Cycling indoors on a trainer — smart trainer or not — is a dark, depressing exercise. My trainer is in my garage, lit by a single light bulb overhead, and surrounded by boxes and hoarded junk that I have yet to dispose. There’s no wind to help keep me cool, and there’s no changing scenery or road conditions to keep my mind distracted. It’s just constant spinning in a dimly lit, poorly ventilated spot with a view that is a singular (and pretty permanent) reminder of all of the items in my garage that comprises a long spring cleaning list.
I am lucky, however. I’ve been able set up my indoor training with a lot of bells and whistles. I have a smart trainer (an Elite Direto) connected to Zwift that runs on my laptop with a big screen to watch it on (as well as to binge TV shows while I ride). I have a fan that helps keep me cool and recently added an air purifier to help filter out the dust in the garage. With this set up, I can ride any time I want and am not limited by sunlight, weather, traffic or routes. And, important for our current times, it helps to maintain social distancing.
Still, miles upon miles of churning pedals indoors to no real destination while perched on the saddle continuously — because there is little reason to get off the saddle — wears down the mind and body faster than riding outside. I’ve read that riding one mile indoors is equivalent to the difficulty of riding one and a half miles outdoors. My hindquarters would certainly agree. It’s undeniable that indoor cycling just isn’t as great or pleasant as getting outside on my bike.
With charity cycling events dropping like flies during this pandemic, I had come to accept that I probably won’t be cycling for charity for the foreseeable future. This came with some disappointment because, not the only of my reasons, it’s the whole point of this website. My main fundraising cycling event, America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, was moved from June to September, and so I no longer had something in the short term to push me to train. Nonetheless, I’ve continued to train to be ready in June for an event that won’t be taking place on the hope that I’ll keep in shape and be ready for when riding in groups is safe again. Perhaps, this is a form of optimistic denial that helps give me something to look forward to. It hasn’t worn thin yet, but with no events in the near term and the likelihood of more events being cancelled, I’ve been missing training for something to keep me going, especially in my cycling dungeon.
Then, last Friday, I came across an opportunity to ride for something, but virtually. The non-profit organization Climate Ride was holding a virtual event called “Climate Rise” the next day. They were bringing together hundreds of people to help raise funds and make a statement of solidarity for environmental charities and non-profits. Many participants were cycling, but many others were engaging in other virtual, social-distance appropriate activities as well.
I normally sign up for a charity ride months in advance to give me time to train and start fundraising early to give me enough time
to harass my social networks to reach my fundraising goal. Call me desperate to live up to my “brand” or that I’m social-distance bored, but I jumped on Climate Rise with less than 24 hours lead time, set up my fundraising website, and set a goal to ride for four hours on my trainer to raise $200 for Climate Ride and the Environmental Defense Fund. I’ve never been able to ride more than three excruciating hours in my dungeon, and, with less than a day before the virtual event and no lead up time to try to raise funds, my expectation was low that I’d raise the $200. But, I was going to ride on Saturday anyway, so why not see what I can raise?
Then, I had a brainstorm. What if I live streamed my ride on Facebook and allowed people to watch me pedal for four hours? I had never live streamed before, let alone on Facebook, but figured there was no harm in trying it out, though I couldn’t fathom who would want to watch me pedal mindlessly for four hours.
Early Saturday morning, I ate breakfast, watched Climate Ride’s kick-off on Zoom (with over a hundred or so other participants), and set myself up to live stream my ride using an old tablet. At about 10:30 AM, I made the announcement on Facebook and Twitter, turned on the live stream and off I went, pedaling to nowhere (you can watch part 1 here, and part 2 here) in the garage.
I was surprised that people actually tuned in. My siblings and friends hopped on to the feed and began chatting with me. The Pink Ladies from LA came in, cheered me on, and donated. Friends from Team-in-Training in LA tuned in and did the same. Other friends popped in and out, donating, making jokes, asking about my dog, or asking me to take my clothes off. Busy with all of this activity, before I knew it the first two hours flew by. I think it was just past the two hour mark that I surpassed my fundraising goal of $200. I was amazed.
Inevitably, once I hit the three hour mark, I was feeling fatigued, but the fear of public humiliation kept me going. Plus, a random couple from Twitter saw my post and found me on Zwift. They donated to my ride and one of them joined me in Zwift for the last hour or so (I was astounded by this) and despite my legs threatening to cramp up, I wasn’t about to get dropped or flake on this ride.
When I crossed the four hour mark, I threw my hands up in celebration, hunched over my bike and unclicked from my pedals. I couldn’t believe I just spent four hours on my trainer!
And, the best yet: people donated to this ride a total of $451 — more than double my goal — which still feels surreal (last year, I rode 200 miles over two days for this cause and raised only slightly more). That was the most exciting and rewarding, particularly in our current days when we are faced with so much uncertainly and turmoil. Perhaps social distancing and quarantine played a role, given that more people are at home now, on their devices, and feel a greater need to connect with each other. And, really, I was the only live cycling event being broadcast for many of them.
This experiment was certainly an inspiring experience. It was physically difficult by the end but I feel a lot of gratitude to everyone who supported me, kept me company, and donated despite the tumultuous days and the personal struggles many are going through. I’m happy we were able to support organizations that are still championing the cause of mitigating climate change. There’s a sense of hope in all of this.
Would I do this again? Theoretically, I’d love to, but only if I could top this effort. Realistically, I can’t imagine how unpleasant it would be to be on a stationary bike for longer than four hours and the thought of that discomfort and those long hours is really hard to get over.
Still, discussing with a friend afterwards, I caught myself saying “the next time I do this…”