Cyclists converge on Washington for all-day rides

Published 7:22 pm Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Bicyclists from across the region — and some from as far as California and even England — met in Washington to put their mental and physical perseverance to the test. Race Across America hosted qualifying rides that had some of the best endurance cyclists around. Bids were earned by covering a certain amount of miles during a non-stop, 24-hour ride.

It was the sixth-annual hosting of the event for Melissa Maxwell, who spearheaded its organization. Around 40 participated the first time around, and Maxwell said the numbers have risen to around 125 per year.

“You have to be a good endurance athlete,” she said. Even the 12-hour iteration of the ride takes an impressive degree of dedication. “It’s more mind over matter.”

Inner Banks Outfitters owner Liane Harsh added, “You think about even trying to stay up to study for a test. I think the ability to stay awake and ride through the night … They’re encouraging almost insanity. What it is is a total physical and emotional endurance race.”

The goal was 400 miles in 24 hours. That’s an average of around 17 miles per hour nonstop. This qualifier in Washington is centric to the southeast region. The next closest locations are New York and Florida.

Few personify the kind of athlete that competes at this level like Jeffrey Ritter. Three years ago, Ritter, a Durham resident, crashed during his training for Race Across America. He fell 23 feet off of a bridge and broke his neck in five places.

Jane and Jeffrey Ritter stop by Inner Banks Outfitters the evening before the ride to pick up their kits.

His wife, Jane, found him. His neck was rebuilt with titanium rods and carbon fiber. He can no longer look upwards, so he learned to ride a recumbent bicycle.

Saturday marked Ritter’s first race since his accident. He covered well over 100 miles during the 12-hour stretch.

“A year ago, I couldn’t even ride the bike. I didn’t know how to lay on my back and ride a bike,” the 63-year-old said. “I had to learn very slowly. I would do six miles, then 12 miles. Now, this year, I’ve probably done 2,500 miles of training.”

Ritter narrowly eluded death that day. It hasn’t stopped him from living.

“I just realized that he is himself, and he’s best when he’s on his bike,” Jane Ritter said. “So, it was all a matter of ‘what are you going to do and how are you going to do it?’ … I’ve just been supporting him to make it happen because he is a completely different person and is like the win when he’s on his bike.”

His story is just one of over 100 from those that put themselves to the test on Saturday. These athletes all have something in common in their willingness to, time and again, push themselves to near-superhuman places.

“The camaraderie. There’s a great camaraderie, with a little bit of a southern style,” said Nancy Guth. She and her husband, John, rode as a relay tandem on Saturday.

“As the sun goes by, and the shade, and all the things change during the day. It’s always different,” John Guth added in appreciation of the scenery.