“207 Miles” From Paradise to Poverty: Rider # 666 in Heaven (Cycling Phoenix to Rocky Point)

Now I think that if I looked you straight in the eye and I told you that I am planning to ride my bike to Rocky Point, Mexico from Phoenix in a two day timeframe, you would be incredulous. In fact, not only would you be incredulous, but you would probably snicker to yourself. You would probably wonder how a little chubster like me plans to ride a bike 207 miles to the Sea of Cortez.

If I happened to notice your thinly veiled incredulity, I would probably have to join in with you. The truth is that this is the second time my husband and I are riding our bikes to Mexico. Last year, however, we trained for the ride and were much more prepared. This year we have been busy cross country skiing every weekend in the weeks leading up to the ride. We ended up doing some heavy duty 80 mile training rides in the last three weeks leading up to this event, but that still leaves us woefully ill prepared. We train on Sonoran Desert Drive off Cave Creek Rd, which has a great wide shoulder and beautiful desert vistas. I am full of self doubt. How on earth am I going to pull off this ridiculously long 207 mile ride to Mexico?

Now, certainly I must give you a little background information about this ride. Maybe I should start off with telling you how I got into road cycling in the first place. For many years my husband and I looked jealously at road cyclists, wishing that we could be riding. I guess I never really thought that I could. One day when I was in the break room at work, my manager was having lunch across the table from me. This woman was incredible! She had done multiple one day rim-to-rim hikes at the Grand Canyon. Somehow the conversation led to cycling. I told her that my dream has always been to cycle the California coast on Hwy 1. She looked at me keenly from across the table and said in no uncertain terms, “Well, you better hurry up, because you aren’t getting any younger, you know!”

To make a long story short, I got an old beater bike and started riding. I then roped my husband into it and he bought himself a nice Trek off Craigslist. And within 6 months of our first rides we did the California coast from Monterey to Pismo Beach fully self supported, tent camping along the way! Yes, that’s the Big Sur! Man, is it ever beautiful! Those are some long and winding hills! What an incredible experience that was. We were hooked.

One day I was at work bragging about my coastal ride when my coworker, Bill,  started encouraging me to do this Mexico ride. This ride is called the “207 Miles”. It was started like 8 years ago by a guy who wanted to raise money for an organization called 1-Mission, which is a charity organization that builds homes for people in Rocky Point, Mexico. The families that get the homes built for them have to do a specified number of community service hours in order to earn the house.   It started out with just a handful of riders and has grown bigger each year. Bill has been in charge of the food and first aid for the trip, and was trying to recruit more riders for the cause. The first year he started talking to me about it I didn’t sign us up, but the next year I did. We loved it so much that we are doing it again!

Which brings me back to the reality that I am feeling ill prepared. You don’t just ride what actually amounts to 207 miles in two days on a bicycle if you are ill prepared. There are 118 riders this year, of which I am sure many of them are much more ready for this than I am. Oh well, it’s go time!

The evening before the ride there is a launch party. There’s all you can eat pizza and spaghetti…..you know….carb loading……This is where you get information and rules about the ride…..such as stick with your group, what to do if you get blisters on your bottom, how to walk the next day when your legs are messed up…..

We arrive early in the morning on Day 1 of the ride to the CCV church in Peoria, which is where the ride launches from. A local bike shop is here this early to tune up bikes and check tires. We sign in. I find out that I am rider #6. I guess that means that I was the sixth person signing up. Geez, I must have been eager back in the day!

A woman carrying a huge black Sharpie approaches me after I sign in. She asks me to stick out my arms, and on both of my forearms she writes a large numeral 6. Then she asks me to pull up my rather tight tights, and she writes another big black number 6 on my calf. I guess if you get creamed on the ride they can identify which leg and arm belongs to which rider? So there you have it! I just realized I have ‘666’ written on me! I am tempted to ask her to write one more number 6 on me somewhere……anywhere……now if this is not a bad omen I don’t know what is! I resist the urge to show my numbers in sequence to my husband, lest he should get superstitious too. I guess if this guy stands on his head he would have ‘666’ written on him, too! Hope he stays upright for this journey!

If my father-in-law could see me now with ‘666’ written on me he would have a fit! I hearken back to a time before Alzheimer’s ravaged his mind, bless his heart and soul. He was a firm believer in conspiracy theories of various and sundry sorts, and one such theory was that of microscopic electronic chips being injected into unsuspecting people when immunizations were being administered. These chips then were to be used to monitor the whereabouts of citizens. Often I would tease him in a good natured way about how he needn’t worry, since the government already knows where he is at…..that’s either at home or at church! This one time I teased him a little too much. I told him that his engineer son, my husband, is designing the chips (which in part was true because in his line of work he was developing gps related tracking devices), and I as a nurse am injecting them! He looked at me with fire in his soul, pointed directly above my eyes at the middle of my forehead and asked, “Do you have ‘666’ written on your forehead?” Lord, no! I was just being silly! If he could see me now with ‘666’ boldly emblazoned upon me, he would be…..I don’t even know what he would be…..freaked out, I guess! I guess technically I don’t have ‘666’ written on my forehead.

I am a little freaked out. I am a little unsettled. What if I get injured on this trip? I don’t want to be injured. The air in this place has an almost electric-like quality to it as the excited cyclists sign in and find their places. I wonder if the other riders have a stitch of nervousness about staying safe on this journey.

After a detour to the donut table we make our way to our group. Donuts are allowed when you are embarking on such a long ride.

Our group leader is the same dude we had last year. We shoot the breeze for a few minutes. Pretty soon there is someone on the stage asking for our attention. A male rider appears onstage. He is wearing the traditional ride gear, but on top of that he has on a ridiculous looking tutu skirt. I try not to show my surprise when the tutu wearing man leans towards the microphone and starts saying a prayer. I hear him asking for a safe journey for the riders. Now, I must be pretty traditional or something, but I don’t really know how to take a tutu wearing man seriously, much less when he is praying. I figure I better say a few prayers myself before we embark on this journey, especially considering that I have the antichrist number emblazoned upon me!!

And so it is that we line up for blast off. It is exciting! We check our bikes over. We even remember to turn on our ride tracking apps on our phones. We send a few photos to the kids. And then we clip in one shoe and stand ready to ride! And we are off!

If a person needs inspiration to become a better and stronger person, then look no further than this man. He is riding a hand bike! How the heck you can pedal so many miles with a hand bike is beyond my comprehension! Kudos to him, and happy riding!

The first part of the ride is a little tricky. The 118 riders are all split up into 6 groups according to skill level. The tough part is navigating a large group through city traffic. As luck, or bad luck would have it, there is a section of the shoulder that has large construction pylons on it.

We have only gone about 3 miles when I hear frantic shouts from behind, “Rider DOWN!” Sure enough! One of our group members had not seen the last pylon and had riden straight into it! He fell and his face is all messed up! A call is put out for an ambulance. Sorry, buddy! What a bummer! All that anticipation and planning and excitement only to be out of the ride so soon! This can’t be good! Only three miles in and we already have an injury serious enough to exit a rider. One of our group members seems more worried about the busted bike than the rider. I feel queasy and thoughts of my ‘666’ branding return to my consciousness.

I need to focus. Forget this ‘666’ nonsense!!! I have got some serious riding to do! I’m not sure if you know this, but when you ride in a group there is a certain protocol. Each person in the group takes a turn leading the procession, and when they tire out they signal that they are done and they float to the back of the group. The reason for this is that being the lead rider is very taxing, and in order to maintain maximum speed and efficiency each rider takes a turn. If you ride close behind someone you get about a 20% reduction in workload. I am taking my turn leading the group. I feel cool and confident as I lead 13 riders at a healthy clip for 10 miles. Oh wait, it’s only 12 riders since we lost one. Ugh…..don’t remind me!

The organizers of this ride have done an incredible job. There are about half a dozen RVs involved with the ride. The RVs will drive ahead of the bikes and set up a rest station. Riders can use the restrooms on board the RVs if needed – that is if you are sufficiently well hydrated to still be making urine. The awnings provide shade, and volunteers have prepared snacks and drinks for the riders. The rest areas are set up about every 20-25 miles. The groups stagger their stops so that when the next group arrives the previous group prepares to leave. When the last group is done the RVs drive up ahead again to set up the next rest station. The system works beautifully.

In addition to all the great refreshment stations, we have two sag vehicles for each group of riders, and cheerleaders the whole way along. The sag vehicles pull ahead of the riders, stop at the roadside and cheer us on as we pass by. We have all kinds of cheerleaders!

When we roll out of the rest area in Buckeye we have police escort. It feels awesome to blow through red lights all the way through town!

Now I have set up a special deal on this ride. I mentioned earlier that my coworker, Bill, is the one who put me up to this challenge, and that he and his wife are in charge of the food on this trip. For the past several years they have included their children as volunteers in the work involved with preparing meals for the riders. They have agreed that our kids can join in the fray this year. I don’t think they know what they are in for! Jasmine has agreed to come along as well, and she is driving our car down to Rocky Point with our younger kids. We meet them at the second rest stop.

I must tell you something. It isn’t easy to ride 123 miles in one day, which is what we are up to this very day. Gila Bend is what? About halfway to Ajo? Finally! Turn here to get to Mexico!

The last 20 miles nearly do me in. The last ten miles into Ajo consists of a long and arduous uphill climb. I feel as though every last bit of energy has been zapped out of me! It takes considerable effort to crest that last long hill. My lungs feel ragged, my thighs are burning, and my heart pounds heavy in my chest. The reward? The last two miles of our ride today are downhill, ending at the Ajo High School. Need I tell you how awesome it is to bomb down the hill to the school? You simply feel like a million bucks! And so it is when we arrive to hoots and hollers and loud cheers that I have an incredible feeling of accomplishment that I was able to ride my bike all this way! Incredible! I am here, safe and sound! There is even a big green mascot to greet the riders! When I hop off the bike I try to make myself walk as natural as possible. I would hate to admit to anyone that I hurt anywhere.

When we arrive at the Ajo High School we find our kids helping in the kitchen. There’s lots of work to be done! Food is being served when we arrive, and so it is that we dig in right away. Mmmmmmmm! Do you want to know how delicious a real meal is after sitting on a bike for 6.5 hours? There’s chicken and potatoes and salad and dinner rolls….and ice cream sundaes and milkshakes and brownies……

I didn’t mention it earlier, but one of the really cool things about the ride this year is that we have this guy called Tyler Hamilton along. He rode in the Tour de France as Lance Armstrong’s team member for many years, and also is an Olympic gold medalist. He seems to be a pretty down to earth guy and is willing enough to pose for pictures with all us novice riders. He even freely shares some of his knowledge and riding tidbits. How cool is that?

Well, I guess it’s time to settle in for the night. Jasmine and the kids are sleeping on the floor in the dining room. This way they can be up and at ’em early in the morning to get breakfast ready.

As for us, the riders are sleeping on the floor of the gymnasium. Some of the wimpy riders went to a local Ajo hotel/motel for the night. Everyone’s gear has been dropped off in the gym before we arrived. Before we go to sleep we need showers. The water is hot, and I take a leisurely shower while I try to scrub the ‘666’ off my extremities. I do have to tell you that this old school needs some serious funding for maintenance. There is raw sewage seeping up through the floor drain in the bathroom. The stench is horrific when I pass by the men’s bathroom, and no, I did not try to sneak in and use the men’s room….I don’t have a gender identity issue…..the smell permeates into the hallway.

I did manage to recruit a new rider this year. This young woman in this photo with David is a very lovely coworker of mine. When I was begging for money for my campaign she suggested she might be interested in riding. I looked at her…..she looked at me….Seriously? Yep! Okay then, let’s get online and register you right away! She didn’t have any time to think and she was suddenly in for the ride! There was no backing out once she put her money on the line! Now I never said that I need assertiveness training.

You might think that sleeping in a gymnasium with 70 or more snoring machines might be difficult, but in actuality it is not that bad. Lights go out at 9 pm, and everyone is so tired that they instantaneously fall asleep. I find it hard to believe that there is a single soul in here who is having a hard time falling asleep. I feel like maybe that tutu prayer from this morning is wearing off. I find myself in my own lackluster way praying for a safe ride in the morrow for David and I. A thought crosses my mind that I am being selfish for not praying on behalf of all the riders, but that thought has barely formed into an action and Zzzzzzzz…….I am fast asleep!

Morning, as you might suspect, comes all too soon. I dress as quickly as it is humanly possible to put on my riding gear, and rush to the kitchen to see if my munchkins are working. Sure enough, they are busy serving breakfast to hungry riders! Bill and Amanda have done it again, pulling off an incredible breakfast of bananas foster pancakes (not zoster), eggs, bacon, sausage, fresh berries, yogurt, a juice bar and coffee!

After breakfast we line up for departure in a ceremonious fashion. This time we take off in groups ordered from the slowest riders to the fastest, staggered so that we all arrive at the border to Mexico at approximately the same time.

This morning we seriously break ride protocol. Our group is riding way too slow on some big downhills leading out of Ajo. How can a person stand to waste these hills? I am braking the whole way to avoid colliding into the bike ahead of me! I can’t deal with it anymore! David and I step on it, break away from the group, and bask in the glory of going full speed downhill! There is no way to describe the feeling! Freedom? Exhilaration? Breathlessness? It is a little edgy. You would think with ‘666’ emblazoned on me that I might be a little more cautious! Alas no, the need for speed overcomes my power to reason and make rational decisions.

I pump hard and harder, my breaths coming quicker and sharper, my heart pounding in my chest, beads of perspiration forming on my forehead and trickling down my face. With laser beam focus I keep just close enough behind David to maximize the draft, and just far enough to avoid hitting his wheel. One miscalculation and we will both go down at speeds close to 40 mph. We crest another hill and down we go again!

We arrive at the border of Mexico. Yes, you know the place where our government tells us not to go because it’s too unsafe? The whole group of 118 riders gathers for the crossing. If you have never ridden your bike over the border into Mexico I dare say you have missed out on a pretty awesome experience! What could be cooler than waving at border agents as you coast through into some unknown abyss where bad things have been known to happen to foreigners? You know, you can’t really pedal fast enough to get away from a bad guy if you needed to!

Never fear, though, because as soon as we cross into Mexico there are police vehicles waiting to escort us. Do you think anyone will mess with the infamous Federalis? I had told a recent migrant from Mexico that we were going to have police escort on the Mexican side of this ride and he just laughed. He said, “We don’t trust the Federalis!” Well, la di daa….we do!

Well, that being said, it really is great to have the police escort. The roads on the Mexican side actually are in better shape than on the American. The police car effectively slows down the oncoming traffic, and we are able to ride wide on the road. We own it!

For the first section of our ride in Mexico our group has the pleasure of the company of Tyler Hamilton, Tour de France rider and Olympic gold medalist! It just so happens that we get an awesome tailwind. David and Tyler are leading side by side and I am right behind them. We are cruising along at an incredible 24 mph, just having an amazing time! How can you say no to an amazing tailwind? Tyler is engaged in conversation with David, talking about his life and giving tips on riding long and strong. Well, we didn’t talk about doping, if that’s what you’re wondering! I guess we kind of lost focus on the other riders in our group, and soon we hear complaints that we are going too fast. Our glorious moment ended…..it was short but sweet! Honestly, I am not one to glorify athletes, but it is admittedly very cool to ride with a pro cyclist!

We are joined by a group of Mexican riders who ride with us from the border to Rocky Point. At one point the wind picks up a lot, as it is apt to do as we approach the Sea of Cortez. David and I ditch our group, and we join up with two of the Mexican riders to fend off the strong wind. These guys are strong and kick butt for miles without tiring!

At great long last we arrive at the final rest station. From here the whole group cycles together to the 1-Mission compound, which is our final destination. It’s incredible! All this amounts to 2 days + 207 miles + 118 riders = $146,417.77 in donations!! Now that’s a lot of families in Mexico who will have good safe and secure homes built for them! In fact it means new homes for 27 families! Many of them are here today to excitedly greet the riders as we arrive. Yaaaaay…….we are here!!!!!

That’s it folks! Even ‘666’ survived the ride injury free!

There is a group picture when we arrive!

I would be horribly remiss if I did not profusely thank the volunteers, without whom this ride would be impossible!

We have this figured out from last year. As soon as the group photo is done we head straight over to the massage tables. Aching muscles……aaaaahhhhhh…….I don’t enjoy the massage as much as  I should since the salt crytalization on my skin from all the perspiration is a bit abrasive – kind of like sandpaper.

From the massage tables we go straight to the showers where I try again in vain to scrub off the ‘666’ from my extremities……oh well, antichrist or not, bad omen or neither here nor there…….what does it matter? We have arrived safe and sound, we have made a difference in the lives of others less fortunate, we have had a truly exhilarating experience of cranking out some serious mileage, we have had the opportunity to have our kids volunteer in a most incredible setting imaginable, and we have made lasting memories! No, I don’t have sores on my behind. And yes, this rider with ‘666’ inscribed upon her admittedly has had the most heavenly experience on this ride. There is not a way to even describe the incredible feeling that lights upon my soul at this very moment!

There is a tour to the barrio where the riders can have a chance to see where the monetary donations get put to use. Shortly after we arrive everyone loads up into the waiting vans and head out for the tour. In the barrio you can see the stark difference between our lives in America and the people here in Mexico, and how just a short distance away from our homes there is such abject poverty!  We essentially live in the lap of luxury when compared to most other places in the world! Truly it is only 207 miles from paradise to poverty!

Last year we also visited a home where the homeowner has perfected growing crops in the harsh environment. Part of the program that 1-Mission is involved with is teaching people in the area how to be self sufficient and grow food for consumption, as well as healthy lifestyles and life skills that will be meaningful in helping them fare better.

In the meantime some local women have made a delicious dinner for us……Mexican food, no less! If for no other reason, the food makes our journey worth it!

The 1-Mission compound here has dorm facilities, which is where most of the riders will sleep tonight. In the morning they will ride back in the big vans, and their bikes will go back in trailers. As for us, we have work in the morning so we must get on our way.

After dinner we leave to go back home. Jasmine drove our car down, so we load our bikes and head off into the darkness. I have always sworn that I would never be so stupid as to drive in Mexico after dark, but here I am driving in Mexico at night. I am admittedly a little nervous, but our drive goes well and soon we are on the Amerian side, back in Arizona safe and secure! Jasmine hands us a little handmade card she received from a little girl in Mexico.

Keep being kind…….that’s the message from the mouths of babes! So, will we do this ride again? Yes! It truly is an awesome ride! And for all of you who doubt that you could do something like this, let me just say loud and clear, if I can do it, anyone can! Look it up……Google search “207 Miles” and sign up…..make a difference…..ride, or volunteer, or donate to a campaign! Or do the same for your charity of choice…..make the distance from “Poverty to Paradise” a little shorter for someone in need.

A sense of otherworldly peace is upon my soul.

Photo Credits: Many of these photos are by Simply Rustic Photography http://simplyrusticphotography.pass.us/207-miles-collection