Bike Ride 2017 is in the books.

The ride each year is an incredible amalgam of fun, challenges, seeing new sights, meeting new friends and overcoming the odds. This year was no different. Each year, the group of boys riding bring with them their own unique sets of strengths and weaknesses. And each year, they rise to the occasion and prove that often what seems impossible is certainly possible.

Long time followers of the ride understand each year how amazed the road crew, staff and volunteers are at what each group of riders accomplishes. From day one this year, we understood this group was unique. And honestly, we didn’t want to say too much about it just in case we jinxed it.

Every morning, the boys were up, packed and ready without the necessity of being told. Each night, they readied themselves for sleep, and even if they didn’t always want to go to bed right away, they were ready when bedtime came. That may not sound like much, but often the little details of preparedness off the road can impact so much more. When it was time for wheels down, these boys’ wheels were down.

And they rode like a pack. Sure, they weren’t always in a single group, but more than not they were close to it. Far more than any group before them. And considering the fact that everyone they’d trained with for the ride had somehow experienced injury or were otherwise taken out of play during the actual ride itself, the boys had to adapt to whomever was riding with them, to whatever experienced leader they had. And for a portion of the ride, the boys served as their own leaders. That has never been necessary on a bike ride before. And they more than met the challenge. In fact, on the final leg into the PAYH campus, they nearly beat the road crew and well wishers.

That’s why you will notice very little footage and photos of the actual moment of arrival at the campus. Spectacular drones shots were planned. Steady shots capturing the glory of the ride’s final moments. Stills of the first moments when victory was achieved. We have none of that to show. Instead, we can say how the riders, flanked by Harleys from the Sons of Smoke riding group and officers before and aft from the Vidalia Police Department, flew past the final rest stop and charged, finally, toward that mark they’d set out to reach six days before. And even though the day was long, they finished much earlier than anticipated.

So, good job, boys. Well done, in every respect.

And let’s talk a moment about those leaders they had on the road. It goes without saying that we owe the bike ride to Mac Jordan. It was by his inception that the event came to be. And now, twelve years later, he is still an integral part. No thanks are big enough, but as is Mac’s way, the only thanks he wants is to see these young men who rode this year’s ride come back for future rides, to support the ride and the home either on a bike or by spreading the word. That is his challenge year after year, and the only gratitude he truly desires. When glory is achieved through the sacrifice and gifting of others, the greatest truth of gratitude in the recipient is to not allow those gifts be wasted, by careless forgetfulness or neglect, but rather to find the appropriate sacrifice and gifting within yourself and keep the momentum of change moving forward. That is Mac’s desire and is, truly, his legacy for the Paul Anderson Bike Ride.

Another leader we missed last year but who was back in full capacity as an inspiration for the boys on the bikes this year was Drew Read. Even though he could not make the entire week, his time with the boys for the first two-thirds no doubt helped cement no only their capacity to ride as a team but also their love for the ride. There is a reason why the boys on bike ride can’t seem to get enough of Drew, why they appear to just want to soak up the time they have with him. He is a natural leader and has an obvious heart for not only the ride, but the boys on the ride and the inevitable change that is taking place in them. It was great to have you back, Drew.

For me, a favorite moment of this year’s ride was a photo taken of Drew, Mac, Sam and Eric (who happens to be writing this blog post) on the porch of the house we were blessed to be allowed to stay at (thanks again Chick-fil-A) in New Smyrna Beach. This house was the location of the first ever trip I went on with the youth home back in 2001, only months after I became a staff member. It was nostalgic, and so it was moving to stand for a photo with these three other men who, our combined time on the ride, all share more than 40 years of the PAYH Bike Ride. Each of the four of us have only missed one bike ride out of all twelve, so we know what it’s like to work as a team for the ride. Victoria wasn’t in the photo, but she, too, knows what being a part of the bike ride team means. It is a very special gift. (One that requires at least a week of recovery time once bike ride is over, let’s be honest.)

Another leader, and one that was truly invaluable though he never once sat on a bike this year, was Fritz. Anyone who followed the last three bike rides knows that Fritz is an absolute beast on a bike, but due to an accident, he could not ride this year. But still, he was there and was a constant and steady source of stability, guidance, encouragement and motivation for the boys. He was uplifting and inspiring when necessary. He was a task master and brought correction as needed. Above all, he was a master teacher. Each day ended with a debrief session where Fritz would ask the simple question, “What did we get right today and what did we get wrong?” In that, the next day would prove the boys to be just that much stronger than the day before. When Fritz left us to head home on the last day, it was emotional. The boys were disappointed to see him go before he was able to see them finish what they had started. But Fritz was with them at the end, even if he couldn’t be there in person.

Another hero of bike ride, though the only picture of her with a bike was as a joke, was Victoria. Let’s be honest. For much of the leg work behind the scenes, Victoria is the tireless and often faceless person getting it done, and my money would be that she has been that person in preparation for this event for months. She is mom to the boys on the ride, reminding them the way boys sometimes need reminding, to pay attention, to pick up their things, to remember where you are and who you’re with, and that someone is looking out for them. In the simple things, Victoria was there. Like doing laundry every night. The only night Victoria didn’t do everyone’s laundry, I lost a shirt. No joke. That doesn’t happen when Victoria is on duty. But what she does goes well beyond laundry. Victoria loves the boys, and her first priority is always the boys. Do they have enough water? They better, or someone will have to answer to Queen Bike Ride Mamma. The ride is, after all, all about the boys, and Victoria never tires of reminding everyone of that fact. She is always a persistent eye that keeps watch over the boys, seeing to it that they are well cared for. If everyone who is part of the ride leaves a legacy, Victoria’s legacy is love. Whole-hearted, full-bodied, undiluted and impartial love. We could all learn from her.

Then there is Sam. If Victoria is the mom of bike ride, Sam is grandpa. It’s not just that he is a wizard with the van and trailer (which he is, and have no doubt about it), but he is also the one reminding the boys to pick up their dirty clothes, to throw their trash away, to make sure they have everything they need for the night before the van and trailer are locked up. And if you think any of this pertains only to the boys, then you’ve clearly never realized at the last moment that you’ve left a critical bag of editing tools on the van and need them so you can finish editing the videos, get them posted to the site and go to sleep-hopefully before 1 a.m.-and you have to find a way to ask Sam to either (A.) lend you the key to the van, which he is less likely than Gollum loaning out the ring, or (B.) open the van for you so you can retrieve what, to him, is just another bag  of stuff that takes up too much room on the trailer (“I’d think by now you’d learn how to pack like the rest of…”). Sam is also the guy that has lunch ready everyday, has water and gatorade and ice and water at every stop. He has the bike riders’ fuel bin ready, the pickle jar (yes, the pickle jar), and anything and everything else that may be needed. And if he follows the directions and sets up at a predetermined rest area only to be called and informed that there’s been a change of plans and he needs to move to a different location, in true grandpa fashion, he fusses and jabbers… and then he packs everything up, laughs, and moves on to the next location, exclaiming as he does so, “Alright already!” Sam is a legend.

It seems clear to me that much of the skill the boys’ demonstrated of riding together as a pack this year, came from their training, and for that, we have Jovel to thank. I was not there for much of their training, but what I saw of the boys on the road this year more than informed me of how their training went. Jovel was supposed to ride with the boys, but due to an injury, he could not. Still, he trained them and was there on the ride to support, encourage, correct and motivate. Not enough can be said of the men who work day in and day out with the boys at PAYH, a tireless and sometimes thankless job whose impact literally cannot be overstated. And for the ride this year, Jovel was that guy. He alone was the staff who works with the boys daily, who sees them in their most vulnerable states and at their most exultant, and is equally committed in both times and all in between. That is why he has earned the position he has in their lives and why his role on the ride is, in many ways, the most critical. Even that is often missed by the boys, who revel in new faces and exciting people, places and things. Take me and Drew, for example, who used to work at the home but no longer do. To the boys, we are fun and engaging in ways that the men who work with them daily aren’t. That’s because all of us tend to look past the most amazing people in front of us to ponder the things just beyond them, and in so doing often miss the extravagant gift of those in our immediate present.

And there were others on the ride, as well. Shane and Gannon were there every single day, often times doing things some of us didn’t realize needed to be done. Going ahead to make sure we had dinner that night (anyone thankful for Niko’s Pizza?) or bike fuel and supplies. They were constant sources of encouragement for riders and road crew, and were always looking for ways to serve us all. We had alumni parents back this year. Bill and Karen Wells were there for several days, and their son Jesse as well. The dynamic duo that is Karen and Bill have been a part of the bike ride since Jesse rode years ago. Jeff Thompson was with us for the last day, and Jeff has been a part of the ride, faithfully returning year after year, for even longer, ever since his son Nathaniel rode in the early years. We had many parents and family members who joined us at different points along the ride, and there is no way I can name everyone without forgetting someone. But tremendous thanks is due to all of them. They fill in much needed gaps that keep our boys safe and heading in the right direction.

But the true stars of the ride are always the boys. Hunter A., with his perpetually good attitude, playful spirit and willingness to work, looking for opportunities to lend a hand rather than waiting for those opportunities to present themselves (and after all that, he still found time to work on his tan! And he carried by bin in and out morning and night more than I did, true story.). Austin, who pushed through his “seat injury” to saddle up morning after morning with a smile, making the most of every moment and opportunity (and providing entertaining commentary in much of the footage). Tristan, who was often at the front of the pack leading the others on the bikes and someone who could be counted on to get things done off the bikes (who also kept me up at night much later than was necessary just so he could personally review all of the footage shot that day). Andrew, who even though he’d been off campus for the weeks leading into the ride and only arrived back the night before, did not let his lack of training in those weeks keep him from completing what he started (and he also has great taste in books and movies, by the way). Dingo, who, no matter what, had a goofy grin, a ridiculous idea, and a million questions… and who exuded a childlike enthusiasm with even the smallest of things, say a fiddler crab for example (and even though I spared no possible moment to poke fun at the boy, I enjoyed every moment of his life-loving personality, often at his expense-this blog no exception, it seems- and would look for him when I needed to laugh). And Grayson, who was never the loudest or the fastest and could easily have blended into the background, but instead stood out for his awareness of others, his relentless ability to do what needed to be done, and mostly for the simple fact that the quietness of his demeanor only reinforces the strength of what lies beneath it.

Yes, I inevitably left someone or something out. That does not speak to how little they brought to the table or how vital they were to the ride. It merely speaks to the fact that I am currently operating on less than four hours of sleep per night for the duration of the ride and, even with a full night’s sleep last night, am still a good bit from being mentally sound. So to everyone I didn’t mention, thank you. There are so many players to make this event possible that it is truly a daunting task to try and name them all. From our sponsors, who you can see named at the end of the final montage video or here on the site, to the people who gave us places to stay, fed us, and otherwise offered support before and during the ride, to everyone who sponsored a rider or gave in some other capacity: THANK YOU.

Until next year, share the road.