In less than a week, more than 100 local fifth-graders, parents, siblings and volunteers will be packing up and heading to Yuma, Ariz. for the 23rd annual Ride Across California.
The week-long, 280-mile ride, sponsored and hosted by the Rancho Family YMCA, starts in Yuma, crosses California’s deserts, heads through Julian and Santa Ysabel, cuts through Ramona and ends at Carlsbad State Beach, according to volunteer coordinator, Gary Rossi.
The kids and volunteers stop at campsites and schools along the way to clean up, eat and sleep.
The students, who come from schools in the Poway Unified School District, are a part of the “Bike Club” which starts training in August and continues until the ride each March. The training includes bike safety and maintenance training, rides around Miramar Lake, the “Five Cities” ride and two Escondido hill climbs of 30 miles each.
By the time riders are ready to head to the starting line, they have completed more than 300 miles in training, Rossi said.
According to a press release, the program was started by former Deer Canyon Elementary School 5th grade teacher, Dennis Bueker, in 1991 and was taken over by Rossi when Bueker retired in 2002. Rossi’s two children both did the trip and he rode along while his wife helped coordinate.
In 2001, the program was taken over by the Rancho Family YMCA when PUSD could no longer oversee it, according to Jesse Pazdernik, sports director at the Rancho YMCA. The YMCA staff as well as community volunteers help organize and facilitate the event every year, and the Rancho Family YMCA is the only branch in the region to host this sort of event.
Pazdernik, who is helping facilitate RAC for his eighth year, said the Bike Club and the ride is all about training and gaining confidence.
“The fifth graders are going into the middle school the next year, so this program gives them confidence going into the next year,” Pazdernik said. “It shows them if you can ride a bike across the state of California, there really isn’t any challenges you’re not going to be able to take on.”
Rossi also said the kids gain valuable life experience by participating.
“A lot of these kids don’t think they can do something that extensive, and with a little training and perseverance, they do it,” said Rossi.
Rossi and Pazdernik handle the luggage, food, bikes and other gear in a 20-foot Penske truck while “chase drivers” take post every two miles or so to serve water and Gatorade, fix flat tires, give encouragement and setup snack and lunch locations.
Pazdernik said some of the difficulties they’re often faced with during the ride are challenges with the route, locations from prior years no longer being able to host, no water at some places and weather.
After riders complete the trek across the state, they’re greeted at Carlsbad State Beach and receive “I’ve Been There” t-shirts, “which the kids all like to wear to school the following Monday,” said Rossi.
In June, video of the ride is available to participants and the Rancho Family YMCA and Bike Club host a reunion potluck where awards are handed out and the kids get to see each other again.
Both Rossi and Pazdernik call on the community for riders, volunteers and donations.
“If you have a fifth grader that wants to spend a week on vacation riding across our beautiful state, come join us,” said Rossi.
“The number one way [to help] is we’re always looking for money, supplies, donations for non-perishables,” said Pazdernik. “We take a lot of granola bars, power bars, Gatorade and Powerade. Every year we go to Costco and buy so much, so it’s always important to have more than enough.”
This year’s ride will be held from Sunday, March 24 to Saturday, March 30. Additional information can be obtained by contacting Jesse Pazdernik, Sports Director, at 858-484-8788.