The Team Jesse Foundation
Mission: To provide education and support for families of fallen soldiers in honor of SSG Jesse Williams


Mission: To provide education and support to families of fallen soldiers in honor of SSG Jesse Williams

Foggy Hill (Day Sixty-Six)

People often ask me about this journey, and when they do, it’s common for me to hear the question, ‘is there anything that surprised you?’ or ‘have there been things that have happened that you didn’t expect?’ It’s clear that lots of things can happen on a trip like this, but it’s actually the nature of the answer that surprises me when I hear it come out of my mouth. The truth is that I never would have expected to grow into a place where I’m eager to face unseen challenges, and on a daily basis. I’ve realized that it’s fun to go to bed not knowing what the next day’s plight will be; and, there’s always something out here that will give you the opportunity to succeed, and to work hard or make sacrifice to do so. Sometimes, we think we already know what it will be; heat, hills or headwinds are coming up, and we know it. Those times, though, these adversaries are defeated through our planning. It’s those days when something else will happen, something unexpected and beautiful, even if it initially brings a groan or some other uttering of anxiety. We dig deep, we ride on, and we succeed. It could be a day that’s course plan shows a large, steep hill; you could prepare for the hill, and defeat the hill, only to get some weather thrown in your face. It’s these types of situational juggernauts that I’ll miss when we’ve arrived in NYC. Fortunately, even when The Ride is over, there are plenty of challenges in this world!

Day Sixty-Six was the last ride day before a very busy rest stop in Charlottesville, VA. We began on the west side of the Blue Ridge portion of the Appalachians, and we knew that once we got into Charlottesville, the work would really begin. In fact, I believe that we should cease to describe these stops as ‘rest’ stops, but instead call them ‘Promotion Blitzes’. Or something of the sort. We already knew what the day’s challenge would be; and we were prepared. Beginning at mile 18 of a 70-mile course, we were presented with the steepest grades of any stretch of The Ride, at least any stretch that lasted more than a mile. This road, called Tye Ridge, was only three miles long, but we gained almost 2,000 feet in climbing it. Grades were never less than 11%, and at some points were at 19%. Much of the year, this road is closed due to its treacherous angles and curves. It was a climb that took everything to defeat. I had to take off my shades because they were fogging up just by being anywhere near my face. The turns kept coming, and they showed us a steeper and steeper path. It felt like it would never end. But…alas, it did end, and everyone finished in strong fashion. In fact, we rocked that hill. After a quick stop, we rushed through a thirty-mile stretch of forested ridgeline. It was during this part that the day’s true challenge was shown to us. A thick fog cloaked the entire forest, and was hanging well out over the edge as well. If we hadn’t seen through in rare patches, we would have no way of knowing that we were on top of a mountain. In fact, we couldn’t even see thirty feet in front of us. At times, you couldn’t even see twenty feet. This was a Saturday afternoon, and it was a State Park that we were riding through; there were plenty of cars and tourists coming through. Cars are much heavier than bikes, and due to the laws of physics, specifically those relating to ‘gross tonnage’, they will win, every single time, against the bike, if physical contact were to be made. Since we were the ones on the bikes, we were at extreme risk since there was basically zero visibility. We decided to stick closely together so that we could maximize our lights on our bikes, and still it was very dangerous and we knew it. Safety Officer Mincio called a quick conference so that we could make sure that guest riders were in sync and that we could finish safely and together. Despite the danger and the challenge (and the inherent opportunity to succeed), it was fun in an unforgettable kind of way; if it were a movie sequence, it would have been part sci-fi, part horror, part thriller and part sports drama. Sandy and Denise seemed to really enjoy this twist, as it was something unique to the ride; we’d not experienced anything like this on The Ride. In fact, I’ve never seen fog that thick, period. As we were getting through it and coming into the clear (literally), Sandy said something that made me think. ‘I just love weather!’, she exclaimed. ‘Weather?’, I thought? There are all kinds of weather; what did she mean? Then I got it. Exactly. She meant that she loved the challenge of things thrown at her, and things beyond her control. In the end, it wasn’t the giant hill that would be the day’s antagonist. It would be the fog, and the idea of getting through it safely was the protagonist to the story of Day Sixty-Six. After some non-SAG stops to check out the mountain vistas through the suddenly clear skies, we stopped about 20 miles short of town. We had been offered a police escort into Charlottesville. This time, the officers let us work for it, though! We didn’t coast into town; we gassed it hard. By all accounts, we had made great time in getting in. At some points, we were following the sirens at 40 MPH.

We rolled onto the legendary campus of University of Virginia. It’s a striking place, for sure. When we arrived, there were around ten members of the Charlottesville Fire Department waiting, and they’d put an enormous version of Old Glory atop one of their ladders. There were a few news crews there, and lots of pictures getting taken as we met with the Mayor, Mr. Dave Norris and Coach Mike London, Head Coach of the UVA Football team. What struck me about the interactions with the press is that they seemed to show a very sincere interest in our mission and, particularly, Kevin’s connection with Jesse Williams. We would later return to campus; Coach London had asked us to address the football team after an closed inter-squad scrimmage. We were very impressed with the team and the program; it’s clear that Coach London puts great emphasis on community and the responsibility his players have in working for their communities. I was given the opportunity to tell the players and coaching staff about The Team Jesse Foundation, giving an overview of our mission. Also, I provided a high-level introduction for Kevin. Kevin’s address centered around the importance of friendship and duty; then, he reminded them that freedom isn’t free and gave some examples of things that really hit home. He shared a story that I’d never heard before. The team gave us wild applause and every single member, along with the entire coaching staff came up to thank us and wish us well. Pretty sure it’s going to be hard not to be a Cavalier’s fan after this experience.

Sixty-Seven will be a rest day...or...rather…a Promotion Blitz or something of the sort. Opportunities. Some are squandered, some are lost. Some show up, and not without cost.

For Families of the Fallen....To The Limit!

Care Creates Community,

Matt Sauri