A bike ride like no other

By Dick Mason, The Observer June 19, 2013 02:32 pm

Bicyclists with the La Grande High School alternative education program pause for a group shot with a Pacific ocean backdrop during their 210-mile trip from  Florence to Crescent City, Calif.
Bicyclists with the La Grande High School alternative education program pause for a group shot with a Pacific ocean backdrop during their 210-mile trip from Florence to Crescent City, Calif.

The wind never quit, and neither did 14 La Grande High School students, who took on one of the most grueling and exhilarating challenges of their lives. 

The students, all part of the LHS Alternative Education program, bicycled 210 miles in four days along the coast from Florence to Crescent City, Calif. The ride was made arduous by steep climbs, continuous wind and harsh sun. It was made joyous by camaraderie, the thrill of overcoming hardships and breathtaking ocean vistas.

“It was a struggle, but it was totally worth it,” said LHS student Cody Johnson. “It was the best memory I could have had.”

Any of the students could have stopped riding at any time and boarded one of the support vehicles following them, but none did. 

“Every single student succeeded. They rode when their bodies were telling them to quit,” said LHS alternative education teacher Ted Wilton, who led the trip earlier this month. 

Those who helped keep the students pedaling while in the grip of fatigue included Jill Swinn, a paraprofessional with the alternative education program who rode with the students. The teaching assistant offered encouragement and used the beauty of the coastline to keep students moving. 

“I tried to keep their minds occupied to distract them from the pain,” Swinn said.

The view of the Pacific was particularly exhilarating and distracting for the seven students who had never seen an ocean of any kind before their trip. Watching teenagers react to seeing the ocean is something the adults with them will never forget.

“They were childlike,” Wilton said. “They jumped into the ocean every time they could.”

Johnson was among the students who had never seen an ocean before. 

“I can’t even begin to describe how it was for me,” Johnson said.

Johnson and his classmates crossed a number of unforgettable bridges during their journey. Topping the list is the Thomas Creek Bridge in Curry County. It is the highest bridge in Oregon at 345 feet above Thomas Creek. 

“It is jaw-dropping awesome,” Wilton said.

Johnson was joined on the trip by classmates Tyler Pierce, Dyllan Reece, Dalton Jones, Kiersta West, Trevor Widder, James Bartlett, Jose Richter, Jesse Frizzell, Shawn Keeler, McKenzie Kruse, Jesse Keeling, Luis Miramontes and Isabelle Richards.

Volunteers who rode with them in addition to Wilton and Swinn included Matt Hibbert and LHS science teacher Brandon Galvez. Individuals driving vehicles for the cycling party included Wilton’s son, Jake, Amanda Moll and Galvez. 

Throughout each day, students ate meals rich in protein and carbohydrates prepared by the volunteers who accompanied them in vehicles. The students ate about 4,000 calories a day but always seemed to be hungry. 

“It was like continuously filling the gas tank of a car. Even when they were eating they were losing weight. It was almost like they had the metabolism of hummingbirds,” Ted Wilton said.

Students rode top-of-the-line 16-speed road bikes on the trip, ones purchased with funds from a $7,830 grant from the Union County Commission on Children and Families. The grant is funding a new bicycle mentoring program at LHS’s alternative school. 

Jim Mollerstrom, a contracted consultant and program trainer for the La Grande School District, helped write the grant application for the program and is providing major assistance to Wilton in running the program. 

The 210-mile coastal ride is the first of what Wilton hopes will be many annual three- to four-day bike trips he will lead for his alternative education students. The LHS teacher said he could not be prouder of the job his students did earlier this month.

“They are champions. They are like kings and queens,” Wilton said. “This let them know that they can push themselves beyond the limits that they’ve established for themselves.”

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