by Jeremy Morrison
Riding across the country on a bicycle puts a person on pace to see things. Things that would ordinarily breeze by unseen and unknown on a more hurried journey.
Like the other day, another day of pedaling through the miles, when Diane Lea happened upon another “roadside treasure.”
“I said out loud, ‘I think I just saw a dinosaur,’” the cyclist laughed.
This wasn’t her first roadside treasure. Lea had found a few since leaving San Diego in mid-June.
“A couple of weeks ago I picked up a tiger. And a rhinoceros,” she said, describing a series of tiny plastic toys of similar dimension. “I’m going slow enough to see the stuff.”
Since June, Lea has been riding her bike across the country in an effort to raise awareness for numerous causes. Fifty miles a day for 50 days, with each day assigned a particular cause. It’s how she decided to celebrate her 50th birthday.
“People do all kinds of things. They go on a cruise or go out to dinner or have a bonfire and drink beer or do nothing, it runs the gamut,” Lea said. “I decided I wanted to give back.”
With that in mind, she dreamed up The 50 Causes Ride. The journey would be 2,500 miles, and raise awareness for causes as varied as adult literacy, diabetes, recycling, child hunger, PTSD, lyme disease, the Pensacola Humane Society, cystic fibrosis and so on.
“Each day I ride I bring awareness to a cause,” Lea said, explaining how she and her support team have worked to educate people about the various causes.
Through the use of social media, Lea and Liz Watkins, a Pensacola filmmaker, have tried to engage people, offering them a window into the cyclist’s daily ventures as well as an education about the causes. There’s also a resource laden webpage, 50causesride.com, where people can donate to the various causes.
“We work 12 and 15 hour days every day,” said Watkins, who also drives the team’s RV along the route. “It’s constant, just constant work.”
But the work has been pleasant enough. A beautiful, thoughtful trek through America’s soul. And only two flat tires and 15 miles of interstate the whole time.
“We went through some beautiful country and if people wanted to stop and talk to us, we stopped and talked to them,” Watkins said.
Saturday, the Lea will wrap up her trip when she rides into Pensacola. Relaxing in a Gulf Shores campground Thursday night, she took a moment to reflect on the pilgrimage.
It’s been enjoyable. But heavy as well. Each day the cyclist has thought about, meditated on that day’s cause. Considered the plight of exploited children. Thought about those struggling with multiple sclerosis or pancreatic cancer.
“I try to think of the cause that day and what those people go through every day,” she said. “I can stop riding the bike after 50 miles. They live it.”
And much like the entire journey, Lea’s return home to Pensacola with be “bittersweet.” The cyclist is obviously happy to be back with family and friends — “I’ll be with my people!” — but her heart weighs heavy with thoughts of the ride’s final cause.
On her final day of riding, 50 miles into Pensacola, the cyclist is raising awareness for Sanfilippo Syndrome. It’s a childhood disease. It’s rare. And it’s fatal.
For the last few blocks of her ride, Lea will be joined by two children who have Sanfilippo Syndrome. They will travel with her to Plaza De Luna.
“It’s freaking sad,” Lea said. “These kids are going to be plucked out of their lives. It’s heart wrenching.”
Like each cause on her list, the cyclist is hoping that bringing awareness — and hopefully some amount of financial goodwill — to the issue will help. Will help inch forward along the journey towards, in this case, a “miracle.”
Lea returns to Pensacola on Saturday, August 20, around 11 a.m. In addition to welcoming the cyclist home when she rides in, people are also invited to an end-of-ride party for the 50 Causes Ride on Aug. 27, from 3 to 7 p.m. at Intermission in downtown Pensacola.
For more information about the 50 Causes Ride, visit 50causesride.com.