Monday, December 28, 2015

Looking back at 2015 and the Heart Across America odyssey

I found myself today looking through photos on my iPhone and sure enough I was soon reliving the Heart Across America ride.

I'm off work today and after 14,000+ miles of riding in 2015, am ready to sit back, relax, let my bikes rest safely in the garage, and take some time to reflect.

My overwhelming sentiment is one of gratitude. Old friends, family, and the multitude of new friends, all chipped in and opened  their hearts to the cause. Every day I felt surrounded by kind friends, some close by, other from afar, but all willing to share hope and  compassion and the joy of  living and pursuing a dream.

The ride in many ways was a snapshot of life. Lots of highs and some extreme lows. There were many days where we were just  excited to be alive. Experiencing pure joy. Cycling  in the company of others sharing the same dreams and riding with purpose.  Witnessing beautiful scenery and sharing huge smiles. I will treasure those days forever.

TThe ride is on!

First day down. Davenport. All smiles

Beautiful Ragged Point, CA

Leaving Ragged Point, CA

Light moments in Buelton, CA

Sean and Jason Chen in San Clemente

Dave and best friend Bruce in Phoenix
Surprisingly good food in Show Low

Don and I crossing the border
Beautiful New Mexico
New friend in Moriarty, NM

And there were days where it was difficult to envision a tomorrow. As I look at the shots of Sean recovering in the hospital from his fall, or relive the days following Don's passing, I'm amazed that we were able to keep the fire burning.

Happy smiles without any clue of the tragedy waiting around the corner.

Sad day in Dallas

Comfort from best friends Ava and Chrissy

Despite the emotional turmoil, or perhaps because of it, we kept moving forward. Much like the story of all our lives.

As we live, we all experience great loss.

Each day still comes regardless of how the world we once knew has changed.

So we ride to breathe hard, and to hear our hearts beating, trying to take in the new reality without our brother Don. There is comfort pushing through the physical and emotional pain, and there are peaceful moments spinning, where time stops  and we feel alive and free of heartache. And we know that Don would have wanted us to move on.

And of course, never give of Sean's favorite sayings.

I feel like this shot of Diana and me riding, alone captures that determination:
We ride on.

And we manage to find light moments and support as we continue to spread the message of hope, and stroke and heart failure prevention.

Don and Diana's aunt and uncle greet Amy, Diana and me.

Sean  is back in the game
Celebrating life
Michael Dell and 100's of supporters greet us in Austin
Dennis watches over a new friend

Judge Kerry Anderson and friends in DeRidder, LA

My cousin Jimmy Montreuil meets me in Houston

Todd Nelson shows up in Natchez and keeps me moving forward

Rick Hoffman (who I last saw in 1979) pulls us all the way from Ohio to New York. Friends for life.

Jonney Shih flies in for the finish line ride

Emotion filled Mike Elliot rides Don's bike into New York

Cycling Olympian George Mount at the finish line

Sean's family celebrates the conclusion of the ride 

Many asked if it was difficult to go back to 'normal' life after this odyssey. It was not hard. I welcomed the transition back to home, family, and yes, work too! The last weeks of the ride had me very concerned for safety as I was only too aware of the dangers involved each day leading riders through unknown paths. The sense of relief  I felt crossing the finish was overwhelming and I was brought to tears. I was ready for a bit of 'normal'.

The days back home celebrating Don's life were heart wrenching but also heartening. Seeing his family and friends coming together helped me realize how lucky we are.

Handmade quilt honoring Don

Memorial for Don

One of Don's favorite bikes

Family together honoring Don

Sean and I continue to get together and now that he is back on two wheels we have enjoyed several rides together. He is however mostly focused on rowing, a sport he threatens to introduce to me. Certainly seems like the odds of avoiding road rash and broken bones are better while rowing.

Shortly after my last post, Sean, I and our families met with Steve Pine and his  Clarity Creative film crew. Steve interviewed all of us through tears and laughter. The experience certainly helped us appreciate what we went through and how it affected us and those around us.

Overall, through the ups and downs, I think we accomplished much more than simply raising $360,000 for the American Heart Association, though that was no small feat!  

It was a grass-root endeavor. Inspired and driven by Sean's relentless determination and support. 

We reached thousands of people along the way, many of them through one-on-one conversations and shared experiences. 

We will never know the full impact of  this but I have to believe it will save lives and give hope to those recovering from adversity. 

We couldn't have done it without all of your support. Thank you, thank you thank you.

I will close with a shortened version of a poem given to me by  a friend; author unknown. It compares our life journey to riding a train. Seems to capture much of how I'm feeling.

..this train ride will be full of joy,
sorrow, fantasy, expectations,
hellos, goodbyes, and farewells.
Success consists of having a good relationship
with all passengers
requiring that we give the best of ourselves.

The mystery to everyone is:
We do not know at which station
we ourselves will step down.
So, we must live in the best way,
love, forgive, and offer the best of who we are.
It is important to do
this because when the time comes for us to step down
and leave our seat empty
we should leave behind beautiful memories
for those who will continue to travel on the train of life.
I wish you a joyful journey on the train of life.
Reap success and give lots of love.
More importantly,give thanks for the journey.

Lastly, thank you
for being one of the passengers on my train.