This past May, I kissed my honey goodbye and hopped on a plane to join eight strangers at a beach house in a town I’d never heard of. I was headed to Stinson Beach, California, with the Send It Foundation to surf and mountain bike with young adult cancer survivors – people like me.
I was self-conscious; would I make friends? Getting cancer at 34 gave me a heightened awareness of my own mortality, created body image issues and impacted my ability to relate to people my age the way I used to. Would I have fun? Having never mountain biked before and having absolutely zero desire to do so, I was nervous about the sport being a part of the trip. Surfing sounded like a great time. Careening down a mountain on a bike however, seemed like it would be slippery, dirty and just plain dangerous. As a competitive runner, I was sure I’d fall, skin a knee or break a bone and be out of the running game.
To my surprise, I made fast friends with the other Send It participants before we even left the airport. These people understood me. After checking “make friends” off my list, I shared my cycling concern with the Send It staff. I’ll try anything once, so I asked resident mountain biking expert, Dr. Dave what the bailout plan was if I thought I was going to fall. “Just keep your heels down” he said (whatever the hell that meant). When bike day came, our tour guides Chris and Big Jeff took us through a quick lesson; showed us how to change gears, control the seat, and asked if anyone was nervous. I was the only one who rated their fear as a six out five.
The next thing I knew, we were flying down a dusty fire road on Mount Tamalpais, the birthplace of mountain biking. This was nothing like I’d expected. For the first time in a long time, I felt alive; like waking up after a long nap. My new friends and I had rekindled that jovial feeling of youth, something I hadn’t noticed had slipped away during my cancer treatment. Being outside on this bike, on this mountain, with these people, in this exact moment, was exactly where I was supposed to be. Before I knew it, the ride was over, and we were headed back to the beach house. I couldn’t possibly wait another whole day to ride again, so Dr. Dave and I grabbed a couple of bikes and headed back up into the mountains. I quickly learned three valuable lessons: 1) what goes down must also pedal back up, 2) not all bikes are created equal, and 3) I am a total badass. That ride challenged me more than the first, but the stoke remained the same.
I spent as much time as I could on that bike that week. My appetite for the sport became insatiable. Before I’d even arrived home, I’d begun pricing bikes, seeking recommendations, and found places in my area to ride. When I got home, I knew it would be a challenge to ignite the stoke for mountain biking in my cautious husband. The man who took me to every chemotherapy appointment, who anguished over blood transfusion after blood transfusion. The man who slept in the hospital next to me during a week-long pneumonia hospitalization and excruciating surgeries. There was no way in hell he was going to condone a sport where there was an opportunity to see me get hurt. I had exactly one shot, so I rented us bikes the day after I came home and sent him down a mountain. He was bruised, bloody and had split his lip by the time we arrived at the bottom, but shockingly, he was on board! He said mountain biking gave him relief from something he didn’t know he’d been holding on to. He had to focus and engage in the activity at hand with every part of his being, there was no space there for worry. About a month later we became the proud owners two dope mountain bikes.
It’s been six months since my Send It adventure, and I haven’t stopped shredding since. We’ve traveled with our bikes across three states to ride new trails (you’d be surprised how many different types of dirt there are); made new friends and overcome a lot of fears. Nothing brings me more joy than riding my bike with my people.
Send It gave me the gift of lifelong friendships with people who’ve been through the same gnarly stuff that I’ve been through, people who get me, and I keep in touch with them often. Send It also gave me the gift of mountain biking, a release from the mundane and a way to live in the moment, because the moment is all that’s promised. Send It has been a game changer, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to give that back to another cohort of young survivors when I get the opportunity to return as a volunteer.