Honoring Our Vets
By Mike Anderson
The 2013 T.E.A.M. Sports Face of America ride featured 100 disabled veterans alongside 400 other riders.
The ride challenges disabled and able-body riders alike over a hilly 110-mile course from the Pentagon to Gettysburg. As such, it is not a race, but an event for building companionship and cooperation over shared obstacles.
There was a broad mix of riding talent, from competitive able-body and disabled riders to many, both able-body and disabled whose only ride this year might have been the FoA.
The ride was very well organized, with plenty of support vehicles, marshals riding along with us, and rest stops every 15-20 miles.
Riders on hand bikes and recumbent bikes often have a difficult time generating torque going up hills; many had poles attached to the backs of the bikes, so other riders could push the bar with one hand to assist on the hills.
Over the two-day ride, I rode alongside about 15-20 of the disabled vets. Very few talked about the cause of their injuries, but most joked about them. Plenty of â€œgive me a handâ€ type comments. Between those visits, there were also some opportunities to span between groups and do a few fast miles along Maryland and Pennsylvania country roads.
Â Day One
We began in the Pentagon parking lot at 7:30 on Saturday morning, April 27th.
After cracking the frame on my Gunnar Roadie 10 days before the ride, I set out on my Bike Friday.
We did a quick lap of the Marine Corps Memorial, and crossed the Key Bridge into Georgetown before heading north into Maryland.
Our first rest stop was at Avenal, Maryland next to the site of the Congressional Golf Tournament. Plenty of volunteers turned out to provide snacks and encouragement.
The disabled vets were pretty easy to identify by their bikes. During the second leg, I rode with David, a Navy vet from Pensacola. His wife was also along on the ride.
Dave was paralyzed below the waist and rode a very streamlined hand bike (ie, very low torque for his arms) with no assist bars. It was amazing that he was able to climb the hills with such little torque.
After stopping to help another rider fix her flat tire, I rode the final few miles of the leg into the rest stop alongside a vet named Duane, who lost both legs below the knees and was riding an upright road bike. He was a former competitive rider from Phoenix who still rides around 15,000 miles per year. (Thatâ€™s a ton of miles â€¦ an average of over two hours a day for an entire year.)
On the third leg, on the way to lunch, I rode along with Mike from San Antonio. Mike lost a leg in Iraq and was on a hand-bike. I got to work on my one-handed push technique with Mike on a few of the hills on Saturday.
I ate lunch with Lon Dolber, one of the organizers and major supporters for T.E.A.M. Sports. In addition to the annual bike rides and a Sea-to-Sea ride from California to Norfolk, T.E.A.M. Sports has sponsored activities around the world: climbing Mt. Victoria in Africa, bike rides in Vietnam, and others. Their events are not just targeted to veterans or the disabled community.
I think that is one of the great things about this ride that I hadnâ€™t really considered. Instead of an event focused on some group or other group, this ride and the T.E.A.M. Sports challenges are about cooperation and common effort, breaking down the physical barriers that divide us into groups every day.
As we were about to depart after lunch, I had to make a last-minute repair to my bike. The organizers were about to throw me into the Sag wagon, but I got my bike working and set off.
My reward was no pace car and speed limit; I got to ride along as fast as I could until I caught back up to the group.
Once I caught up, I rode with a blind vet and his guide on their tandem bike. The guide was familiar with Bike Friday, and they were both strong riders, so we rode along at a 20+ mph pace for a few miles as we chatted. There was at least one other blind rider as well but I never did catch up with him/her.
Â Day Two
After resting overnight in Frederick, Maryland, we re-assembled early on Sunday morning.
I made it to the meet up point an hour early, at 6:00 a.m. seeking an emergency repair on my bike. My rear shifter cable seized, leaving me with three only gears on Saturday.
Larry Black, a rock-star mechanic and owner of Mt. Airy Bikes [Bike Friday’s Dealer in the DC area], was one of the volunteer mechanics supporting the FoA ride.
Working in a makeshift loading dock workshop, Larry fashioned a dental pick from a sharpened spoke and was able to free the snagged cable inside my shifter. He rehung the cable and tuned up the rear cassette, all while servicing countless other riders with various maladies (including the entire drivetrain on one) and got me to the start with enough time to enjoy a bearclaw and a banana.
Every rest stop was the same. Larry Black saving our butts. If you find yourself in the D.C./Landover area in need of any help with a bike, look up Larry.
After a social first leg, the second leg on Sunday is where the hills kick in.
Another rider (Scott) and I assigned ourselves to Lamar for the entire leg. We traded off assisting Lamar over the hills.
Along the way, Lamar explained a game he used to play growing up in the country: Hey cow. If you see a group of cows, and yell out â€œHey cowâ€, you get a point for every one that turns to look. I tried it out. The cow complied.
The third leg was our final leg before staging for our final mile into Gettysburg. This leg turned into the battlefield.
I joined Pickle and Sully (the other two riders from HQ AF/A9) to shepherd Mike (same guy as Saturday) through this leg.
I hadnâ€™t even realized we were in the battlefield park until we came around a turn and were surrounded by the grave markers from Pickettâ€™s charge. I remember reading about the importance of terrain and hills when I studied the battle of Gettysburg.
Riding the battlefield afforded a great appreciation of the small rolling hills. I canâ€™t imagine a more beautiful way to appreciate the battlefield than by bike.
We held up a mile outside of town so all the riders could finish together. We rode through hundreds of supporters to the finish line.
A few speeches, pictures, and awards later, we enjoyed lunch and beer.
I really enjoyed the entire ride and appreciate all of the support friends and family provided. In addition to my registration fees, I raised $600 for T.E.A.M. Sports. Hopefully Iâ€™ll be able to ride again next year and, with further support, can raise more.