17 May 2018

A Ride Of Silence To Speak For Him

In Greek tragedies, the hero falls to a combination of circumstances and his or her personal failings or shortcomings.

One of the reasons such stories endure is that they make the world make some kind of sense.  The combination of situation and personal flaw give a sense of symmetry, if not justice, to the demise of the hero.

Of course, it doesn't always work out that way in life.  Sometimes a person meets his or her fate due to an incident that he or she did not bring on and cannot control.

Such is the story of Roger Grooters, who went on a ride to help people whose lives were changed for the worse by a circumstance not of their making.  

Eight years ago, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (better known as the BP Oil Spill) spewed seemingly endless streams of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, befouling beaches in five US states and Mexico and leaving birds, fish and marine mammals sick, helpless or even dead.  Grooters wanted to help the people from whom the spill their property, livelihoods and health.  

His pastor and fellow church congregants told him there was nothing tangible he could do.  He thought otherwise.  So, on 10 September of that year, he got on his bicycle in Oceanside, California, near San Diego, with the intention of reaching Jacksonville, Florida.  He documented his trip, which raised $12,000, on a blog called Roger X Country.

The name of that blog has been changed to We Ride For Roger.  A little more than a month after he started his ride, a pickup truck was barreling down State Road 20 just outside of Panama City, in the Florida Panhandle.  The driver was texting and--unfortunately, you can guess what happened next:  He plowed right into the back of Grooters.

You can probably guess what happened next:  He didn't make it to Jacksonville.  He didn't make it, period.  His ride ended after 2179.4 miles, or about 300 miles short of his destination.

The following year, a group of cyclists that included some of his family members gathered at the crash site and continued his ride to Jacksonville.  He rode to raise awareness of the victims of one disaster; they were riding to raise awareness of the victims of the kinds of disasters that occur all too frequently on roadways in Florida and elsewhere.

The Ride Of Silence

A cyclist has a greater chance of being killed by a motorist in the Florida than in any other state in the Union.  I am sure that at least some of the 100 riders who gathered yesterday at Pensacola State College were aware of that. They participated in a seven-mile "Ride of Silence" along the city's streets in drizzle and rain.  At the beginning of the ride, organizers read the names of dozens of cyclists who have been killed while riding in the Florida Panhandle as bagpipers played "Amazing Grace".

The riders wore armbands--black for those who'd never been struck by a car, red for those who had.  I couldn't find a count, but from the photos I saw, the red bands were numerous.

Oh, by the way....The driver was so immersed in his texting that he didn't realize what he'd hit until the police stopped him.  He was cited and fined but never apologized to Roger Grooters' family.

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