For the next 70 miles, I meandered slowly behind Sandy, Austin, and Michael. The deal I made with myself as I left every pit stop is that I would at least try. If I couldn’t get to the next pit stop then I would wait to be picked up by a sweep vehicle and that was ok. But I would at least try. Probably 30 times over the next 8 hours or so I talked myself into a reason to quit, at several points I was tearing up, at one point I had to pull over and cry because I couldn’t see, and at another point I literally yelled “fuck you!” into thy sky at the wind like a crazy person. Then I would stop see Sandy, Austin, and Micheal up ahead and I would just keep following. Sometimes, they’d be pulled over for a little mini stop on the road and I’d stop with them.
We rode that 100 miles because we could. And I didn’t always believe I could along the way. Even at mile 99 when we had a huge hill to climb, my brain was still questioning my own ability. But as Sandy, Michael, Austin, and I pulled into park our bikes at 5:30 in the afternoon, 11 hours after we’d started biking, and 100 miles later, what my brain thought about my abilities didn’t really matter. Because I had done it. We had done it.
We biked 100 miles because we could. (How come we are often the the last person to realize just how much we ourselves are capable of?)
The second story I want to share regarding this idea is the end of the ride. After 320 miles of riding, we pull into the mall area of the State Capitol and celebrate it all at a closing ceremony with family and friends. It’s glorious. The vibes of a supportive community that has just collectively, exhaustively created something wonderful together fills the air and you can’t help but be uplifted by it.
As part of the ceremony, some of the HIV Positive bikers and crew members carry in “the riderless bike”. This bike represents those who have been lost to this horrible illness and to those who would love to meet the challenge of a day like Day 2 but just simply can’t. As I watched some of my closest friends carry this bike in, I began to cry. Like ugly cry (though as discretely as I could possibly muster…thank god for biking sunglasses).
It made me think of the many many people who donated money to this cause on my behalf. Because they could. And they didn’t even hesitate to do it. In the same moment it made me think of a guy named Lindele Fikizolo that I once met in South Africa suffering from AIDS and poverty and literally decaying in front of me from his illness. He never could. He never had the chance. It made me think of my friends on the steps of the capitol holding that riderless bike. They could. They have the chance to be role models and advocates to eliminate the stigma of what HIV means in our community in this present day. It made me think of my self just two days before having such little belief in my own abilities simply because it was hard and it was painful. I can endure pain and come out stronger on the other end. Many cannot. It made me think of the community that was gathered around me on that lawn watching and cheering as we celebrate the culmination of raising over $300,000 for HIV organizations. We live in the world to contribute in a positive manner because we can. And, inevitably, it made me think of my own mother who I like to think of as my own guardian angel who watches over me from somewhere in the trees, the wind, and the reassurance of people like Sandy, Michael, and Austin. I try to live my life very simply with the intention of showing up in the world as someone she can be proud of. And on that I day I believe I did. And every day I believe I can.
So we close another transformative experience reflecting on this simple belief. We can. And if you’re reading this: you can, too. Your own mind may be your barrier to this belief in some way (mine was). And that’s ok. But you still can. Or maybe it’s as simple as looking around you with gratitude and realizing that how you’re showing up in the world right now is enough to positively affect your communities you are part of. And that’s an important piece of gratitude to share. Because we all can–and we all need to–help others believe that they can, too.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me. I can’t wait for next year!