Six Reasons You Should Do a Big Ride

© December, 2001 Stephen W. Medcroft (all rights reserved)

A version of this article first appeared in Cycle California! Magazine in 2002.

Golden Gate

Do you remember where you were Saturday, October 6th 2001? Or a better question might be; why weren’t you with the 110 other cyclists on the starting line of the 2001 California Coast Classic in San Francisco?

Maybe I’m not asking a fair question. I mean, what self-declared cyclist wouldn’t want a fully-supported nine-day epic tour through some of the world’s most beautiful scenery? And since this, as most Big Rides, was put on as a fund-raiser to raise money and awareness for pressing social concerns, other people, through donations, would have footed the tab.

What allowed you to miss this particular charity bicycle tour? You could have ridden on an extended version of the ride that would end in San Diego after nine days, 635 miles of road touring, and almost 30,000 feet of total climbing.

Oh well. This opportunity has passed. But what of the next? What’s stopping you when you see a flyer in your local bike shop for the next Big Ride? As a committed cyclist, you want to ride, right? Doesn’t the spark of inspiration fire off a small charge in your brain?

The only reason not to have been lined up with everyone else that October morning in San Francisco (or at the start of any of the dozens of fantastic, charity Big Rides held throughout the country), would be a lack of personal motivation. You need a sense of purpose to keep in mind when training, fund raising, and, of course, riding — a motivation strong enough to fan the fire of inspiration so it powers action.

Don’t worry; help is available from the riders of the California Coast Classic. Here are six of their reason’s why, next time, you should be elbow to elbow with the rest of the motivated.


  1. Ride because you have a personal connection to the cause: Samantha Izzolo-Buono had overcome a great deal to be at the California Coast Classic. “At the time I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis I was a 29-year old personal fitness trainer in peak physical condition. The onset of the disease… took me from a full functioning athlete to someone who was having trouble getting out of bed, walking, and even washing her own hair.”

    She saw the ride as a way to challenge her disease. “I thought to myself, ‘this disease is not going to control me.’

    “I’m not quite sure when or why it suddenly occurred to me to go for it (commit to riding 650 miles on a bicycle). As a fitness professional, I was aware of the fact that regular, moderate exercise is actually helpful to people suffering from Arthritis.” Whatever caused the click, she reached a sudden epiphany and decided to stand up against her condition. “I may not make it to the finish line,” she said to herself, “but if I ride even a portion of the distance, I will have succeeded.”

  2. Ride because, at the end, you come away with more than you give. Izzolo-Buono puts it in a better way saying that her Big Ride paid dividends for her efforts: “An experience where one learns what it feels like to be part of a team as well as what they can accomplish as an individual does not come along every day.”

    John Salladay, of Cypress, California says he gained “a sense of accomplishment and had the indescribable experience of a life time. “It was the type of trip where I could ‘go with the flow’ and just enjoy whatever happened.”

    Riders also list the relationships they established as a huge benefit. “I met people from all over,” says Salladay. “Alaska, Norway, California, etc. I spent time along the road… talking with people who would stop us and ask what we were doing and why… People were just amazed that we would do this.”

    San Franciscan Leticia McIntyre enjoyed the camaraderie and found peace in the idea that this type of a ride strips the rest of the world away. “It didn’t matter how fit you were or what you did for a living, everybody’s focus was on making it through the 80 or 90 miles that day. Everyone rode the same miles on the same roads – everyone was equal. It was such an accomplishment for all of us that our normal daily routines faded away. It was the ride of my life.”

  3. Ride because they’ll say you’re crazy for trying: if you haven’t ever participated in an event like this, you can’t know, on a visceral level, the nature of all the other benefits of doing it? You are asked by event promoters to commit to go out of a decision based on the faith that the experience will bring you great reward.

    No doubt, this faith will be challenged along the way. If Leticia McIntyre’s experience is a common one, your faith will be challenged by those closest to you first.

    “I remember telling my family at dinnertime,” she explains. “My daughter Denisse dropped her spoon and said ‘going where? On your bike?'”

    When McIntyre told her boss, “he looked at me and said I was out of my mind, that it was a long way.”

    Even John Salladay says that just about everyone he told said he was crazy.

    Rising above the expectations of ‘normal’ friends and family can bring an extraordinary self-satisfaction. Besides, the doubters usually come around. “I told them that it was something I felt strongly about,” says Salladay. “I knew (how to handle) the biking part (having been a long-time cyclist) so the money raising was my only concern. Usually when they heard about the 9 days and the distance the pledges was easy.”

    McIntyre’s husband actually signed on for the ride himself some months after. Friends of Salladay’s, originally naysayers, ended up joining him for training rides.

  4. Ride because training for your Big Ride is as good a reason to get in shape as any: Cycling, for many of us, is part passion, part obsession. We ride our bikes for unreasonable miles and hours that are difficult to explain to normal people. Our personal reasons are as varied as our tastes for food or clothing. But a common thread heard through most of my cycling friends is the benefit of health; cycling as a means of exercise. And compared to the alternatives (such as working out in a gym) cycling is 3D, ultra-reality, and a dynamic way to work out.

    But even the best of things (food, book stores, the pleasurable aspects of work, and even, dare I say, sex) can need inspiration to remain fresh. What better reason to put time in the saddle than a looming 600-plus mile trek on the calendar?

    Frances Fujii recommends training as the top item on your list of things to think about before taking on the challenge of a Big Ride. “Even if you’re in good shape, you will want to put in a good deal of saddle time on your bike before your tour begins. There were some… who had never ridden more than 38 or 50 miles at a time and they were in tremendous pain for at least the first five days of the ride… Some riders sustained injuries and had to drop out all together. Every person who trained inadequately suffered needlessly and couldn’t enjoy the trip as much as they would have otherwise.”

    Leticia McIntyre concurred, putting in multiple long rides with hills and traffic in preparation for the CCC. “I rode about 250 miles a week and focused on consistent riding, pace, and nutrition,” she says.

    John Salladay put in “months and months of riding… I can’t emphasize the importance of hills and hills and hills. You must be in shape for this type of trip since you’ll be spending 8 to 10 hours a day cycling.”

  5. Ride because the daily experience alone is worth everything else: When Frances Fujii was asked for a glimpse into the daily life of the CCC, she wrote: “Up at 5:30am without needing an alarm. Shiver in the cold. Head for the toilets. Pack up the soggy tent, sleeping bag, etc. and take the gear to the truck by 7:00. Eat a huge breakfast and get on the road by 8:00. Pedal, pedal, huff puff huff puff, pedal, pedal, pedal. The racer types streak by, same ones every day. Never see them again until night. Pass familiar riders. Then they pass you. Eat along the way. Take in the sights and snap a few photos. Pedal, pedal huff puff huff puff, pedal, pedal… Get into camp… Hang out basking in the sun and watch the others arrive… Pile the dinner plate high and eat the whole thing. Head for the tent in the deepening dusk. Crawl into the bag. Journal by flashlight. Shiver in the cold. Toss and turn all night. Up at 5:30 and do it all again.”

    And in between all that rhythm of work, eat, and sleep, moments of pure experience will stick out. John Salladay found himself riding alone for stretches at a time and enjoyed the solitude and the time to enjoy the scenery. Stacy Blamer, former U.S. Ski team member and freestyle ski champion, loved riding the Big Sur section of the ride which challenged riders with numerous hills and rewarded them with race-inspired descents. “The views along the way were amazing,” she says.

    I don’t know about you, but this sounds about what I hope heaven is like.

  6. Ride because when you work to the benefit of a cause, you rise above yourself: You can make a difference. In the case of the California Coast Classic, the root cause is awareness of Arthritis, a misunderstood disease. People may think Arthritis is a disease of the elderly or that it is uncommon. Yet Stacey Balmer was diagnosed with the disease around age 30. “I stayed in denial for about a year,” she says. Leticia McIntyre’s doctors were reluctant to test her for Arthritis when she showed symptoms because she was only 26 years old.

    According to the Arthritis Foundation nearly 43 million Americans have arthritis including 300,000 children. That’s one in every six people. Over 3 million in the region their branch serves – Central and Southern California, Southern Nevada, and Hawaii.

    Arthritis also takes over 100 related forms and conditions which makes the disease the leading cause of industrial absenteeism and the second-leading cause of disability payments.

    Spreading the word is the Arthritis Foundation’s mission. Hosting an event such as the California Coast Classic has tangible and apparent benefits. “The (ride) has so far raised approximately $300,000 (pledges are still coming in at this time),” says Arthritis Foundation Director of Public Relation, Sarah Reeve. “Other benefits include the awareness of arthritis and the Arthritis Foundation that was raised through media stories about the ride. Stories ran in newspapers, on TV and the radio, all over the state. Publications included the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Ventura County Star and the San Diego Tribune.”

So there we have it; six reasons to spin inspiration into action the next time a Big Ride opportunity opens up before you. The riders of the California Coast Classic have done all they can to give you the tools you need so throw your hat in for next years California Coast Classic. Organizers say they’ll be ready to go about the same time as this year and to keep an eye on their website for information. Who knows, as you elbow up to the start line and look from left to right, you may be able to say hello to me.


SIDEBAR: A funny thing happened on the way through the California Coast Classic

Not all the rider journals will be filled with poignant memories of miles endured, challenges overcome, or friends made. More than one rider interviewed brought up a small event that happened at the San Simeon State Park campsite. “After dinner, we all bedded down,” says rider John Salladay. “But someone forgot to turn off the automated sprinkler system.”

“The park’s sprinkler system came on in the middle of the night…” adds Frances Fujii. “…sending campers scurrying to put on their rainflies and hunting for buckets to put over the sprinkler heads. In our case, some quick thinkers found construction cones to cover the sprinklers and saved all of us from a very wet night.”

Now you’ve found the motivation for your Big Ride, maybe you should look into the motel options for the overnight stays:

SIDEBAR: Tips for first-time bike tourers – The essential non-essentials.

There is a dearth of information and assistance on training and preparing for multi-day bicycle tours like the California Coast Classic. Frances Fujii wrote and submitted this short course on what non-essential items she found essential to have with her for the experience:

Camera and film.

It was incredible how many people (including me) waited until the last minute and then went out (literally, the night before leaving home) to buy a camera for the trip. A little forethought and smart shopping would have resulted in saving a few extra dollars and maybe making better decisions.

I saw a lot of digitals and a lot of disposables. I didn’t see the sense in this. Why bring several disposables when, for the same money, and less weight and volume, you could pick up a nice little compact camera with several rolls of film? At the end of the ride, you’ll not only have a photo album full of memories, but also a camera ready for the next trip.

So I bought the Minolta Freedom Zoom 150. This camera comes in a small package but carries a wide zoom range. I was really happy with the choice. I could zoom in on sea lions far below our vantage point at the top of a climb. Charles (Frances’ trip and raining buddy) got a little digital camera (Sony Cybershot DSC-P50 2.1 Megapixel) with optical and digital zoom which he liked a lot. After the tour, he put up a website with a slideshow. I used 35mm film ad threw a party to show all my slides. Whichever way you choose to go for your ride, the results were fun.

I wished I had bought a helmet-mounted mini-cam though — with a remote, handlebar shutter release to capture the stunning vistas I glimpsed while screaming down mountain switchbacks (or crawling up). In both situations I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, break my momentum for even the most perfect of Kodak moments.

Cell phone with extra or adequate battery life:

Ditto on the number of people who went out and got one right before the trip.

The cell phone was invaluable. Going through a fairly remote area near Camp Pendleton, a member of our group suffered a major, rear-tire blowout. It sounded like gunfire. I was the only one in the group carrying a cell phone ad was able to call the roving support van. They happened to be near our last checkpoint and were able to reach us in 15 minutes, saving us at least an hours walk to a phone booth. Fortunately, we had no other emergencies, but if we had… need I say more?

Earplugs (if you’re a light sleeper):

Pen & Paper:

Record impressions, thoughts, and memories in the making – before they fade and blend together. After Day 3, we lost track of what happened when. Collective Amnesia set in and none of us could remember exactly when we’d seen certain landmarks along the way.

Phone numbers for friends, family, and sponsors…

…to call from along the route.

Cytomax (Electrolyte replacement drink powder:

I consider Cytomax an essential item. And PowerGel (or your favorite other bread(s) and flavors) which I tried for the first time. Yum!

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