For some of the veterans riding south from Carmel to San Simeon on Tuesday, the goal was physical, but for most, it went far beyond that.
The cyclists making their way down Highway 1 on Tuesday were part of the Ride 2 Recovery, a program that gives veterans with a variety of injuries a chance to bond, heal and, for some, take out their aggressions on the asphalt.
“I feel like it’s both emotional and physical,” said Jamie Crouse of Groveland, near Yosemite National Park. “It’s being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself, and watching these ladies and gentlemen push themselves: When they think they’ve had enough, someone comes up and puts a hand on their shoulder and encourages them.”
Crouse, for one, hadn’t gotten enough from Tuesday’s 92-mile ride: He and several other riders did laps around the San Simeon area for eight more miles so they could reach the century mark for the day. It probably helped that the weather had gotten cooler. Temperatures had been in the 90s when they started out, but the marine layer moved in and brought some relief Tuesday.
The leg that ended in San Simeon was the third in a series taking 200 veterans from Palo Alto to Los Angeles in the course of a week. (That number is the maximum allowed; 100 weren’t able to go along because there weren’t enough hotel rooms for any more.) The next leg was to Pismo Beach, and the veterans scheduled to stop and meet with kids at schools in Cambria, Shell Beach and Oceano along the way.
Bob Rollins, 48, of Paso Robles got involved in the ride five years ago. The Cambria-to-Pismo leg is his favorite: “Cambria’s pretty special,” he said. “There’ll be a huge American flag out, with a whole lot of people on the side of the road. It’s really heartwarming.”
Veterans come from all over the country to take part in the event, one of six held each year. Three of them, including the Central Coast ride, are held along the same sections of road each year. In each of the events, the veterans ride for free, with sponsors paying for hotel stays, jerseys and other expenses.
Participants have faced a variety of war wounds, some external and others harder to see.
“Physical disabilities, amputees, traumatic brain injuries: A lot are riding recumbent bikes, lower to the ground,” said rider assistant Juan Hernandez. “It helps them feel like they’ve accomplished something with their disabilities.”
Crouse got into the ride just this year, having undergone a series of seven back surgeries.
“The way I deal with my drama, my pain is I take it out on my body,” he said. “I can take my drama and my angst, and use it constructively.
“I know that we’re all hurt, and we know how that hurt feels,” he said of himself and the other riders. “And we don’t like to see each other go through it.”
The experience of riding with other veterans was a theme touched on repeatedly by riders and organizers alike: “the camaraderie of being with everyone else and being able to help everyone else,” as Rollins put it. “I rode with a guy who got his prosthetic leg in May, got his bike two weeks ago and he’s out there riding today,” he said. “It takes a lot of courage.”