An Amazing Weekend with Pedal the Cause

By Ryon Graf
Sanford-Burnham Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Pedal the Cause is many things. It’s a cancer research fundraiser. It’s a bike ride. It’s a celebration of trial, tribulation, and growth. It’s a metaphorical and physical act honoring the stamina of cancer patients. It’s a community.

For one weekend a group of cancer patients, friends of cancer patients, researchers, caretakers, doctors, and kindred spirits made their way from the UCSD Moores Cancer Center to the mountain town of Julian and back. Via bicycles. The entire experience was simply amazing. There are too many things I could say about it, so instead I will guide my story with photographs.

I’m up there, I promise!

I’m up there, I promise!

My Saturday started pretty early. I refused to drive to the start and had a nice warmup hauling my 30lb backpack up Gilman Drive. I dropped it off, said hello to many familiar faces, and quickly found my way to the starting chute.

The course profile to Julian is pretty much up, up, and up. A long bike ride in San Diego County can take one through many microclimates. Saturday did not disappoint. Gray skies at the start transitioned to mist and fog as we ascended up to Poway, then as we hit Scripps Poway Parkway we ascended above that as well, finding clear skies.

My buddy Andrew Ulvestad shot this (while moving, yes he’s talented!) as we ascended above the clouds and up to the desert air of Ramona.

My buddy Andrew Ulvestad shot this (while moving, yes he’s talented!) as we ascended above the clouds and up to the desert air of Ramona.

Within a matter of miles mist and fog gave way to Ramona and desert air. I managed to find company with those that just love to ride hard and fast, so I tagged along. Before I knew it we were at the Santa Ysabel aid station snacking on orange slices, which at that moment in time was quite possibly the most pleasant thing in the world.

Our extraordinarily ambitious friends headed north from there to circle around Julian and ascend from the east side. My friend Andrew Ulvestad and I felt that lunch sounded like a better idea, and ascended the final 7 miles straight up to Julian.

I had the honor of being the first cyclist into the riders’ village

I had the honor of being the first cyclist into the riders’ village.

Throughout the afternoon and evening I met so many amazing people at the riders’ village. It was inspiring to hear the stories of those that not only survived, but were made stronger by their experiences with cancer. Everyone there had no facade. Any metaphorical mask was magically discarded somewhere on the road to Julian.

t’s hard to find better company. Here I am with Bill Koman, Diane Hyat, Robert Kaplan, and Mike McHale

It’s hard to find better company. Here I am with Bill Koman, Diane Hyat, Robert Kaplan, and Mike McHale.

Hundreds of people present were completely open and exchanging their incredible, extremely personal life experiences and stories. I was somewhat apprehensive that perhaps a depressed or sad mood might underly an event associated with something (cancer) that causes grief to so many people. What I found instead was an honesty, openness, and kinship with almost complete “strangers” that became the theme of my Pedal the Cause. It’s taken a few days, but it’s still registering how uplifting, enlightening, and rich that was. The spice of life was served up all night.

The evening’s ceremonies flawlessly transitioned the vibe, with cancer survivor Bill Koman laying down some extremely ambitious goals for the coming years, including 1000 riders for next year’s event.

The evening’s ceremonies flawlessly transitioned the vibe, with cancer survivor Bill Koman laying down some extremely ambitious goals for the coming years, including 1000 riders for next year’s event.

As expected, the night was pretty cold up on the mountain. And also as expected, this coast-loving weakling didn’t pack warmly enough. Lesson learned! The next morning saw clear skies, and a FAST descent down the mountain to Santa Ysabel. We also descended the stunning Highway 78 down to Escondido. Again, those microclimates… we went from clear and cold, to clear and warm-ish, to borderline hot in Ramona, all the way down to the fog bank that met us at the base of the 78.

Up Torrey Pines and on to UCSD, we were greeted by a finishing chute lined with cheering people and cowbells! I wanted to thank everyone there at the same time, but realizing the absurdity of that wish rolling by at 15mph I simply sat up and pointed and smiled at everyone that came to cheer.

I want to thank all of my friends and family that supported me in this cycling and fundraising journey, even if it was in the smallest way. Thanks for reading, and I am already looking forward to next year’s event!

Sincerely,
Ryon

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