Every year, come Memorial Day weekend, my mom and dad pack up their car, strap my dad's bike to the trunk and ride off to Connecticut for an event called the Angel Ride. It's a fundraising event so dutifully, I make a donation each and every year.
Last year, my brother joined my parents on their mystery weekend adventure and came back claiming the two day, 135 mile ride in hilly Connecticut was the most challenging albeit rewarding experience of his life. Never ones to be shown up by the baby bro, my sister and I made a promise to join the boys the following year.
One brand new road bike, endless Soul Cycle classes and even more laps of Central Park later, I found myself packing my sleeping bag and bike shoes and cramming into the back of my parent's car to make the pilgrimage.
I've been traveling a lot for work lately and got sick as a result, so the night before the first day of the ride, I hardly slept -- I was up all night coughing and sneezing. I had also recently had some frustrating experiences in my dating life (seems like guys these days are big on the disappearing without a trace the day of the date) so I was preoccupied by my thoughts. At least I'd have a lot to think about during the 135-mile ride...
The morning of the event was a brisk 36 degrees -- weather for which I was ill-equipped -- and the first thoughts running through my mind were: what did I get myself into? Needless to say, after somehow, miraculously surviving the first 85 mile day with merely a single (minor) crash and a handful of black and blue marks to show for my efforts, we pulled into The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.
From the moment we arrived, (while gingerly climbing off the bike to ease my aching behind), I knew this place was pretty magical. As little as I knew about the ride prior to participating in it, by the end of day one, having met a massive number of incredibly friendly people eager to make new friends and share their stories, and motivated by the countless, encouraging, loving volunteers along the route, I knew what this place was all about. And that whatever physical discomfort I was in paled in comparison to that of the kids the camp was created for. The camp gives children with serious illnesses -- and their siblings -- a chance to experience the world of possibilities that camp has to offer.
That evening, after showering and eating (the riders sleep in the camp cabins further elevating the experience), we headed to the meeting hall for the evenings' presentations where we got a chance to hear from some of the people whom the camp had helped.
The first person who spoke was 'Rider # 1', a man named Dan and the first person to sign up for the ride 12 years ago. He's ridden every year since and as the emcee of the evening, introduced each of the speakers. My heart swelled when I heard from an adorable 13-year old boy who'd survived an illness and was participating for the first time in the second day, 50-mile part of the ride. I bawled when I listened to the father who was a member of the Hospital Outreach Program which the Angel ride supports, and who had lost first his nephew, and then his own son to cancer in quick succession. I shed silent tears when I listened to the mother and son who had lost a daughter -- and a sister -- speak about how their experiences at camp renewed their hope when the world seemed like a dark, bleak place. The evening was finished out by an incredible folk singer, Kristen Graves whose melodic voice added a layer of poignancy to the stories we had just heard and whose self created political party 'Just Be Nice' was so very apropos to the weekend's events.
Being a part of this audience was not only a humbling experience but an eye opening one as well. As my brain so often tends to do, my thoughts shifted to a personal focal point on which to reflect, and while Kristen sang, I thought about some of the recent interactions I've had in the dating world. Please forgive me if you're sitting there thinking, wow, while she was at a camp for kids with life-threatening diseases, she was thinking about her dating life. But it really wasn't like that. It was truly more of a big picture, reflection on how strong the power of good can be. There's an element of cruelty that seems to be par for the course in the dating scene. Don't like someone? Don't pick up their call or respond to their text. Want to date for a week or two or three and then disappear from the face of the earth? That's cool. We tease, rib, neg, and joke with one another to almost ridiculous extremes, often far past the point of something being humorous, into a place where it verges on down right mean.
In stark contrast, sitting in this audience of people who have solely one purpose for this weekend -- to be good to one another and to a bunch of kids who could otherwise lose all hope -- it made me think really deeply about how much good each of us is capable of bringing to the table when we want to.
I walked away from the weekend certain that it would not be my last Angel Ride experience, and made a personal promise to make an effort to be just a little bit nicer to everyone in my life, dating and otherwise. This weekend was a reminder that the power of good is pretty powerful indeed.
PS, if this post has inspired you to donate to this incredible cause, you can do so here Every little bit counts!