Bike to the Beach is a non profit organization that raises money for autism in conjunction with Autism Speaks. I’ve known the two founders of Bike to the Beach since I was in high school (which gives you an idea of how long it’s been around), and yet somehow it wasn’t until August, 2018 that I actually participated in one of their events.
I’ll let you check out their site in order to learn more about the history of Bike to the Beach, but I do want to mention here that what began as two friends simply biking to the beach for Beach Week after their high school graduation, has turned into a multi-city non profit organization that has raised over three million dollars for autism. It’s amazing what people can accomplish by accident, let alone when they apply purpose to their lives. We’re all going to die. We will die. Our children will die, as will theirs, and so on. Only through lasting accomplishments can even begin to approach immortality. Bike to the Beach is something that will live on forever.
Before going into the ride, I want to stress one thing above all else: anyone can do this. I think people hear “100 miles” and it’s this daunting number…but really you’re just pedaling. //That’s all it is. Getting use to being in a bike seat is the only real training someone might need. For anyone who rides…you know the grueling process of hardening your taint….and there’s nothing you can do to ease the pain….you just have to suffer through it for about 3 weeks. But once your tailbone and muscles around there have strengthened, you can ride 100 miles. And now a question of ethics…..do I, or do I not make a reference to anal sex?
The ride began at 5 am. The meet up point was in downtown Washington DC, at Gonzaga High School.
That was allegedly the rough part of town back in the early 90’s. I got there at about 4:40 in order to check in, get the stickers for my helmet and bike, as well as the free jersey that’s reserved for you when you register online. There were probably about 300 people who had also signed up for the century ride (there’s the option to do about fifty miles, in which case you start closer to Rehoboth). Being relatively introverted, I didn’t talk to anyone there. Instead I lamented on the fact that the cap to my water bottle had come loose and fallen off at some point while I was riding to the start point. Fuck it. I drank three bottles of water with added electrolytes (now I know where the distinct flavor in Gatorade comes from), ate a couple of bananas and stretched. An announcement was made that we’d be leaving in about 5 minutes. It was still dark out. There was music playing and people were getting together to shout “wooooooooo” while they took group photos.
I noticed that there were moving trucks there, and that registration also included transportation of luggage to the beach. I sure wish I’d paid more attention when I signed up because sitting around in my cycling gear for several hours post ride….was pretty awful.
After a heartfelt thank you from someone on the Bike to the Beach team, people started riding out of the parking lot. I made it a point to be one of the last people to start riding. Cowbells were clanging and people were cheering us on as we departed. Dawn began peering down at us from the sky, as the first signs of morning began to appear as the night began to dissolve.
“This is not a race,” I told myself. “You have 100 miles to go.” I started passing groups of people….not really pushing myself…just pedaling. We had a police escort blocking off intersections for us to ride through and that’s when I told myself, “Ok…take it up a couple notches,” and I pushed through some more groups of people riding together. I noticed a guy on a tri-bike (triathlon bike) was also keeping up with me and at some point, while riding next to me he yelled over, “You and I were thinking the same thing back there!! ‘Let’s pass all these worthless groups of people and ride free!!!’” I thought, “That’s not at all what I was thinking you fucking idiot….because this isn’t a race and people riding to raise money for any kind of humanitarian benefit…aren’t worthless.” I looked over, not hiding the absence of amusement, and replied, “I’m just pedaling at what feels comfortable to me….” You’ll meet all sorts of people at these types of events, and this is one of those types. You’ll also see people who went and dropped over 10 thousand dollars on a bike, probably another thousand on gear between their helmet, shoes, and kit, and they can barely pedal for more than an hour straight.
In my limited experience on cycling twitter, I’ve gotten the impression that people who aren’t on tri-bikes, have a strong distaste for those who do ride them. To be more specific, it’s almost as if there’s this sense that tri-riders are the bros of the cycling community. This guy was exactly that. “Don’t fucking try to chum up to me by being a douchebag. Don’t try to unite us by getting me to agree to your desire for putting other people down in order to elevate yourself you fucking lowlife.” I pulled away from tri-guy on a short ascent and wouldn’t see him again until after the ride.
I felt like I had a pretty good pace going, passing more people and making good gains on anyone I saw ahead of me. This wasn’t because I was competing against them…I was competing against myself and using those ahead of me as a focal point.
It was about 6:30 in the morning and the ride had become much much prettier and the conditions were quite nice. The sky was overcast
….which I loved because it meant I woudln’t be getting that stupid biker tan I hate so much. And while it was pretty humid out, it still felt relatively cool. The next hour took us through the suburbs of Annapolis….through beautiful woodland areas and through some flooded roads that we just pushed through.
By about 7:30 in the morning, I’d made it to the rest stop (the first one I took actually) where we would dismount and get ferried across the bridge. I took the opportunity to load up on three more bottles of water, electrolytes, granola bars, and a whole wheat bagel.
Again, didn’t talk to anybody….just kept to myself like the weirdo my sister tells me I am.
I don’t know exactly where the bus dropped us off, but it was quite a ways past the other side of the Bay Bridge. I fueled up with a ham sandwhich, and another two bottles of water. For some reason I wondered where in the world John Digweed was playing music at the night before, and then I kept playing bits from his Global Underground-Hong Kong album in my head.
Time to ride again.
This portion of the ride was vastly different from the parts leading up to that point. For one thing, it was almost completely flat, and very open. I kept singing Manson-Wide Open Space to myself….as I looked out and noticed little wildflowers on the side of the road, miles of corn stalks beyond them, and trees that blended into where the sky and the earth met.
I caught up to a group that was making some really solid time. There was a woman amongst them (on a tri-bike) that was really the leader of the group…always out front and I think setting the pace. Out of nowhere I felt a rush of strength and I attacked, passing them and making what I thought was great headway until I got caught at a light and consequently, caught up to by the group. I surged ahead again, only to have the same thing happen a few more times until eventually I pushed ahead for good. Again…this wasn’t to beat anybody…it was too see what I’m made of. And throughout all of it, there was a couple riding together that were just crushing it! I couldn’t find myself keeping up with them at all, but I’d also pulled out way ahead of the people I’d been trying to pass for the last hour or so. And so I was back to what I’m used to…..riding alone for some time with one excepction: another dude on a tri-bike who glided by me….effortlessly. We were on long straight roads and I just watched him get smaller and smaller as he got further and further away. He must have been casually maintaining 30 miles per hour. Good for him. No ego….no flashy kit….just a consistently strong and steady rider.
At the next pit stop…probably with about 40 something miles to go, some heavy bulbous clouds were starting to gather up ahead and the winds were picking up.
This didn’t concern me nearly as much as the foul stench coming my armpits, so I headed over to the supermarket on the other side of the parking lot to pick up some deodorant. At the checkout line, the lady ahead of me saw that I was one of the riders (I guess that’s a huge deal in small towns), and told me to go ahead of her “because I know you’ve got people waiting on you.” I was in awe….what a beautiful moment. Thank you lady, wherever you are. You got me feeling like....
After masking the odor, I hopped back on and within about 20 minutes, it started raining. Hard. Like a fool, I hadn’t charged either of my lights the night before, and both were dead at this point. Fuck it. I focused on the rain drops being spattered off my front wheel.
Way up ahead, I saw two other riders….and dashed for them. I don’t know why…but instead of passing, I just rode behind one of them, rain water launching like a fountain off his back wheel, and splattering on my face. Ava Devine came (huh huh) to mind, and then I thought “Ok, enough of this…” and pushed past the duo.
When I pulled into the next rest stop the rain was coming down even harder and I was soaked completely through. We were in a small parking lot in front of a beer store and some riders were drinking shitty beer and this infuriated me. Why the fuck would you drink shitty beer when you have so many delicious beers being brewed in Maryland and Delaware?! I scarfed down two bananas, two bottles of water, a coconut water, and a couple granola bars. I wondered why any riders were standing under the tents because at this point, we were all soaked through and through.
I overheard a girl being told by another girl, “We’ve got about 37 miles to go….if you’ve come this far….you can finish.” Very true words. 37 miles? Time to get a move on.
Off I went….making good headway when I passed a group of 7 people or so riding together, and then a few more pairs ahead of them. Suddenly, the power couple surged through (I later learned they had suffered two flats that delayed them a bit but they were clearly making up for it). By this time the clouds had parted and the roads were drying up pretty quickly.
By some divine power, the temperature was still quite nice…it felt like it was about 73. I kept up with them and we actually chatted a bit about where’re we’re all from, how we heard about the ride, and I told them all about riding in Greece the last few months and the cross country trip I was making in March. Pace wise, we were making incredible time. We all skipped the next rest stop, knowing we couldn’t had much more than 20 miles at this point, but all stopped at the last pit stop because pizzas had been ordered there. It wasn’t until we stopped riding that I realized how hot it was. I went off to sit in the shade, scarfing down 6 pieces of pizza, and a few more waters. The power couple had already taken off…..so I thought, “Why not have another piece of pizza?”
And it was here that I ran into another “type” of bro…the kind that makes everything about them and speak loud enough to make sure other people hear them. “Dude,” he yelled to some family members there. “I fucking killed it. I’m going to ride the last ten miles without my shirt.”
Now I’m not into body shaming….and there’s plenty of reasons I shouldn’t take my shirt off….ever. But…. “Sorry 'tits'…you should absolutely wear a shirt, but not nearly as much as you should shut your stupid fucking face.”
10 miles to go…sorry, sorry…10 more miles of “killing it.”
The last ten miles I was alone again. And to be frank, I don’t really have anything exciting to write. I guess that’s what happens when you ride alone. I rode up the red carpet and people were cheering on the finishers, cowbells and all…but really I just wanted to sit down because now that the ride was over, the exhaustion of being up at four am really kicked in.
For those who haven’t done it though, a bit about what awaits you at the end: a party. Yeah…a fucking party. There’s a bar on the beach and people were going after it. I myself….took a brief nap in what seemed like some sort of banquet hall where all the luggage had been unloaded into. I opened my eyes briefly and another rider commented, “You’ve had the best idea I’ve seen all day!”
I slept maybe about an hour and then ran into my buddy Joey, one of the founders of bike to the beach. Joey and I also lived together after college, and I hadn’t seen him in years so we caught up a bit. We retold stories of the nightmarish craigslist roommate we had back then, this kid Amani, who amongst several weird things, would walk in on my girlfriend at the time and me having sex, and instead of turning around like a normal person, would just stand there and watch until I yelled at him to get the fuck out. Amani was the guy who, if you were smoking with him, would take 6 back to back hits of a blunt, look at you, and then take six more. Those, amongst a number of other reasons, are why one day Amani lit a cigarette only to discover that a black cat firecracker had been slipped into it, resulting one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life.
At about four pm, the beach bar began giving out free tacos. In line, the guy ahead of me turned around and asked if I was riding a trek. “Yeah,” I replied. “That’s what I thought,” he said. I realized it was ‘tri guy.” He continued, “You and I were riding together for a bit at the beginning….” I think he waited for some kind of acknowledgment…some kind of response to mirror his attempt to “chum up” or “bro down” or whatever. “Yes. I remember,” I said. Then he went on to tell me how he had some bike trouble and that it held him back from finishing sooner. Why he felt the need to justify his finish time to me, I’ll never know. Maybe he still thought it was a race. I on the other hand, was just thinking about how good some tacos would taste, and how much I wished I could be ahead of him in this line as I had been ahead of him during the ride. Soon enough though, he’d ordered and left.
Had I planned to stay the whole weekend, I’d have already been checked into my hotel room and passing out on a beach chair to get color, but instead I was getting my stuff together to head back to DC on the bus transport provided by Bike to the Beach. The ride back felt long…probably because I was tired and anxious to be home. But the company was great…ended up talking with a guy from Boston who was sitting next to me. He also had some great Hawaiian beers (Longboard maybe?) that he shared.
If you’re not an introvert like me, you’ll probably make some great friends on this ride. But even if you are an introvert, you should do this ride. You should do this ride regardless of what kind of person you are. I saw people riding mountains bikes. I saw other people who were riding flat pedaled hybrid bikes (I was in disbelief at how fast they were moving, and how hard I had to work to really overtake them). I saw a girl there who must have weighed 92 pounds, and in contrast, people who were clearly overweight and didn’t seem like they were athletic. There were people in their early 20’s and people who must have been in their late sixties doing it (one of those people was a man who to me, became an inspiration of the kind of speed I want to be able to sustain when I get to be in my sixties). So again, there’s a place for everyone on this ride, and everyone can do it. I did a big disservice to myself by waiting this long to participate in it, but take comfort in the fact that there’s a few more rides that Bike to the Beach offers throughout the year that I can sign up for. Hopefully you will too.