Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Key to Keys: The Journey

Starting Our Journey

Our journey to Key West began on Saturday. It started with a send-off party in Baltimore City, which was an opportunity to get the group together and for our families and friends to say goodbye. It is an Ulman tradition to start events with a “Dedication Circle”. This circle gives everyone an opportunity to share thoughts on who they are riding for each day. It reminds me a little of a Quaker Meeting…someone starts off the dedication and everyone adds theirs as they are moved to do so. I started the journey for the Davis family. Ryan, Harmony, and their children are in the midst of their fight against cancer. Harmony led off the Run Across America last year.

Riding at the BWI Airport Loop

A stop at the University of Maryland

Ride Logistics

Many people have asked what the structure for the ride is. Each day we are assigned to one of four groups. Group 1 begins riding, while group 2 drives to the end of Group 1’s route and then begins riding. The same goes with groups 3 and 4. I was part of group 1, and our task was to ride from the Inner Harbor in Baltimore to NE Washington DC. We are given cue sheets, but discovered that there were a few snags. Thanks to Google Maps and good teamwork, we got from point A to Point B, with a little backtracking. We rode through College Park, which gave me time to reflect on my dear friend Nicole who lost her husband Mike to cancer. He was a University of Maryland alum, so College Park was a great place for me to ride.

After we finished our ride, and joined up with Liz (our driver for the day and an awesome Ulman staffer), we drove to Charlottesville, Va. Each day would have a similar layout. As someone who is a control freak planner, it was refreshing to have 8 days where my job was just to pedal, listen, and share our story with the people we met. We woke up in the morning, and during breakfast the “lineup” for the day would be posted. This included your riding buddies and your “SAG” (Support and Gear”) driver. The drivers were all Ulman staffers, who absolutely rocked. They had a tailgate picnic ready for us every day on our ride, and always offered crazy awesome encouragement.

Each afternoon/evening, we would arrive at our hotel for the night. It wasn’t until arrival that we found out who our roommate would be. We got to room with most of our teammates of the same gender, which lent itself to lots of bonding and getting to know each other. Once again….I didn’t have to make any decisions…just lug my bag and bike into the hotel and set up camp for the night. Dinner every evening was about camaraderie…sharing stories of the day, laughter, and often tears. It was probably less than 48 hours before everyone stripped down the layers of unfamiliarity and began to share their stories in a very raw, very real way. The laughs were frequent and hearty, and the tears came just as often. The 8 days on this journey did so much to revitalize many of us.

My Riding Routes on Key to Keys:

Day 1: Baltimore to Northeast DC  (aka lots of starting and stopping); Overnight in Charlottesville, VA

Day 2: Virginia into NC (my group got to cross the border); Overnight in Durham, NC

Day 3: Durham, NC to Myrtle Beach, SC  (my group got to ride from NC into Myrtle Beach); Overnight in Myrtle with an awesome dinner at the firehouse there. Day 3-4 were also the days when there was the most complaining (myself included) about how painful it was to ride so many days in a get to know each other quite well on a ride like this...

Day 4: Myrtle Beach, SC to Hilton Head
My group got to ride through Charleston, which was beautiful. Hilton Head was where we met Edgar…a local who was certainly a little over the top and under the influence, but made us laugh harder than any of us have every laughed.

Laughter to the point of tears thanks to our friend Edgar

A rare moment when Jimmy wasn't busy texting on his "ATM"

Day 5: Hilton Head, SC to St. George, Georgia (My group got to ride Alligator Alley and cross the border into Georgia). We had an awesome homemade southern dinner here, hosted by Liz’s family and the local cycling club. This was also the location of “Key to Keys Idol”…some of the people on our team can really sing. In the midst of silliness, a local at the bar donated $400 because he heard what we were doing and wanted to help. Laughter turned to tears as he shared his story, but it epitomized our journey.

Pre-ride Caffeine

Post-ride recovery drinks

My buddy in the "way back" of the Suburban

Day 6: St. George, Georgia to Vero Beach, Fl with an awesome dinner hosted by Brian’s parents in Vero Beach. On this day we hit the headwind from the storms that hit Georgia. No rain but wind that made you feel like you were pedaling in place. It was mentally probably the most challenging day for all of us.

Day 7: Vero Beach, Fl to Homestead, Fl. On this day, my group rode through some really neat destinations, including South Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and Ft. Lauderdale. A lot of our riding was right along the coast, which means a gusting headwind at times but beautiful riding.

Photo collage credit: Chris Zahlis
This includes our awesome crew for the day Abby and Alex

Team "Boy Scout" helping Canadian tourists change a tire. 

Day 8: Homestead, Fl to Key West...more about this in my blog about finishing the race.

There aren't words to describe this journey. It was epic and emotional and fulfilling and invigorating. I am so thankful to all of those who supported me, by taking care of the kids, "liking" my Facebook updates, donating to my fundraising. There are too many people to thank by name, as I know I would leave someone out...know that each of you touched me beyond words. 

(Many thanks to Matt Brown who took many of these amazing photos along the way). 


  1. I love how many pictures there are of you right next to Brian. Especially the last one.

    I don't even know why you biked all that way. You could have just hitched a ride in his back pocket.

  2. Very impressive! Thanks for all you've done!