Monday, September 12, 2011

Cycling for a Cause

Palo Alto High School Students Pass Beads to Lap Walkers
Paly Student Volunteers + Mom Linda Serve Breakfast 
 Volunteer Benefit: A Cool Shirt!
Can You See Him? That's Greg LeMond! Rider/Fundraisers got to ride with the 3-time Tour de France winner

I'm a little naive when it comes to historical events such as the Tour de France. In the late summer of 1971 my dad, Carl Steffens, returned from a Fairchild business trip to Europe all fired up about some big bike race called the "tour-de-something," I recall. He couldn't stop talking about it, showing us photos and other memorabilia--a canvas cycling hat among his precious souvenirs. 

All I cared about was that my dad was not around to share the end of summer, and I tried to understand his reasoning about work and such. Knowing how he loved to play, I'm sure he scheduled lots of meetings around the stages of the race. The only consolation for an almost ten-year-old girl missing her father was the fact that he had special-ordered for me and my brother two Peugeot mini-ten-speed bikes. Mine was white and Bud's was yellow.

I found freedom on my new bike as a young girl in Los Altos Hills, and of course it was a different time. A little kid could ride for miles without supervision and nobody would ask questions. My brother and I rode ourselves to parent-mandated tennis lessons after school, I rode myself to the orthodontist nearly three miles away, across the busy Foothill Expressway. My best friend Roni and I rode--she on her Schwinn banana seat--to what was then Don's Ice Cream Parlor at Loyola Corners. Since my dad was gone a lot and my mom had been raised by very liberal parents, there was no concern about where we went on our bikes as long as we were home by dinnertime or dark, whichever came first. Sometimes, for special outings Dad would load up his Ford LTD--somehow--with his bike and our smaller versions for a trip to Golden Gate park, where we could ride for hours on a Sunday with no interruptions from traffic. It was pure and simple pleasure, with little expense!

Since those idyllic days as a mini-cyclist in the foothills of Los Altos, and later in high school riding back and forth from home to Stanford University "just for fun," my motivation for cycling has changed. My friend Sally recently challenged me to keep up with her on a century ride (100 miles) in San Luis Obispo. She had the luxury of training with friends in San Diego, and I merely prayed to keep up with them on the coastal ride. My husband also encourages me to find a niche by cycling near my new neighborhood, just around the ridge from that familiar Los Altos hillside. If my dad were still alive, I'm sure he would love to tease me into joining a women's group to race with a peloton. But I am happiest spinning at my own pace through the hills, without an agenda and thinking of that little Peugeot. 

Cycling doesn't have to be a competitive sport, and thanks to a group ride coming to Palo Alto this weekend anyone can feel the joy of speed, banking curves, and grueling climbs. A "Gran Fondo," I learned from one of the Echelon organizers, means a "big ride" in Italian. To celebrate the sport and to raise awareness and funds for seventeen local charities, more than 500 cyclists will ride the hills from the city to Skyline, the ridge overlooking the ocean and back. Community members are invited to both volunteer with the event and to ride in the fundraiser. Different levels of giving are designated by jersey colors. Palo Alto High School student volunteers are happily working with the race organizers to provide a seamless event, of course the incentive of food and a free t-shirt does help! As I work with our students behind the scenes at the downtown Challenge this weekend, wishing I were in shape to at least ride the 60-mile route, I will think of my dad who passed away long before my high school years. I'll thank his passionate spirit for sharing the pleasure of cycling just for fun!

Make a Difference with Sports and Cycling
Check out the Echelon Gran Fondo Charity Ride