Around the first anniversary of my uncle’s death, I’d decided that I wanted to do more to help leukemia patients than just my regular platelet donations and being registered in the national bone marrow registry (which really isn’t doing anything but waiting for the 0.02% chance you’ll ever match someone). Something that involved cycling too would be the perfect reason. A Google Search gave me Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride with a century ride (100 miles) around Lake Tahoe. Perfect! I’d done the 72-miles around the lake before so adding 28 miles to that wasn’t going to be a problem. I love riding around the East side of the lake and around the Emerald Bay part on the West side.
Beautiful Lake Tahoe.
The first time I’d done a charity fundraising event that had any personal meaning was the inaugural David Yudovin Memorial Catalina Channel Relay in July 2015 where we raised money under Swim Across America earmarked for the City of Hope, who had helped David successfully beat leukemia. My uncle wasn’t so lucky. While there are other big charity cycling events like AIDS Life Cycle, I don’t have much connection to them. I also tend to like smaller charities that get less attention (therefore less money) like my friends’ charities Nepal Orphan Fund and Ubunye Challenge, both 100% non-profits with no overhead costs. ❤ I was attracted to AMBBR because I wanted to help others fighting leukemia not the distance that meant something to me. I was thinking yesterday about how my feelings about people's struggles with leukemia changed when bone marrow matches for my uncle dropped out, one who did the week the donation was supposed to take place. I was angry about this emotional rollercoaster that my family was put on. I remember there was one 10/10 match and 3 9/10 matches. My dad was an 8/10 match which wasn't ideal. The 10/10 declined to donate for whatever reason and then one of the 9/10 matches did also. I was pissed off that these people were in the bone marrow registry and got that 0.02% chance call just to say "No." I didn't care what their excuse was at the time and assumed that they just signed up because they thought they'd never get the call but could just feel good about themselves for "trying." They didn't have to see someone go through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation and run out of other options. I want to say that maybe if they have then they'd also feel that they don't want anyone else to have to go through that and help out any way they can. The day that second match dropped out was when I decided to register for Be The Match. I couldn’t register though since I was still within a year of a major surgery (Periacetabular Osteotomy). I marked the one year mark after my second PAO in my work calendar to register for the bone marrow registry that very day (and did).
Uncle Bill and me in 2014.
I’d ridden centuries before with the supported ones donating to various charities but nothing that I had to personally raise funds for the ride. I was more concerned about being able to get the minimum $1600 in donations than physically doing the ride. I knew that I could ride 100 miles, even in Tahoe, without much difficulty. I knew that I could count on people like my dad to always donate to whatever I’m raising funds for but $1600 sounds like a lot. I registered for the ride in late 2016 and remember the only thing I hated about it was having to select “In Memory Of” in the section where it asked if you were doing the ride in honor or memory of someone and if so, what was his/her name. I made my first post on Facebook announcing my ride and asking for donations. My Aunt Sue, my Uncle Bill’s widow, made the first donation within minutes and my dad, of course, was the second. I am very grateful for all the generous donations I received of amounts between $5 and $500 as it added up to $2680!! I meant it when I said that every little bit helped and I appreciated friends and family donating what they could afford. It meant a lot to me as I didn’t want my uncle’s death to be in vain and what we went through to be a faded memory. People said they liked me sharing my story which is actually a little hard for me to even think about without getting a little emotional. You can still donate to my ride by the way at here.
Some have asked what my experience with Team In Training was like and I really couldn’t tell you. I didn’t show up for a single training ride with them. Their website originally only gave me the Silicon Valley Team as an option and I’m nowhere near Silicon Valley (an hour’s drive without traffic). My friend Linda was doing the same ride also with TNT and told me to join the Greater Bay Area Chapter as that was closer to me. I finally got switched over after a few emails with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The first ride email I got from them was starting in Half Moon Bay, which is the coastal town on the other side of the ridge from me (a tunnel would make it a 5 minute drive, if that). Yes this group was infinitely closer to me than the South Bay! My weekends tend to be booked in advance and Saturdays (TNT’s ride day) are popular for just about everything. There were actually two Saturdays that I could have joined them for a ride but instead I was at Stanford Blood Center donating platelets. Otherwise my “training” all year only involved 1 103-mile/3000′ ride (3 weeks before), 1 80-mile/5000′ ride (1 week before), 1 36-mile/2000′ ride (2 weeks before), 1 28-mile/3400′ ride (March) and several short ones generally to/from home and work (15-miles/1000′ each way) along with, of course, my usual 11 – 14 workouts/week of a combination of Bay swimming, TRX, spinning, and indoor rowing.
We had a team meeting the day before the ride up in Tahoe. Others knew that Linda and I were friends and were asking her about me. They didn’t know if I was actually there or if I could finish the ride. Linda was basically like “you don’t know who you’re dealing with” in regards to me. I didn’t really remember whose group I was in even! They were handing out awards and Linda got the “Invisible Woman Award” since she showed up to only a fraction of their training rides. She said that I should have gotten it since I showed up to absolutely zero training rides. I got publicly named at that team meeting with everyone turning around and looking at me. I felt exposed! I nervously waved “hi” to everyone. Linda introduced me to Karen, whose group I had been assigned to. I met the other people in the group and was set to meet up with them the next morning for our staggered rollout.
Linda and me after she got the “Invisible Woman Award” that she said I deserved.
The morning of Sunday, 4 June was a little chilly but not bad. I’d brought my trusty companion, fellow early bird, and swim buddy Cathy up with me as she’s training to swim the length of Lake Tahoe later this summer. She came to cheer my sendoff that morning complete with a “GO KELLEY!” sign she made for me. Aw! Karen flagged me down (thank goodness since I didn’t quite remember what she looked like) and asked me about my cycling speed for a distance like this, if I even knew it. I told her how I’d done the Tour de Cure century in Napa a few weeks before and averaged 15.1 mph for those 100 miles. Her eyes got really big and she suggested we talk to Dominic about going with him and “the other speedies.” Dominic’s group was the fastest TNT group in the chapter. I would be the only girl in this group too. Dominic was surprised when I’d told him that I’d spent 30 minutes total at the rest stops during the Tour de Cure century and that was only that long (for me) because I took an extra 5 minutes at the last one to cool down the hotspots on my feet. We took off with Cathy ringing her cowbell.
Cathy seeing me off at the start of AMBBR.
I started off the ride talking to Dominic. He’s done the Death Ride and lives at the base of Diablo so rides it about once a week. Okay, this guy is a legit cyclist. Dominic’s group was the best group for me to be in since we were more or less together the entire time, even on the hills they’d be right there with me. They took a longer than I’d personally spend at rest stops but that’s okay. On the first climb, I was talking to one of the guys about my uncle and I could feel myself starting to tear up a little. I fought that back though as I really don’t like crying in public and there was no way that I was doing that on this ride. Last time I had was actually in front of Beth Yudovin last November when I told her that my uncle had passed away the year before and she tenderly hugged me.
South Enders during a short (for us) swim in Lake Tahoe the day before my ride. Water temperatures comparable to our beloved San Francisco Bay.
We were going to paceline from Tahoe City to Truckee and back (the additional 28 miles to make this a century ride). I’d never done much pacelining before and my general concept of it is what I learned in Enrique’s spinning class with the person in front increasing his/her rpm by about 20 rpm while everyone else takes a break and drafts. I’m accustomed to drafting definitely and had done some of it during the Tour de Cure with a couple of the ride marshals that I ended up chatting with for about 10 miles of that ride. Here we were going to take the lead for 2 minutes each in the rotation. After my first turn was done, I couldn’t figure out why there were only 2 other guys with us and Dominic didn’t realize it until his turn was over as he was right behind me in the order. We had a rest stop at the turnaround point in Truckee where I’d learn that I’d left most of them in the dust as they couldn’t keep up with me even though they were drafting. One guy noted that we’d dropped 3 mph off our average speed and we were on our way to a 6-hour moving time. Enrique has trained me too well perhaps! I’m sure any doubts of whether I could keep up with them or finish the ride disappeared by then. I took an easier pace when in the lead on the way back to Tahoe City.
My quads were starting to really hurt between Tahoe City and Kings Beach. I remembered my friend Brandon’s constant coaching about how lucky we are to be alive and how someone somewhere right now would give anything to take one more pedal stroke instead of their last breath. I’m thinking about how lucky I am to not only be alive but also be able to physically do this ride after Dr. Bellino saved my hip joints in 2011/2012. I passed by a woman who had photos pinned all over her jersey of a little girl who had passed away from leukemia. The photos are flapping up and down like little wings and I have no doubt that she’s thinking of that little girl the entire ride. At least my uncle got to live most of his life. That little girl was cheated out of hers. Most people doing this ride are either leukemia survivors themselves or had a loved one who had it. There are a lot of custom jerseys with “In Memory of” and names and photos printed on them. We’re all there for the same reasons and it’s not just to see if we can bike 100 miles around Tahoe.
Dominic’s Group at Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe.
The boys and I regroup at the lunch stop in Kings Beach. I don’t really eat much since I just don’t eat much during rides aside from eating bananas like my life depends on it (and the potassium they have pretty much makes it true). We take way longer here than I usually like and the one time during the ride I really miss Arianna. My friend Arianna is so fast at rest stops that she is usually waiting for me so we can get going again. The longer we spend standing around, the colder my quads are getting and the harder it’ll be to start pedaling again. I contemplate too on asking Cathy to come pick me up and screw the last 30 miles but I know that there’s no way in hell she’d ever agree to let me quit early. I’m looking forward to the second half of the ride around the lake too since IMO it’s more beautiful with sweeping views of the lake for most of the ride.
Turns out one of the guys (John) belongs to “that other club” next to South End Rowing Club. The boys were interested in my open water swimming as Linda had told everyone that I had swam in Lake Tahoe the day before. Our conversation went like :
John: “I belong to Dolphin Club.”
Me: “I’m sorry.”
John (thinks for a second): “South End?”
John: “Well that can’t be helped. They would’t let you into Dolphin Club?”
Me: “Didn’t even try. (South End is better).”
I mentioned about thinking about swimming after the ride is over. John agreed but he said no way was he going into the lake. Why would anyone want to swim in a chemical-filled pool when you’ve got Lake Tahoe right there in June? Those Dolphins are really weird.
We take off for Incline Village which is where my legs start working again. It’s generally around the 80 mile mark where either I get a second wind or my quads are in so much pain that they’re actually numb so I no longer feel the pain anymore. There’s really only one climb on this side which I try and think about as the same as my home/work commute since it’s about 15-miles total with 1000′ climbing. Difference is, of course, that I’m not 70 miles into a ride already when I leave home or work. This hill is fine when you start off a ride from the North side totally fresh but right now at this point in the ride, this hill sucks. Dominic wants to regroup at the top of the hill so we can try and finish the ride all together. A few of us stop at a rest stop we see thinking that this is the one he was talking about. He tells us to go ahead as he’s waiting for the last in our group and that we’re only halfway up. WTF? ARG! We get back on our bikes and continue slogging uphill. I’m looking at the top of the ridge trying to figure out how close we are to the top as we appear to be running out of hill (and hopefully soon). We finally get to the last rest stop and try to regroup but some of the guys aren’t there yet. If it was just me, I wouldn’t have stopped here at all actually as I didn’t need too since I had plenty of water and we were only 15 miles from the end with it being either rolling hills, descents, or flat the rest of the way. Dominic finally lets the rest of us head off which was good since I was tired of just standing around. I told him that we’ll try to at least not embarrass him too much the rest of the way.
We pulled over in one parking lot just outside South Lake Tahoe as we weren’t sure where Dominic wanted to meet up before the finish. We finally see him so start off again as a group. I get excited seeing the hotels of SLT and knowing the finish is coming up. I’m not entirely sure what happened since I was out in front for the last couple of miles thinking that the guys were right behind me. I come into the finish and see Cathy waiting for me. I’m touched since this is the first time that someone was waiting for me at the finish for any ride or swim that I’ve ever done! (Those who had also done the same ride or swim don’t really count) The guys weren’t right behind me and they show up just a few minutes later. The boys and I take one final group photo before parting ways. I ask Cathy to get my shoes from the car since the one thing that I really look forward to after any ride is getting out of my cycling shoes. She’s the best sherpa. 🙂 We depart to meet up with Linda’s husband Scott at the Cold Water Brewery and Grill because we couldn’t resist the name!
Crossing the finish line.
One of the guys said that the total moving time for him was 6:16 which makes mine a few minutes less than that. My Suunto recorded a longer moving time for me but it’s on my wrist so counts all the time that I was walking around rest stops. The LLS form asks what your predicted ride time is when you register which I tried to put in 8 hours at the time, but it wouldn’t let me put that in saying that was too low of a time. I had put in 10 hours since that worked and knew I wouldn’t be anything close to that. It took me 10.5 hours to do the Marin Century 2 years ago when I was a weaker cyclist and the Marin Century involved a lot more climbing (6400′ vs Tahoe’s 5000′) including the cute 3-mile/770′ beast called “Marshall Wall.”
Our group at the finish in South Lake Tahoe.
I’m plan to do this ride again next yer and even make some of the TNT training rides. They’re a good group and it’s a great cause. I like that I can combine my love of cycling and Uncle Bill together to help others. There’s no physical challenge for me to overcome for completing this ride. I want to help other leukemia patients so hopefully they don’t have my uncle’s fate. I’ll always appreciate the donor who did give bone marrow to my uncle as it gave him a few more years with his wife, kids, grandkids, my dad, me, and his other loved ones. You can’t buy that time. Uncle Bill has continued to inspire me to find new ways to help others like him and I wish he was around to see it. I can’t thank everyone who donated to my ride enough. You helped make this possible and helped the LLS raise $3.25 million to help fund leukemia and lymphoma research and treatment! I wouldn’t have been able to do the ride without your support. I’ve already marked my calendar for the next one on Sunday, 3 June 2018. I’m looking forward to it already!
Kings Beach with the south side of Lake Tahoe a short 20 miles straight across.