Brenda Blond is a 54-year-old grandmother of two, an oncology nurse, and an avid cyclist. This summer, the Stow resident has been training for the longest ride of her life, next month’s Berkshires to Boston Bicycle Tour, a four-day, 240-mile trip across Massachusetts.
As a teenager, biking was Blond’s primary mode of transportation and recreation. She often went out for 30- to 50-mile rides for a simple reason: “I liked the way my feet did the pedaling and the rest of me got to go for a ride,” she said. “Cycling is a great way to enjoy the scenery, get fit, meet new people, and feel great.”
Although she is an experienced rider, Blond is quick to point out that she’s not a hard-core racer: “I’m too chicken to do that,” she said.
She’s also not a daredevil: “I get nervous sometimes on the roads, especially if they don’t have shoulders,” she said. Blond also does not ride terribly fast, though in a recent women-only ride, she said, she finished “at the top of the heap in my group.”
While Blond has been riding for years, at first she was not sure she could handle the Berkshires to Boston route. “If you look at the topography map, it looks just like an EKG reading, with lots of ups and downs,” she said.
To get a few extra miles under her belt before embarking on the Sept. 18-22 event, Blond decided to sign up for the Trek Across Maine, a three-day, 180-mile ride in June that raised money for the American Lung Association.
“I wasn’t sure I was fit enough to do this, but I was,” she said. “I realized the effort was more mental than physical, and I felt fabulous when I finished. I took it slow and steady, and felt really proud that I could do this.”
The town of Stow is known for its hilly, undulating roads. When Blond began her training regimen in the spring, those hills were a challenge.
“When I first started riding up a long hill, I’d pull over onto a driveway, pedal slowly, rest and recover, and then get back onto the road and tackle the hill,” she said. “It’s a great trick I learned so you don’t have to get off of your bike and humiliate yourself.”
Blond feels that there’s an important connection between her two passions: caring for patients with cancer, and riding her bike. “It might seem like they have nothing to do with each other, but that’s not true,” she said.
“They’re both about a long journey, about the effort to get from one place to another. To do this, you have to break the trip down into little pieces. For the oncology patient, it’s about survival, getting from one day to the next. For the athlete, it’s about finishing. Some rides I feel awful and then my mind will take me to a better place. It’s my body listening to my brain.”
Blond realizes that many people think about the field of oncology and shudder. “They assume it’s depressing,” she said. “But I’ve never found my work depressing. I feel passionate about it; I’ve always felt that way. I knew during nursing school that when I was with an oncology patient that I was my best nurse. I’ve met amazing and resilient people who were randomly picked to endure a dreaded disease. I’ve learned so much from my patients, and I just try to give back. These people have put their mark on me.”
Biking has also put its mark on Blond.
“It makes me feel balanced, even when I’m not riding,” she said. “It’s almost yoga-like. You are focusing and you put yourself through a good workout that releases endorphins. It’s a great cleansing experience.’’
“Biking also makes me feel confident, and helps me stay positive and focused and feel like I can maintain my fitness as I age,’’ she said. “It has helped me get through some tough times.”
For people who are thinking about getting started with biking, Blond has this advice: “Just get out there and try it,” she said.
“Borrow a bike or buy something you can afford. I know it can seem intimidating with all of those people in their Lycra, but it’s actually a very friendly sport. The conditioning will happen pretty quickly just as long as you ride with your own expectations, and not someone else’s. Your body will respond in a positive way.”
For Blond, riding a bike is a perfect way to feel grounded and alive.
“When you’re on your bike, it’s like magic.”
Jonathan Simmons is the author of “Here For The Ride: A Tale of Obsession on Two Wheels.”