Members of the First Presbyterian Church of St. Helena spent part of Sept. 18 preparing a meal of lasagna, salad and dessert for a special group of bike riders.
Twenty cyclists started a six-day fundraising ride at Westminster Woods in Occidental that morning and rode 64.1 miles, climbing 3,374 feet before arriving in St. Helena about 3 p.m. The Fourth Annual “Pedal for Protein,” Northern California ride, started and ended at Westminster Woods with some 30 riders joining the fundraising ride on Sept. 22-23.
“What we’re doing this week is a six-day bike ride to raise funds and we donate every dollar raised to food banks up and down the coast, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border,” said Patty Sanders, hunger action advocate and ride director for The Hunger Task Force of the Presbytery of the Redwoods. In the ride’s first three years, the amount raised has been just under $100,000, Sanders said.
“Our rider registration fee pays for all our overhead and we stay in churches like this. They feed us and take care of us and it doesn’t cost us anything,” she said.
On the first day, the group took the Franz Valley School Road cutoff and Sanders said it was a beautiful road, although she added there was some climbing. “I’ve never ridden that road before,” she added.
“We got in a little before 3. We stopped at a couple of different ice cream shops and supported the local economy,” Sanders added, “It was a little treat for us.”
Sanders said the oldest six-day rider is 78, the youngest is 32, but most are between 60 and 69. She added six of the riders are between 70 and 79 and said the first day she rode with the 78-year-old cyclist. “She rode 32 miles today and took a SAG (vehicle ride) for the second half, which is pretty awesome. I rode with her,” Sanders said.
Two couple are riding tandems, including Bill and Nancy Morgan. Bill is the routemaster for the ride, who designs the routes to be safe, to get the riders on bike trails whenever he can and keeps them on roads where less traffic is expected than normal.
Depending on the route for the last two days, the cyclists rode some 260 to 290 miles and climbed between 13,300 feet to 14,175 feet in the six days.
Sanders said she had been training for the ride with a friend and was riding three times a week, between 30 and 40 miles each ride and had done some 50-mile rides as well. The first day, though, at 64 miles was challenging, because of the hill on Franz Valley School Road.
Bill Morgan has ridden and mapped the route for the fundraising ride all four years. “They give me the beginning and where we need to go,” he said. “The deal is we need to spend each night at a Presbyterian church. I have the starting and ending point of the days and it’s my job to fill the in-between,” he said.
The Morgans, both in their mid-60s, have ridden bikes for all the time they’ve been married, including a 9,000-mile bike ride throughout the United States in 1980. After that, though, they took off 20 years to raise kids before climbing back onto their tandem bike. Nancy said it’s nice riding on a tandem, because they start and end the ride together, see the same things and talk together during the ride.
“For a couple, a tandem’s a nice way to go,” Bill said.
Looking over the six-day route, including going from St. Helena to Vallejo on the second day, Bill said there were not a lot of hills in the six days this year. “I think our biggest fear was heat and we got lucky with the weather,” he said. “Today was a beautiful day and it sounds like this week is going to be good.”
After arriving in St. Helena in the afternoon, half of the cyclists stayed in local motels, while the other half stayed as guests of the people in the church. “The first couple of years, we did sleep in churches,” Bill said, “But it wasn’t a lot of fun. Somebody would be a loud snorer and we’d be in the fellowship hall sleeping on the floor and you’d go, ‘I don’t need to do that again.’”
Nancy added the home stays as guests are wonderful, because of the hospitality, and meeting new people.
Pastor Jonathan Eastman, who welcomed the group to his church, said he especially wanted to thank Eric Chesky and Stephanie Iacobacci at Health Spa Napa Valley. “They were really gracious in opening up the spa to several of the riders, who were able to shower, use the facilities, just relax and enjoy it,” Eastman said. “We appreciate it.”
Bill said he likes riding with a group, although it’s a bit of a struggle to keep 20 people together, all going to the same place. “It’s always a good thing when they show up at the end of the day,” he said.
The reward after the ride is when the organizers take checks to local food banks. “We took a $9,500 check to the Redwood Empire Food Bank last year,” Bill said. Overall, the group raised $40,000 in 2016 and checks were written to different food banks all over the North Bay. This year’s goal was $45,000. “I think we’re going to do that,” Bill said, “It’s pretty easy to raise money for the food pantries. They are visible and everyone is aware of the need.”