When their muscles burned and fatigue set in, they pedaled harder.
As icy wind cut through thin jerseys and the incline of a hill forced labored breath, they pushed on.
Everything these 13 riders felt on their 630-mile journey was temporary.
They knew that.
But the families of those they were riding to remember don’t get to look forward to the pain subsiding.
Members of the Westminster Police Department this month rode from the California Peace Officer’s Memorial in Sacramento to their own memorial outside the police department to honor those lost in the line of duty.
“The one thing I tell everybody is you’re going to be sore in places that aren’t supposed to be sore, and your mind will play all kinds of tricks on you,” said Westminster Sgt. Bill Drinnin. “It’s nothing compared to the pain the families go through for the rest of their lives.”
After the four-day journey, the riders observed a moment of silence for WPD’s fallen — Lt. Ron Weber, Sr., Sgt. Markus Frank and Officer Steve Phillips.
Westminster Police founded a memorial committee in 2004 after suffering their first in-the-line-of-duty losses in the department’s history.
The foundation raises money to support the families of fallen officers. This year’s ride raised $18,000.
“We really wanted to do something special for them — it’s not about us,” Drinnin said of the ride. “We do it to try and remember them.”
Riders left the capitol May 10 and arrived in Westminster May 13. They took turns logging miles, often reaching up to 60 miles in one stretch.
A van of support personnel was along along for the ride making sure the cyclists were fed, hydrated and well-rested for the long ride.
The team started training in December, although many cycle year-round to stay in shape for the grueling ride.
Officer Mike Gradilla, hired in Westminster a little more than a year ago, said they started with a moment of silence in the capitol, and it was there the realities of the career he chose settled in, he said.
“An officer we lost recently (from NYPD), Brian Moore, he’s my age,” Gradilla said. “It definitely made me realize how quickly I could be called home.
“The fact that he laid down his life in the line of duty made me appreciate life more.”
The ride snaked down California’s coastline, up long hills and down steep grades.
Along the way, there was tough terrain, near crashes and flat tires.
Gradilla was one of those near crashes when he hit a road construction sign on the course that ripped open his knuckles and almost made him fall.
That incident gave his counterparts miles of ammunition to rib the newest member of the Code 3 riding team.
“Every time we passed a construction sign they would yell at me to watch out,” he said, laughing. “I didn’t see the first sign; I was just six inches behind the guy in front of me.”
There were many times like these along the ride — light and filled with laughter.
Then there were the emotional moments that came at the end of the day when the riders would tend to sore muscles and achy joints while swapping stories about members of the law enforcement family they have lost.
“The pain these families feel is for the rest of their life,” Gradilla said. “That’s what kept me pushing through those times I was hurting or complaining a little bit.
“When the day is over, I can recover. That family, they can never recover.”
Several hours after the ride, members of the Westminster Police Department held an annual memorial ceremony, which included community members, city officials and officers from other law enforcement agencies.
Members of the Westminster Honor Guard raised a flag to half-mast and a lone bugler played “Taps.”
The Irvine Honor Guard performed a 21-gun salute and Huntington Beach Police’s aero unit flew overhead.
Marine Lt. Col. William E. Blanchard talked about brotherhood and sacrifice, and two Westmont Elementary students gave a speech to thank those in law enforcement for their service.
“Police officers put our lives ahead of theirs, and that’s a big deal,” said Brianna Diaz. “You only get one life.”
Police Chief Kevin Baker said it’s important every year for Westminster to hold a vigil to remember those who gave the greatest sacrifice.
Weber died in June 2003 from cancer he contracted while investigating methamphetamine labs.
Phillips was fatally injured in January 2004 in an on-duty traffic collision, and Frank died of a work-related illness in 2007.
These men were described as dedicated officers and loving husbands, brothers and sons.
Baker called them all heroes.
“They served, and sacrificed, for a purpose far greater than themselves,” Baker said. “I can think of no truer definition of a hero.”