Six Days

Dear Bike Rally,

On Friday, the final day of the Bike Rally, I was thinking about this post. I’ve come to see that the Rally always has a thread that runs through the whole thing and connects it for me, and it puts that ride in context and gives me a way to write about it, or process the enormity of what it’s like to do this thing. The feelings the whole week of the rally are gigantic and I always feel a need to organize them, and so there I was, riding along, and casting about trying to give all the feelings a home.  We were sweeping that last day,  so it was quiet, and I had mostly stopped trying to fill up that quiet with chatter at Cameron (mostly) and had turned inward, to think it over.

mecam 2016-08-02

Here is what I thought: This year’s ride was hard. Please don’t confuse that for one minute with unpleasant or awful, Bike Rally, you know I love you, but every year something changes, another element comes into focus, and something else shifts out of its way to let it exist. One year it rains a monsoon and the theme is triumph. One year I gather new and old hearts to me, and the theme becomes friendship. Another year everywhere I go I feel the sense of belonging and wonderful acceptance that is the Rally, and the theme reveals itself as community.

bench 2016-08-02

This time, I can admit that I was out of step – focused on things in my own life.  I came into it worried, and I remained out of step the whole time. When I was ready to be alone, I was surrounded. When I wanted to be with others, I found myself lonely. When my sister texted, sick and upset, I wanted to get off my bike and be with her. When Joe called with a little family crisis, I wanted badly to be with him, rather than at (an admittedly fun) campsite.  When I wanted laughter, some people around me were crying, and a few times, when I had given myself to tears, the happiness around me was hard to hear. I struggled to keep up when I rode with faster riders, I wanted to be like the wind when I found myself in the company of riders slower than I am. It rained. I was cold. It was hot. It was hard. This year’s magic was there, and I could feel it, even through all that, though it was quiet and complicated magic, and I couldn’t give it a name.

allout 2016-08-02

This year, the theme was not the incredible sense of community and warmth that surrounds everything on the Rally, although, oh… it was there in the faces of the people who sign up for it. It would take all day to recount the thousand kindnesses I saw you give each other.   It wasn’t the sense of personal triumph over the difficulty of it all, though I cried like an idiot at the finish line as that swept over me again. It wasn’t the way I was able to embrace the gift of being able to look at everyone I love who does this thing and think again and again about the joy I take in knowing such incredibly decent human beings, and how lucky I am to call them my friends and family. This time it was something else that moved to the fore, though it was stealthy.

reddressteam 2016-08-02

It was this: It is easy to take the personal joy from the Rally as your only reward. It is easy to let it make you feel strong and heroic,  and it is easy to feel a sense of accomplishment when you climb off your bike at the end and hug that close to yourself. It is simple when you ride with your team, or when you sit in the evening and talk about your day. It is easy, and maybe seductive – to want to say “look what I did” and feel proud, and don’t get me wrong Rally, you should be proud. I am proud. The thing is a freakin’ epic, and that you got on your bike for it should make you so puffed up that people can hardly stand you – but it wasn’t the thing.

mekenpato 2016-08-02

On the morning that we were in Kingston, someone who works for PWA came to talk to us. She told us about a typical day. She told us what’s accomplished in a day, what she does, what they all do, how they move from joy to heartbreak and task to task,  and how they do that every, single, day – day after day.  I was so moved, though it wasn’t until that last day, riding, or today, writing – that I’ve pulled together what it means that it was that moment that stayed with me.

camstire 2016-08-02

Darling Bike Rally, this time, I struggled with generosity, though I am loathe to admit it. The Rally, while it is an amazing experience, doesn’t owe me squat. It doesn’t owe me happiness – it doesn’t owe me sunshine, or community or friendship, or a sense of personal pride…  or any of the other things that I get every single time as a byproduct of what I agree to do. It is not an exchange. I will get something of value, I always do, but I am lucky if it is those things, not entitled to them, and I don’t get to complain when they aren’t served up to me on a silver platter, but when they are overshadowed by something bigger, something more meaningful, if harder to embrace.

The beauty of the Rally, the magic of all of it and what makes it so powerful, is that you don’t get to pick what is going to happen, or how it will feel. Like living with HIV/AIDS, like cancer, like parenting or friendship or rain, what happens, happens, what it dishes out, you eat up, and you don’t get to decide when it stops, or how it stops or what your day is like. You just have to keep going, even if your air mattress deflates every night until you toss it in the garbage in a fit of rage, even if you have to tell Pato that if he rides to the top of a hill at 30km an hour again you’re going to knock him off his damned bike because nobody likes a show-off, even if you stand in the rain and laugh uncontrollably because it’s better than crying, or even if it just so happens, that sometimes people need you to give them – more than you need them to give to you, even if it’s not how it feels at that moment. The only separation between the Rally and all those other hard things, is that the Rally is six days. Just six. No matter what happens, or how hard or wonderful, or challenging or surprising or rewarding it is, there’s just six days, and we are asked to meet that with our bigger selves.

almostend 2016-08-02

This year, the Rally asked for generosity, asked all of us to be part of a bigger thing, to step up fundraising, to try harder, to give more… and to make those six days what they need to be, not for ourselves, but for PWA.  Now that I see that, I’m more than okay. Together we raised more than a million dollars, and we did that with our amazing families and communities and knitters and that it only cost the sweat, flat tires and tears that it did?  It’s another Bike Rally miracle, another gift, on top of all that I’ve gotten before. In the end, I remembered that it’s about that generosity, giving happiness, time, energy, money, patience, love, sweat, and about 70 inner tubes. It was swapping six days of my time to change things for someone who’s got a lot more than six days ahead of them, and I was humbled, or at least I hope I was.




90 thoughts on “Six Days

  1. Steph,
    Thank you for taking those 6 days… and all the others that you use coordinating, fundraising, and prepping for the Rally.

    You ride because some of us cannot, would not, or should not (I fall off of bikes – my internal gyroscope is broken), and I thank you mightily from the deepest corners of my heart and soul for it.


  2. I am glad that you do this for those who struggle and can’t do it on their own. I am glad that you care so much for those who need that caring. And yes, with that generosity, we’ll all fly….together.

    (Of course, I had to touch the airplane)

  3. Eloquent as always. Sometimes it takes (pardon the expression) a bump in the road to put everything into perspective. I am humbled to have been a part of it as a pledger.
    (And I’m first – na na na na na )

  4. Yes. So many of the Larger Things in Life call us to be more than we are and to offer ourselves up for those who have had little choice in what’s happening to them. This is a good lesson and a good reminder for all of us, Stephanie. Thanks for putting it into words.

  5. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. Not everybody can do something like the rally so the things that you experience and share with our community are special and important and wonderful. I want you to know how grateful I am. For you and all of the amazing things that you do. Thank you.

  6. I am learning to deal with this myself right now. I’m dealing with two chronic illnesses (though not as life-threatening as HIV/AIDS, they nonetheless have a severe impact on my ability to be a mom, wife, and employee) and I am only making it through with my friends who tell me it’s ok. I’m OK to hate this and struggle with it. And people like you doing what you do are bright spots for the people like me. Thank you so, so much.

  7. Damn. I hate opportunities for personal growth. Well done you, though — first for identifying it and then for articulating it. Still, I hope that next year sees fit to teach you not one damned thing.

  8. As my son would say, you are awesomesauce, and in case you wonder what that is, urban dictionary informes that it is something (or someone, obviously) that is “more awesome than awesome”. There you go.

  9. I know you don’t participate in the rally because it is an “achievement,” but golly gee, what an achievement! Just taking six days out of your life (plus all the planning and training and organizing) is huge…but to actually, physically do it! Dang!

    Plus you all look just adorable in your matching jerseys and fancy red duds.

    Welcome home. Best of luck getting all grounded again…and hopefully back to a nice, relaxing knit (or spin) soon.

    I am proud of you. You do well for humanity.

  10. Thanks for so much that you do, the six days last week, getting reading for the bike ride mentally and physically, and sharing the planning that went on for a year. Like the sweeps helmets. It made me laugh when you said that you had to ride behind people who were slower than you. Remember your first year? Bet back them you never thought you would say that. Your strength is inspiring.

  11. Well said! You’ve uncovered yet another aspect of giving – and no matter how humble you feel, how grateful to be a part of something bigger than yourself, that very act of giving will come back to you, in waves of love.

  12. Thank you so much for your words today. My husband and I are parents of a young adult who is autistic, and, while most of the time I can give to him gladly and selflessly, today was a day full of hostility and it sucked. I’ll get past it, but reading your blog helped with perspective a lot.

  13. Thank you Steph 🙂 I dont even like bikes, but I like determination and just solid Finnish SISU. I am consumed as a care-taker for my mom who suffers from white matter disease. It is the long good-bye, and your words were very encouraging. “We read to know we are not alone.” Again, thank you for sharing, so. much! “what happens, happens, what it dishes out, you eat up, and you don’t get to decide when it stops, or how it stops or what your day is like. You just have to keep going.”

  14. I don’t want to be effusive with my praise, for your effort on the bike ride and for your words, I do want you to know that they will stick with me.

  15. I was able to come and watch the Rally pull into Montreal, and there was such a sense of community in that park, waiting for all of you riders. I can only imagine how much bigger it is on the ride, even on years when community isn’t the theme you are feeling most. It was so nice to be even a small part of it. (And thanks for taking a picture with me!)

  16. Thank you for that. A little perspective is always a good thing, and you always know the best way to say it. Also, thanks for your effort for the rally, all of you, beyond just the six days. You all matter. You’ve done good.

  17. I am in phase of my life Where I just try to keep going. Thanks for the reminder that just getting through the day can be transformational enough

  18. For so many reasons what you wrote here touches the heart of my heart. We DON’T get to choose what life serves up. We DO get to choose whether show up with our big selves or not. And sometimes just getting through it is just damned ok.
    Huge love to you and your team and all the riders for doing this magical, hard, wonderful thing for us all.
    And extra, extra love to Erin. Just because.

  19. When I’m done running marathons for a cause, it is always the same – a huge WHOOSH of the event, with a pre- and post- of connection, fundraising, and other-focus. Inside the event – the legs, breathing, endurance, connection to the team and the cause. Great work for your whole team – it’s always bigger than our unit of 1 (thank goodness!)

  20. Boggling at that word “million.” Wow! And because of people like you, they really will have more than six days (even if that’s not quite how you meant it as you wrote it, but it is how I read it)–and who could ask for a greater gift?

  21. It was not only the 6 day ride, but the training and planning as well. Your hard work and that of others demonstrates to us all a commitment to improve the lives of others. You didn’t have to do this. You chose to and that is an inspiration for us all to do the same. Thank you

  22. You should be very proud of yourself. You did so well!

    Also, that photo of everyone passed out is super cute.

    Also also, Cam has nice legs. Really nice legs. It’s so unfair

  23. Thanks for putting me in my place again. We all go through so many things in our lives that it is a smack with a cold sponge to realize that there are so many going through worse. I have spent many days recently, like you, focused on what is happening to and around me. It is so important ,for mr, to be minded that no matter what is going on in my world there are others with it so much worse.
    Thank you for not only doing the rally but telling us about it.

  24. I don’t write often but wanted to let you know that I think of you and the other riders often during the days of the Rally. It is a good thing to do what you all do but even better to remember why.

  25. Actually, it is us sitting in comfort in front of our screens reading about how you have done this AGAIN who are humble. That you sort of do it in our names is even more humbling. Know that you are doing something REAL, something GRAND, something that MATTERS.

  26. I can’t even sit on a bike anymore, but I was there every single mile. You really have an inspirational way of writing . I think it’s because it comes from your heart. Fantastic.

  27. You truly have an inspirational way of putting word to paper. I can’t even ride a bike anymore, but I was there with all of you as you somehow made it from Toronto to Montreal. Fantastic. Heartwarming. Hopeful. Dedicated.
    Inspirational for sure.
    A reason to believe.

  28. You took 6 days out of your life, to be tired, and drained, and work extremely hard for people who don’t always have a choice about feeling that way. That makes you, and all the riders more amazing than you already are.

    Cheers, and happy resting ahead (I hope)!

  29. Every year I think, “here comes the ride!” and then I think, “HOW? How can she keep on doing it?” And then every year, you step up to the challenge. And while I eagerly follow all the riders in spirit (and on Instagram 🙂 ), the thing I really anticipate, the thing I eagerly await each time? It’s the wrap up. The reflection on what the ride meant to you, how the ride touched you or changed you. Every year I wait to be moved by what you write. And every year, I wonder how you will find a new and magnificent way to make it so real and so heartfelt. And every year, you deliver! Welcome back. xo

  30. The thing that is particularly awesome to me is what percentage of that million dollars is raised by your team and the cloud of knitters that you trail like a comet. Nearly $100,000 – nearly 10% of that total – comes from your team, and that is an incredible achievement. And that is on you, and your blog. I’m sure I speak for more than myself when I say that even if we never meet, I feel I know you, your friends and your family a little and what a privilege that is. And you did this – you built all this with your two hands and your heart and your brain. All of this is here because of you. Congratulations – you did an amazing thing.

  31. Thank you for spinning together the fibers of the rally into a thread. A thread that means something and that through your writing and the pledges of the awesome blog-plus has become a coat of many colors.

    I hope that your long ago personal private fund raising goal was met.

  32. First — thank you so much for riding and fundraising and giving us sit-at-homes ( speak for myself) the chance to help people who need it.
    Second — thank you so much for your cool and clear and true perspective, that will stay with me for a long time.
    Third — thank you for being there and being you and writing the blog. You are a very rare and impressive humane voice, sorely needed at the moment.

  33. To the Rally team: thank you! Steph, it sounds like you had a Rally of Opposites. You made it through like a champ. Because that’s what you are, encouraging us to give to your causes (did you see those numbers??), sharing your experiences, and throughout it all maintaining a certain level of dignity (don’t laugh — you have it, lady).

    Have a great rest time.


  34. Also, thank you for giving us the chance to take part in this. However much I wish I could be there in person, being able to participate through donations gives the whole endeavor an air of permanence and Relevance to me. I helped… WE helped in a tangible, measurable way. Like you’ve said before, you riding your bike alone doesn’t make a difference without the donations. Many, many thanks for letting us, the blog, your friends through the conputer, make a difference.

  35. I needed to read this today. Thank you for your perspective. Thank you for not giving up. My family has some challenges ahead – I hope I can follow your example and meet them head on.

  36. Thank you for this beautiful post, Stephanie. I know it’s about the Bike Rally, but it’s also a really, really nice reminder to me that there are other people out there who, even when it’s hard, just do what needs to be done…which is what my recent days have been like. Don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware that I’m exceptionally privileged in many regards, and I do my best to maintain my sense of authentic gratitude. But there are also times–like this morning–when I just feel overwhelmed. Thanks for reminding me, so vividly, that you and others are also doing what needs to be done, because you/they/we are determined to make the world a better place.

  37. “Touch the eye” it tells me before I can talk to you. Well, you touched my eyes today, you opened them so I can see beyond how I’m feeling, to see beyond myself to how my husband feels dealing with his ever-increasing difficulty breathing. He won’t get better, every day is a struggle governed by the weather, particulates in the air, and who the He– knows what. It grinds me into little pieces to witness it but I can usually paste a smile on my face and get through the days with love. I’ve been having a hard time coping lately, this helps.

    You humble me, Stephanie, with your insight and empathy. Thanks for riding. Thanks for writing.

  38. What Rams said – well, except the part about lessons to be learned next year. Hoping the 2017 takeaways are joy, health, love and peace for all. Thank you.

  39. Thanks for doing the riding for me–something I am physically unable to do. Thanks for your generosity and teaching the blog how important it is to consider the dignity and humanity of others.

  40. Thank you both for organizing and riding and all else that goes into this event and for being humble and gracious about your participation. You make a difference. You remind the rest of us to try and make a difference too.

    Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  41. Thank you. I miss my brother who died from the disease. I know he sees how many people now truely care about anyone who has it, for whatever reason they have it.

  42. This is, by far, my favorite rally post you have ever posted (and I have read them all). What you have done and what you have accomplished is incredible. But your reflections on those deeds and their larger significance is what is truly impressive. Thank you.

  43. Gloriosky, what a beautiful piece of writing. Your impressions resonate. And even more beautiful is the impact you and your fellow riders make with the rally. Here’s to the boundless effects of generosity.

  44. Stephanie, you, dear heart, are one of the best examples of what is right with our species. Blessings to you and your family.
    Linda B
    NJ, USA

  45. You break my heart every year you ride. The training rides, meetings, fund raising, packing et al. Then, there is the ride and the processing of what the ride threw at you. I know you have a lot on your plate (I watched you teach a class while waiting for information from home and my heart ached). Thank you for all you share and know that so many of us “out there” would lift you up if we could.

  46. That was a beautiful post. I love reading what you write because you are real and genuine. Thanks for sharing!

  47. I liked the way you touched on so many aspects of what you’ve learned over the years… Sharing the richness of your experience is a tremendous gift to “the blog”–above and beyond the gift of fundraising and adding your spirit and personality to the community on the ride. Your commitment is exemplary. Thank you seems inadequate, but I’ll say it anyhow!

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