What was the most challenging aspect of last Saturday’s “Ride to End Alzheimer’s” fundraiser in New Hampshire? For me, it wasn’t getting into shape for the 62-mile ride. It was finding a partner to ride with. At one point I suggested to Paula that if I couldn’t find anyone, I would ride on my own. This, I submit, is an example of someone in an early stage of Alzheimer’s who conveniently forgets that he has any impediment at all. While I can still drive a car with confidence amid familiar surroundings, my disease is eroding my sense of direction, which was was not very good even in the best of times. Fortunately, our friend Matthew Abbate volunteered to join me.
On my own, this could have been a debacle. Portsmouth, where our hotel was, and the town of Rye, where the ride started, are only about six miles from each other. And, yes, I do have a GPS unit, but one that has betrayed me repeatedly. I’d been asked to give a brief pep talk at the pasta dinner on the eve of the ride, and being late for my own speech would not have set a good tone.
Saturday morning in Rye was a cool one, especially during the first few miles, when we were parallel with the ocean. As is common in this weather, it took time to pass through the phase when pedaling feels mildly uncomfortable even when riding on level ground. We were also contending with the ocean side wind. As we turned east toward forested areas, the extensive signage provided by the Alzheimer’s Association became essential. Perhaps 50 yards before the upcoming intersection or fork in the road, a large sign was visible. A second set of signs appeared close to each fork or intersection.
Did I have any sense of where I was, once we started following the signs? There were many turns. Occasionally we would see stretches of Interstate 95 or lesser expressways, and I would grasp that we were heading south, toward Massachusetts. But often my internal compass was twirling around in a dark wood, the kind that Hansel and Gretel got lost in. Matthew’s sense of direction appeared to be impeccable. I did, of course, know what state I was in—the ride passed through the Massachusetts towns of Amesbury and Salisbury. For a brief time, we rode alongside the broad, muddy Merrimac River, and soon we had to stand up on our pedals to propel ourselves out of the river valley.
The course included two mandatory “pit stops,” where riders were supplied with high-energy foods ranging from oranges and bananas to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Without these snacks, we would almost certainly have been a good deal stiffer at the end of the day. And I seemed to get stronger as the ride advanced. Unbidden, I started hearing in my head the refrain of the mid-nineties hit by Cake: “He’s going the distance/He’s going for speed.” Nearing the finish line, I broke into a sprint, with Matthew not far behind.
Encouraged by our relative ease in completing the 62 miles in about five hours (not including the two pit stops) I found myself mulling the possibility, next year, of riding the 100-mile course. Mulling is the key word. I havn’t done that distance since I was nineteen. And the 100-mile route isn’t just a matter of riding 38 miles beyond the “metric century” that Matthew and I completed. It is also much hillier, with top elevations aroud 4,000 feet. Still, I occasionally revisit one of my favorite poems, Tennyson’s Ulysses, which describes
a group of Greek heroes well over the hill.
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
With that modest conclusion, I am proud to annouce that Matthew and I have raised just twenty dollars shy of $4,000 for Alzheimer’s research. As of this past Tuesday, the event had netted a total of $382,000 overall, a new record. More than 500 riders registered, also a first. And additional donations are welcome throughout the summer.
As I’ve been reflecting on the organizational task of enabling Saturday’s ride, I’ve also been thinking of David Costa, who I worked with for almost a decade at the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the advocacy organization for the state’s cities and towns. David was the MMA’s conference and meeting planner, and he was very good at his job. Each year, the MMA hosts an annual conference and trade show in Boston, typically attracting about 1,000 people. David was masterful at overseeing this gargantuan task. On a staff with several high-strung personalities, myself included, David radiated competence and calm. That he died, in his sleep, at age 51, just days before our annual conference in January 2015, was cruelly untimely. He is among the most capable and unflappable people I have known. I suspect that David would have loved to be involved with an event as well-run as the Ride to End Alzheimer’s.