I discovered this great event a few years ago and it has become an annual tradition for me. It’s called the Face of America Ride put on by World T.E.A.M. Sports (WTS). It’s one of the WTS events that brings together adaptive and able-bodied athletes for a rather challenging bicycle and hand cycle ride from the Arlington area of Northern Virginia, past such iconic Military-centric scenery and locales as the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial, with the journey finishing with an awe-inspiring ride through the Gettysburg Battlefield. The ride gives adaptive riders, many of which have sacrificed while serving in the US Military, as well as able-bodied riders an opportunity to ride in honor and memoriam of their brothers and sisters – they were Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen, some who have made the “ultimate” sacrifice.
The ride itself is only 100 or so miles, which isn’t a lot for for any cyclist especially when you spread that out over several hours spanning two days. But, it’s not the mileage that gets you, it’s the stories, it’s the emotion, it’s witnessing feats of strength and will of character that put you in awe. It’s the whole experience. This was my third occasion taking part in the event and I have tried to get others to understand the experience; but it’s like waiting tables, it’s just something you have to try first hand to truly get an appreciation of it.
So, this blog, a departure from my previous Internet of Things (IoT) or cyber-centric blogs, is my attempt to try and help you gain that appreciation. The weekend starts off with the rider check-in and bike drop-off. First thing that strikes you as you walk into the hotel ballroom for registration is to see the recumbent and hand bikes that the adaptive riders will use. I think to myself, I can’t believe someone is going to be on that bike for upwards of 10+ hours, climbing some 5,000 feet. AND SOME WILL ONLY USE THEIR ARMS!
Early Saturday morning, the ~ 600 cyclists gather in a staging area adjacent to the Pentagon. For those who have never been to the Pentagon, it’s one of the most iconic buildings, symbolizing the strength of the United States Military. The ride begins and we pass the Pentagon, then enter Ft. Myer which is the home to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as “The Old Guard”, whose primary mission is to conduct memorial affairs to honor our fallen in ceremonies. After passing through Ft. Myer, the ride then cycles around The Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial. I was born and raised in the Washington, DC area and it wasn’t until the first time I did this ride that I saw the Iwo Jima. It definitely brought some of the riders to tears. The ride then continued over to and across the quintessential Key Bridge which leads into Georgetown.
As the ride continued, the pacing was leisurely and very conversational. We rode along the Potomac River and up into Montgomery County, MD, the terrain becoming bit more of rolling hills. I happened upon an adaptive cyclist named Moe, who made the trek up from Orlando, FL to take part in the event. First of all, he DROVE up from Orlando to ride in this event. And he wasn’t alone, EVERY one of adaptive riders I rode with, chatted with and helped get up those beastly hills that weekend traveled to Northern Virginia to participate. In addition to Orlando, folks came from Tampa, Carolinas, the Midwest and New England.
I asked if Moe wanted a hand and he said sure, so I downshifted, grabbed ahold of the “handle” strapped to the rear of his bike and we continued our ride with my slight effort helping push him along helped him get up the hill. The trikes, as they are called, have three wheels (one in the front and two in the back) and either pedals at the front or handles the adaptive athletes hold onto and crank the handles to propel the trike along, like the one in the picture below.
Every 12-17 miles, there’s a very well-supported rest stop. Volunteers are everywhere, there’s fruit and granola bars and “ants on logs” (celery filled with peanut butter topped with raisins), and of course water and Gatorade.
The weather each year has varied, but no matter hot or cold, the conditions are tough. Staying hydrated while cycling in hot weather is a challenge and when you’re on a hand bike you don’t have the luxury of reaching down and grabbing your water bottle to take a drink or douse your head to cool off. Unless, you have someone helping you. I offered my services to a few riders including Toya, an Army veteran whose feet were crushed when the Humvee she was riding in ran over an Improvised Explosive Device and flipped.
After navigating our way through upper Montgomery County and into Frederick County, Maryland, it was finally time to pull into the Office Park where our bicycles call home for the night. Then the riders, able-bodied and adaptive alike, go eat, drink, be merry, and try to rest and recover because there’s another day and another 50+ miles to go.
Sunday morning at the FoA Ride is always tough, because most riders’ legs or butts are sore. Plus, the excitement of Saturday’s start isn’t there. But what counters that lack of excitement is the beautiful countryside, both riding through downtown Frederick and then up through the rolling hills.
Not sure why I waited until now to mention the Marshalls who are veteran cyclists who are there to support, guide, help, warn, whatever needs to be done to ensure all the riders make it from Arlington, VA to Gettysburg, PA safely. There are a couple hills that the Marshalls warn the able bodied cyclists about and say find an adaptive rider you can support and help, because they’ll need it.
Some of the hills are such that they occur right after a good downhill meaning you have gravity and your forward momentum to help you to some extent up the hill. Others just appear even though you’re fully expecting them and you grab the handle of the hand bike beside you. If you’re lucky, your teammates will all stagger beside you, each one helping to push just a bit. See the action pic of ForeScout Account Dave Farling, myself and a good friend, David Stickley pushing our new friend Maria. She had a great sense of humor and kept us laughing through even the most difficult of climbs.
We had to keep going, we weren’t up the hill yet! The satisfaction when we, and when I say we, I mean all of us, those of us able-bodied on upright road bikes AND those in recumbent or hand bikes, made it to the top of the hill, we congratulated each other, but we did it together. In this case, we helped Maria, but she also helped herself. That is what the weekend is about.
You get to know people, like Mike…
or Rachel (or who I ended up calling Piggy-tails because of her hair style) who as a wounded veteran, rides as part of team Rescue 22, an organization committed to ending Veteran suicide
or Cliff and Toya, both Army Veterans, both injured in combat and both riding to support and honor their fellow veterans.
I’ve run a marathon, I’ve competed in multiple triathlons of varying distances, I’ve ridden in century rides (100 miles in one day), and although the Face of America Ride isn’t the most difficult athletic event I’ve ever done, it is by far one of, if not the most fulfilling things I’ve ever had the pleasure of participating in. I was very happy when ForeScout signed up as a sponsor this year and my hope is that we’ll be able to grow the participation next year and the year after.
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