BY VICKI LABELLA
We’ll be “hitting the road” across America, with our new contributor, Vicki LaBella. She’s a 56-year-old avid cyclist from the Jersey Shore, who has racked up thousands of miles on two wheels. She’s conquered a coast to coast, has traversed the ups and downs of hills, highways, the back roads of America, and village streets in Europe. This year, it’s a two-month trek to our nation’s national parks.
I’m fortunate to be working again with Cycle America, a supported cycling concern, this summer as we prepare to embark on our tours of the national parks. We’ll begin our journey in Whitefish, Mont. on July 14, and will end in San Francisco, Ca. on September 8th. I’m currently in Cannon Falls, Minn., helping with the organization, and the multitude of preparations for the pending tour. The adage,”the devils in the details,” has never been proved more accurate than during this process.There are more items, details and minutia than I will bore you with, but believe me, each must not be forgotten nor scrimped on, or the consequences will come to light down the road.
It’s my second year with Cycle America as a staff member. Last year’s tour was a cross-country trek that began in Seattle, Wash., and ended in Gloucester, Mass. The staff consisted of 12 of us, from literally all parts of the world. This year, there are six staff members. Of the six, five are veteran staffers, who come from New Zealand,Texas, New York, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Colorado. The riders also come from all over the world. Last year’s cross-country trip had cyclists come from Norway, England, Canada, Israel, Australia, Netherlands, France – just to name a few. The length of time we spend together, and the diversity of the riders, makes for an interesting and memorable time. Even though there are patches of extreme exhaustion and resultant grumpiness, the fun and privilege of being a part of this unique experience far outweigh the negative periods.
The main priority of the staff, along with our daily duties, is to ensure that each cyclist is happy (as happy as one can be while cycling some challenging climbs and enduring extreme high heat), and their needs are met. Those needs can be as simple as providing soy milk at each meal for the vegans amongst us, or as extreme as driving a rider’s car along the route so they will have their vehicle at the ride’s end. Each day presents a new set of circumstances for the riders and, subsequently, the staff. We must remain diligent and mindful of the riders’ physical, mental and emotional conditions.
One of the most satisfying things for me is to watch the cyclists bond with one another, and become stronger riders along the way. It never fails that there are a handful of cyclists who struggle at the beginning and, by the ride’s end, are solid, sound riders. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is more moving than witnessing the end of each ride when the cyclists are proud (with good reason), and elated to have completed the ride, even though there were times when the cycling was daunting, and the outcome looked bleak. The sense of accomplishment is immense, and one that stays forever. It’s a job well done. New friends are made along the way. We discover what we’re really capable of, and just how much grit we each possess. God, I love cycling, and am grateful to be a part of the cycling world.
Once our ride officially begins, I’ll be sharing some of the high times, and some of those dark days with you. Until then, why not get on your bikes and pedal, pedal, pedal? Please though, unlike when Lois was young, do wear your helmets and shoes (or sandals)!! There’s nothing better to cure whatever may be emotionally or mentally ailing you. Trust me.