Climate Ride 2019

June 2019

Dennis Desmarais

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Last year when I set out to raise money for our Chapter of the Sierra Club through the Climate Ride, my plan was to do something challenging; the more audacious the goal, the more interest I could drum up, therefore, leading to more donations.  The plan worked, but I ended up pushing myself to the limit – 1,000 miles in five days of cycling was too much. I was cycling over 14 hours a day and was on the verge of quitting multiple times each day. In the end, I completed the ride and more than exceeded my fundraising goal, but I was pretty sure that I could have raised the money from supporters without having to push myself almost to the brink.

So this year I dialed back the daily mileage to about 155 miles a day - but I planned on eight days of cycling so my overall mileage would exceed last year’s total (my target this year was 2,000 km or about 1,240 miles).  However, with fewer miles each day, combined with a relatively flat route, I figured my fundraising for our chapter would be a noticeably more relaxing endeavor.

I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Image: Bike route of Dennis’ 2019 Climate Ride

While I built a route that had fewer and flatter miles each day, there were a number of factors that I failed to consider that added considerably to my challenge.  First was the wind! With the exception of day number eight, the winds blew from south to north all day long, sometimes gusting upwards of 40 mph. Had I started in Florida to ride North, it would have been miles and smiles all week long.  But I started in Connecticut to ride south, so I fought a never-ending battle with the wind. I was raising money for Mother Nature, but Mother Nature never cut me a break.

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Photo: Chicken joint along the bike route

Photo credit: Dennis Desmarais

Fighting 40 mph gusts can really sap your energy and motivation, but winds of 150 mph will kill you!  On day two of my journey, I safely pulled into my hotel in Baltimore just before a Tornado watch was issued.  

 

On day seven I wasn’t so lucky. My ride for the day was cut short by 100 miles as a line of severe thunderstorms and several tornados advanced in my direction.  Though I was annoyed when I found out that it was a $400 taxi drive to get to that day’s destination, once the sky opened up and the winds and hail were unleashed, I felt relieved to have escaped with just a hit to my wallet.

As mentioned earlier, last year I was at the edge of my personal physical limitations.  I also faced physical limitations this year, but now it was the environment imposing them upon me. For almost a third of my trip, I existed in endless urban sprawl.  From Stanford in Connecticut, to New York City, to Newark, Baltimore, Philly and Washington, DC - there was never a moment without traffic and hardly a half mile without a stop light.  While for the most part I felt safe with wide shoulders or bike lanes to use, silence eluded me on the car-filled roads (and of course the howling wind piled onto the noise factor).

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​Once I got past DC, the majority of my urban-riding ended.  However, as I passed through the tree farms that dotted North and South Carolina, I faced the most fearsome physical limitation of the trip – two-inch shoulders boxed in by rumble strips on state roads with 60 mph speed limits to enable fast passage of lumber carrying 18-wheelers.  As a seasoned cyclist, I’m pretty comfortable sharing the road with traffic. As someone who's gone sky diving eight times, I’m no stranger to fear. But there were a dozen or more times down south where I closed my eyes as the semis overtook me with literally inches to spare; I only opened my eyes when the truck had passed, and I knew I didn’t end up as road kill.  The only word I’d used to describe my time in the Carolinas is “terrifying”.

So I failed miserably in my goal to plan an “easier” Climate Ride.  Instead, I replaced last year’s feeling of physical fatigue with this year’s feelings of frustration (I won’t even go into details on the trip’s eight flat tires or my really big detour and unplanned hike on day five) and fear.  But… by the end of the trip, I was all smiles, first brought on by the feeling of relief for having survived, then sustained by the immense sense of accomplishment for all that I overcame on my epic journey.

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Photo: Dennis in a bike shop

Once I had made my way over to the airport, the smiles continued as I enjoyed a couple of well-deserved beers.  However, the biggest reason I couldn’t stop smiling that day was that the donations continued to roll in, even hours after my ride had finished (note it’s still not too late to donate!).  I collected nearly a third of my donations over the course of the 8-day Climate Ride, with donations approaching $9,500!!!  So while I never would want to put myself onto those terrifying roads again, I have to think that my tales of suffering helped to raise more money for our Chapter.  I’d love to find a way to raise more than $10,000 next year, but I’m hoping to do it without any near-death experiences!

Dennis Desmarais is Vice Chair, Communications Chair, IT Manager and Secretary, Sierra Club Connecticut.

Read about Dennis’ trip last year in our archived newsletter: “A Thousand Mile Ride Support CT Chapter

Photo: After the bike trip

Photo credit: Dennis Desmarais