“Be present and embrace the suck.”
This is Andrew Simone’s personal mantra. It’s what got him through a nearly 2000-mile, 47-day bike ride from Vancouver, British Columbia to Tijuana, Mexico in 2018. And a “short loop” (500 miles) around the Olympic National Forest in Washington State in 2019. It’s what will get him through a ride he is embarking on late this spring from Florence, OR to Virginia Beach, VA.
Andrew rides in memory of his mother, Kathryn, who passed from ovarian cancer in 2017. “She was the only woman I’ve loved, truly, in my life, in that capacity where you love someone as much as you can,” he said.
These treks, which he calls “Mama’s Miles,” raise money for ovarian cancer research. His first ride down the California Coast raised more than $5000, and he’s hoping to raise $10,000 this year. “I ride for the hope of a cure, or medicine that can prolong life so that more people can have more memories of their loved ones.”
His cousin will accompany him for the first two weeks, but otherwise, Andrew rides solo. He camps along the way, carrying his tent and sleeping bag on his bike. If someone offers him a place to stay, however, he’ll happily accept. “You plan as much as you can, but it’s so free flowing. If there’s something fun to do, you go do it. That’s the point of these trips. Just open up and be ready for anything.”
This is the enduring life lesson he got from his mom. “Her heart was always open to everyone. If I brought a friend over, immediately you were her son or daughter.”
Andrew recalls going down to the basement when she died hoping to find some photographs. “She was a hoarder in the very best way possible; she kept everything that was sentimental,” he said. In addition to photos, he found love letters that his parents had written to each other. And he realized in that moment how open his mom was to love, giving it and accepting it. It’s something he is working on for himself.
“Most males are so guarded, trying to be masculine. But vulnerability isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength,” he said. “I want to be open to love, be open to whatever comes my way.”
The rides can be grueling. The first trip, part of which he did with his cousin and friend, he spent days riding in 100-degree heat. His cousin became dehydrated and they didn’t make it to their planned destination for the night, so they stopped and improvised a camping spot. “I woke up in the middle of the night hearing wolves in the distance,” Andrew recalled. “I looked up through the mesh of my tent and saw the Milky Way. It was incredible, one of the most surreal experiences. I started tearing up staring at it.”
Andrew will listen to music for maybe one or two hours a day while he rides, but finds it uncomfortable to have something in his ears for that long. Instead, he entertains himself by making weird voices and talking out loud about whatever’s going on around him. He says it’s therapeutic, because he finds himself just smiling and laughing. When asked if he feels like his mom is riding along with him, he said he doesn’t.
“I saw her pass. It wasn’t pretty at all. I saw her soul leave her body. I know she’s not around. She’s somewhere else and in a better place, but I don’t know where that is.”
Andrew describes the loss of his mother as something he’ll never get over, much like losing a limb. “Someone who lost a leg will get a prosthetic or use crutches. People with no arms will learn to write with their feet. You grow with it,” he said. “It’s hard when it comes to the heart because you don’t see it and you don’t understand it. The hole will never close.”
Living with loss is what helped form his mantra. There are always lessons in the bad. In the lowest points of your life, there is something to be learned. “When you’re riding high, you’re not always learning,” Andrew said. “It’s with the low points that you have to look around and grow from that. It’s how you make the high points in life even better.”
When he’s not riding or working doing set lighting in film and TV, Andrew likes to spend his free time with friends, appreciating the moments he has with them. “The passing of a loved one teaches you that time is so precious,” he said. “Big dreams are important, but the bonds you have with loved ones are more important than anything you can achieve in life.”
As for the big dream of an 85-day bike ride across the country? Andrew admits that some days, he wonders why he does it. Yes, he sees beautiful sights and meets interesting people. And of course, he’s raising money for a very important cause. But still. “I asked myself recently why I’m doing this,” Andrew said, “and I couldn’t answer it. But I know I need to keep doing it and the answer will reveal itself.”
Andrew is documenting his ride on Instagram @Hydrostapler. (“The name ‘Mama’s Miles’ was taken, so I put my mom’s name into a superhero name generator and Hydro Stapler came out,” he explained.)
Andrew, all of us at OCRA think you are a superhero, and we thank you!
You can donate to the Mama’s Miles fundraiser at Andrew’s OCRA Heroes page.
Want to be an OCRA Hero and raise funds for cures? Start here!