Last month I had the privilege and honor of participating in the 2018 Pennsylvania EMS Memorial Bike Ride. This was the state’s third annual ride to remember providers killed in the line of duty and raise funds to build them a memorial.
It was an interesting ride with lots of wind and rain. Many riders talked about why they rode, most for lost partners. Such a loss left another dark cloud that hung over the ride for the weekend: Maine provider Isaac “Skippy” Greenlaw, captain of the Levant Fire Department and a rider in the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride, took his own life on September 6. Skippy was a friend to all he met on the ride, giving gigantic hugs to everyone he spoke with along the way. If only he had called someone.
The group of intrepid riders started in Shanksville, Pa., at the Flight 93 memorial on September 6. We held a remembrance ceremony at the visitor’s center, reading of the names of the ones lost in Pennsylvania and ringing the bell for each. With the rain falling sideways at times due to the wind, we determined riders mounted our bicycles, clipped in, and started on our way.
Starting at the base of a hill, we were soaked by the time we reached the top. Many riders were also cold by the time they arrived at the first rest stop, hosted by the Berlin EMS squad. They were giving sweatshirts from previous fund-raisers to the riders. Many thanks to Berlin, as these sweatshirts helped keep the riders warm.
By lunchtime the rain stopped, and we were left with low, threatening clouds for the afternoon, but the temperature had warmed up.
I rode with Howard Schultz, who attends the national EMS ride and helps put the Pennsylvania ride together. When I ride with someone, I like to ask what got them involved with the ride. Howard told me he’d heard about the ride through a lecture by Steve Berry. Howard was impressed with the idea. On arrival home he told his wife about the ride and discussed doing a couple of days on the next one. She heard him out, then told him he should do the whole week.
During the day those who’d ridden previously had been talking about the “hill” for eight of the last 10 miles. I had already ridden over several hills that were challenging but doable. But this was a hill! It started with a steep grade and continued for the next eight miles. From steep to rolling to steep again, it just kept going. I rode in my lowest gear to get over it. But coming down the backside was, let’s just say, exhilarating.
Sunday the ride leadership wouldn’t let us on the route due to heavy rain and flooding. The day’s route had two major climbs with hairpin turns. We rode instead in our vehicles, and these hills were steep and long and at times narrow, recently covered with fresh tar and chip stone. That meant a high potential for injury, so it was a wise decision by leadership to prioritize safety. Along the way we stopped at squads that were hosting us and met with the crews.
During the day I spoke with John Hill, one of the organizers of the Pennsylvania ride, about how he got involved. I first met John working with the support crew on one of the national EMS rides. John was at the National EMS Memorial Service in Roanoke, Va., one year for a friend who was being inducted, and he saw the national riders come into the hotel after seven days on the road from New York City. He wanted to be involved. The next year he was, working on support, marking routes for the riders to follow, and helping organize the “wingmen,” the true people who make any ride roll. From there it was an easy progression to starting the Pennsylvania ride.
Day 3 once again started with rain, and the ride was shortened to the final 7 miles. We started in Carlisle, Pa., after having lunch at the offices of EMS law firm Page, Wolfberg & Wirth. In parade formation we rode through the streets of Harrisburg, arriving at the state capitol building for a closing ceremony. Many state and local dignitaries spoke, and Mary Moreland, wife of local EMS veteran Ed Moreland (catch his presentations at EMS World Expo), sang the Star-Spangled Banner a cappella in the capitol rotunda. Her beautiful voice and the great acoustics brought it all together.
There was a final reading of the names and ringing of the bell. Several of us held Skippy in our hearts during this.
Until the next ride, stay safe.
Michael Kennard is an active participant in the EMS memorial bike rides in both the U.S. and in Canada. He has been riding in these events for 13 years and has participated in 23 different rides. Mike is a recently retired 40-year veteran of EMS who worked in both the volunteer and paid professional sectors. He still works part-time as an emergency room paramedic and EMS educator.