The big joke is that Napa cyclist Rebecca Kotch is so busy coordinating cycling events through Ride Napa Valley that she no longer has time to ride.

Kotch started Ride Napa Valley seven years ago, initially as a way to show people the different rides in the Napa Valley. Today, she produces six different events, including two that are happening this month, Cycle4Sight & Rotary Ride for Veterans (Saturday, April 20) and the three-day CampoVelo (Friday, April 26-Sunday, April 28.)

Kotch has been a cyclist for the past 20 years and she raced bikes when she lived in Los Angeles. During a recent interview, she said racing a bike is “incredible.”

“You know what I loved about it? It is a team effort,” she said. “I think that’s why I like the sport of cycling, because it transcends who you are. It doesn’t matter who you are, banker, doctor, lawyer, painter, artist, you could be from any walk of life.” On a bike, all come together, there’s a “unifying element” of being on a bike. “I call it free therapy,” Kotch said.

On Saturday, April 20, the Rotary Club of Napa presents the 12th annual Cycle4Sight, a benefit event that raises money for two groups: First, the Enchanted Hills Camp for The Blind & Visually Impaired, which is on Mount Veeder and second, for Rotary charities that emphasize care, treatment and continued education for returning veterans.

$2 million raised

Since the first day, the event has raised money for The Pathway Home, based at the California Veterans Home in Yountville. But since it no longer exists, Kotch said the monies this year will go to a Martinez program, called the Post Deployment Assessment and Treatment (PDAT) program. In the 12 years of the event, the Rotary Club of Napa has helped more than 500 veterans and their families and Cycle4Sight has raised some $2 million.

The event features three bike rides, 15, 25 and 50 miles, and what is billed as the “Bay Area’s Best Post-Ride Wine Festival,” featuring tastings of wines from some 20 Napa Valley producers, a silent auction and raffle, and live music, featuring a Bay Area band, Pride & Joy. Food from eight to 10 vendors will be for sale.

Tickets for the bike ride include entrance into the festival; festival-only tickets also are available. For details, or to sign up, visit Cycle4Sight.com.

Every year, the ride has started and ended at Justin-Siena High School in Napa. This year, because of school construction, the event will be held on the baseball field.

“The Rotary Club of Napa has been the force behind the event, and I’m calling out Gary Rose, the event founder, who is an incredible person and who does so much for this community,” Kotch said.

In turn, people come out and support the event. The list of business sponsors is long, including St. Joseph Health Queen of the Valley, Trinchero Family Estates, Bank of Marin and the Napa Valley Register. Many of the sponsors bring teams, ranging from five to 30 people.

“That’s why people love this event, it kind of kicks off springtime in the Napa Valley for cycling,” Kotch said.

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Kotch’s Ride Napa Valley has produced Cycle4Sight for the past two years.

1,300 riders registered

Last year, 1,600 riders were part of the event; this year, 1,300 are registered, but that number could jump with riders registering on April 20.

Kotch said 15 percent of the cyclists ride 15 miles and 30 percent do the 50-mile route, while the rest, 55 percent ride the 25-mile route.

The most powerful part of the ride is the ride up California Drive for the Memorial Mile, where 300 to 400 signs are posted on the side of the road, honoring, remembering or supporting those serving in the military, both past and current. There are so many signs, that even at a relatively slow speed, you cannot read them all.

Kotch said, “I got an email from a grandmother who said she would like to buy a sign for her grandson, who died in Afghanistan.” It’s such a physical and visual event, because of these signs, and Kotch said state Sen. Bill Dodd said: That Memorial Mile gives people a sense of place, whether you are walking it or riding it.

At the end of the Memorial Mile, there’s likely to be numerous veterans, some in their wheelchairs, waving American flags and clapping and cheering. “They’re from the Vets Home, cheering us on. It gives me goosebumps,” Kotch said.

Riders on tandems

The longest ride starts at 8 a.m., while those riding 25 miles start at 9 a.m. and the 15-mile ride starts a half-hour later. Usually everyone comes back between noon and 1:30 at the latest, Kotch said. But, she adds, “We’ve had people come back at 2 o’clock. They’re doing the longer ride and taking their time. The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

One of the beneficiaries is the Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind. The group helps out by providing some 20 volunteers at the first rest stop and they also participate, riding tandem bikes with sighted riders acting as pilots on the front and the non-sighted riders on the back. To see those riders on tandems is a “beautiful thing to see,” Kotch said.

“Last year, the last people to come in were on a tandem. They did the 50-mile route and they just took their time. We sent a SAG wagon out to make sure they were OK, and they didn’t want a car ride in, they wanted to pedal home.”

The 2017 wildfires destroyed much of the camp, but half of it has been rebuilt and it opened for summer camp last year. “They are committed to rebuilding, improving and offering camp program there,” Kotch said.

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star, The Weekly Calistogan and st