Dirty Words – Riding for the Common Good

Sometimes we ride through a different kind of pain

By Sal Ruibal

Living and working in the Washington, D.C. area, I get exposed to a lot of political B.S. But there's one well-used phrase that I can apply to my own life: "All politics is personal."

For me, all bike riding is personal. I get paid to write about riding and I love to ride, but riding a bike can encompass so much more. I fell in love with my wife while mountain biking. I fell in love with Provence while reporting on the Tour de France.

The local trails I ride now are the same scratched-out deer paths I learned to ride in 1996 with my best friends. Riding with friends creates a bond and a shared history. As my racing career, such as it was and it wasn't much, is fading into the past, I look for different reasons to ride. That's why I've been doing so many gran fondos.

In a few weeks, I'll be heading to Maine to ride in The Dempsey Challenge in Lewiston. The Dempsey in the title is Patrick Dempsey, a.k.a. Dr. McDreamy from TVs Gray's Anatomy.

Patrick Dempsey created the Amgen Dempsey Challenge in a slightly different structure than fondos, offering many more ride types and distances, plus running and walking events. It is a fundraiser for The Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, but it also a rolling and rollicking tribute to his mother, Amanda Dempsey, who battled ovarian cancer and won.

Did I mention that it also has a great post-ride lobster feast?

Chris Horner can actually make a lobster bib seem kind of cool. Here he dispatches a particularly massive crustacean.

The Dempsey Challenge is the primary fundraiser for the Dempsey Center, which provides free support, education and wellness services to anyone affected by cancer regardless of where treatment is received. All funds – 100 percent — go directly to benefit the Center, allowing all services to be provided at no cost.

The first Challenge was in 2009 and has since brought in more than $1 million.

For me, this is where the personal begins. The Dempsey Center is the first place cancer patients and their families go when a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer.

Those first hours and days are filled with apprehension and pit-of-the-stomach fear of the unknown, fear of losing the most important person in your life, fear of financial ruin. I know this because my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 followed by a stroke in 1998 and a slow painful path to death.

The Dempsey Challenge is loads of fun and the incredible gala and post-ride lobster feast is beyond anything I've ever witnessed at similar rides. There are loads of celebrities from both Hollywood, auto racing and, of course, pro cycling.

Levi Leipheimer hosts perhaps the grandest of all U.S. fondos on the other side of the country, but he and top riders such as Tom Danielson and Chris Horner will be on hand on the East Coast to mingle and turn a few pedal strokes with the thousands of participants.

"Patrick is a great host," Leipheimer says. "The people we meet there know a lot about cycling and make us feel comfortable. It is one of the most enjoyable events I do all year."

Specialized Bicycles is an original sponsor and you'll see quite a few of those big red S logos on the multiple courses.

The pit stops are like free 7-Elevens stocked with a cornucopia of energy drinks, gels, candy, fruit and cake. When I rode two years ago, I had to force myself to get back on the road. But knowing that big lobster was waiting made me pedal faster.

The only attendees not having a good time at the Dempsey Challenge? The lobsters.

The country roads aren't steep like in Levi's Gran Fondo overlooking the Pacific, but there are dozens of short but steep climbs through thick Eastern woods.

Lewiston is a former mill city that has seen better days. But it still holds its head high and is making the transition from factories to high-tech industries and medical facilities. Patrick Dempsey could have just written a big check and gone back to his Hollywood life, but he has a personal stake in his hometown. He has family and many friends there. (Did you know he used to be in a juggling act?).

He decided to make this ride a personal mission, and that makes all the difference.

Especially for the lobsters.