Ride To Remember 2018 - A View From The Road
Gotta prove it every day.
It was going to be easy. After all, having done a 4200-mile trek and another Ride to Remember with four riders crossing the Sierra Nevada range, 180 miles of flat, urban East Coast terrain would be, in the words of Jackie Gleason, ‘a mere bag of shells’ (meaning, negligible). However, things are seldom what they seem, and we would not be denied the ‘gift’ after all. We call it a gift because that’s what willing sacrifice can be. The bottom line is the Gold Star families we sought to honor have faced much tougher times than any hardship which could ever show up on a bicycle ride shared by great friends.
Great friends, indeed. Great people. Six riders. Matt Corry, co-founder of The Team Jesse Foundation is a stalwart emotional leader. Kevin ‘Kid’ Collins was CRMIC (Chief Route Master in Charge) and has the distinction of having mapped the route for every Team Jesse-related ride. Mark Larson’s day job as Chief Deputy Prosecutor gave us a sense of being grounded yet somehow managed to be the one to keep things light and in perspective about what we were doing. Chris Taylor was essentially Superman, a personal inspiration to me with the way he conducted himself and went the extra mile for his teammates. It’s just who he is. Kevin ‘Sarge’ Mincio, our fearless leader, lived up to his reputation of being one of the most driven people one has ever met. The team was rounded out by yours truly, and it was humbling to be amongst them once again. Six riders….six lives…six bikes…twelve tires.
Looking back, I find a crisp silver lining where our team was concerned: we would once again have Karen and Ron Mincio, Kevin’s parents, running our support vehicle. I can’t remember calling them ‘Karen and Ron’ for ages, if ever. “Mama Bear and Papa Bear” are the names I’d given them back in 2011, and it has stuck. They’ve treated me as one of their own for as long as I’ve known them, and there’s a strength about both of them that one can’t help but feel. They’re as committed as the day is long (and there were some loooooong days, let me tell you) and something about their compassion and understanding always makes me grateful to be alive and even more so to know them.
However, even with their formidable presence…it’s been said, in sports and in life, that momentum is the great equalizer. With it, nearly anything can be accomplished. Without it, even the simplest of tasks can be elusive. I can think of six people who would wholeheartedly agree with this train of thought.
The Moyer Foundation had graciously thrown a sendoff celebration for us at The Irish Pub on Walnut Street in the City of Brotherly Love. It was great to get caught up with CEO Mary FitzGerald and hear about the evolution of the organization and some upcoming transitions. We felt a sincere appreciation for what we were setting out to do, and almost everyone showed some compassion for us; you see, there was going to be “some weather”. It was all over the news and it was raining cats and dogs on the way to the event. I remember scoffing (on the inside) at the idea that weather would be an issue. After all, I’d ridden through huge storms as well as a hurricane and even an earthquake. “Know what we’ll do if it rains?”, I boastfully asked of no one in particular. “We’ll get wet.” This was a mantra that Kevin and I employed while training for The Ride back in 2011. It was a clever way of ‘embracing the suck’ and taking ownership of the things we could control and shrugging at those we couldn’t. It worked then. Somehow, it worked. Then.
There was a distinct energy in the Philadelphia lobby. All of us were relatively silent, tending to tires and checking layers. It was surreal at the same time, as Papa Bear was packing and re-packing the car, being his usual selfless self. Mama Bear was checking and re-checking maps and doing all she could to help us get ready. I couldn’t WAIT to get started. I was bouncing off the walls, and I cherished the energy I was feeling, as I knew (assumed) it would help me out on the course for the next three days. When at last we were ready to pedal out, I was relieved. We rode roughly a mile to the official departure site at Independence Hall where we met up with some VIP supporters who showed up on that rainy morning at 8am to see us off. Mary and her son was there, as well as my parents, who happen to live in Philadelphia and are supporters of Team Jesse and huge fans of Kevin Mincio. Also, a special appearance was made by Coach Michael Groh of the Philadelphia Eagles. Known for giving inspirational one-liners from decades of coaching football, he didn’t disappoint. ‘Keep your head up’, he said just before we left. Hugs were given, well-wishes made, and at last, we pedaled away. We were finally OFF!
And…we literally got 10 feet before the first tire was blown out. Not kidding. Kind of anti-climactic, right? The first half of day one was peppered with flat tires, punctuated by driving rain, and whipping wind and to make matters worse, we had a few unexpected re-routes due to a bridge closure. It was impossible to get any momentum and we literally spent more time standing around fixing tires than we did pedaling. I wrecked my bike because it turned out I’d lost a screw in my cleat, and it wouldn’t unclip. Once it was freed, I couldn’t clip it back in, so the first 30 miles were spent without being able to clip back into the pedal. This would be a theme for the day, and during all of these trials and tribulations, I also began to freeze. The cold was settling into my bones and my teammates were getting worried about me. I was proud to feel that I’d packed very smart – layered the right way with a light jacket and ready for the anticipated 70+ degree weather. Only problem was that the weather unexpectedly dropped to 54 degrees. It would take me until about 7PM to stop shivering, and that was around 3 hours after being off the course. Even the hot shower didn’t help. It was a tough one, and it was an unexpected gift. Looking back, I’m proud to have endured the ‘tough stuff’ in honor of Air Force SGT Peter Taub and his family.
We knew that our leg from North East, MD to Baltimore would be the most physically challenging of any day on the 2018 R2R. It was only about 66 miles, but we were looking at about 4200 feet of climb. It was tough but beautiful. On that Monday, the most inspirational aspect was watching Matt Corry attack the hills. Matt is a great athlete but also the newest to road cycling. There was simply no quit in him, though, and it was rewarding to watch him succeed. We stopped in Havre de Grace to see the Gold Star Family Memorial there. It’s beautiful and served to add perspective to our real mission. Day Two’s honoree was Army SGT Eric Houck, from Baltimore. It felt real, it felt raw. The course was beautiful, though, and we had a great time together despite another handful of flat tires. When we got to our destination that day, childhood memories flooded back. The Inner Harbor in Baltimore was always a destination to enjoy when I was growing up. We had a great dinner with extended friends and family, including Paul Dobbyn, a Wimmer Solutions lacrosse fixture and lifelong friend. Also, our already world-class SAG team improved. We were joined by the one and only Eileen Tang that evening, who made the trip down from Connecticut to lend a hand to Mama Bear and Papa Bear in the vehicle. Although she’s Kevin’s big sister (and Mama Bear/Papa Bear’s daughter), she was dubbed ‘Baby Bear’ for this particular segment of the Team Jesse Foundation’s journey. She’s not new to the organization, though. From the humble beginnings of TJF, Eileen has been the head of the finance end of the organization, which she serves with integrity, creativity and a steadfast approach. She seeks no credit but is undoubtedly owed a lot for the position we’re in today. As a SAG operator, she would become a fitting combination of her parents: maps on the mind like her mother, removing any possible obstacle for riders during our rare breaks, including navigating the SAG vehicle around a very long freight train and finding bike stores to once again replenish the diminishing inner tube supply.
We got off to an early start. It was 9/11 and there wasn’t going to be anything to stop us from our goal. As we left, we had a great view of Camden Yard, and it was again very surreal for me. At mile one we had our first flat tire. Had our second one at mile 1.2. Yes, that quickly; another at mile 4. It was becoming a theme. Like Day One, we couldn’t get any momentum. On top of that, the team seemed on edge. It felt fragile and it didn’t help to be threatened by a woman who told us she was hoping to hit us with her car later in the course. Not kidding. Apparently, she didn’t take kindly to Papa Bear’s ‘blocking’ technique at a traffic light which served to provide safe passage to us as we made a turn. Papa Bear’s maneuver cost her about five seconds, so she found it necessary, with her music blaring, to threaten Chris Taylor and Kevin Mincio. It was ugly and so was her behavior. A disgrace, in my opinion on 9/11, as we were pedaling to honor Gold Star families with Old Glory proudly themed on our jerseys. But…in the end….once again, it brought us together. The middle section of the course was silent and committed. We stopped rarely, but Baby Bear must have asked me if she could refill my water six times during every stop! (thanks, Eileen!)
We had deadlines to keep, and when I think back on it, the feeling was a combination of resilience and determination. Getting into DC was rewarding, and with heavy hearts and humbled spirits, we approached Arlington National Cemetery. We’d made it. If you’ve never been to Arlington National Cemetery, it might be difficult to understand the humbling, sobering feeling that overcomes you. I was proud to have arrived, and secretly happy to be one of only two people to do the entire ride without a single flat tire. I’d managed to avoid being the one to shamefully turn the bike over and put a new tire on it. We only had one more stop on the 2018 R2R: The Pentagon, about a mile away. As we pedaled out of ANC, dialed in for our last stop…of course…one last gift. Flat tire. Yes. The Sarge and I literally fixed the flat inside the gates of Arlington National Cemetery.
The Pentagon was just as humbling as the ANC, an emotion shared by everyone we saw there. It really sinks in to remember the events of 9/11 while at the scene, and for me the gravity came with knowing that so many of the decisions made since that infamous day were made in the building. For some reason, Day Three’s honoree was particularly vivid. It felt like I knew him (I didn’t) and he stuck with me. It might have been his picture, his smiling face brightened by his son, who was sitting on his lap. His name was Army CPT Brian “Bubba” Bunting, and my heart hurt for him in a deeper way than I can explain.
Like many things, though, there’s not an explanation. There’s nothing but a feeling, and there’s no action except to keep The Promise. To honor, to never forget. We kept the promise. And so, we ride.
For the Families of the Fallen…To the Limit.
Care Creates Community!