The timing of the Turkey Takeoff challenge just didn’t feel right when I first read about it. You see, my cycling miles had dramatically decreased after I lost my dear friend Roberto to a bike crash on November 5th. He and a handful of other friends were on the Rapha Gentleman’s ride in Santa Monica when he crashed. I didn’t make it that day because of my son’s soccer game, but also because I was a bit intimidated by the amount of climbing in such a short ride. I’m what they call a “flat lander,” and even though I’ve lost over 80lbs cycling these last two years, I’m still a big guy at 225lbs – too big to be chasing more experienced, lighter riders up canyon roads.
On November 13th, I participated in his memorial ride and was so touched when Rapha gave everyone a cycling cap with ROBERTO embroidered on the side. I also received a matching Rapha jersey with ROBERTO on the sleeve. These jerseys were given to a few of his core riding friends, and I’m honored to be in the core group of Myrtle Street Boys. So, despite the category 1 climb, I put on the polka dot jersey Roberto had given me for my birthday and headed up the hill to honor a friend. It was one the hardest climbs I’ve ever done, but also one of the most amazing.
After that memorial ride, I felt like I needed a break and wanted to take some time off the bike. The death of someone close has an amazing way of making you think. I started thinking about my wife, my two kids, all my friends, and what would happen had that been me on the morning of November 5th? As much as I love cycling, and as much as cycling has changed my life, was it worth the risk we face when we put on those cleated shoes? So, you see, the timing of this Turkey Takeoff just didn’t feel right. Or did it?
Roberto loved Rapha; as a brand copywriter, he got what the company was about. It’s not just about clothing, but about a sense of belonging – a belonging to a community of riders around the world, a community of strangers who would show up at a memorial ride despite not ever meeting the person they were honoring. He understand that we love “our” brands because of the way they make us feel.
It was in that community spirit that I decided to participate in the Rapha Turkey Takeoff. After all, it’s what Roberto would have done. Going into it, I didn’t have any delusions of finishing since I wasn’t riding that much. But I thought maybe, with a couple local rides under my wheels, I could increase the miles and make a good dent in that 9,000 calories. I could at least offset my Thanksgiving day meal.
I started with a small ride on Wednesday, a good 65 miles on Thursday followed by a meal with family and a nap, and then up early for another 42 on Friday. The momentum was building. I had thrown out the idea that a group of us should do the 100-mile ride south to San Diego and take the train back on Saturday, but didn’t really get any takers. I didn’t really want to ride solo so I figured my Turkey Takeoff quest was over.
On Friday afternoon, I attended a memorial at one of Roberto’s favorite restaurants. We all gathered for a meal and to hear words from his family and friends, and just to be together. I felt like I had said goodbye already on the memorial ride. I had let all the tears flow that day on the climb up Los Flores. This memorial dinner felt different, though. It seemed that some of us had moved past the shock of it all and began celebrating his life. We enjoyed the Vietnamese cuisine that he so loved and talked about all the great times we had with Roberto. It was a true celebration of who he was, and it was an event that he would have enjoyed attending.
I still wasn’t getting any takers on a trip to San Diego, but it was at that memorial dinner where I realized the timing of the Turkey Takeoff couldn’t have been any better. It was getting me back on the bike, and riding was exactly what I needed to do. It was helping me mourn the loss of my friend, helping me reflect, helping me move forward.
And so, Saturday morning, I put on my Rapha ROBERTO jersey and headed south for one of the most epic days of riding I’ve had in a long time. I didn’t care that I was riding solo. In fact, I think I enjoyed the ride more. It was just me, my thoughts, my breath and the spin of the pedals. I savored every single mile. And the Amtrak ride back was great – watching the sunset, drinking a beer, feeling hungry from the lack of calories. Roberto, our friends and I had taken this train back together many times (except that one time when Roberto and Ron got tossed from the train, but that’s another story for another day).
Once home, I consumed a Haven burger as I had done with Roberto many times after rides. Then, Sunday morning, I connected with my Sunday group for my final miles and, just like that, I feel like I’m back in the riding routine. And, although I have a brand new respect for the road and for the dangers of it all, I’m not ready to hang up the bike just yet.
I did the Turkey Takeoff for Roberto. And, I did it for me and for the friends he left behind. As he would say, after we enjoyed Vietnamese food and massages, “Let the healing begin.”