I like to think that I’m a good story teller. In person, I mean. I like to tell a good story. I like to make people laugh and, well, I like to talk. Somehow though, when it comes to relating a great experience through writing, I seem to fall short 9 times out of 10. I’m going to give it one more try to see if I can get my percentages up a bit. When the story is done being told, I do hope I’ve communicated the magic of the day, but if I haven’t, you’re just going to have to join us next year to see it for yourself.
Here goes. As most of you know, Nick and I rode last Friday in the Ride for Missing Children. It’s a 100 mile ride that winds around the Rochester area – it’s a charity ride, not a race so the pace isn’t too crazy and everyone rides together. I thought I understood what that meant (and frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to riding in a huge group, but I get it now and we’ll get to that eventually), we all stick together, and ride around, right? Well, yes. What I didn’t understand was what 277 riders, all wearing pink and blue jerseys and lead by a police escort really looked like.
The day started early, we all gathered at some big sports place in East Rochester – there were bagels and other goodies to stock up on. They had guest speakers during the opening ceremony, one was a young girl; a survivor of sexual abuse. Her speech was moving and brave. She ended it by thanking everyone there for riding, for giving her and all the other kids like her a voice. It wasn’t yet 8am and I was already fighting back tears. I knew then that it was going to be a long day, but not because of the 100 miles.
We started off at the head of the group, close behind the police escort. It was a beautiful morning and I was psyched to spend the whole day with Nick by my side. We ride well together and no matter what, we always have fun. I hadn’t really thought about the logistics of it all, but not only were there police officers at the lead of the procession, they were everywhere, blocking off intersections, holding cars at side streets, and keeping the flow of traffic at bay so we never had to stop (I’m sorry if you were one of the drivers waylaid by our procession, but I’m sure it was a sight to behold). I was told by one of the shepherds that it takes a full 7 minutes for the whole group to stop – from the head of the line to the back – 7 minutes. The best part though about the escort were the policemen on motorcycles. They were zipping by the column of riders all day, like they were taking turns racing to the front. It was like we were all in a video game and the motorcycles were asteroids or spaceships rushing past.
It was amazing too how many people were out to cheer us on. There were people standing on the sidewalks with signs, people cheering from their porches and front doors, people who stepped away from their desk at work to clap and give their own encouragement. We made stops every 20 or so miles to get off the bikes and get some food to refuel. Most of those stops were at schools. They had music blaring at each one (somehow every single one played that song “Geronimo” – now I know why Gabriel likes it so much, it’s a grade school staple) and some had organized cheers to perform, or songs to sing.
After one of these stops we ended up closer to the end of the pack. When we got out onto more open roads, we could see all the way up to the police motorcycles in front. It was a huge sea of pink. I can’t imagine the planning and organizing that must have gone into it all and though I was dubious of everyone riding in a pack at the beginning, I totally get why it’s done that way. 277 people on bikes is something to behold, and not easily forgotten.
The best part by far were the school loops we rode through. It was our first year, so I had no idea what to expect but I was blown away when we went through the first school. Kids and teachers were outside lined up on the sidewalk. They were cheering, and holding up signs that said things like “We believe in you” and “keep going, you can do it!” some even chanted “go riders go!” It’s hard to describe, but being there was remarkable and overwhelming. Each kid’s face reminded me of Gabriel and Sebastian and with every school, tears came fresh to my eyes. With all those kids, how many of them were victims of violence themselves? Certainly they were there too, cheering like all their friends; putting on a brave face for 277 strangers.
Nick and I will do everything we can to protect our boys growing up. It’s our job, and it’s the most important one we have. But what about all the other kids out there who don’t have someone looking out for them? I thought about those kids too when riding through those schools. Maybe it sounds idealistic and naïve, but I hope when they saw the army of pink riders come through that they felt, even for just a moment that they weren’t alone, that there are adults out there who care, who can be trusted and who want to help.
I could go on and on about our day – the silent ride through White Haven Memorial Park with soldiers standing at attention in dress uniforms, the high fives from the kids at each school, the Oreos at the snack stations. We ended the day with nearly 8hrs spent in the saddle. In 100 miles we passed through 9 schools, saw hundreds of kids, had 6 different law enforcement agencies helping out; I ate 2 chia donuts, 3 granola bars, 4 Oreos, a chickpea salad sandwich and drank 4 liters of phytosport hydrate. To say the day was epic would be an understatement but the accomplishment we felt when we were done was nothing compared to the knowledge that the money we raised will go into protecting the kids we met along the way. I can’t wait for next year! Who’s with me?