Before I begin, I will start with the idea that everything seems to be coming back to:
It is fun to be part of a team because everything is more important than the individuals. On The Ride of Hope, the mission was bigger than even the team.
Saturday’s opening ceremonies were amazing. We were so lucky to have so many families of missing children whom were willing to come and take part. Jonnie Carter on behalf of Bethany Markowski, Amy Marchbanks on behalf of Sean Googin, Lisa Buske on behalf of Heidi Alen, Gary Plunket on behalf of his neice Sabrina, Pam Riley on behalf of Laquanta Reily and Mary and Doug Lyall on behalf of Susan Lyall. In addition we had our first team, along with the Sauquoit Valley class of ’99, present our first set of designated riders. Dick Jordan, one of the founders of the ride and only rider to complete all three rides to Washington, introduced us to the story of Lauren Spierer followed by a member of Sarah's class to tell the story of Sarah Ann Wood. After the emotions of finishing my first full CNY Ride on Friday, my mind was completely preoccupied when we left on the bikes, to the point that not a single thing was bothering me physically. The opening portion of the ride included a police escort from the New Hartford Rec center all the way to Oriskany Falls. Thank you to both the New York State Police and Town of New Hartford police for something that we all certainly appreciated. It was a mix matched day for our team, named by most, Team Hammer. Ryan had to leave early due to a prior engagement and DT broke a spoke and had to head to Binghamton early to avoid having to ride for a couple extra days on a bad tire. I joined on with Jim and Becky and they were kind enough to pull me along for a while. After some miscommunications, we re-grouped a couple miles outside the hotel and were able to roll in with much of the group together. For an 87 mile day, the ride was pretty uneventful, which is definitely a good thing.
Sunday’s morning meeting opened with a bang. Ahmad Rivazfar gave us all a beautiful reminder of why we were riding and really set the tone for the rest of the ride. The opening presentations were given by the teams to honor Sara Rivazfar, Elizabeth Smart, Trenton Duckett, Ivory Green, Heidi Allen Sean Googin and Tammi McCormick, our designated children of the day. Pennsylvania definitely tested the patience and endurance of all the riders. I don’t know if we rode on a well paved road the whole time we spent in that state. Add on to that, the ups and downs of the emotions and landscape and it was truly a test. It was today that the gravity of what we ride for really hit me. As we climbed what I believe was our largest hill of the trip (right before crossing the river) I kept thinking, there is a sag with us you can just pull off and catch a ride up. Then it hit me, my lungs were burning, my legs were screaming, and my back was sore, none of this mattered. We were riding for families whose pain is so much more, no one was going to have a bit of sympathy for me and my “aches and pains,” nor would I be deserving of any of it. I kicked it up a bit and fought to the top of the hill. I will take a moment to enjoy that, as I believe it was the only time I caught DT and Ryan and beat them to the top of one. We got into the Wilkes-Barre hotel, fittingly at the highest point of the city after 88 miles, a bit before the other teams and were able to talk to the media briefly as one of the reporters was in a hurry to get on to another story but wanted to be sure to cover ours. I went back out as each of the other teams came in to cheer them in. Doing this was one of my favorite things as you get to witness the accomplishment on everyone’s faces as the pull into the destination.
Ah, Monday. This was by far the most physically demanding day of the trip. Top mileage of any day, plus a tight deadline on our two school appearances. Of course, as with Sunday, the terrain didn’t cut us any breaks. From the start we had some logistical issues, the plan was to drop everyone off at a starting point outside the city limits to avoid some rough road and rush hour traffic. However, not everyone had space yet to fit all the people and bikes, which don’t work too well without both parts present I hear. The morning designation was done for Mary Opitz and Bethany Markowski and then we were off. A group of about 10 of us left a bit ahead on bikes to make room for others in the SAG vehicles. The smaller group was definitely a good idea, we had some of the worst roads we encountered the whole trip on the way down though the city. Once we met up with the rest of the group, we were on our way to our first school of the trip. Our arrival was amazing! The students of Orange St Elementary, many of whom ride their bikes to school, were all outside cheering when we got there. They brought in the band as well to play some pep music to liven things up. After slapping hands and a cheer contest (brought upon by DT and Joe, who’s surprised?) we went into the class rooms to share safety tips, bike tips, and answer some questions. Once we were done, we got our team photo in front of the school and were on our way, a bit later than anticipated but we did ok. Lucky for us, the next school had pushed back our arrival half an hour. We had to cover 20+ miles in an hour and a half to get to the next school on time. We traveled mostly as a group on our way to Danville Elementary and got to ride through almost immediately upon arrival. We broke apart into the classrooms, sharing our messages again. Afterwards the children had to continue with their regular day, we all regrouped again for the presentations of the day’s designated riders. We left the school and stopped for some Burger King, the benefit of riding so much is that even a BK hamburger tasted amazing. Once we took off again we still had about 70 miles to the hotel and the rain cloud could be seen in the distance. Once we hit the highway, with the wind at our backs, we took off. The three of us averaged about 22-23 miles per hour over a close to 30 miles stretch. It took everything I had to keep up with these guys. We were able to keep just ahead of the storm, coming close enough to feel the temps drop and then getting back ahead where it warmed up again. Somehow, we avoided it all. Other groups weren’t so lucky and did get a little wet. We got to the “end” of the day at 101 miles but didn’t see anything prohibiting us from continuing on so we did. Thanks apparently to an alternate route than what the rest of the group took, we rolled our bikes 122 miles in 11 hours and 45 minutes, into the hotel parking lot. I was part of the 2003 Whitesboro hockey state championship hockey team, this day of the ride had me on a more emotional and physical high than I’ve ever been on, including that state championship. It was simply amazing. Cleaning out the vehicle looked like a recycling center with all of our Gatorade and water bottles from the day. We got back and got a nice dinner and followed along with the Comets game only to hear them fall, forcing a game 7 we knew we’d be watching on Wednesday.
Tuesday was a great day to ride. After our morning dedication to Elizabeth Collins, Lyric Cook, and Laquanta Riley as well as a special presentation by Wendy to Tracy King, we were ready to take our time. The temperatures started a little more comfortably and we knew there were was no itinerary for our 38 mile day. It was also the first day that Ana Rivera, our awesome reporter (teamed with her camera woman Christa Calcari) got to get on the bike. She got some quick lessons around the parking lot before we took off and had the luck to ride with Team Hammer to open up. Yes, we even forced her to ride up a hill that she wanted to give up on. With no time restrictions, the groups were much bigger for this ride. We of course got a picture at the infamous guard rail crossing. One of the highlights on this leg, with hardly any convenience stores, was riding by a church and asking for bathrooms. Of course we were welcome in with open arms. Before being allowed to leave we were blessed with a heartwarming prayer. The rest of the ride in was methodical and cheery, it was nice to chat with riders I hadn’t spent time with yet. Upon getting there I made my biggest mistake of the trip. I showered up and prepared for the rest of the day. After resting for a bit, a bike trip (we’re all crazy, I’m aware) was suggested and a dozen of us rolled around Gettysburg led on tour by history buffs Jeff Hudson and Joe DeCola. I of course forgot to re-apply sun screen and in the 2 hours we were out got completely roasted. The history in the area is amazing though, I will be visiting both Gettysburg and Washington again someday, as this was my first time to either place. The family aspect could be seen growing at this small Gettysburg hotel. Many of us sat around that night in the lobby, drinking beer and sharing our stories. A true bonding experience.
Wednesday morning was our first cooler morning, a good thing too since it was another day with time restrictions. Our team presented our children, Brian Sullivan and Craig Frear, in the morning and Wendy introduced Raymi, Amaru, and Ork'o Frisancho, whose father, Augusto would be meeting us in Gaithersburg that night. She also introduced us to Gabriel and Anastasia Hunkovic, whose father was scheduled to meet us as the hotel but had an emergency which kept him from doing so. A small group left early to insure that everyone got to carry the plaque bag for their portion of the trip and it could be done on time. Once the rest of the group departed we were on our way to another school. We were assured of another hilly day, as we rolled past our first Maryland sign and up a nice steady hill. As we rolled past St Mary’s University, John Walsh Way was pointed out, dedicated to the co-founder of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It was a touching moment to say the least. We re-grouped outside of the school, did a couple loops around the parking lot then went in to talk to the students in their class rooms. After, it was our teams turn to take the plaque bag. We left a few minutes early knowing we would have a couple extra stops on the way to exchange plus the hills which weren’t looking kind based on the elevation maps. As hard as we pushed, we arrived at the next school stop just 15 minutes before we were supposed to. We waited for the rest of the groups to arrive, then rode in unison into the basketball courts where the children were all waiting, screaming at the top of their lungs. Luckily the school was able to be flexible with their scheduling due to the late arrival. Karen gave an extremely enthusiastic presentation to the entire school which even got the riders excited for the message she was giving. Once she was done, we got to mingle with the students, handing out stickers and pencils, which the students found a variety of uses for but all loved the same. Wendy and crew ordered some pizzas for us to eat before heading for the hotel, I for one was excited for some solid food. At departure we were only 7 miles from the hotel, an exciting idea for all. The welcome to the hotel at Gaithersburg was both unexpected and amazing. The entire crew from the hotel was outside to greet us, as well as a city councilman and Augusto. They had prepared an excellent buffet of hamburgs, pulled pork, salads, and most excitingly they had a huge cooler filled with CHOCOLATE MILK! After getting to meet everyone a big group went down to the train station to help record Ana’s live shot at 6. From there we went to Dogfish Head Ale House (are we seeing a theme yet), for dinner. The server was great, being a wise ass he fit right in with the group, plus once he heard our story, he wore one of our stickers on this sleeve for the rest of the night. The news crew also met us at the restaurant where we got to tell Ana’s parents how great she was (not that they didn’t already know). Upon our return, there was a group in the hotel lobby watching the Comets game on a laptop screen, I was cheered upon entering since everyone knew I had brought the TV hookup with me. All the season ticket holders on the trip, plus many more gathered in the lobby and we cheered loudly as we realized he hadn’t missed the last home hockey in the AUD. Another great night of bonding with the group, we all stayed up late knowing it would be our last night together.
Thursday morning rolled in and the weather wanted to be sure it made in impact on the whole group at least once. I was mocked for excessive layers early but after our morning dedication to Suzanne Lyall and Colin Gillis as well as Wendy’s dedication to Jackson Miller and Joanne Seaquist, most people joined me in an extra layer and rain clothing. We also got to hear a special message from Gary Plunkett about how this ride has gotten him that much closer to his niece Sabrina. We got a late start to the day again, but only due to the amazing stories being told. We hit the road with an amazing, and completely needed, escort from the Gaithersburg police. They took us out to the city limits where we were on our own again. The rain was intermittent early, eventually becoming steady as the temperatures dropped. It became eerily similar to my first CNY Ride for Missing Children just a year before. Luckily the rain never got that heavy. We hit the trailhead where we gained some tree cover which helped a bit as well. Once we got near the city, the trail changed and we missed a couple turns. In good weather this would have been fine as we got to see some different things. Luckily we had some riders who were light hearted to remind us that getting lost and being cold had no impact on our mission, which helped to keep everything in line. Eventually we arrived in the streets of Alexandria, VA and everything started to build. Every worker lined the road outside of headquarters, in the rain to cheer us in. You couldn’t help but be excited for what we had just achieved (even if we still had 15 miles to go to officially finish the ride. Once we entered, we got dry towels (who would have guessed that would be most exciting), drinks, food, and a goodie bag with NCMEC stuff in it. We also received pins with the new “forget me not” stamps on them. The group from headquarters presented to us everything that they do and are working on. A great way to celebrate the 20 year anniversary. We weren’t done yet, it was finally time for Skip to turn over the plaque to the center. Along with the plaque, there was a signed jersey for them as well as one for Ed Suk. Even without standing next to him, it felt so great to be a part of the presentation which summarized what it was all about. Once we wrapped up with some pictures, we took back to the trail to finish our journey (mainly because we didn’t have vehicles to get us back). It was a nice relaxing ride, except the gravel road, knowing that our journey was over and every single one of us played a role in it.
My favorite parts of the trip was the bonding between us all and naturally the kids. Every kid that we are in front of gives us a chance to make a difference in their life. There is nothing more important than that.
I only have two regrets from this trip, the first is not bringing all of my pins with me for Thursday’s ride into the center. While our team was dedicated to Brian and Craig, every time I pull the jersey over my head, I’m riding for each and every child that I’ve represented (and will going forward). The other was not having my jersey signed by each person in our family. It was an honor and privilege to be part of it with you. I hope we can organize a picnic this summer to ensure that we all keep in touch.
Just to wrap up a few thank you’s. First to Doc, Joe, Chip and Bob for being the driving force behind this ride. Second, to the sag drivers, we couldn’t have done it without you guys. Dave Hogan for his magical morning prayers. Also, to the Ana, Christa, and WUTR/CNY Homepage in general for helping us get our message out there. To my team, DT, Ryan, Daryl, and Ting. You guys were awesome to spend a week straight with. Finally, to anyone who doesn’t fit one of these categories, thank you. Great things like this don’t just appear out of thin air. It take a lot of time and effort by everyone involved to get them done, even if it doesn’t go perfect. This was truly more than a team, it was a family with a mission;
“To make our children safer…”
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