Editor’s note: Through Saturday, May 21, cyclists from Orange County are riding between Sacramento and Westminster, Ca., in the Code 3 for a Cause memorial ride to raise funds and commemorate fallen and injured law enforcement officers. This is the 10th annual ride, organized by the Westminster Police Department’s Cmdr. Kevin MacCormick and Sgt. Bill Drinnin. Behind the Badge is along for the ride and will file dispatches from the road.
They are the unsung heroes of a distance riding event.
The volunteers are the ones who make sure the riders keep hydrated and fed through the day. They carry the equipment to fix flat tires or handle mechanical breakdowns. Volunteers direct the riders along their route, or chase them down if they make a wrong turn.
They follow riders and often shield them from traffic, especially where roadways narrow and shoulders disappear.
The volunteers are the angels of the asphalt.
This is particularly true at the Code 3 for a Cause memorial bike ride between Sacramento and Westminster, which completed its second of four legs Thursday.
“You couldn’t leave the parking lot without them,” said Cmdr. Kevin MacCormick, one of the organizers of the ride benefiting and commemorating fallen and injured law enforcement officers. “They work all day. You name it they do it. We couldn’t do it without them.”
Sgt. Bill Drinnin, the other ride organizer, agreed.
“They are the core of everything we do,” he said.
They are Heide and Dani Bush, who have been volunteers for years and have become backbones of the event. They joined the ride a couple years after Phil Bush, Heide’s husband, died from disease related to his work as a narcotics detective.
They are Lily Montano and Ashley Donaldson, another mother-daughter team who followed Team No. 2 through four days of riding. And Officer Jonathan Figueroa of Westminster, who was recruited at the 11th hour and drove the box truck where bikes, food and other equipment are stored.
Natalie Perez and Darienne Schoonmaker are the support crew for Team No. 3.
The Bushes have their routine down to a near science as they leapfrog the riders, making sure to be nearby if there is a need for mechanical help or pick up an ailing rider, as happened on the first day of the ride.
“It’s a cat and mouse game,” said Heide of tracking riders using mobile apps.
When riders are in areas without cell or internet connections, they try to keep eyes on the riders.
On Wednesday, Bush drove her support van up and down Hecker Pass, making u-turns on the twisty road to keep track of “her riders,” who were scattered up and down the mountainside on the dangerous road.
When lunch time arrives, Heidi and Dani are on the spot, slapping together sandwiches, complete with homemade preserves and dill pickles.
“It’s almost like a pit stop in NASCAR,” Heide said. “We top off their water, have oranges, bananas, candy, Pringles, and chips.”
Asked why she keeps returning, Heide, who received a Presidential recognition for more than 29,000 hours of volunteer work, said, “I’ve always had a heart for service.”
Lily and her daughter are in their first year with the ride. Throughout the day they keep a running dialogue going as Lily drives and Ashley navigates.
“She’s an expert navigator, all I have to do is drive,” Lily said.
After a somewhat hairy drive through Big Sur to Gorda, Ashley said, “I know it’s ride or die. I didn’t sign up for the die part.”
Although mom and daughter engage in a running banter with occasional playful familial bickering, Lily said she wouldn’t have volunteered to crew with anyone but her daughter.
Lily and Ashley have been accompanying Team No. 2, which consists mostly of law enforcement officers.
“I’ve got a really good team,” Lily said. “Everyone’s super supportive.”
On Thursday’s leg along the Central Coast south of Big Sur, Lily often kept the support van behind the riders to shield them from traffic. When a rider’s tire went flat, she was right there with a spare tube and pump.
The same thing happened on Wednesday.
“One flat tire, easy peasy,” Lily said.
Perez got into the event in part because her husband, Roland, is a rider.
Natalie is in charge of arranging hotel accommodations as well as helping her team. She is also an avid fundraiser for Code 3 for a Cause.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she said about her start with the ride. “To see (the riders) push through the pain for the fallen and the spouses, who have to endure, and then to support them is very inspiring .”
For Schoonmaker, being a part of the ride is a family tradition. Her father, Dan, is a longtime participant and helped create the ride.
Figueroa, a patrol officer with Westminster Police Department, came on this year to fill in for Dan Owen, a longtime volunteer who retired from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. After dropping off equipment to various teams, he joins Lily and Ashley to assist Team No. 2. A member of the department’s Honor Guard, Figueroa feels a particular bond with fallen officers and their families. When he was asked shortly before the ride whether he could volunteer, it didn’t take him long.
“I had been in Sacramento for the fallen officer memorial service in early May when 36 officers were added to the memorial list of those who died on the job and that was very affecting,” he said.
“I’ve known about the ride for several years,” said the fourth-year officer. “When they asked I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ Especially because of the cause.”
Team 2 takes on the Central Coast
Made of six law enforcement officers among its eight members, Team No. 2 is the intermediate of three teams involved in the ride.
On Thursday, they tackled the hilly coast area from Gorda to San Luis Obispo. The 70-mile ride featured 3,161 feet of elevation gains and similar descents. The ride, which began along the spectacular coastline, zipped past redwood forests and cliffs falling into the rocky shore.
Now for all the insistence that the event is NOT a race, there is a competitive spirit.
Teams No. 1 and No. 2 rode mostly along the same course, although Team No. 2 was given a 30-mile head start. Last year, Brad Kaes from Team No. 1 caught up with Team No. 2 before ending his team’s ride in Cuyacos. This year, team No. 2 was able to hold off its rivals to the final stop.
Riders on Team No. 2 joked about deflating the tires of the riders on the more experienced team.
“We Tom Brady’d it,” joked Melanie Rea, referring to the quarterback at the heart of the NFL “Deflategate” scandal.
The first climb came straight out of Gorda.
Ray Garcia, known as “the Mustard Man” for his habit of taking slugs of the dressing during his rides, took the immediate lead. Some riders find mustard is effective in warding off cramps. Garcia heard about it when he first started riding and has been a fan ever since.
“I’m a French’s man,” Garcia joked. “Maybe I’ll try spicy brown or Grey Poupon.”
Drinnin said he recently became a convert.
“I was down for the count, took a swig and it was instant,” he said of the jolt it gave him.
Garcia describes himself as a climber.
“You just get in a zone and go,” he said.
After the hill climbs, the team descended into San Luis Obispo County, which gave the riders a nice tail wind.
Garcia didn’t relinquish his lead until the group stopped for lunch near Hearst Castle. After lunch, Garcia said he was going to take it easier, chug some of his mustard, and help riders from the back. Toward the end of the ride, Garcia helped fellow rider and Long Beach policeman Chris Yuriar, placing a palm on his back at times.
“It was like the hand of God,” Yuriar said.
Read more about the 2022 Memorial Ride: