In the face of Adversity….we got to ride our bike.
I had the privilege to witness a marvelous occurrence last Saturday up in Lakeport, Ca. It was the 25th running of the “Konocti Challenge” organized by the Lakeport Rotary. The event had the self-effacing moniker of “Pedal the Puddle” for many years before being renamed for the prominent 4304’ volcanic local landmark of Mt. Konocti. I rode my first circumnavigation of “the largest natural lake in California” back in the early 80’s while I was attending UC Davis. When I was rerouting the Davis Double Century in 1985, I was quickly ensnared by the beautiful, quiet mountain roads of the Cobb Mountain area, just south of Clearlake. It felt like my own delicious bit of Sierras with its red dirt and dense fir forests. Lake County’s economy is primarily agricultural, with pears, apples, nut crops, etc. and many excellent wineries and recently, some “herbs”. The county is comparatively small at 1329 square miles and lightly populated with about 65,000 inhabitants. What made this event marvelous was both how close it came to being cancelled and how much it demonstrated the power of giving especially in the face of great adversity. This past summer has probably been the most difficult, terrifying and cataclysmic, for this or any county in recent history. Three major fires burned well over one hundred thousand acres and destroyed over a thousand homes and businesses in the eastern and southern regions. By some miracle, less than 8 people lost their lives. It easily could have been hundreds. Most of Middletown and the many of the small residential clusters in the Cobb Mountain area were completely destroyed. Yet, in the face of all this life shattering loss, the resilient people of Lake County came out and rallied in support of this yearly fundraiser cycling event just days after the horrendous Valley Fire. Very little evidence of the fires were visible from the route, but the 100 mile route was understandably cancelled as it was to travel south into the just burned and still unsafe area of Cobb Mtn. But the 67 mile clockwise lake tour and the gentle 40 mile routes went on as planned. In spite of what could easily feel insurmountable, the people of Lake County came out to run the start/finish area, serve food at all the rest stops, many in costumes, put up signage, drive the sag vehicles and share their kindness, all to raise funds, share their warmth and raise all our spirits. And if that weren’t enough; the approx. 750 lucky cyclists who participated this year were witness to what could easily be described as love on wheels. There is an amazing organizational dynamo, a woman who’s “on her tenth year of a three year commitment” as she modestly admits, who managed, in just days, to gather many dozens of bikes from multiple sources and give them away to some of the local children and families who’d just lost everything. I get emotional just trying to wrap my mind around it. Jennifer Strong is a lifelong resident of the area and a respected business woman, who does this herculean volunteer task, not for us cyclists, but for the resilient, kind and courageous people of Lake County. I had a wonderful ride under clear blue skies and across spacious mountainous vistas. I felt safe and cared for and even appreciated at every one of the plentiful rest stops, even though all I did was show up, pay a few dollars, stay for a few nights in a beautiful lakeside hotel and ride my bike for a few hours. So thank you, Jennifer Strong and all the great volunteers there in Lake County. The world is a better place because of your efforts and the efforts of all those people who’re fortunate enough to live there. Thank you.