2016 was my first year as an Angel Rider. Let's just say... It definitely won't be my last.
On Memorial Day Weekend I took to the roads with 600 cyclists and volunteers on a mission to help bring joy, fun and smiles to kids with serious illnesses by raising money for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp's Hospital Outreach Program. I pedaled.... I sweated.... I smiled.... and I will forever be grateful for this amazing experience.
Here is a little recap for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!
The Saturday start was at the Yale Summer Music School in Norfolk, CT. Beautiful. I got a ride to the start from my awesome husband and was all types of nervous. Where do I go? Where do we park? What do I do when I get there?. Advice to incoming newbies - Chill. Out. We got there at 6:15 AM and there was PLENTY of time to check in and figure out what was what. Your bags get sorted on the lawn based on where you are staying at camp, easy peasy. There is a big rack for the bikes. There is a big tent with a delicious breakfast for you to enjoy. All low stress and easy to navigate. I even met Lynn, who is in charge of the ride, while walking from the car. I also met Angel, (THE Angel) a former camper and current nurse who the ride is named for and who came up with the crazy awesome idea for this crazy awesome ride, while I was checking in. I bounced up to both of them like the giant golden-retriever-puppy version of a human that I am (minus the drool - I think) to say hi. They were so nice - theme of the weekend - everyone is beyond nice.
The Ride (Saturday - 85 miles)
Saturday's ride was amazing. And hot. Like, STEAMING hot. High of 95 degrees, in Connecticut, in May. I'm not sure why Mother Nature was trying to kill us. Thankfully, the team of tireless volunteers thwarted her best efforts. Take that, nature. The route was beautiful, scenic, and hilly. FULL. OF. HILLS. The Northwest corner of the state is no joke. The finish riding into the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp grounds with riders and volunteers cheering was emotional, and great on many levels. And not just because I was finally done. (Ok - a lot because I was finally done.) But also because I had made it! And my struggles for the day paled in comparison to those faced by the kids who would soon be at this very camp. It is humbling and inspiring.
|go bright or go home!|
The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp is a pretty spectacular place. Founded in 1988 by Paul Newman, it is a place for seriously ill children and their families to safely enjoy a camp experience and just be kids. I was super excited to finally be able to see the camp, since "outsiders" are rarely allowed access. What a special place!
We were treated to a delicious dinner, ice cream, and a show in the theater which included some volunteer recognition, info about the Hospital Outreach Program (HOP) we were supporting, a FABULOUS dance-off by two HOP/Camp alums, and a magic show (complete with a cameo by yours truly, who got pulled up on stage to do a rope trick. I'm a natural!). We slept in camper cabins and in a lodge used by staff when camp is in session. Very cool!
|Oh-Oh-Oh it's Maaaaagic... get my pun in the post title? get it?|
|Where I got to stay!|
|Outside the dining hall|
|Our fife and drum co. wake up :)|
Sunday's ride as not nearly as hot or hilly as Saturday (Thank. God.). We met in the center of camp for some announcements, the National Anthem, and a group photo. The moto crew led us out again and 15-ish minutes later, we were off and rolling! The route was rolling, scenic, and on my home turf which was nice. The route into Mystic was on roads I ride often and know well, and it was nice to know what was coming. I also had a cheering squad at the lunch stop at Hopeville State Park! The last rest stop even gave us a set of wings to ride to the finish with.
Riding through downtown Mystic during tourist season can be a little hairy - be prepared to be in some traffic for this section. It's short, but full of cars and pedestrians who are more interested in looking for Mystic Pizza and selfie ops than looking out for the girl on a bike in the middle of the road with a helmet full of fake daisies. (Seriously... you can't miss me. Don't pretend like you can't see me). Once you're through that mile, it's cruise time into the Mystic YMCA for the finish line party!! We were again met with tons of great volunteers and a cookout :) You can also buy some AngelRide merchandise here, and the YMCA was open to use the bathrooms and showers. A very nice plus after a hot day on the bike. There is also a kid's ride at the YMCA on Sunday which was great to see, and a 22 mile shorter option from Hopeville to Mystic for anyone not able or willing to do the full 2 days or the 50 mile ride. Lots of ways to get involved and ride!
No recap would be complete without a huge THANK YOU to the volunteers. The Angel Ride volunteers were AMAZING. This dedicated bunch kept us safe, cool, fed, and smiling through some pretty challenging conditions. The moto crew was fantastic! They led out each day's ride, manned every intersection, and maintained a constant presence on the route - making sure we were hydrated, safe, and had help if needed. The bike tech crew was there to help with any mechanical needs (thank goodness I didn't need their help!). The "WINGS" support vehicles were everywhere as well, making sure anyone who needed help or a break with a quick lift in the car were quickly attended to. At every rest stop there were smiling faces cheering us on, directing traffic, cooling us off and filling our water bottles. All of these people gave up their holiday weekend to support the riders. The happiness all around was palpable. The cowbells were plentiful. THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart. You made a great thing even better.
|The moto crew|
If you couldn't tell, I loved every second of the ride and I will most definitely be back. If you are any type of recreational athlete, I encourage you to seek out some sort of charity event. Doing something you love and giving back at the same time? Priceless.
I will leave you with some parting shots (courtesy of the HOP website) that say much more than any words I could put together. This is why I ride. This is what your donation money supports. We are creating desperately needed laughter and smiles. And there is still time, if you would like to donate. Let's continue to create miles of smiles, together. http://events.angelcharitiesinc.org/goto/carlyeisley