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Al's Stigma Ride Experience

One of my RAGBRAI Team Wrong teammates, Kyle and his wife Sherry, started a non-profit years ago called “Stories For Tomorrow” built around suicide prevention. (Sherry’s brother died by suicide, as did my dad, Albert Sr.) A big part of their effort is in encouraging conversations about suicide and mental health. There is stigma around talking about it; not talked about at parties much, right? It is a leading cause of death we can do something about. Bringing it out of the shadows into the light.

I’ve been in touch with them around this and made donations and helped design the logo for this new bike ride last weekend called, “The Ride to Break the Stigma.” Or Stigma Ride for short.

I’ve helped as I could from Minneapolis in the lead-up, and wasn’t planning on driving the eight hours round trip to participate in the ride. As the time approached, it became clear to me it was an important personal calling and a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts to make the trek down.

I had no expectations, given I only know a handful of the people there mostly from RAGBRAI and am more of a social cyclist and introvert anyway. I figured I would go down, camp overnight the day before and the night after and just see how it unfolds. I took a few photos as the event progressed, but did not have in mind doing a report on it. Next year, I will! It was that profoundly moving and impactful.

Anyway, here’s a bit of how it unfolded.

After leaving MN, I realized I forgot a chair. They are important for comfortable camping right? Dropped $10. On this contemporary beauty! Who doesn’t like tacos!?

It was about 100˚ in Minneapolis when I left and I already convinced myself investing $20. In a 50˚ sleeping bag would be smart for this and RAGBRAI and any other summer camping. I felt the “Happy Camper” model was made just for me.

View through the skylight of my awesome Coleman pop-up tent featuring the lining graphics on the Happy Camper bag.

Camping has changed a lot since we did it as a family. Here’s my little tent. I felt like I was in the land of giants. Gulliver’s Travels upside down. Maybe those “camper trailers” look small and distant in this panorama; I assure you they are not either of those things. But when the sun went down all was good and serene. I was actually grateful for the electric hook-up sites: No generator noise in the night!!

I biked from the campground to the ride start and got there early. I kinda hung back and just took in the registration and ride prep, figuring it might just be a personal silent-mediation type ride for me and that I might not be interacting much. I saw this tattoo and had to at least interact with her because it is so awesome, right?!

(The organizers targeted a goal of 50 to 80 riders. 220 registered.)

Here is a booth that was at the registration event.

The ride start was at a cool brewery in Ankeny, IA called Uptown Garage Brewing, hence the Ford and Packard signs in the background above.

The ride was built around a “scavenger hunt” designed to promote talk about suicide and breaking the stigma around talking about it. Very smart! I decided I “might” play along.

One of the first convos I had was with Officer Reed (#3 on the scavenger list). Officer Reed is with the Ankeny Police Unit called Community Engagement. His job is to follow-up on first-responders calls about suicide, whether they are attempts, fears, or any other calls regarding concerns about suicide. Noble and heart rendering work. I spoke with him several times as our paths crossed on the ride.

I was surprised (and pleased) I choked up many times talking with people. Things got real.

Here Officer Reed is about to cross the street with his wife, both on serious 4-season bikes!

One of the first stops (#7 on the scavenger list). People getting positive messages of their choice written on them, or writing on cards that were then posted or worn.

Here’s what I had written on me. The first scavenger hunt stop. At this point I was all in.

(Also note a pint of Lagunitas to honor another cyclist I know and love)

Iowa nostalgia. I think the John Deere company decided to go in another direction from bicycles.

Much of the ride looked like this. The Neal Smith Trail. So beautiful and peaceful.

I didn’t take many pictures on the ride. It was about 15 miles (though we lost the trail a couple times and therefore got extra value). I was sort of in the moment and didn’t think to document it all.

I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of the community booth area as it was a biggie. I spent a lot of time there. About a dozen people and organizations set up there to share their work in the area of suicide and mental health concerns. There was Veterens Support, Big Brothers Big Sisters and many local and personal tables each with their story: of their kids, their siblings, their parents and friends lost to suicide and how they are now working to address that going forward. No solicitations, just sharing. Profoundly moving to be among kindred spirits bonded in grief and doing something about it! ...and there was relief to actually bring voice and speak about it freely. It was very real, reassuring, and heartwarming. We laughed, we cried. For real.

These are some of the Team Wrong buds involved at the end of the ride after the scavenger hunt raffle. Kyle, the guy in plaid, that is responsible for this whole thing went out of his way to assure me he had nothing to do with me winning the big prize of the raffle. Funny thing, it was a JBL Charge 4. My brother, Brad and I have gone back and forth between the merits of the JBL Charge vs. the Flip models. I am not saying Dad had a hand in not only me winning, but that the prize be kind of relevant to an area of question between his sons… and I’m not not saying that either!

Back at camp that night.

On Tuesday I shared about the ride of one of my oldest bestest friends in California. Not a cyclist; he doesn’t even own a bike.

He said, "I’m coming out for the ride next year! I’ll buy a bike in Iowa just for the ride.” (I assured him we could get him a bike.) That his interest was so strong is, in part, why I’m broadcasting this letter.

Today, we volunteers have a debrief zoom about the ride. I am way-in for next year. I was blown away over and over on the ride.

I’m still processing the weekend. I cannot wait for next year’s ride. Let me know if you want to know more.



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