The group I'm with is up early Sunday and there are only a couple of Muddy Angels milling about the hotel lobby.„Bags and bikes are loaded into our van and, after a quick breakfast, we start making our way home.
There is light coversation as we recall the new people we've met and retell stories.„Conversation eventually dwindles as people nap, read, drive, write blog entries and search the vehicle for leftover snacks that aren't bananas or powerbars.
I spend my time thinking about the riders and support team, awesome people all. I think about the laughter, the tears, the rain, the wind, the meltdowns and route snafus, and I miss it all.
I miss my roomies Tracy and Amy.„Thinking about the past week with them brings a smile and an ache in my belly. They took me in like a lost puppy when my original roommate had to bail out. We were crammed into one room -- sometimes one bed„-- but we adapted and had the time of our lives.
I'll finish by saying to all of the Muddy Angels: Thanks for a great week. I miss you all and I wish we were still riding.„
It seems odd„to wake up without an alarm clock, but I'm not complaining.„Saturday is a "free" day for us to recover and enjoy as we see fit.„There are few intrepid souls (I'll use the term "nutjobs") who decide to run a 5k race or bike up the mountain to the star that overlooks Roanoke. Good for them, but most of us were content to spend the day by the pool or visiting the„„ downtown festival to sample the food, listen to music and peruse the hundreds of booths displaying nearly every type of craft.
Later in the day we all start preparing for the National EMS Memorial Service.„„
It's at the service that I finally catch up with the family of Patrick Graham and„present them my, or rather their, dog tags.„They seem genuinely surprised that I was riding for him as they assumed we all just rode for people we knew personally. Nope, we ride to remember them all.
Attending the service is always a little bittersweet for me. I am proud to be there to honor those who have given their all, but I hate seeing all of the new names on the tree of life -- and I'm always disappointed that so few EMS providers take the time to attend the ceremony.
This year's service was especially poignent as it's the last one that will be held in Roanoke. The speakers are polite, but it's easy to sense an undercurrent of resentment at the decision by the National EMS Memorial Service board to move the service to Colorado Springs. They've also decided to change the date of the service so it no longer takes place during EMS Week.„
The service was moving as usual.„The pipe and drums, the colors and honor guards all lend to the experience.„There are inspirational singers and gut-wrenching emotion as we watch small children walk to the stage to accept the medallion and flag that represents Mommy or Daddy's surpreme sacrifice.
There was one particular part of the service that I found disturbing and it must be remarked on.„Traditionally the family of an honoree is presented a medallion, a flag and a white rose.„As service progressed I noticed that the flags started coming out without roses. Incredible!„The National EMS Memorial Service SELECTS the honorees. They KNOW how many people are being honored and should damn well know how many roses to get.„„ An oversight of such magnitude is simply unacceptable and I consider it a slap in the face of the families that they are supposed to honor.„
There were other glitches as well and after the event many people were remarking on the quality of this year's service. As one person put it best, ˙It seemed like that in their heart, they had already left Roanoke.Ó„„ Indeed, it seemed as though they had.
After the service we mingled with families and sought out riders for last minute pictures and to make sure we got a chance to say good-bye.
I'm always amazed at how hard it is to say good-bye to everyone. In seven short days we progress from aquaintences to friends and from friends to family. So it's hard to say good-bye, but I also know from experience that many of us will stay in touch and we'll see each other again in the future.
Our final day on the road started bright and early in Staunton. We had about 95 miles to go and the group was anxious to begin our final push into Roanoke.
A warm morning gave way to a hot day but the team progressed well.„One of the things I enjoy about this final day is seeing how well many of the riders have progressed. The same people who where whining about small inclines in New York City now attack the long rolling hills with relative ease. Groups of riders worked together taking advantage of drafting and taking their turn at the front. No words needrf to be spoken at this stage, the teamwork was just automatic.
We rode throughout the day until we met up with our escorts to Roanoke.„There were several organizations that would parade in with us, but I was especially surprised (and honored) to see that the Maryland State Police would also accompany us.
We also met the Kentucky group which consisted of„two riders and„two support.„In spite of several registrants not showing up, they still had the passion to complete their ride.„It was truly an impressive accomplishment and my hat goes off to them!
With all of the bikers, support and escort personnel assembled and ready, we mounted our bikes and started towards the Hotel Roanoke.„Ambulances, police cars and a dozen other emergency vehicles were formed up fore and aft of the 130 member bike team, taking up nearly a mile of roadway.
Looking around it was easy to see that the past 600 miles had taken a toll on the team. Bikes were filthy and riders were tired, battered and bruised.„Amy, with her badly bruised legs, took a hit off of her MDI.„Kim fiddled with a knee brace and Eric, sporting 40 blue prolene sutures in his chin, smiled broadly.„None of it mattered though. Despite the pain, everyone intended to ride the final miles into Roanoke. (Spoiler Alert: They all made it!)
The parade wound its way slowly through the city and before long the distinct architecture of the Hotel Roanoke could be seen.„Lights flashed, sirens wailed and riders congratulated and cheered each other on as we made the final right turn towards the hotel.„I was towards the back of the pack and could hear the applause of those greeting us well before I could see them.
It's an emotional experience each year to ride into the hotel's circular driveway, and this year was no different.„I find it especially heartwarming that the families that we rode to support are out there giving us their supporting.„They shake our hands, give us hugs and kisses and thank us for what we have done.„This is always hard for me because I know that they are the ones who have sacrificed, not me.„
For the next hour or so we walked around trying to find the families for whom we had ridden.„We needed to give them our dog tags and thank them for allowing us to ride for their loved one. In my case, the family had not arrived yet, so I would have to wait longer for my ride to reach closure.
The evening was spent as guests of Cave Springs Volunteer Rescue Squad.„The good folks of Cave Springs have supported the ride for years and always make us feel like welcome guests.„This year is no exception and awaiting us is barbeque chicken, sweet tea and a dessert table that could put any bakery to shame.„We thank our gracious hosts and dig in!
Day Six. Today we woke up to another beautiful morning. It was already quite warm and from the top of Skyline Drive you could easily see for hundreds of miles.
After a quick meeting we mounted up and started climbing again.„The first several miles consisted of moderate climbs and fast downhills, culminating with an 8 mile downhill that allowed riders to reach speeds of 45 mph or more depending on how much you trusted the deer.
This was another touring day with riders spread out along the course. This is traditionally my ˙aloneÓ day, a day to think about why I'm riding.„All of the Muddy Angels wear dog tags with the names of one of the fallen. My tags have fallen out of my shirt and the sound they make reminds me of Patrick Graham, whose name is embossed on my tags.„Patrick was the pilot of a helicopter that crashed while flying a patient and I'm hopeful that his family is in Roanoke so I can present the tags and thank them for allowing Patrick to accompany me.
A dust cap on my front hub has also worked its way loose and is jingling away like a tiny bell. I consider stopping to fix it, but instead I think about Bianca. Bianca is a beautiful young lady and a talented artist who I met for the first time last year. She is also one of the daughters of Flight RN„John Stumpff, who I rode for last year.„During that time, Bianca showed me the many pictures she had drawn while dealing with the loss of her father. The pictures contain a lot of symbolism with one of the recurrent themes being four bells that represent the lives lost on her father's final flight.„So there's no need to to fix the dust cap, its jingling is a comforting reminder that I'm not riding alone at all. Not today, not ever.„
My ride was peacful and fairly uneventful until I noticed a rider by the side of the road. Thinking that she might have a flat, I stopped to check in. I was surprised to see that she was covered in hives and itching like mad. She had already made calls, so I hung around till help arrived and rode the last 12 miles with her in a SAG wagon, threating her with an EpiPen and trauma shears along the way if she got any worse. EMS people make lousy patients.
The day ended with a hearty meal provided by the Staunton Rescue squad.
Tomorrow, we„meet up with the Kentucky riders and it's on to Roanoke!
Day Five. The wind is roaring in my ears and my speedometer is reading 35 mph. Going downhill is usually fun, but all I can think about right now is how much altitude I'm losing. Up ahead a deer is running just off the road, and I'm hoping he doesn't decide to suddenly cross. I'm up to 37 mph. I pass the deer and continue to lose altitude. Altitude that will have to be made up before my day ends. Finally the road„levels and starts to ascend again. I pass an elevation sign that confirms my fear. I've lost more than 1,000 feet of elevation, and I'm now approximately 2,000 feet lower than my final destination.
We leave Woodstock at about 0830. It's a beautiful Virginia morning, and the temperature is just right for riding. After a quick downhill, we're onto some rolling hills. Some of the hills were steeper than others and over those first 25 miles. It was nice to see stronger riders helping out helping those who were struggling by placing a hand on the back and pushing them along.
Today's ride, aside from our arrival into Roanoke, has been the most eagerly awaited day of the ride.„Today is the day we take on Skyline Drive. Skyline Drive is not only the most physically demanding part of the ride but also the most mentally challenging. Starting at an elevation of 784 feet, we spend the next 42 miles climbing to more than 3,680 feet. Including the descents, the Angels, according to one GPS, will get in over 7,000 feet of climbing before the day is done.
Much of today was spent alone, as the riders were really spread out. The scenery along Skyine Drive is incredible, and as you ascend you get some gorgeous views of the Shenandoah Valley. Deer are plentiful and Mike, my EMS partner, was nearly struck by a bear bounding across the road. The real treat, once you get high enough is to be able to look DOWN and see hawks soaring over the valley below.
Eventually I met up with rider George Lindbeck. Dr. Lindbeck is the medical director for Virginia EMS and, more importantly, rides at a perfect pace for me. We spent the remainder of the afternoon discussing EMS and the difficulties of developing EMS protocols.„I was impressed that Dr. Lindbeck thinks enough about EMS and EMS providers that he came out an supported us on our trip to Roanoke.
Because of the difficulty of the ride, riders were coming in over several hours and we made sure to cheer for that everyone who was able to make it all the way as they came into the hotel area.
Later in the evening, there was an emotional ceremony to remember Greg Castillo. Greg rode with us last year for the first time. Greg fell in love with the ride and actually went to a similar ride in Ireland to represent us. He also manned many a table at various EMS conferences telling people about the Muddy Angels. Greg was a great guy and will be missed.
Day Four. This morning's weather is mild and sunny. Which is a big improvement over the first few days. Today we're heading to Washington, D.C. Due to restrictions on bikes and on some of the larger bridges, we have to board buses to get to our starting point in Capitol Heights, Maryland.
The reason we're in Capitol Heights today is to pay tribute to the crew of Maryland State Police helicopter Trooper 2, who were lost when their helicopter crashed while flying two patients from an accident scene. We were joined by a dozen new riders from the Maryland State Police Aviation Program and were escorted to the crash site by an equal number of troopers on motorcycles.
Once at the park where the crash took place, we attended a rememberance ceremony to honor the fallen crew and patient Ashley Younger. The ceremony also included Ms. Jordan Wells, who was the only survivor of the tragedy and is still recovering from her injuries.
After a flyover by another MSP helicopter, were taken deep into the woods to the actual impact point of Trooper 2, which now contains a memorial to the crew and patients. The bike team then filed by the memorial, which was fashioned from a rotor blade, in order to pay our respects. It was an intense service and there were very few people in attendance with dry eyes.
The National EMS Memorial Bike Ride is certainly a demanding physical endeavor, but for most attending these memorials is much more difficult than the steepest hill.
We then continued on to the Capitol, breaking for lunch at the Capitol Mall. The sun is shining brightly on the lawns of our nation's capital and temperatures had risen into the 60's making for a beautiful place to rest and take in some nourishment.
While here, many members of the group visited their legislators to educate them about the PSOB and the lack of death benefits for EMS personnel. Overall feedback was very positive and we hope we were able to make some kind of impression on them as they continue to work on this important bill.
The riders who didn't have appointments with their representatives continued riding after lunch, stopping in Manassass. We finally settled down for the night in Woodstock, VA where enjoyed an incredible dinner of grilled chicken, burgers and of course authentic Virginia sweet tea! The Woodstock Rescue Squad also makes the best apple butter I've ever tasted, so if you're heading to the Shenandoah any time soom, make sure you visit their station and grab some!
After dinner there was a short rememberance ceremony and we retired for the night. We need to be rested, because tomorrow we take one the most physical part of the ride, Skyline Drive!
Day Three. My alarm is ringing and I've only been asleep for five minutes or so. Or so it seems. One generally doesn't have a problem falling asleep after a hard day of riding; however some mornings come faster than others. It's 5 a.m. and this is one of those mornings.„
It's dry this morning, but chilly as we board buses to the Tinnecum Fire station where the bike are stored. Most of the group is half awake, milling about the station getting fruit and bagels, filling water bottles and pumping tires. Once on the road, the wind and activity start warming up our tired minds and sore bodies.
Today we will travel to Delaware to honor two of the State's fallen. Our first stop is in New Castle at the Wilmington Manor station to honor Michelle Newton-Smith, who was killed by a reckless driver while attending a patient involved in a motorcycle accident. There was a short remeberance ceremony afterwhich the team rode by the accident scene. The scene was marked by emergency vehicles and I'm sure I'm not the only rider who could feel the sense of loss while passing through the area.
We stopped in Odessa, where we were treated to a great lunch that included pizza and fan favorite, PB&J. Refreshed, it was on to Legislative Hall in Dover where a larger ceremony was held to honor Michelle. We were able to meet with Michelle's daughter and other family members before continuing south.
The second rememberance of the day would be in Georgetown, about 50 miles away. One of the impressive things about the trip through Delaware was that at every station and what seemed like almost every intersection, there were emergency vehicles on the side of the road and crews wishing us well. The icing on the cake was entering "The Circle" in Georgetown. We entered the circle to find the inner area full of people cheering and the perimeter ringed by ambulances from over a dozen different services. We've never seen that many people come out to support us in the past, and I want every EMS provider in Delaware to know how much it meant to the team.
But the real reason we were all there wasn't as much to honor us as to honor Stephanie L. Callaway, who was killed while attending a patient when the ambulance she was riding in swerved to miss a deer and struck a tree.
The (long) day ended with burgers and hotdogs cooked over a huge outdoor grill.
All in all, another great day on the road to Roanoke.
Day Two. My usual custom upon waking is to look out the window for a quick weather report. I don't like what I've just seen, so I close the curtains to try again. Drat! No change. The street is wet and it's still raining. The trees are blowing violently, and I'm estimating it's gusting to at least 25 mph. This isn't what one thinks of as optimal riding weather, but this is part of the reason we're called the "Muddy Angels" rather than the "Dry and Comfy Angels."
The morning safety briefing is held, and the course is opened. Unlike yesterday, most of today will be a touring format where riders are allowed to proceed to the various rest stops at their own pace. We're given turn-by-turn directions and sent on our way -- other than a little wind and rain, this day should be a cakewalk. Or not. Once again the route gremlins have reared their ugly heads, and there are some unexpected road closings. The Wingmen work hard to reroute us, but the presence of multiple route markings smeared by the rain and a communication error has riders spread across the county. The only riders who actually make it to the first rest stop are those who follow Debbie, a rocket scientist (no, really ... she actually designs rockets for NASA!) Which makes me feel a little better. Fortunately, one of the riders in the group I'm with is a local and he gives us directions to Rest Stop 2, a mere 18 miles away. The rest are picked up by the buses or sag wagons and join us at stop #2. All are safe and sound. Even George Rice who, at 6'4" and„300 lbs. suffered mild injuries after being attacked by an angry goose.„
Today, most of my riding is done with Sarah, who lives west of Toronto and is the first rider out of Canada to join the team. She tells me she became interested after hearing Steve Berry speak about the ride at a conference and hopes to help raise awareness about EMS deaths and disability in Canada. She's a great companion and a strong biker, and I thouroughly enjoyed riding with her.
In the afternoon, we find ourselves at the Second Alarmer's Rescue Service. We're here to pay our respects to Robert "Boz" Garvin, and the Second Alarmers welcome us with a huge lunch spread that included hot food and one of our favorite foods, PB&J!
There are posters and pictures and video of Boz, and it's clear to all of us that he loved the Second Alarmers and they love him. We get to meet the Bloodhound team he founded, and it's touchingly appropriate that the bloodhounds are lying in front of the monument when Boz's name is unveiled. I take the time to talk to his family, including a young son who is simultaneously grieving and displaying an inner strength that isn't seen in many kids his age.
The day isn't done yet, and soon we're being handed off to Philly Fire Chief Buttz and the Philadelphia PD. We've got to ride in parade format once again and start to get a taste of some hills. Between the services, miles logged and the hills, many riders are getting tired, hungry and, in some cases, cranky. I'm maintaining a rather good mood, however, and explain to the newer riders that it's because we're eating at the Collindale station tonight.„
I always enjoy going to Collindale because the food and the people are fantastic. Newer riders are skeptical, but when the cranky, tired, hungry riders enter the Collindale station, all doubt is removed. The people greet us like heroes rather than a ragtag group of bikers and the food ... OMG! There is so much food and it is so good, that when asked what my favorite food is, I reply "The stuff on my plate."„
One interesting point is brought up by Jennifer Frenette. She reminds us that the first year we rode, the entire team sat at one table. Tonight, we fill the entire function hall!
But all too soon we are off to out hotel. The tired group that entered Collindale is leaving full of energy and smiling ear to ear. What great pick-me-up!
The theme of today was adversity. Weather, route issues and enraged water fowl may have seemed aggravating at the time, but it is also a shared adventure that has the effect of bringing a group together.„
Yesterday we were strangers, but today we're a team!
Day One. It's early morning on May 16, and the team is moving about the hotel, assembling their gear, filling tires and making last-minute adjustments to bikes. The Wingmen are also very busy and have obviously been up quite a bit longer that the rest of us. Snacks and water have been loaded, and they are arranging luggage in the trucks. I know they were up late last night too, and I can't help but wonder if they ever get to sleep.„
We form up and immediately hit our first snags. The police have had to modify the route, and we're waiting for another unit to help escort us. We're all anxious to ride, but the group good-naturedly takes the late start in stride.
The first leg is a relatively quick jaunt to the Jacobi Station to meet up with the rest of the riders who are mostly FDNY EMS folks. For the veteran riders like myself, there are more reunions. Although I haven't seen the FDNY EMS gang for a year, we're joking and catching up like it was yesterday. The friendships formed on the ride are some of the strongest ones I've experienced in my life. But soons it's back to business: Grab some snacks and water, receive a benediction, and we're on our way.
The weather was cool with some drizzle, but there's nothing quite like getting a tour of NYC on bikes -- especially when you have NYPD escorting you and shutting down roads along the way. I'm not sure why people gripe about the traffic in the city, because we had Times Square all to ourselves!
We hopped the Staten Island Ferry over to Staten Island and continued riding to Battalion 23, which has been a regular stop for the four years I've made the trek. From there it was on to Perth Amboy. Coming into the city, I was impressed to see police officers saluting us as we rode by and had the honor of riding under a huge American flag suspended between ladder trucks. The crews had water and food out for us, which was a Godsend. My legs had started feeling a bit wobbly several miles from the station and I had to eat so I could make it in. I felt much better after eating four of the best oranges I've had in a long time.
During today's ride, I got to meet Sam from Pennsylvania and ask about the picture on his bike. Sam told me about Ryan, his best friend and best man at his wedding. Ryan fought a brave battle with cancer. The pain of the loss was still very fresh, and Sam got choked up just telling me about Ryan. Sam admitted he's not a very strong rider, but I'm certain that his heart will see him through to Roanoke just fine.
In Perth Amboy we attended a ceremony honoring the EMS, our fallen and celebrating the start of EMS Week. It was a well-attended event that included the mayor, and New Jersey's EMS director and the family of Joseph E. Murawski, who was honored both here and at the Memorial Service in Roanoke this past year.
The day ended with a 20 or so mile jaunt to the hotels in Somerset, N.J. We were then bussed to Somerset Medical Center, where we snarfed down pasta and cake that was graciously provided by Somerset and Hillsboro EMS.
All in all it was a good day, but it's also nice to get Day One„behind us and know we're on our way.
Zero Day. Riders and support people from around the U.S., Canada and Ireland have converged on New York City and Paintsville, Ky. in anticipation of the 2009 National EMS Memorial Bike Ride.
The National EMS Memorial Bike Ride honors Emergency Medical Services personnel by organizing and implementing long-distance cycling events that memorialize and celebrate the lives of those who serve everyday, those who have become sick or injured while performing their duties, and those who have died in the line of duty.
As we all know, 2008 was a particularly tragic year for EMS, and this year's ride has attracted more than 130 people eager to make the pilgrimage to Roanoke, Va. to attend the National EMS Memorial Service.„
Zero Day is a day of organizing. The riders and support personnel register and receive their bike jersey or Wingman shirt. Orientation sessions are held to brief the riders on where we'll be riding, whether we'll be escorted or touring, and, of course, safety, safety, safety!
The Wingmen, as the men and women of the support team are called, also attend briefings to outline the week of hard work ahead of them as well as load supplies, register new arrivals, prepare vehicles and iron out all of those last minute "challenges" that tend to pop up during and event like this. The riders may get all of the attention, but make no mistake: The Wingmen work twice as hard as the riders and are the heart and soul of the ride. We love 'em, because without our wingmen the ride doesn't exist.
But the best part of Zero Day is reconnecting with the friends made on past rides. Walking into the hotel, I pass Blackburg's R2 so D.J. can't be far. Shane's here sporting his huge Tennessee grin. There's a hug from Tracy, just in from Arizona, and some reminiscing with Mark and Susan from Austin, Texas.„
There are new friends as well, each of them with a story, a reason why they're here. They're full of energy and enthusiasm and I can already tell it's going to be an incredible week.
Doug Martinis the webmaster for theNational EMS Memorial Bike Ride.