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4/4/99 - And They're Off!!!! - Photo of Group.



YOUNG AT HEART CYCLISTS DEPART BALBOA PIER FOR 3110 MILE TRANS-AMERICA RIDE
By Christina Melnarik

Kathleen and the other nineteen riders in the Young at Heart group settled into their beds last night with a bit of trepidation. An almost violent sandstorm was shaking the Pacific Coast, whipping palm trees and streetlights into a frenzied nighttime dance. Many of the riders walked to and from dinner bending into cold gusting winds that tossed sand at windows and rattled store awnings. At least, they said, it's a tailwind! The weather channel wasn't much comfort, warning of strong winds and scattered showers for the coming week.

The storm volume had risen continuously over the course of the introductory talk given earlier in the evening by Al Galletly, the tour leader. Riders looked nervously out the window at the waning light and growing roar of wind through the trees. The slap of palm fronds sounded like rain and it seemed that at any minute the clouds would open and release a drenching shower.

Despite the storm noise, most riders slept well and awoke Easter Sunday to an unexpectedly glorious morning. A clear sky glowed with soft light. The air was still and cool, becoming increasingly balmy as the morning sun warmed the beach and ocean. Riders shed jackets and long-sleeved shirts transferring rain gear to their luggage and grabbing sunglasses. It seemed impossible that the morning could be so lovely after the chilly gusts of the night before.

Despite having to "spring forward" to daylight savings time, the group gathered right on time for a continental breakfast. After checking out of their rooms and loading gear into the SAG vans, the riders got ready for departure. The group swelled with friends and family during the early morning. Kathleen's eldest daughter, Kitty, arrived with husband Jaime and their two adorable boys, Jessie and Parker. Each set of grandchildren has a different name for Kathleen. Jessie and Parker call her "Ta-Ta," Cody and Graham call her "Clip-Clop" and Paul David and Juliana use the more traditional "Grandma." The boys were happy to see their Ta-Ta off and she was glad to return their precious hugs and kisses. Dad and I (daughter number two) were also there to witness this triumphant moment of beginning.

Al had hired a friendly professional photographer to record the departure and he skillfully mingled among the riders capturing family groups and excited faces. As is customary on cross-country rides, the riders walked across the beach to dip their bicycle tires into the Pacific Ocean. All tire dips were duly recorded on film and the riders headed up onto Balboa Pier for a group photo or two… or possibly fifty! Displaying the kind of patience they will need over the next few months, the riders acquiesced to the many requests for a smile, then a wave, then please move closer together, no CLOSER together, now if you could just switch sides we can take just this last shot!

Suddenly it was time to get riding. As the official start of the ride, the end of Balboa pier sits some 100 yards offshore. One by one the riders saddled up, exchanging hugs, kisses, and not a few tears with family and friends. They pedaled the length of the pier heading east toward the Pacific Coast Highway where they turned south toward San Diego, starting their first 50 miles of the 3110 mile trip.

As we drove home today, Dad and I reflected on Mom's journey. We were both impressed with the organization of the tour and the friendly, competent, safety-conscious attitude of the leaders. Mom seems to be in good hands. The other nineteen riders are a lively and experienced bunch brimming with good humor. Easy going and interesting, they are the perfect companions for a two-month trek across America.

It wasn't easy to say goodbye and watch Mom pedal off without us. As she cycled off the pier and onto the road, she waved one last time. I started jogging toward her thinking I could catch up for one more hug or one more photo, but she was too far ahead. I could only watch her turn the corner and cycle out of sight. Three thousand miles seems so very far. I want to be there to help and support her, to protect her from any trouble. I understand now how hard it must have been for her to watch me leave on my solo hike of the John Muir Trail. But she let me go, sending her prayers along with me. And I too, have to let her go, knowing that she must take this trip herself. So we all send our prayers and hopes and love out toward her as she journeys down the road and across the country. Have fun, Mom! We love you.


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