By Roger Coggins
Editor’s note: Since our inaugural ride in 2008, The California Challenge has become Project Hero’s most popular multiple-day ride experience. Starting in San Francisco and finishing in Los Angeles, the ride has brought together the Project Hero community as riders have made the southward journey through the gorgeous scenery of the California coast. Roger Coggins has ridden every California Challenge and shares some memories as he looks forward to next month’s ride.
I started riding with Mike, a bike mechanic who worked at the bike shop where I bought my first road bike, about 16 years ago. He dragged me on rides that I wouldn’t have attempted to do on my own and taught me how to be a climber. I live in Redlands, California where the Redlands Bike Classic is held every year and my area is full of mountains, so it is a must around here to be able to climb. Mike had more confidence that I could ride the first California Challenge than I did. He even drove me to San Francisco for the first three challenges.
I did my first California Challenge in 2008 and have ridden in all of them so far. I first saw an advertisement for the California Challenge while I was watching the Tour de France. I only saw it advertised once on TV. I thought I would never find the information again but a friend brought over Bicycling magazine after The Tour and the first thing I saw was the advertisement for the California Challenge. I said to myself that I was meant to do this.
I was really apprehensive about riding in my first Challenge – the first California Challenge! I had ridden a century before but, 450 miles + in 7 days! That seemed a little daunting. I didn’t know anyone in the program. I was also nervous about having a roommate. But my roommate ended up being a Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy named Shawn Robertson. I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate. We became great friends. We were roommates for the first three Challenges I rode. All these years later, we are still good friends.
The first CA Challenge was a much smaller group than it is now. It didn’t have the advanced organization that it has now. We would get so spread out sometimes. There were no groups, we just rode.
The first day was doable and the second day was fine. But the third day was a totally different story!
It was the longest ride of the week and John Wordin said we would be cursing his name before the day was done. He was so right! It was very hard. It was 100 miles long with hills included. I finished though. Back in those days, and on that third day, the lunch stop in Big Sur was just fruit drinks, bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly. We assembled our own. There was no USO canteen truck back in the beginning.
As I have mentioned before, the third day of the California Challenge is typically the hardest day. The first time you do it, it is the worst but that is because you are not familiar with it. It is brutal. It breaks you down mentally. This is especially true when you ask a support driver how many more climbs left & they say “one or two” and they have totally underestimated! That happened to me and another civilian rider from Arizona. We were really hurting but we learned during the day that we both had a love for Looney Tunes cartoons. To make the end of the third-day ride more bearable, we started sharing our favorite lines. It took our minds off of the pain.
The third day, as difficult as it is, still manages to be the day that the riders open up. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of doing these rides. It is what keeps me coming back, and the inside jokes that develop during each ride are priceless.
My primary goal for this CA Challenge is to ride with Delta group again. It took a long time for John Morlock and Dick Brock to convince me to ride in Delta to help push. They kept telling me that is where the fun was. They are so right! The pace is slow enough that I am able to actually talk to the other riders and get to really know them. I love helping riders go up hills. As I encourage them, I understand why this program exists. I have a chance to serve those who have served our country.
I look forward to reconnecting with some old friends from the very first California Challenge. I haven’t seen them since 2008. I also look forward to making new friends.
I have met so many great people willing to assist me in assisting our wounded Vets & First Responders. I am so blessed with the people I have met because of these Challenges. I am honored to be a part of these programs. I am honored that the Veterans on these rides have let me in, talked to me and allowed me to be a part of their healing. None of my participation and support would be possible without the support and love of my family, my friends, fellow Teamsters and the great Sons of the American Legion Squadron 650 & 25th District in San Bernardino County.
The first day of the ride, we start out as strangers. By the end, we are family. I still keep in touch with some of them and I’ll never forget any of them.
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