What not to wear to cure cancer

As 5,700 of us woke to ride 200 miles on our bikes, it was dark–still nighttime–cool and wet. As I explained previously, I have something of a system for figuring out what to wear when riding, but the system falls apart a bit around the edges.

Specifically at the edge between temperatures and conditions. The day was forecast to be in the mid-50’s to mid-60’s. OK, so let’s say it will be 60. But wait a minute–it’s going to be raining. OK, so let’s assume it will feel colder than 60. But wait a minute–it’s not going to rain the whole time.


I started my day packing my cycling vest and arm warmers in my jersey pocket. Yes, cyclists wear arm warmers. We dress to make what you wore in the 80’s–leg warmers, those colors, the whip-thin ties–look like a couture gown. Not that I ever wore any of that.

I figured that would let me adjust to conditions: push the arm warmers down if I got too warm, unzip the vest if I got warmer, even take off the vest if I got really warm, though unzipping it is usually enough since the back is just mesh. Yes, mesh. Really, we dress to make your off-the-rack outfit look like Armani.

But as we rolled from our hotel to the start line, I felt that cool air and thought maybe I wouldn’t be warm enough. Maybe I’d want my cycling jacket–you know, the stab-you-in-the-eye-bright yellow one. Decisions, decisions…but, you know, none of my decisions that day were nearly as tough as the decisions my college roomie makes right now, facing stage IV colon cancer that has metastasized to his liver and lymph nodes.

  • Write a will?
  • Stop chemotherapy?
  • Fly to Mumbai?

My decisions that morning don’t have nearly the long-lasting effects that my roomie’s do. But if I left my jacket in my duffel bag, that meant not seeing it until the end of the day, since my duffel bag goes on a tractor-trailer truck, which is driven to the end of the route. So before I handed my bag over, I pulled it out. Then, as my teammate stood patiently by, I paused.

  • Wear this jacket?
  • Wear the vest and arm warmers?
  • Fly to Mumbai?

Standing there, in the pre-dawn dark as thousands of cyclists clacked around me in their silly shoes, I hear Mama’s Grammy’s words in my head: You’re not made of sugar; you won’t melt.

No shit. I thought. Our team is riding for a 12-year-old girl facing down brain tumors a third time. If she can take three separate rounds of cancer treatment and still grow up and go to school, I can get through a little rain, even if I’m a little chilly.

Besides, breakfast was waiting.

I stuffed the jacket back in my duffel, heaved it up on the truck, thanked the volunteer who took it and tossed it into the growing heap, where it was immediately lost in the deluge of bags raining into the truck.

While my system for deciding what to wear when riding frays at the edges, at the core, there are some truths. Among those is the fact that if you’re going to ride all day in the rain, you’re going to get wet and cold and uncomfortable, no matter what you wear. Knowing that, I probably should take my roomie’s advice and pack a Magic 8-Ball to make my decisions for me.

It couldn’t do worse than I did.