By Chris Kostman
Originally written for the Project Rwanda website.
Exceeding expectations is always a good thing and Trabuco Canyon, in the dirt-covered backcountry of Orange County, CA was the place to be for that and more on December 30, 2006.
Commercial printer and long-time mountain bike enthusiast Doug Grant wanted to do more than just ride and celebrate the conclusion of the first half-century of his life with his Fifty Mile Ride. His goal was to support Project Rwanda, an organization founded by cycling innovator and manufacturer Tom Ritchey, who, coincidentally, was also celebrating his 50th birthday in late December. Project Rwanda’s goal is to provide durable bikes to coffee farmers as part of a micro-enterprise venture that will make a hugely positive impact on the lives of the local family coffee growers in Rwanda. It turns out that only one in 40 Rwandans owns a real pedal bike and many of them are literally hand-made “scooters” or push bikes hewn out of solid wood. Ritchey, who helped perfect the mountain bike back in the 70s and 80s, has put his design ingenuity into creating a heavy-duty, single- and multi-speed bike with an integrated hay bale-sized rack which Rwandan coffee farmers can use to get their beans to market faster and thus earn more money.
Grant’s specific goal in creating the Fifty Mile Ride was to get 50 riders to participate and raise enough money ($7500) to provide 50 of Project Rwanda’s special “coffee bikes” to Rwandan farmers. As the saying goes, “word spread like wildfire” and volunteers, sponsors, BBQ cooks, and lots and lots of riders stepped up to the plate to support the effort. They all assembled before sunrise on December 30 at Cooks’ Corner, a traditional “motorcycle hangout” restaurant and bar located where urban OC and the Cleveland National Forest meet in Southern California.
Astonishing everyone, even us riders, an incredible 247 mountain bikers showed up that day for a first-time event in the middle of holiday season with a 33 degree start line temperature. After a well-organized check-in and pre-ride talk and prayer (yes, prayer; it was Doug’s party, after all, not a corporate-sponsored NORBA race), we headed out for a few miles of paved warm-up riding. Then we headed up, and up, and up for nine solid miles of climbing on a rocky fire road. We had the whole place to ourselves and the view kept getting better and better. All of us non-locals were astounded that “The OC,” so near all that urban sprawl, has a beautiful National Forest with fantastic mountain bike trails. The camaraderie was fantastic and the friendly, thankful enthusiasm for the ride, and the cause, was palpable.
Arriving at just below the peaks that form Saddleback Mountain, we were greeted by a friendly ride volunteer with a pick-up truck full of donated food and drinks and amazing views in a 300-degree panorama. There was lots of idle chit-chatting and checking out of bikes and story-swapping: almost nobody was in a hurry to race back down the mountain as the entire experience was just too special to rush through. I was riding a Ritchey-equipped, fully rigid, steel Moots from 1989, which drew positive comments all day long, and was excited to meet two riders on fully rigid, steel Ritchey mountain bikes from 1983 and 1984. (See photos.)
Then it was a glorious cruise back down the mountain to Cooks Corner. There, some called it a day, while most of the field headed quickly out onto the second, ostensibly 25-mile second loop. This was one of the most diverse and curious excursions through the backcountry of an urban landscape I have ever enjoyed. Seriously, the number of parks, open spaces, connector trails, creek crossings, dirt-covered freeway underpasses, and more that this loop featured was fantastic. Volunteers appeared out of nowhere to mark nearly every turn – surely some of them were at their post for five hours or more – plus little home-made signs and blue flagging dotted the landscape. As a result, it was nearly impossible to get lost, despite seemingly 100 turns over the 25 (or maybe 35) miles.
Arriving back at Cook’s Corner, a roaring BBQ awaited every rider and volunteer, with the $5 fee going straight to the cause. A very lavish raffle was also held with bikes, bike gear, shades, pro sports tickets, and much more being given away to the enthusiastic crowd. The dramatic conclusion to this wonderful day was Doug Grant presenting Tom Ritchey with a big, giant check for over $28,000 for Project Rwanda, a significant step towards Tom’s goal of helping establish 100,000 “coffee bikes” for the folks in Rwanda. Something tells me that even Tom’s goal will be exceeded. Pedal on!For my full slideshow of this event, click here.
To read this story as it was published on the Project Rwanda website, click here.
For info on the December 29, 2007 edition, click here.
Posing with Sky Boyer of Velo Cult in San Diego. We met at the top of the epic climb. Besides both of us riding classic steel, we both had Bridgestone wool jerseys from 1994.
Tom Ritchey (R) gets a fat check from Doug Grant