Monday, May 19, 2014

Police Unity Tour 2014

I didn't do much training for the Police Unity Tour this year. The extended winter simply didn't allow it. I wasn't too worried. Being my 3rd year, I knew what to expect & I was fairly confident that I could ride it well. The only thing I was worried about was the weather. Severe thunderstorms were expected our first day of riding. Riding in a group with a bunch of strangers, of varying degrees of skill, can be a little scary. Doing it in the rain can be terrifying.

I rode Blue this year, the carbon-fiber frame road bike I pieced together last year. When I had the local bike shop put it together for me, they simply went by the bike measurements from my previous fitting I did with them when I was riding the Van Dessel. However I don't think the measurements translated to Blue very well because my back was absolutely killing me during the ride. It wasn't unbearable, but it was unpleasant.

Blue's cockpit

Luckily, we travel with a great couple of mechanics from Trail's End Cycling in Purcellville. They basically bring an entire mobile bike shop with them. They also brought equipment to do a quick custom fitting, which I took advantage of. Unfortunately, it wasn't until the last day of riding that I did so. I don't know why I waited until the last (and shortest) day to get the adjustments made. I hope this will help with the back pain. I wasn't on the bike long enough on the last day to judge how effective the adjustments were. Hopefully I can get some long rides in this summer to test them out.

Let me also add that Trail's End completely volunteers their time & skills & equipment to do this every year. In fact I think they close their shop while they are on the road with us, not entirely sure. Anyway they are great guys, and have an awesome bike shop right at the end of the W&OD trail. I rode out there (but not back, lol) one day last summer. Highly recommend them. Be sure to stop in and say hello. There's a nice used bookstore & coffee shop right around the corner too.

The other issue I had was with my saddle. I've never really had an issue with any saddle before. But this year, I was extremely uncomfortable, even with plenty of chamois cream. Maybe the Brooks saddle on Kermit has spoiled me. I certainly missed it during the ride. Not sure if it was the saddle itself, or my shorts (which I should probably replace. It's been awhile). It's gonna take a few more rides to figure it out. This was only Blue's second big ride. The first time I rode him was only a 55 mile ride last October for the Law Enforcement Ride & Run to remember (in which I crashed at the very end). I don't really take him out for casual rides since DC streets are terrible & he's a bit expensive to leave locked up & unattended.

As usual, I spent the day before the ride making a list of things to pack. Every year, I try to pare it down a bit because I usually end up bringing stuff I simply don't need. This year I think I did a great job of only bringing the essentials. Of course, I did forget a few chargers though. Argh.

This is what I brought:
-2 pairs of cycling shorts
-2 jerseys
-2 sports bras
-Rain jacket
-Eye protection
-Chamois Cream
-laundry detergent
-Extra ziplock bags (for icepacks). I brought a regular icepack, but there's really no freezer to keep it frozen & I forgot it in the mini fridge in the first hotel.
-Garmin (which I forgot the charger for. DOH. The battery died on the first day. Luckily, the hotel on our last day had a spare charger so I was able to use that. But I didn't capture the whole ride. Bummer).
-BoomBottle (Review to follow very soon. But also a great idea to bring. It's a weatherproof speaker that fits in your bottle cage. I love this thing. I use it every day I commute. I also forgot the charger for this, but found one at the hotel)
-Comfy "regular" clothes & shoes to relax in (I brought my wonder woman socks)

That was pretty much it. I was able to fit almost everything in a single backpack. I didn't bother bringing snacks/nutrition because plenty of food & snacks are supplied during the ride. I didn't even bring a water bottle, since I figured there would be one in the swag bag (I was right). However, some things I would like to remember for next year:

-Bring ALL the chargers. Even if I don't think I'll need them (I will).
-Put more sunscreen (also provided) on. And then some more. And don't forget my feet!
-Make a playlist for the ride
-Bring patches to exchange
*Optional for next year: the hotel in Charlottesville has a hot tub ( and pool). Bring a swimsuit.

On to the ride itself:

Day 1 was wet. We never got the severe thunderstorms that were supposed to hit, but we did get rained on a bit. Didn't have to break out the rain jacket, even though I brought it with me. At least it kept the temps relatively mild. I believe our total mileage for the day was about 88 miles. We had a break at about every 18 miles or so, including a lunch stop. It's my favorite lunch stop. We stop at the Louisa Baptist Church, and they always have homemade peanut butter & jelly sandwiches (with chips & cookies) waiting for us. It's delicious. Most of our stops are either at fires stations or churches. It was a long day, but a good one as folks got to know each other during the ride. We have riders & volunteers from all over the country. It was nice to see some familiar faces from previous rides as well. We end up in Charlottesville at the end of the day's ride, usually around 4pm or so.

At the hotel, I immediately went up to the hotel room so I could shower...and discovered there was only one bed (I was rooming with one of the volunteers on the ride, whom I had never met before). Previously, I rode with a friend of mine so it was no big deal if we shared a bed....but its a bit much to ask that of strangers. Luckily DJ (my roomie) was able to secure another room while I was in the shower & it all worked out (I had a king-sized bed to myself now!). I showered and had a few cold ones with some other riders while waiting for dinner. That's always the best part of the day; just sitting & relaxing. At dinner, I ate ALL of the carbs. Twice. And then had cake. But it was so worth it. I went up to my room on the pretext of stretching for a bit (my back was still sore) and ended up just falling asleep for the rest of the evening. whoops.

Getting ready to head out.

The volunteers that keep the ride going smoothly, and the motor escorts that keep us safe.

The most delicious peanut butter & jelly sandwich on Earth, courtesy of the Louisa Baptist Church,

Day 2 is our hilly day. I actually like this day because the hills make the ride more challenging & less monotonous. It is tough though, especially when its sunny & warm (which it was). I made sure to hydrate pretty well at every rest stop (I don't like drinking while riding, I had no idea why). This day seemed to fly by though. I couldn't believe how fast it went by. I think it's because we stopped for break about every 12-14 miles, instead of 18 (although our last leg of the day is about 21 miles). It was a blur. Total mileage was about 80 miles. We end up in Warrenton, VA. We're usually done riding for the day around 3:30pm or so. There were 2 beds in the hotel room, so crisis averted, heh. I snarfed dinner down & headed outside to the patio to hang with the other riders & volunteers. This is always the best night of the ride. Since the following day is pretty short mileage-wise (about 40 miles total), folks feel free to imbibe a little bit harder & longer. It's usually a good night for stories outside on the patio.

 A sunny day ahead.

Lining up to roll out.

You rest where you can, while you can.

Day 3 is the last and shortest day. Probably about 40 miles total, including riding from RFK to the Memorial in DC.  We stop at PSTOC (Fairfax's Public Safety & Transportation Operations Center for lunch) before heading into DC. Fairfax even provides an air "escort" with their helicopter flying with us (assuming the flight crew isn't busy) to the stop. It's always fun to watch it land & take off. We have a group photo taken in front of the helicopter.

The Fairfax County dispatch center. Fancy.

After lunch, its time to head to DC! Normally we ride into DC via the Memorial Bridge, but because there were some other events going on, we had to be routed onto the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge (which was TORE UP. Ugh). On the plus side, we rode through the SW section of DC to get over to RFK, which I liked because I got to check out some the new stuff going in at The Wharf. We ride over to RFK to meet up with all of the other chapters of the Police Unity Tour. This is always the worst part of the ride, in my opinion. All told, there are probably about 1500 riders that end up at RFK. We wait in the parking lot, with no cover, usually under a hot, blazing sun, while the other chapters arrive. I wish they would put up some tents or something for shade. I feel like I'm frying out on that lot. There's nowhere to sit and rest our legs, except the asphalt (with broken glass and gravel). Then when it's time to leave as one group for the memorial, its complete chaos. Instead of having us leave by chapter by chapter, which would be manageable, we all try to leave at once. The problem is that the path (and it is a SMALL path. Uphill.) to get OUT of the parking lot can only accommodate so many people-not 1500 at once. There is ALWAYS some sort of pile-up/crash trying to get out of there. My first year I watched a rider go down and tear his calf pretty badly on one of his front chain rings He couldn't finish the ride. What a bummer to ride all that way, only to crash right at the end.

This is a short video I took of one of the Chapter's arriving into RFK.
Arrival at the Memorial is always the best part. Seeing the survivors lined up along the memorial, ready to greet us is very emotional and moving. After all, its for them that we do this ride. There are hundreds of people at the memorial--so many that we can't even really ride into the memorial--its too jammed. Instead we walk our bikes in. High-fives & hugs are exchanged as we make our way through the memorial to the other side.

$1.9 million dollars. That's how much the Police Unity Tour raised this year. That is not an insignificant amount of money. And its very important. We had 7 Survivors (including my roommate) ride with us this year. At every rest stop, riders are encouraged to tell a story about their fallen officers. A sad theme that ran through many of these stories was one of abandonment/neglect by their officer's agencies. Either their agencies refused to participate in any sort of remembrance or honoring of their officer, or the process of Line of Duty Death determination was difficult & traumatizing. There is a an entire culture behind Line of Duty Death officers/survivors that is both fascinating & heartbreaking, that is often quite the opposite of the hero-worshipping/Honor Guard/Brothers in Blue type event that is often portrayed in movies & television. A good example would be to google Officer Jennifer Sebena to see what kind of traumatic & heartbreaking & often puzzling criteria are used to determine whether an officer's death is worthy enough to be determined Line of Duty. It's more often than not a very gray area. Anyway, that's a topic for another time, most likely in person. Back to my original point. There was a theme of abandonment/neglect from the police agencies from the survivors and it wasn't until they found organizations like the Police Unity Tour, C.O.P.S., H.E.R.O.E.S, Law Enforcement United, etc, that they found hope & honor. I heard a lot of griping from citizens in DC about how Police Week is a "waste" of taxpayer money, and that they were furious that "their" money was going to these "annoying cop events".

Not a single cent of taxpayer money is used to pay for these "annoying cop events". They are all privately funded by donations from organizations like The Police Unity Tour, C.O.P.S., H.E.R.O.E.S, etc. This is why those donations are so important. They go towards paying for things like the Coach Buses which bring the survivors to the Memorial every year so that they can see their loved one's name on the wall. Their lodging, food, travel expenses. Child care for their children. Maintaining the Memorial so that their loved one's memory is properly honored. The escorts are all volunteers. C.O.P.S. pays for fallen officer's children's college tuition. 

It's important because after the wreath has been placed on the Capitol's lawn, after the President's speech, after the pomp & circumstance of Police Week...that officer is still gone. And that family is still grieving. And it is organizations like the Unity Tour that step in all year long & beyond to take care of that family. This is why I ride. "We Ride for Those that Died", yes. We also ride for those left behind.

I didn't take too many photos this year. After all, how many photos of bikes & blue jerseys does one really need? I do wish I could have captured some of the absolutely stunning country side we rode through though. I didn't want to fumble with a camera while riding. Maybe next year I'll use a GoPro or something. Virginia is absolutely beautiful in some places.

We had a professional photographer to capture the best moments. We also had a professional video team to put together a short promo video.

Here is Day 1 of the ride from my Garmin before it died. We went another 20 miles or so beyond this:

And this is Day 3:

Also, some photos from the local law enforcement memorial ride I did on May 15th, which is National Peace Officer's Memorial Day (the day around which Police Week is planned). We met up with some other officers from Montgomery County & Fairfax.