FORT KENT, Maine — Ask a group of cyclists why we ride and you will likely get a broad spectrum of answers.
Some ride to get in shape or stay in shape. Others ride to train for athletic events or to look at the countryside from atop two wheels. Heck, some of us even ride because we suffer from a delusion we actually look good in brightly colored spandex cycling jerseys and shorts.
But last weekend a common thread bound more than 2,000 cyclists together in a single mission: riding to say “On your left” — cycling lingo for “make way as I pass you” so maybe we can finally leave cancer in the dust, forgotten and abandoned on the side of the road.
The fifth annual Dempsey Challenge to benefit the Patrick Dempsey Center for Hope and Healing in Lewiston attracted more than 3,800 cyclists and runners over two days who raised — to date — $1.1 million by walking, running or cycling five to 100 miles.
Okay, let’s be honest, some of us were also there to catch a glimpse of “Dr. McDreamy” himself.
But beyond that, there was the greater good — raising funds for the center founded by the star of Grey’s Anatomy that supports cancer patients and their families.
Plus, it is one heck of a fun and well organized ride.
This year I had trained for the 25-mile ride but had secretly dreamt of doing the 50-miler.
My cycling bud Penny McHatten and I had done the 50 in the Dempsey Challenge’s inaugural year and, while I have returned for two subsequent rides, I don’t think she has yet recovered from it.
See, the first 25 miles are kind of hilly. The route is nothing drastic, but offers some good workouts for the quads.
Beyond that, the real climbs begin as 50-mile riders loop around through Poland and Mechanic Falls back into Lewiston.
My friend Alan did that ride last year and at the finish line described seeing grown men sitting by their bikes in the ditches halfway up hills and crying.
But Alan actually enjoys hills — the longer, steeper and higher the better. So this year he did the 100-mile century ride.
Meanwhile, back at the start, I was standing with the 50-mile riders, wondering if I was up for that this year.
My day had already gotten off to a somewhat stressful start.
Minutes before arriving at the start line, I had unloaded my bike from the car with the help of my one-man support crew, Matthew.
Bike out, front tire back on, water bottles in cages — all that was left was to fully inflate the tires.
This was done using my brand new shiny floor pump.
100 psi of air later, I disengaged the pump and watched in horror as all 100 pounds whooshed back out the rear tire. Along with the valve core.
As any cyclist knows — that core is what keeps all that air inside the tire, where it belongs.
Fifteen minutes to the start and I had the mother of all flats.
Looking around, I spotted two svelte looking cyclists unloading matching high-end road bikes from their higher-end SUV.
Noting the matching cycling attire, I figured these two would certainly know how to fix my flat.
Nope, while sympathetic, the duo had not a clue how to repair the tire.
Growing a bit more frantic, I scooped up the bike and trotted off toward the start where I gave serious thought to having Alan — who I knew was somewhere in that sea of 1,000 cyclists — paged. He, I knew, would be able to fix the tire.
Luckily, before I could put that particular ill-conceived plan into action, I spied the mechanics from Lewiston’s Rainbow Bicycle shop and within minutes, they had a fresh tube and air in my tire.
Moments later, it was time to head out, riding in a massive group past people with signs thanking us, signs celebrating those who fought and beat cancer. And those signs memorializing the people who lost that battle.
Of course, my thoughts drifted to my late husband Patrick, who six years ago this week was beginning his three-month journey through tests, surgery, radiation treatments and drugs, all aimed at beating back the malignant melanoma that had invaded his body.
His was one of the unhappy endings, that battle ending on Jan. 28, 2008.
When I reflect on what he did, what he and so many went and go through in that fight, climbing a few hills really pales by comparison.
So up those hills I pounded, but still not feeling up to that 50-mile route.
Instead, I managed to discover a cross over route that allowed me to do most of the 25-mile circuit twice. While I don’t think my modification got me an entire 50-miles, I did get close to 40, and that felt pretty darn good.
What felt even better was ending the ride relatively unscathed. Regular readers may recall my ride last year ended with me stepping in a very deep hole and badly spraining my ankle.
Not so this year.
Other than that flat and getting a bit lost in the parking garage looking for Matthew, the ride was relatively trouble free and went toward helping a great cause.
And that, friends and neighbors, is why we ride. Well, that and I really do like my new Fort Kent 10th Mountain Lodge spandex cycling jersey.
It’s just a pity Dr. McDreamy never got to see it.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.