I clearly remembered the overwhelming feeling I had when one of my close friends and I rode up to the starting location of the Ride that evening. We were late and we were carrying the flowers that we would be placing at the ghostbike along the route. In my mind, I think I was anticipating 20-30 riders might show. But when we arrived, my first thought was, where did all of these people come from? And…they are here because of my efforts? Instantly I realized there was work to be done so our Ride will depart on time – once again the strategic and methodical me kicked in! The Ride took off without a hitch. It wasn’t until I was actually on my bike riding – after all the work had been done – that now it was just me participating in the Ride just like all the others. And then it hit me. All of a sudden, this Ride was FOR me - or so it felt. This Ride represented me doing the one thing I now feared the most – facing my fear of riding in traffic. But I had 71 other cyclists there to protect me. I cried when the flowers were placed at the ghostbike and the names were read aloud - as I thought, it could have been me, or worse, it should have been me. As we all rode in silence, I was surrounded by two very dear friends of mine. I knew they were only there simply for me. They knew I needed support when I wouldn’t even admit that to myself. The approximately hour-long silent ride allowed me time to fully contemplate and reflect on all that I had gone through - and all that I was still going through - things I hadn’t fully allowed myself to think about prior to that point. When the Ride was over, a number of wonderful people came up to me simply to say “thank you” for organizing the Ride.
There were two particular “strangers” who approached me and made lasting impressions on me. One who truly seemed moved by the experience and very graciously thanked me for doing what I did. At that very moment of meeting her, I remember feeling that I would always have an angel riding with me. The other meaningful person inquired about my accident. I remember asking “how did you know I was in an accident?” And he pointed to the red ribbon I was wearing on my arm (all cyclists who have been injured wear a red ribbon during the Ride). I then felt silly for having asked “how did you know”! I found myself telling this perfect stranger every detail about the accident. He then told me about his absolutely horrific accident of his own. It was then I realized that all of us wearing red ribbons that night bonded in some shape or form. We were comrades brought together by our own very unfortunate incidents - but that night, we all rode as one. When it was all said and done, I knew that my “unintentional” involvement with the Ride was purely therapeutic for me. It was what I needed to start my healing process.
One year later, May 2014, I embraced taking the full lead on coordinating this year’s Ride of Silence in Sacramento. The goal this year was to get the word out, get the community involved, raise funds and gather donations, and simply make it a memorable experience for those families of loved ones lost who were joining our ride. No longer was I only reflecting upon my own personal experiences and pain – now it was more about what I could do to advocate for the safety of others while cycling. This year I was much more involved – it was solely my responsibility to get the numbers up and make sure the ride was a success. I finally felt like I was making a difference for others, not just for myself. This year I became much more engaged with the families of the deceased cyclists. The horror stories I heard – each one of them filled with grief, pain, and sorrow – had me in tears. Family members from various parts of California came to Sacramento to join our Ride. The California Bicycle Coalition supported our efforts this year. There was such a great outpouring of support from the local community, bicycle shops, and other local businesses.
As I reached the starting point of our ride, I was once again in complete amazement. The crowd was bigger than I could have ever wished for – we had 135 participants! Almost double of what we had last year! For the second time in two years, our ride took us from California’s State Capitol building to the front of California State University, Sacramento where a ghostbike was installed. Upon the reading of the names of cyclists who have left us, there were not many dry eyes in the crowd. With our bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace”, I desperately tried to keep busy during what is the saddest part of the whole event. I looked around and just observed the great variety of cyclists who participated this year. We had sleek and sexy road bikes out there, cruisers, fixed gears, recumbents, hybrids, mountain bikes, trikes – cycling clubs, families - all types and skill levels of riders joined together for one powerful cause.. As I continued to look around I noticed some very great men and women of our cycling community – they stood out and represented everything that this Ride meant – we are all one, and we have to look out for each other. Regardless of any competitive spirit elsewhere, we were in this together on this one special evening.
My greatest volunteer effort is my involvement with the Ride of Silence. Being a small part of a greater movement - in helping to spread the word to protect all cyclists and to honor those that have been killed - has given me a sense of peace and strength. My personal traumatic experience prompted me to do what I can to bring awareness to our community - we all must share the road because these are human beings’ lives which are being put at risk daily.
The show of support from the Sacramento cycling community, the cyclists who shared their stories with me, the grieving family members I was blessed to meet, and the friends that supported me on this ride –came together to make this a safe and successful event. At first a bit too much for me to handle as I read the statistics of bicyclists injured and killed – it brought back far too fresh memories. But in the end, this was by far the best therapy for me. Overwhelming in so many ways – the solidarity displayed helped ease my fears. In the end, I was reminded that I ride for freedom – and I will always have angels riding next to me.
About Sonya Lovine
Sonya Lovine is a Sponsored Research Officer at California State University, Sacramento. She has worked at Sac State for over 25 years. Sonya received her master’s degree in Public History and bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Sacramento State. She will begin work on her second master’s degree in Information Science in the fall of 2015. Sonya is an active volunteer with the Governor’s Mansion State Historic Park and enjoys spending time with her Boston Terrier and going for long bike rides along the American River Parkway.