Saturday, July 25, 2009

Brain drops keep falling in my head

Paul Rosenthal on July 25th, 2009

Let me get a couple of things out of the way quickly: pie number 25 yesterday was of the pumpkin variety. I am done with pie for a long time.

I don’t feel I have thanked enough people enough. Chris in Ottumwa was a gem. The Kremers today and last night were very nice. I know that if I try to name everyone, I will leave people out. I will stop now and just make some general thank yous to the many people in Iowa who showed great kindness and to our host families who opened their homes to total strangers. And, I can’t say enough about my teammates, many of whom looked after me in ways big and small. Trust me, I noticed.

When I left the computer last night and headed to my tent, a light rain began to fall. A cow who was separated from her calf mooed for her child. As I lay in the tent, I actually enjoyed the experience. Listening to the rain was calming, and I thought about the days and nights that came before. I woke at around 4:30 am to go to the porta-potty that our very generous hosts had rented for the occasion. By then the sky was perfectly clear, and the stars sparkled above. My assistant and friend, Karen, earlier in the day called me the luckiest man on Earth, and I knew she was right. I hadn’t signed up for the camping experience, but I was glad to have it anyway. It made the week complete.

The evening’s festivities ended prematurely because of the storm threat, so the team didn’t have a chance to have our nightly talk and hand out awards. The abrupt ending to the evening caused several of us to sense a lack of closure. We did our best, though, to say our goodbyes in our bleary-eyed fashion around 6 am. I needed to leave early, so Mitch, Eric and Erin set off with me, while the others would leave later.

My legs felt really good and I had lots of energy. We averaged about 20 mph on the flat section of our approximately 40 mile route. What a nice way to end the ride!

I hope Mitch doesn’t mind me writing this, but as he dropped me off at the airport, he thanked me for changing his life. I didn’t ask him for an explanation. I knew what he meant, because he and the other members of the team did the same for me. I won’t go into all of the reasons why. Apart from a decision to swear off pie, breakfast burritos and anything eaten on a stick, an obvious feeling that I know we shared is a great sense of personal accomplishment. I am not just talking about the physical challenge involved, nor am I diminishing it. Clearly, completing the ride makes us feel we can meet other challenges. And, the sense of accomplishment of doing something worthwhile for people with blinding eye disease is major.

We managed to raise about $40,000 for Project 3000 ( it’s not too late to contribute). We also generated some good publicity:

Blind cycling champion to lead UI’s Project 3000 RAGBRAI team

A team of a dozen cyclists — including a blind U.S. Paralympics track cycling national champion — will pedal across Iowa next week to raise awareness of and funds for Project 3000, a University of Iowa-based effort seeking a cure for a rare childhood blinding eye disease.

This generated several news stories across the state.

Yet, another life changing part of the ride was the relationships that were either reinforced or formed. A group of diverse people came together and bonded in what I think was an extraordinary fashion. There was no bickering, no visible anger–only obvious warmth and affection–and, did I mention fun? The glow may not last forever, but I am certain that relationships that were formed during this experience will endure.

People have already asked me whether I will do RAGBRAI next year. I don’t know. It will be hard to replicate the experience I just had. All of my team members, of course, are welcome to stay at my house when they visit Washington. I will make sure that I have a tent available when they arrive :)

Now I am in Chicago meeting Carla and Darryle, whose blog I hijacked for a week. I am turning it back to Darryle now, as I must resume my job as a lawyer for a great, metropolitan law firm. I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did.