The clock had just struck midnight, but that didn’t stop a group of supporters from sticking around to greet four of the eight cyclists on the Youth For Christ team passing through Columbus as part of Ride Across America (RAAM).
About 20 friends and family members gathered with the group at Second and Brown Streets for about 10 minutes early Friday morning. Then, it was off to a friend’s house for the crew to get a couple of hours sleep before heading back on the road toward Annapolis, Maryland, where they are expected to finish this afternoon.
“It’s neat that people are out at this hour to cheer us on and say ‘Hi,’” said Brian Starnes, one of the local riders. “A lot of people do this, and very few get to actually ride through their hometown. That’s kind of motivation as you’re riding along – that you’re going to see family for a brief moment.”
Starnes, Grant Watson and Troy Love of Columbus and Jonathan Watson of Michigan made up one of the team’s four-man units. Tim Hoeflinger, Slade Crowder and Dan LeClerc, all of Columbus, and Kellen Bowers of Colorado were on the other.
The four-man teams took turns riding 8- to 10-hour shifts. Within those shifts, one rider would usually bike about five miles at a time.
“These guys are crazy,” said crew member Alec Burnett, who will be a senior at Columbus East. “This is beyond me. I can’t imagine doing what they’re doing. They are extremely physically athletic and mentally strong, and that’s really what it takes. What the RAAM calls their cycling race is the world’s hardest cycling race, and it is exactly that.”
The 3,089-mile race began June 17 in Oceanside, California. The team experienced 120-degree temperatures in the desert, a golf-ball sized hailstorm in Kansas and floodwaters in Missouri.
Love, a Columbus police officer, has done a couple of cross-country trips, but not as part of a team. His favorite part of the trip so far was riding down the “Glass Elevator,” a winding, twisting California road that drops into the desert, at 60 mph.
The Youth For Christ team doesn’t consist of a bunch of spring chickens. Grant Watson is 65, LeClerc is 62 and Starnes is 58. Love, 54, and Hoeflinger, 39, celebrated birthdays this week.
“It’s basically a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” Love said. “It’s been awesome to raise money for Youth For Christ and be with guys that want to reach the youth and be on a team of guys that care about other people.”
That in essence was Hoeflinger’s mission.
“He felt like he had a calling. And when I got the invitation, I thought it was a great opportunity to help raise money,” Watson said.
Watson noted that the cyclists couldn’t have made their trek without the help of the eight crew members. The crew take the bikes on and off the support vehicles every time they switch riders and have done other logistical duties such as booking hotel rooms and rental cars.
Burnett helped put the ride together as his high school senior project. He asked people who have done RAAM advice on what to do and what not to do.
“It has been a whirlwind,” Burnett said. “It really didn’t feel real until we were out there and on the starting line ready to rock. It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime to go across the country and do it for a reason that I love and really get to proclaim my faith.”
A look at the riders and crew on the Youth For Christ team that is competing in Ride Across America (RAAM):