"Ride as One."
This is the quote on the back of the T-shirt they gave me for pedaling in Tim Johnson's Ride on Washington.
On Sunday, thirteen cyclists who set out from Boston completed this journey, what may be America's toughest fund-raiser bike ride.
* Dave Chiu, a Boston designer, photographer and racer who fought allergies all the way down to D.C.
* Patricia Dowd, a Bozemon, Montana racer who gave me constant encouragement the entire way.
* Sean Griffing, a budding racer who runs the Boston restaurant Trade and took many turns at the front.
* Keith Hartstein, a recently retired John Hancock investment executive turned racer who could lay down a wicked pace in the wind.
* Jed Kornbluh, a kids' cycling coach and racer from Philadelphia who fought off stomach flu to complete the ride.
* Jeremy Powers, the national champion cyclo-cross star from Connecticut whose hours-long pulls at the front helped the group break course records, and whose wheelies delighted kids from the many housing projects that this ride traversed.
* Pete Webber, the Boulder-based ride boss and 40+ World Champion cyclo-cross racer who kept us out of harm's way.
* Paul Steely White, a cycling advocate from NYC who runs Transportation Alternatives and who kept everyone in stitches.
* Kevin Wolfson, a designer from Boston bike builder Firefly Bicycles who charted the route and successfully led us the entire way with only two detours.
* Richard Fries, the Boston-area race promoter, Bikes Belong advocate, former European racer, and my mentor.
* Tim Jonson, the man behind it all.
Two other riders set out from Boston, but had to leave before Sunday's ride into D.C.: Jeff Brown and Chandler Delinks, both of whom took many turns sheltering us from the wind. They completed the first four stages and were with us in spirit as we hugged each other before the Capitol Building Sunday.
Each and every one of these cyclists, pro or amateur racer, ride and lived by this motto: "Ride as One." In large part, this is the point of the Ride on Washington.
When cyclists work together as a group, they can ride a long way and at a good pace.
The rider bible defines this simply:
"The group will strive to ride in a two-wide formation at all times. To keep the group together, the general conduct is to ride easy on climbs and at a brisk pace on descents."
According to my Garmin, we climbed 23,699 feet over five days, and averaged 17.2 mph over the first four stages. It's not easy to climb over and over, yet reserve enough energy to pedal DOWNHILL.
Keeping the pack "together" meant not racing one another up hills, but instead pushing your companions up hills. It meant riding very close (eight inches) to the wheel in front of you and trusting that the cyclists cruising at 30 mph before you wouldn't slam their brakes. It meant not swarming at stop signs. Essentially, it meant riding for the cyclists and cars around you, like a bird in a flock.
Saturday's extremely hilly stage from Philadelphia to Baltimore hurt everyone; "like getting punched in the grundle," as Delinks put it.
It especially hurt those of us who started the day with more than 300 miles in our legs (many cyclists joined us for a single stage or two). It was the enormously talented Powers who, along with Johnson, rode at the front for hours on end to lead us out of the Susquehanna River Valley.
Even a wisecrack from Delinks (there were many) was enough to break the tension of the endless focus required to ride safe.
On Sunday, Chiu pulled at the front, coughing and sneezing. His courage became ours.
As probably the pack's weakest rider, maybe it was my unwillingness to give in that inspired strength among us. Keeping "together" meant I made it to D.C., too.
On a larger level, Tim Johnson's Ride on Washington and its "Ride as One" philosophy is a statement: that a group of cyclists can ride safely in a tight two-by-two pace line, cooperate rather than compete, and get an insanely great workout at the same time.
Cars seemed to appreciate it as well. After 525 miles, only two honked at us in anger.
After completing the ride Sunday, Johnson summed it up:
"The way that we act in this ride is the way that we should be acting all of the time."
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Special mention for this ride goes to our support crew:
Daimeon Shanks, the ride director who drove the pace car with food and water and managed ride details.
Steve Lassahn, the soigneur in charge of food, lodging and every little detail that weary cyclists cannot manage on their own.
Butch Balzano who drove the SRAM mechanical car, fixed flats, aired tires, and fixed a healthy dose of Cervelo derailleur hangers.
Emma Fries, the daughter of Richard who tirelessly stayed up late, woke up early and cooked rice cakes for each stage.
Finally, among the many sponsors of the ride, two stood out. Whole Foods donated food for the entire ride. We burned an average of 6,000 calories a day, and there were rice cakes in the morning and a big hot meal waiting at the end of every ride. Also, Boloco, which provided food at the beginning and end of the ride. Boloco's Cassidy Quinn and Jenn Blazejewski drove a support van that followed us all the way down to the Capitol.