Firefighter cyclists start trek to Ground Zero in NYC from California
Cyclists of bay2brooklyn gathered at the beginning of what will be a 36-day cross-country trip that will finish just before the 20th anniversary of 9/11
Times-Herald, Vallejo, Calif.
VALLEJO, Calif. — Nearly 20 years ago, hundreds of firefighters heroically ran into burning towers in New York City while hundreds more ran away from them.
Thirteen former and active firefighters plan on visiting the hallowed Ground Zero site in Manhattan this September. However, in order to honor the memory of the 343 fallen medical personnel as well as many more civilians, they're going to take the long way and go about 15 mph to get there.
Cyclists of bay2brooklyn gathered with the Vallejo fire and police departments on Sunday afternoon at the Vallejo Ferry Terminal at the beginning of a what will be a 36-day cross-country trip that will finish just before the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
The day began earlier in San Bruno and ended with the members staying overnight at Vallejo Fire House No. 27. In between, the cyclists were given a loud ovation on the waterfront as Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" blared from the nearby speakers.
On Monday the cyclists will head to Sacramento before exiting California to head to New York. The trip will consist of approximately 100-mile riding sessions each day.
Of the 13 members, 10 are long-distance riders while three others are support drivers. One of the riders, Darrell Sales, a retired 29-year veteran of the Santa Clara Fire Department, first made the trip back in 2011 for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
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"It's a tough 100-mile per day ride, but what helps get us through is allowing people to come to events like this," Sales said, while pointing to people cheering them on at the waterfront and the nearby Mare Island Brewing Company. "As a nation, we're all part of the 9/11 community. We're all apart of it and we all want to honor the memory of those that have fallen."
Making the trek for the first time is Aaron Ray, a firefighter out of Arizona, who will only a year ago didn't consider himself a cyclist. He will be making the trip with his father, Dewey, an ex-firefighter also out of Arizona.
"I'm excited but also a little nervous. I heard about this about a year ago and I thought it was very cool but I wasn't riding a bike at the time," Aaron said, with a laugh. "So it took me a year to train for this long bike trip. The hardest part about training, especially in Arizona, is the heat. You have to get up early at around 4 in the morning to train when the temperature is only about 95 degrees. It's rough for me and my dad, but the cause, it doesn't matter the cost. This is worth it."
Aaron was not a firefighter yet in 2001, but the tragedy of that day helped solidify what he wanted to eventually do.
"My dad was a firefighter at the time, but I was working construction," Aaron said. "Where I worked was right near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and we were used to hearing a bunch of planes fly overhead. When it went a few days without any planes, it was really eerie."
About a month later Aaron, also known as "The Retriever," was able to see Ground Zero, but from above.
"I had to attend a wedding on Oct. 11 in New York that year and we couldn't see the city up close, but when we flew over it...." Aaron said, not finishing the sentence but pausing to reflect. "There was just so much devastation."
Aaron and Dewey Ray will join Darrell Sales Sr. along with Frank Walsh "Tilt," Jeff Provancher "Prancer," John Byrne, Mike Deleo "Doc," Jeremy Provancher, Dave Lombardo "Chickenhawk," Gary Wiley "Coyote." Troy J. Goetz "Sparrow" and Chris Kowalski "Fish" are the portion riders while Courtney Byrne is riding just a few days but is an important part of the fundraising.
Helping coordinate the event was Vallejo engineer Wally Trujillo.
"This is a very important day in America's history," Trujillo said. "I was just a junior at De La Salle High when it the attacks on the towers took place. I have a father in law enforcement so eventually I knew I would help out in some way. Six years ago we made it a yearly tradition in Vallejo to honor those who fell in 9/11. I played the bagpipes so the day is very important to me. I'm very glad that the riders were able to make Vallejo one of their very first stops on the trip."
Vallejo firefighter and spokesperson Kevin Brown was also on hand to take pictures and talk with the cyclists on Sunday. When the attacks occurred, Brown was a freshman at St. Patrick- St. Vincent High.
"I'm very honored that this group decided to choose Vallejo as one of their first stops because they have a very limited number of stops as they go through the country," Brown said. "It doesn't feel like it's been 20 years, but at the same time because our department honors the fallen from that day every year I feel that kind of catalog's it and because of that, yeah, it does feel like 20 years."
One of the riders, Wiley, said the trip is a way to never forget the tragic day.
"I am honored to be riding for them as well," Wiley says on the cyclists' website (bay2brooklyn2021.com/riders). There is a saying that rings true to this day... All gave some, some gave all. We must not let their sacrifice be forgotten. I am honored to be riding with such a group of selfless individuals, all whom have been willing to pay whatever price their service required of them. I am happy to have the support of my wife, family and so many others as we cross this great nation on 2 wheels. Never forget! We haven't."
One can follow the cyclists' trip by visiting https://bay2brooklyn2021.com/daily-routes%2Fmaps, which keeps up with where the riders are on each day.
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(c)2021 Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.)