The 2011 Great Lakes Independence Ride (IRide) made its last stop this Sunday at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, greeted by the cheers of family, friends and community. Fifty seven people pulled into their final stop, ready to plow into the mountainous boxes of pizza lining the CIL Warehouse. Some riders pulled in with a few dozen miles under their belts, some had completed the full 240; some were riding handcycles, some were riding upright cycles; but all of them were together, proud and exhausted.
For those familiar with the Ann Arbor CIL Programs, IRide isn’t new. Come late July, IRide Coordinator Mary Stack is caught in the usual flurry of preparations, re-arranging hotel rooms and managing t-shirt crises; come early August, the CIL Warehouse gets the usual scrub down, and staff quickly pack away the same boxes into the same corners. Until late in the afternoon on August 3, IRide gears up in the simple mode of routine, like a familiar family feast to which each relative frantically brings the usual dish. Sure, IRide has become a regular — and even smoothly run — event at the Ann Arbor CIL. But no matter how many years pass since the first Ride in 2007, I can’t imagine this four-day, 240 mile, fully-inclusive cycling trip being anything but incredible, refreshing, and unique for each and every participant on each and every ride. In the words of more than one IRider, the trip’s been called, “The best week of my summer.”
In the 2011 Ride, Anna was one reason why.
Anna Dusbiber-Gossage is the Youth Services Coordinator for the Ann Arbor CIL. To get around everyday, Anna uses a power chair. So when in May of 2010 Anna’s simple fitness goal — building more strength and endurance — turned into a goal of participating in IRide 2011, Anna knew she’d have some serious training to do.
And train she did. After months of meeting physical fitness challenges and after weeks of searching for just the right bike, she made a bike purchase and began cycling. Made by Hase Bikes, her steed uses a special attachment that allows her to partner with another, upright cyclist, forming a kind of tandem system in an instant. Anna could then pedal from behind independently while leaving the steering to her forward, towing partner.
Just a a few weeks and a few adjustments later (bigger pedals, more leg padding, safeties for the hitch), the morning of August 4, 2011 found Anna getting settled into her brand-new, custom bike, flanked by 56 fellow IRiders who each and all were busy in final preparations: transferring onto handcycles; adjusting seats; airing tires. For Anna, final prep meant checking and double-checking her hitch connection. Maps were distributed; pictures were taken. Finally, around 7 AM, Anna, her riding partner and all set off from the near-edge of Lake Michigan toward the Ann Arbor destination that, from so far away, seems nearly incomprehensible.
Anna found herself in the company of both newcomers like herself as well as veterans, elite cyclists who’ve competed in rides as competitive as Sadler’s Alaska Challenge, who’ve been inducted into the Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame, and who’ve ridden on IRides since its very beginning five years ago. In this way, IRide continually writes a story of surmounting obstacles: newcomers, both young and mature, find themselves toughing out hills and mileage on the Ride that they never knew they could complete, while veterans return with new stories of races won and new places traveled. And on this ride — unlike so many other athletic events — each kind of accomplishment calls for celebration.
Rider Cody was, like Anna, another newcomer to cycling. He joined us on day three at Hillsdale, practicing on his upright cycle in the already-hot parking lot just before we pulled out on the road. Cody and his parents learned a lot in the next two days: They were totally new to adaptive cycling. IRide cyclists were riding tandems, handcycles, recumbents, uprights, hookups. They were amazed by the diverse possibilities. After a tough first leg on his upright bike, Cody quickly switched to handcycling to complete the Ride, proudly boasting hand blisters after pulling in at the Final Mile.
Of course, IRide isn’t always orchestrated by sentimental violins and touching Kodak moments. It’s a bike ride. Crappy things happen; hilarious things happen. Anna and I were chased down by an angry, yappy Chihuahua on Day Three, narrowly escaping a pitiful death. On that very same stretch of road, two young riders took a spill; the girls, after sustaining scrapes and bruises and a bit of a headache, got back on their bikes and finished the ride, true and gritty champs, both. Mary’s loathsome stopwatch, ticking away our precious moment’s of rest between legs of the ride, was thrown across a field by an anonymous rider. Luis — an IRide fixture whose business, Bath for All, is a yearly IRide sponsor — spun tales of hotel bed bugs so frightful that one of our young riders spent half her night sleeping in the comfort of a bathtub.
Yes, tragic-comedy marks more than a few IRide moments. For all the length of the ride — four days nearly across an entire state — it ends soon, and completely. Like returning home from any magical place, it isn’t necessarily fun: transitioning from days spent surmounting minor mountains and fending off dog attacks to days spent at a desk, away from the sun. For many of us, next year’s ride can’t come soon enough. We sure hope you’ll join us: Mark your calendars for August 2 – 5, 2012.
Can’t wait until 2012 for cycling awesomeness? Try coming out to Tuesday Cycling at the Ann Arbor CIL, where volunteers and CIL staff will help find the right bike among our own collection to suit your needs, then take a spin out on Research Park Drive, a mile-long, low-traffic, loop road. Programs to Educate All Cyclists, an IRide partner, will sponsor another upcoming benefit ride, “A Celebration of Cycling,” on September 17; PEAC promotes education for cyclists of all abilities. See http://bikeprogram.org/events/ for more.
Photos and Video provided by Don Rose. View a YouTube clip of IRide: IRide Clip