Dee is a recovering addict who is doing the Ride for Recovery (R4R), sponsored by Came to Believe Recovery. I recently learned about R4R from my new cycling friend Nathan. Nathan is a recovery pastor and a recovering addict himself. He is president of the board of directors for Came to Believe Recovery, an organization that has existed since the late 1960s and is based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Nathan has developed R4R to raise awareness of drug addiction and alcoholism and how cycling can be a tool for recovery. The first R4R event is occurring this week. The R4R team is riding from Lawrenceville, GA to Orlando, FL over four days, reaching out to the communities they visit to let people know that they are a resource for recovery from addiction.
As I learned more about R4R, I discovered that this week’s ride would bring the team right through my hometown, Monticello, on Tuesday. I arranged my schedule to ride my bicycle along with the R4R riders as they traveled from Monticello to their first overnight destination in Macon.
Having talked fairly extensively with Nathan on last month’s 200K brevet, I felt like I had at least an inkling of how cycling can help recovering addicts. He explained that all of us use coping mechanisms. Addicts rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms, i.e., drugs and/or alcohol. Fortunately, the brain can be retrained to use healthy coping mechanisms like cycling. This makes sense intuitively. Although I don’t have personal experience with addiction, I certainly do know how cycling has helped me through difficult times in my life and how it gives me everyday stress relief and even joy. Also, I recognize that I have a somewhat obsessive streak (600K brevet, anyone? How ‘bout a Race Across America?). If my life circumstances had been different, I might have taken the path to addiction myself. So, I assumed that the R4R participants would be pretty hard-core riders, refocusing their addictive tendencies into cycling. That might be true for some, but Dee taught me something different.
On Tuesday I met up with the R4R team at my church, Monticello Presbyterian. When they were ready to get back on the road after a lunch break, Nathan suggested that I ride with Dee while the other riders went in the support vehicles. Dee had not yet ridden her bicycle that day and was psyching herself up. She doesn’t have a lot of cycling experience, mainly having ridden on trails in parks near her London home. So, she was nervous not only about the miles themselves but also about riding on actual roads.
I had Dee ride in front of me so that she could set whatever pace was comfortable to her. We headed south on Highway 11. It was relatively flat for the first few miles. The afternoon was sunny and beautiful, and I hoped that the increasing heat wasn’t too oppressive to Dee. We approached a pretty big hill. She geared down and started climbing. I gave her a few encouraging words, hoping that they would help. (Personally, I don’t like any kind of coaching when I’m in or near the red zone, but I’m weird that way and assume most other people aren’t like that.) She made it to the top without stopping!
I was getting good vibes from Dee, sensing that although the ride was tough, she liked it. We kept pedaling. I know this stretch of road like the back of my hand, and so I commented on a few points of interest along the way, wanting to make the ride more enjoyable for her. We had several more climbs; Dee rose to the challenge each time. She had said that she wanted to ride about seven miles. I told her that we could stop in Adgateville (five miles total) or continue to Hillsboro (nine miles total). She wasn’t ready to stop at Adgateville, and so we kept riding. I told her that we could stop sooner than Hillsboro if she needed to. But she seemed determined. On we went. At last we spotted the first few buildings of Hillsboro. I directed her to a convenient church parking lot. We made it! Dee was jubilant!
|Me and Dee|
Dee is not the type of long-distance rider that I mistakenly assumed all of the R4R riders would be. However, she showed me another way that cycling can be a tool for recovery. I don’t know the details of Dee’s addiction and recovery journey, but I’m sure she hasn’t had an easy life. As I watched her complete a bicycle ride from Monticello to Hillsboro with grit, I could see her confidence building right before my eyes. It takes courage to face our fears, make changes, and even to make a hundred tiny decisions every day that affect the course of our lives. I pray that Dee continues to have that courage – in her recovery, on the bicycle, and in everything else.
(For more information on R4R or Came to Believe Recovery, visit www.recoverycylcist.com or www.cametobelieve.org.)
I met PJ through Macon Connects. Macon Connects is an initiative to install the world’s largest network of temporary bike lanes. The purpose is to give the people of Macon a sense of bicycle infrastructure and how it can improve transportation for all residents. Volunteers were recruited to paint eight miles of interconnected bike lanes over several days. This will culminate today with a Street Makeover ribbon-cutting ceremony, a tour of the bike lanes, and a bike parade. The block party will continue tomorrow.
Robert and I are heavily invested in the Macon cycling community through our racing team, Georgia Neurosurgical Institute, and the many recreational rides we do with our friends there. For this reason and because of our general interest in promoting cycling, we volunteered for a bike lane painting shift late Wednesday afternoon.
About 15 volunteers arrived at our downtown meeting point. We wondered how all of this was going to work. However, with a few simple instructions from the organizers, we quickly got the hang of everything. Several volunteers set up traffic cones and directed traffic to the outer lanes where we weren’t painting. Teams of two used measuring tapes and chalk to mark points four and six feet off of the center yellow line. Others stretched string along the chalk marks to guide a person using a striper (rolling machine with cans of spray paint) to paint the double edges of the bike lines. The stripers also made diagonal lines between each pair of double bike lane lines. Still other volunteers used stencils to spray paint arrows and cyclist symbols within the bike lanes. Finally, a couple of people with green spray paint marked the intersections with bike boxes, places for cyclists to wait safely at traffic signals. By the way, the paint is chalk-based and will either wash away in the rain or be cleaned off by Macon-Bibb County in a few weeks.
|Robert shows his stripes|
The process itself was amazing in its elegant simplicity, but what struck me even more was the group of people who had come together to accomplish a common task: a retiree, two young women from Mercer (at least one of whom was Muslim, based on her hijab, or headscarf), a Georgia Tech student of Indian descent, two men who appeared to be slightly mentally disabled yet highly functioning, an African-American woman in a wheelchair, and a few of us plain old WASPs. It was a true cross-section of society. Some people may fear such diversity, but I think it’s beautiful.
PJ was the woman in the wheelchair. I had seen her roll up as we were getting started, but I didn’t realize that she was there to volunteer until I saw her spray painting the stencils. It was wonderful to see her being able to participate. When I had a break between tasks, I had a chance to speak with her for a few minutes. She lives in the Dempsey, the public housing unit on Cherry Street. She was so excited about the bike lanes and hopes that Macon can get some permanent ones that are also designated as disability lanes. It had never occurred to me that bike lanes might also be helpful to people with disabilities. PJ explained how she rides all over town in her electric wheelchair. Sidewalks work pretty well, but she has to be careful. One time she took a bad turn on a curb and messed up her wheel. It was a lot of hassle and expense to deal with doctors and Medicare to get her tire replaced. (Obviously, it’s a lot harder than simply replacing the tube on a bicycle wheel.)
PJ likes getting out and enjoying the world, but she said she is the exception to the rule among the residents at the Dempsey. Many are confined to wheelchairs like she is, but most are afraid to get out and travel freely like she does, riding up and down the sidewalks and taking public transportation. I tried to imagine how confined those residents must feel. PJ said that too many people die – literally – from isolation. But she sees herself as an advocate for people with disabilities. She wants a group of people in wheelchairs to take part in the Macon Connects bicycle parade tonight – wonderful! She also asked my opinion about starting a petition to Macon-Bibb County requesting permanent bike lanes. I told her that that was a great idea, just to make sure to frame it in a positive light, emphasizing how bike lanes would improve transportation and quality of life for people with disabilities.
She went on to tell me how if she wins the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, she’ll spend the money on a youth center. It will have go-carts, a rock-climbing wall, and other activities to keep young people out of trouble. It will also have a study area and a place to play board games. She wants to buy an iPad for every young and old person. I love her enthusiasm, and I hope she does win the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes!
I can’t claim to be as generous as PJ, but I definitely felt a kinship with her get-it-done spirit. When I have a goal – whether it’s getting 1250 km in a month for a Strava challenge, riding a century a month for an entire year, or doing RAAM – I’m never afraid or consider that it’s not possible. I just do it. PJ may not have nearly as many advantages or resources as I do, but I hope I can live my life as fully as she does.
Women have appropriated the term “ride like a girl” to take pride in their cycling accomplishments. When we ride fast, ride long, or ride well in any other way, we ride like a girl. We also ride like a girl when we “chick” (outride) the guys, which I’ll admit is pretty fun. Dee and PJ, however, have taught me that there are other beautifully empowering ways to ride like a girl.