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UAB in Antarctica

Last night was a special night in the Palmer gym. It was a silent night. And although the snow and ice do make Palmer what some might consider “Christmas-like,” this has nothing to do with carols. 

Yesterday was a very hectic day around station with the LMG coming in from Chile with 15 new people and tons of cargo to offload during the day so that she would be ready to go out on a fishing cruise today. But as hectic and noisy as the day was, for 50 minutes, the gym was silent.  It was the Palmer Station Ride of Silence.

The Ride of Silence is a world-wide event. In all 50 states in the US, in at least 12 foreign countries, and on at least five continents including Antarctica, cyclists rode slowly and silently, side by side, on group rides intended to honor the memories of cyclists killed or injured by being stuck by motor vehicles, to remind motorists that cyclists are there on the roads with them, and to remind motorists that cyclists have the legal right to be there.

Last night’s rides began starting at 7 PM on the east coast, with rides in other parts of the country and world leaving thereafter at 7 PM their own local times.  Right now, Palmer is on the same time as the east coast so we were part of that initial wave of the ride. 

Back home in Birmingham, the ride left from Homewood one hour after we started here.  The Birmingham ride is organized by Patrick Ferkany who was inspired by the original ride in his former home of Dallas, Texas.

Chris Phelan organized the first Ride of Silence in 2003 to honor his friend, Larry Schwartz, who was killed by a school bus. Although originally intended as a one-time-only event, the thousand plus riders who participated in that first ride carried the momentum of event forward and the idea caught fire around the globe.

Patrick was inspired by the first two years of rides that friends in Dallas had told him about and organized a Ride of Silence in Birmingham in 2005. Maggie and I were proud to be two of the hundreds of cyclists on the 2005 and 2006 Birmingham rides.  Being here this year meant that we couldn’t participate back home, so Maggie came up with the idea to have our own ride here.

At first we thought that we would just do the ride ourselves but knowing that there are other dedicated cyclists on station, decided to open it up to all. Maggie contacted Chris Phelan to see if it would be OK for us to register our ride as an official part of the Ride of Silence even though we could only participate using two stationary exercise bikes.  Not surprisingly I suppose, Chris was enthusiastic about our participation.

Palmer has two stationary bikes, one spin bike and one LifeCycle.  Just as riders at most of the other official rides would ride side by side, so would we. Just like the other rides where no one is to go faster than 12 miles per hour, we would pedal slowly.  The ride is not a race, it is a memorial.  Just like riders at the other sites, we would wear black arm bands to honor the dead and those who had themselves been injured by a car while cycling would wear a red band too. Maggie knit the bands for all of us to wear.

At 7 PM sharp, the gym went silent and Maggie and I started pedaling.  We rode for 10 minutes and then got off the bikes so that the next pair could ride. Nine of us participated with one of us, Shawn, the station physician, taking two turns so that everyone would have a partner during their 10 minutes. 

Before and after we had our turns on the bikes, we all stayed in the gym silently stretching, walking or slowly running on the treadmills, slowly working on the elliptical trainer, and simply reflecting on the event and moment. The book I am reading now is a biography of Roberto Clemente that my sister gave me for Christmas. I brought that and read a couple paragraphs since it seemed to me that remembering that sports legend who perished so tragically was in the spirit of the event too.

The Ride of Silence is a powerful event to participate in whether it be in Birmingham or Antarctica.  Before long, I will be back on the Birmingham roads. But I’ll think fondly of last night’s silent ride.  We went nowhere yet we were part of an event that circled the globe.  Even down here near the bottom.