Biking thousands of miles for children thousands of miles away
Imagine touching the tip of your bicycle’s back tire into the Pacific Ocean, hopping on and not stopping until the front tire splashes into the Atlantic.
That’s Lee Wiegand’s plan next month when the 54-year-old El Dorado Hills resident participates in the 2013 Ride for Hope Coast to Coast, starting at Dana Point and ending at Daytona Beach — 3,271 miles — for the third time. Ride for Hope raises funds to help African children who have lost their parents to AIDS. Money raised goes toward meals, health care, education and emotional support.
An avid bike rider for a decade, Wiegand said he first toyed around with the idea of riding across the United States several years ago. A friend of his mentioned that he knew someone who was making the journey and Wiegand, who said he was inspired by the cause, joined the 2009 Ride for Hope. He hopped on his bike again in 2011; Ride of Hope is an every-other-year event.
“On the last trip it was over 100 degrees and windy most days,” Wiegand recalled.
He remembers the riders jumping into a Texas lake to cool off. But on this journey — the relay teams cross the country in 10 days — there’s little rest for the weary.
“Well, your butt gets sore and you do have to stop and stretch,” Wiegand said. “But we only take about a 10-minute break (every hour or so). Then we get back on it. Your body gets used to it.”
To prepare for the 2013 ride, Wiegand began training in January. By day he works as a Verizon Wireless finance supervisor. By evening he’s a riding machine, hopping on the bike almost daily (12 to 20 miles) with longer rides (50 miles) every Saturday. So far, using a tracking app on his phone, Wiegand has logged 1,222 training miles. He said he prefers to ride on hilly terrain, calling flat stretches boring.
“El Dorado Hills is a great place for biking,” the 14-year resident added.
This year Specialize sponsored Ride For Hope, giving Wiegand a new bike. Enve donated the wheels. “It’s super light,” he said of his new ride.
While grateful for the gear, Wiegand said his best chance of success comes from the encouragement he receives from his wife Kristen. She drives his support van across the country. “She’s very supportive,” he said of his wife of 31 years. “She believes in the cause and that it’s a good thing.”
People the riders meet on the road are also very supportive, if not a bit shocked. “They’re like, ‘You’re riding where? Excuse me?’” he said with a chuckle. “They are usually quite surprised when we tell them how far we’re going.”
During the last ride, a Texas radio station broadcasted a snippet about the riders coming through town and, Wiegand said, they had their own fans. At a truck stop a woman named Rose insisted that she buy him water just to support his efforts.
This year the six, four-person teams, including riders from Africa and Germany, have planned stops in Phoenix, Dallas and Atlanta, where they will share their experiences and educate people about Ride for Hope’s cause. The goal is to raise $250,000. So far Ride for Hope has collected more than $55,000 toward that goal and the ride hasn’t even begun.
Wiegand said he and his wife would like to someday travel to Africa and meet the children who receive the charity. This will likely be his last ride; Wiegand was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease — a life-changer but not one that will deter him from this goal. He’ll get on his bicycle on June 17 and head east.
“It’s awesome,” he said of participating in the ride. “It’s a great feeling that you’ve made it and everybody’s OK.”
For more information about Ride for Hope Coast to Coast or to donate visit rideforhopectc.org.