2013-09-20 / Community

‘Memorial miles’ another avenue for remembering fallen cyclists

Annual Share the Road Ride pedals through Simi on Oct. 5
By Gabrielle Moreira

In 2009, the inaugural Share the Road Ride took place in Simi Valley in honor of Phil Hernandez, a 39-year-old man who lost his life in a cycling accident on First Street in August 2005.

Since that first ride, the annual event, to be held this year on Oct. 5, has grown into something more than just a memorial for Hernandez. It’s become a way to remember all who have died in cycling accidents and to make motorists and riders aware that they share the roads.

“It’s about how we are all on the road together and that it can be dangerous,” said Michele Neff Hernandez, Phil’s widow and one of the ride’s founders. “It shows that each cyclist has a family that they want to come home to after every ride.”

Michele Hernandez, 43, went on a yearlong journey to find other widows who could help her cope with her husband’s death.

In 2008 she created the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, a nonprofit that provides a support community for widows around the world and that now benefits from Share the Road Ride proceeds.

Hernandez incorporated into the ride what she calls “memorial miles,” whereby families and friends can submit a request to the foundation to have a mile dedicated in a loved one’s honor.

There are 175 miles combined for all three courses in the ride, and Hernandez said 12 have been dedicated since the first ride. A request for a mile needs to be made just once, and the mile is marked for that person each year, at no cost.

A design team within the Share the Road committee creates a poster board with the person’s name, birth date, accident date and a six- to eight-word message. The boards are placed at each mile. Hernandez encourages family and friends to visit those spots at the event.

“The dedication miles put a face to those lost and highlights that each person has a family and loved ones,” Hernandez said. “That’s why we have the miles, as a way to honor those people.”

The first mile of the course is dedicated to her husband. It touched her greatly, she said, that when riders on the first course set off last year, almost every single one who passed Phil’s poster board made some kind of gesture to honor him.

“People took photos with him, patted the board or waved at him as they rode by,” she said. “I can’t explain how happy I was to see that.”

Anyone interested in a dedication mile has until Sept. 27 to fill out an application, Hernandez said. She anticipates one day having all 175 miles dedicated.

To be part of the ride, cyclists must pay a $50 nonrefundable registration fee. The first year there were 30 participants. Last year more than 120 cyclists attended the event, and Hernandez hopes to see 300 participants this year.

Riders can choose among three different courses: a century 100-mile ride, a half-century 50- mile ride, or a 25-mile city tour. Each ride starts at the DMV parking lot at 3855 Alamo St.

The 100-mile ride begins at 7 a.m., traveling through Simi Valley,

Moorpark and along Santa Rosa Road in Camarillo before winding back to the DMV. The half-century starts at 8 a.m., winding through Simi Valley and Moorpark. The 25-mile ride, which begins at 9 a.m., is a moderate course traveling through Simi Valley.

Ron Ghrist, 62, a cyclist and course coordinator for the event, tries to regularly change up the routes.

“It’s a lot of work to get the courses up and running,” he said. “And you don’t know until the last week how many riders will actually be going through each course. Still, it’s been exciting to watch how much it’s grown.”

Ghrist and his wife, Gail, had known Phil and Michele for 13 years, and Ghrist said he quit cycling for some time because he was devastated by Phil’s death. He’s riding again now and has a greater awareness of his surroundings and traffic when he goes out for a ride.

“It’s in the back of my mind that something could happen to me,” he said. “I mean, it could happen to anyone. That’s what this ride is about, that people need to be more aware of each other on the road.”

To register for the ride or to fill out an application for a memorial mile, go to the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation website at www.sslf.org and mail a copy to the offices at 2828 Cochran St., Ste. 194.

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