'Ride Across California' starts Sunday; Donations needed

The file photo shows Ride Across California participants finishing their trek in Carlsbad.
The file photo shows Ride Across California participants finishing their trek in Carlsbad.

Members of the Rancho Family YMCA’s Bike Club are preparing for the 22nd annual Ride Across California. The weeklong event takes local fifth-graders and their families on a ride starting Sunday, March 24 in Yuma, Ariz., and ending March 30 at Carlsbad State Beach with various stops on the way. An estimated 150 riders are expected to participate in this year’s ride.

The ride is organized by the staff of the Rancho Family YMCA with the support of a corps of community volunteers, and aims to show kids how proper training and planning can enable them to accomplish any goal they set. Established in 1991, the RAC experience makes such an impact on students that many continue to participate even after fifth grade.

Donations from community members are needed to support riders and their families, including granola bars, Gatorade or Powerade in powder form, individually packaged trail mix, corn nuts, 5-gallon water jugs and bike tubes.

All donations can be made through the Rancho Family YMCA, which is based in Rancho Penasquitos. For more information, contact Jesse Pazdernik, sports and teens director, at 858-484-8788 or visit www.rancho.ymca.org.

Ride Across California program was founded in 1991 by Dennis Bueker, a fifth-grade teacher at Deer Canyon Elementary School in Rancho Penasquitos. Now retired, Bueker began the program to help fifth-graders gain confidence and learn how to overcome and deal with difficult challenges in life. His inspiration for the program came from the book “Hey Mom, Can I Ride My Bike Across America?” written by John Seigel Boettner in 1986. The first trip more than 20 years ago involved a handful of students who rode from San Diego to Yuma.

“Once they finish the Ride Across California, they feel as if they can accomplish anything,” says Bueker. Rancho Family YMCA took over the program in 2002 when the Poway Unified School District was unable to support the program for Deer Canyon Elementary and has organized the ride every year since.

One key volunteer involved with the ride is Gary Rossi, a coordinator and leader for RAC. Along with planning and coordinating the ride, Rossi also participates every year. He started participating 11 years ago when he rode with his daughter and then with his son. In 2002, Rossi stepped up and became the leader of RAC when Bueker retired.

“Without the parent volunteers that help with safety equipment, meals, and camping gear, RAC would not be possible. So many kids would miss out on this great opportunity,” said Rossi.

“We are happy to organize Ride Across California, a program that is unique to our branch and has made a positive impact in the lives of local kids and their families for more than two decades,” said Mark A. Thompson, executive director of the Rancho Family YMCA. “RAC encourages physical fitness as well as character building and it’s wonderful to see all the participants celebrate their accomplishment of riding from the desert to the ocean with all of their supporters.”

   
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