The ride hasn’t even begun, and I’m halfway through my second bottle of water when a stranger looks at my bike and says, “A mountain bike? You’re just making it harder on yourself.” He walks away. While I know some kind of gauntlet has been thrown at my feet, I’m more worried about the 90-plus degree heat and humidity that waits for me along my 50 miles of Katelynn’s Ride through the Connecticut River Valley of Western Massachusetts.
The ride begins not as a cavalry charge, but with me as part of a slow school of fish heading upstream – road bikers quickly taking the lead as the whir of 10-speeds overtake me. Above me are the watchful eyes of the Seven Sisters – a series of ridgeline mounds running east to west along the Holyoke Range that rise steeply between 300 and 1,000 feet over the valley. This is not a race, but I imagine those Seven Sisters cheering me on as I shift gears and pedal faster.
Twelve miles out at the first water stop, I ask a volunteer making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches why she takes part in KRide. Her disbelieving face tells me I’ve asked something stupid. “For the kids,” she answers. “They’re our future.”
I keep heading north, and the rich brown earth of this valley is in bloom: white flowering potato fields, and corn seedlings stitched green into precise row after precise row. A man and woman probably in their late 20s and a little girl are carrying baskets. “What are you picking?” I call out. “Strawberries!” they shout. Everywhere there is lush green, orderliness, and renewal.
Guarding the Connecticut River crossing is the looming rock-face of Mt. Sugarloaf. I’m over the bridge and along the back roads, alone except for the sound of crickets. Near Greenfield I meet a fellow cyclist. I ask him why he is here. “Three years ago this week I had surgery to remove a brain tumor. I’m celebrating my anniversary.”
I’m closing the distance to Hampshire College and the end of KRide. Nearly four hours have gone by as I approach the school and the last hill. My climb begins in the lowest gear possible, and I ask myself how and why I keep pushing. Maybe it has something to do with giving something of myself to someone else. Maybe it has to do with wanting to be a part of a community. I heard recently that cancer research is vastly underfunded by our government; maybe this is another reason why we do what we can. Flanking the driveway are photos of Katelynn and her own words. “Nothing is ever too hard to do if your faith is strong and your purpose is true.” Katelynn gave me the answer I was looking for.