At 3 p.m., when the riders were expected to arrive, the parking lot at the Anaheim Police Department was empty except for those with business to conduct inside, plus a perplexed reporter and photographer.
At about 3:15 p.m., Kirsten Gell and her four very energetic boys arrived.
Mom was eager for the arrival of her husband, Det. Mark Gell, to take up some of the slack managing the brood.
Then, at 3:32 p.m., 11 cadets came outside from the building, as did several officers and civilians.
Within minutes, there was a helicopter overhead, motorcycles with lights flashing, and even local fixture “the Birdman” appeared with his parrots.
Then 21 officers in matching outfits were spotted pedaling north on Harbor Boulevard, completing the final stretch of a 577-mile ride from Sacramento for charity.
After arriving and posing for pictures, exchanging hugs with loved ones and engaging in a group prayer, the ride was officially over and it was time to eat.
Between Tuesday, May 8, and Friday, May 11, the Anaheim Police Department staged its inaugural End of Watch Memorial Bike Ride, a four-day relay ride to raise awareness about police killed in the line of duty as well as raise funds for the Anaheim Police Survivors’ and Scholarship Fund to help support the families of the fallen and provide memorial scholarships.
This year’s ride raised $27,000.
In past years, a contingent of Anaheim officers have made the ride with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department as part of their annual event.
“That’s what really got us motivated,” said Sgt. Kelly Phillips, one of six Anaheim officers who rode together as a group in the sheriff’s ride.
When the Anaheim officers talked about their experience, it soon became evident that others in the department wanted to become involved and there was at least enough interest to stage an independent ride.
A number of the participants in the inaugural Anaheim ride even bought bicycles and trained to take part.
Among them was Gell.
“This is probably the best police event I’ve ever been a part of,” he said, while admitting he owed his wife at least one night — maybe two — watching the boys.
Gell was among a group of Anaheim officers who went to Sacramento early to attend a vigil and ceremony in the days before the ride. The event in the capitol was presented by the nonprofit End of Watch organization to commemorate officers that died on duty.
For Gell, the honoring of fallen officers was particularly important.
“It’s difficult,” Gell said of being gone for a week, “but for a cause like this, for fallen heroes and warriors who can’t be here, it’s worth it.”
Sgt. Jon Yepes, who has made the ride in past years with the OCSD, spearheaded the Anaheim ride. Although he had biked in the relay, he said this year was the first time he had been to the vigil and ceremony. Being part of that, he said, added meaning to the ride.
“The ceremony was very heartfelt,” Yepes said. “For me, it was a highlight.”
Another benefit to officers is that the money raised stays in the community for the Anaheim police funds.
This year’s ride was staged in hot conditions in the early days. And there was one particularly tough 18-mile stretch of mostly climbing through the mountains outside Lompoc.
However, Yepes said every rider made it through and over the course of the ride, none dropped out.
As a member of the department’s mounted unit, Joie Tinajero is no stranger to being in the saddle, but he admitted four days in a bike saddle took a toll.
“It was definitely a challenge,” he said. “There was a lot of hard terrain. A lot of elevation changes. A lot of traffic.”
He loved it and is already looking forward to next year.
“It was absolutely worth it,” Tinajero said. “It’s going to be a thing for me.”