Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bo Bikes Bama Recap

I am a little behind in getting this blog update but in all honesty I am still processing the impact the day had on me both personally and professionally.

As many of you know... I overlapped with Bo Jackson for a couple of years at Auburn and was witness to some of the unbelievable things he accomplished on both the football and baseball fields there. I have always been a big fan of his... and so when I first heard about his plan to do this event I knew it was something I was going to do... clear the calendar... change my plans... whatever was required to support his efforts and the state of Alabama.

So here was the premise...

I quickly signed up for a shot at one of the spots on the 28th... and want to personally thank all of those that made contributions in my name... I found out that my fundraising efforts would have qualified me to ride a 2nd leg... maybe next year!

Alright... so I secured a spot on the last day which was a 50 mile leg from Bo's home town of Bessemer to the finish line in Tuscaloosa. I know and before you even go there... this was not about Auburn vs. Alabama... War Eagle or Roll Tide... Blue and Orange or Crimson and White... this was about Bo wanted to do something for the state... PERIOD!

Having secured my spot... it then dawned on me that the logistics were something I had not properly calculated... I needed to get to Bessemer for the start... yet have a ride home once finished in Tuscaloosa... as luck would have it... one of the cycling clubs in Tuscaloosa offered a few spots in the cars of their members making the drive up that morning... and I fortunately secured one of only a handful. Now for some irony... turns out... we had a really nice Tuscaloosa lawyer as our chaffuer... and the other 3 spots were Tyler (current Auburn student) and Chris (Auburn Alum)... so picture this... 3 Auburn Tigers getting a ride from an Alabama alumni... who wasn't even doing the event... just offered to give folks a ride... that was hilarious but I truly appreciated Patrick offering his services.

So... in order to avoid having to get up at 0330 to start what was already going to be a long day... I made a hotel reservation in Tuscaloosa and after dinner on Friday night I headed up there... had an uneventful night sleep... hooked up with my ride near the finish... made our way to Bessemer to get the ride started. After getting checked in I had an opportunity to meet some of the celebs riding that day... Ken Griffey, Jr... Picabo Street... DeMeco Ryan... Jay Jacobs (Auburn Athletic Director)... I was sitting in the hotel lobby when Bo walked in... a fan says... "Can I get your autograph?"... to which he responds... "I haven't even had a chance to get my first cup of coffee yet... there will be plenty of time for that!"... turns out he is a normal dude!

Alright... so we gather up and Bo gets up to give us some guidance for the day... "This is not a race... I repeat... this is NOT A RACE!" He encouraged all of us to take a chance to join him at the front throughout the day and share our story... but warned us... "If you join me on a hill... I WILL NOT talk to you... these legs are getting heavy!" And with that... we were off...

Now... he said it wasn't a race but at the chirp of 1 mile complete from my Garmin... I looked down to see we had averaged 19 mph since the start... that pace would quickly be replaced by about a 15 mph average. During the course of the first leg I struck up a converstation with a guy on an old steel road bike... it was a Campy and very similar in spec to my old Panasonic... I commented on his bike and he said "This is the first time I have been on this bike in 20 years"... I chuckled inside and  thought to myself as I looked at his circa 1980 cycling attire... "then it has been about 25 years since you had on those shoes"... they were classic all leather uppers from the late 1970s... this guy looked like he had just popped out of a time capsule from the 1980's!

So... Our first rest stop was about 13 miles into the ride... following a hill... now let me say this... that hill was the steepest thing to date I have ever pedaled up... people were literally falling over from a dead stop as they could not get their pedals to turn over... incredible... but I rode along side the Trek boys all the way... kind of cool! Now for the rest of the story... it turns out the guy on the old steel bike literally tore the leather uppers off the soles of his shoes... which were still attached to his pedals when I saw him walking up the hill in barefeet... and his face was dotted with black specks from the deteriorating foam padding inside his helmet... hilarious!

At the rest stop I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Picabo Street... an incredibly nice and genuine person... I did not realize that she spends about half of the year living in Alabama... where she is originally from...

Once we headed back out on the ride... I eventually made my way to the front of the pack and my opportunity to talk with Bo... unfortunately we encountered a hill and I only got some affirmative grunts to some of my questions... but in all honesty... I found him to be incredibly gracious and very genuine... he is simply just a great guy with huge heart... and he LOVES ALABAMA... the state and not the university!

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful as we made our way to the lunch stop... I did have a mechanical issue with my rear wheel and had to pull over and wait for the support vehicle... I ended up swapping out my rear wheel for one of theirs... and that wait put me as the last rider... so I put the hammer down and caught back up with the group about 20 minutes later!

Lunch was catered by Bojangle's... and it was AWESOME... again... the opportunity to meet some great people was the recurring theme of the day... a real treat!

 Following lunch... it was back on the road... we were cruising pretty good when I crested a hill and noticed the group all dismounting at the bottom... everybody gathered together and we walked up a driveway to a pad that used to be the foundation of a house with a detached garage... it was an impromptu moment that Bo decided warranted the stop... he told us about his experience back in the Fall when he drove the route and relayed the discussion he had with the owner of the house...

This little valley used to have a bunch of houses/trailers which had all been wiped out by the tornado... most of the owners did not have insurance or the money to rebuild and have been homeless ever since... this was a year later... it may not be easy to tell from the photos but the destruction was incredible... like a scene from Planet of the Apes... there were signs that there used to be civilization but it was eerily silent. Bo told us that when the homeowners were finally allowed back to the area... they were thankful to find salvage trucks pulling their vehicles from the ravine... only to find out they were there for repossession purposes... just when you think you have hit rock bottom.... WWHHAAAMM! It was this single impromptu stop that put it all together for me... minus the celebrities... minus the $5000 bikes... minus the media... these folks had their lives literally turned upside down and lost everything... EVERYTHING... it had a significant impact on me and I knew at that very moment I needed to do more!!

So we were back on the road after that surreal experience... we made our way through some small towns on the fringe of Tuscaloosa... and the roads were lined with people cheering as we pedaled by... each one shouting out a thanks or Roll Tide or War Eagle... or my personal favorite... Roll Bo Roll... we gathered for our last stop at about 3 miles from the campus... we had a hard time to hit the Coliseum to join up with those that were going to be a part of the community ride through the campus to the finish line. And again... it was an opportunity to meet even more incredible people... what a great way to spend the day!

We remounted and headed to the Coliseum... complete with at least 10 police escort vehicles and 8-10 motorcycles.... let me say this... the police escorts for the entire event were simply spectacular... we effectively road on a closed course all day... never once did I have to worry about a single car and every intersection was blocked off for our arrival... AWESOME!!! We met up with the community ride folks... Bo said some nice things about the Tuscaloosa community coming out to support his efforts despite the football rivalry and we headed out on the final mile... the closer we got... the thicker the crowd got... and by the finish we were greeted by cheers and applause as Bo rode through...

There was a huge party after the ride with food, drinks and entertainment... simply a spectacular event. I applaud Bo for his efforts to put together such a daunting event and realize his efforts would not have been as successful without the assistance of Trek and Livestrong... and although he did not reach his goal of $1,000,000 yet... he raised the awareness of America to the devastation those people faced last April... I will do it again if given the opportunity!! THANK YOU BO JACKSON!!!