Monday, June 13, 2011

DreamRide ~ We are all Friends Here.....

What can I say, other than I have just experienced one of the funnest/ craziest weeks of my life.  Who knew that when Gary Maestas, Superintendent of Schools in Plymouth MA,  asked me back in the fall to join him on this adventure, that it would be such a wonderful experience.

DreamRide ~  A bike ride from our nations capital, Washington DC to our nations home town, Plymouth Massachusetts !

I was the Director of Logistics for the ride.  I was in charge of 15 people to get from DC to Plymouth all in one piece, and on time to each location. ( I was also known as the RV mom)

Day 1

We leave Plymouth by meeting at the parking lot of Jordan Hospital at 5:30 am.  Yesterday was graduation.  Six of the seven students participated in graduation the day before, one other student traveling is a junior and is taking a week off of school to participate.

Members of our Dream Team:

Gary Maestas ( Dream Rider, Superintendent of Schools, Plymouth MA )
Peter Holden ( CEO Jordan Hospital & Dream Rider)
Me ( Director of Logistics)
Dan Riley ( Video Director)
Paul McCaulduff ( Director of Transportation)
Ann Powers (Nurse Leader)
Mike Petrasko ( Driver of lead car)
Nancy Silvia ( Teacher)
Media Students:
Bike Mechanics:

Mike and Ann are in the lead car following the RV from Plymouth to Washington DC on this fine Sunday morning with Maxx and Walter.  The rest of the students are asleep on the RV.

We arrive at the hotel in DC to find out that it is in a questionable area of DC.  It is a Quality INN.  Let's just say it was not a vacation destination.  The front lobby did have hourly rental rates, and the hotel staff was behind bullet proof glass.  We were there just to sleep.  Safety in numbers.

Members of the Plymouth Education Foundation flew in the night before, and we all took taxi's to the Hard Rock Cafe in downtown DC.  It just so happened that right next store at the Ford Theater that Vice President Biden was attending an event, so the security in the area was heightened.  We saw many secret service people and police officers in the area.

Dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe was fun, we had a great time starting to get to know each other.  Instead of the HRC staff singing Happy Birthday to Gary & Peter, they had the whole restaurant wish them good luck for their upcoming venture!

Some of us leave the Hard Rock and take cabs to the back of the capital and the reflecting pool to see what it looks like at night. Some of the kids play hide and seek.  Not really a good idea in the dark in downtown DC, but all is well.  Florence and Sean climb a statue and pose for photos on the back of the lion.

We leave the area, take a cab and hear for the first time the phrase that will stick with us the rest of the week:

" It's OK, we are all friends here".  Those in that taxi will know the meaning behind that !

(Thanks Sean for my new favorite phrase!)

Day 2

Monday Morning bright and early, ate breakfast at hotel, then off to the nations Capital building.  It was an adventure getting from the hotel to the Capital.  The RV followed the lead car.  We had our first scare and thought we were going to squash the lead car when they stopped suddenly in front of us.

We arrived at the park in front of the capital in front of the reflecting pool.  We were able to take some photos here.

Gary and Peter left the Capital, and ventured off onto the streets of DC for the start of their 600 mile journey back to Plymouth.  Only 3 miles into the start of the Dream Ride, they encountered difficulties with the navigation of the route with their GPS.  The lead car was called back, and they started from a new location.

The first school stop was Adrundel High School in Gambrills Maryland.  Gary and Peter spoke to about 125 PE students.  They were attentive and ready to hear about his dream and his bike ride.

Next stop was the Walter and Betty Ward YMCA in Abingdon, Maryland.  Peter and Gary, with all of their mapping delays, arrived about an hour late.  They were greeted by a curbside audience of youngsters with signs and yelling cheers of encouragement.  They then spoke to the children about the Dream Ride, and Peter spoke about the importance of staying active and having fun playing.  We were especially lucky to have Mrs. Betty Ward in attendance, whom the building was named after, to hear Gary and Peter speak.  The students were able to work out and use the rock wall facilities, while Mike and I took the riders to check into the hotel to shower and change before dinner.  The YMCA was so gracious and provided us with a yummy pasta and salad dinner.  We all then left the YMCA and went to the hotel.

I did not realize this when booking the hotel, but this hotel included a $25 per room credit to their restaurant.  Some of us then had a second dinner and some had dessert.

New Motto:  Evaluate and Re-access. 

Day 3

We leave the hotel and drive to our next school stop in Newark ( New- ahrk) Delaware to start the this day of the dream ride.  We are at the William B. Keene Elementary school, and Bea Spear is the principal.  She and I have been corresponding for the past 3 months, and it is wonderful to finally meet her.  About 650 elementary students fill up the cafeteria floor.  They are intently listening to Gary speak about his dream and encourages them to find a dream of their own and to talk about it to those around them.  He also talks about finding people to support your dreams.  Peter then speaks about being active and to try and stay out of his hospital by eating healthy and exercising.

Next stop, the Christian Street YMCA.  It is about 90 degrees. Hot and humid.  There is no air conditioning in the RV.  People always ask if we are staying in the RV, no, we are not, thankfully.  We are staying in a hotel each night.  We spend about 10 hours a day in the RV.

Again, the RV arrives early, and we are waiting for the Dream Riders.  Michelle Stevenson who is the director at the Philly YMCA is riding the last 2-3 miles with Gary and Peter.  About a mile out, Gary has his first flat tire.  The bike guys change it with in minutes, and they are off again.  Another warm and wonderful reception of children waiting outside of the YMCA holding signs of encouragement and yelling cheers awaits the riders.  Everyone is going crazy and jumping for joy.  It was truly amazing.  We go into the gym and the kids are going crazy talking to Gary and Peter.  I look around and see Gary's bike with a kid on it, same with Peter's bike.  The bikes do not go far from their owners.  They always have a hand on one when the kids are sitting on its seat.

The YMCA has a dinner prepared for us, typical Philly food.  Michelle speaks briefly to us.  I am in tears.  She is a wonderful woman and cares deeply for kids.  This YMCA was the first Black YMCA.  Great athletes like Wilt Chamberland and many other athletes from the Philly area played on these floors and hoops!  Our kids were amazed.  We sat and chatted for quite a while.  I made a new best friend, the President of their Board of Directors, Alicia.  She plans on coming up to Plymouth for the 4th of July parade and the Dream Ride Float !!

Our hotel out side of Philly is less than remarkable.  Ann ( the nurse) says she saw a large mouse in her room.  Peter thought her description of the mouse sounded more like a rat.  Oh joy.  Glad I heard that on day 7 and not sooner!

Day 4  

First stop of the day is to start the Dream Ride at an elementary school in Jenkingtown Pennsylvania.  We need to drive through Philly to get there.  It was eye opening for our students traveling to  see what the inner city of an impoverished area looks like.  Very different than what they see in Plymouth or its surrounding towns.

Jenkingtown Elementary school's Principal is Keith Purcaro.  Since today is going to be a very hot day ( expected to get into the mid 90's today) we start early and Gary and Peter go on first, followed by Nancy our 4th grade teacher that has come up with the Dream Ride curriculum.  This school is remarkable.  There are 600 students from K-12th grade.  It is on one location.  The elementary school is on the right, and the high school on the left.  They are linked by a building called "THE LINK", and by all accounts it looks like it works well for their community.  Gary and Peter spoke to about 150 students.  Some students were away that day to NY on a field trip.

After an VERY VERY VERY hot day, we arrive at the Quitman Street Elementary School in Newark New Jersey.  Gary and Peter and speaking to a group of about 80 youngsters in their after YMCA program at the school.  But before Gary and Peter arrive, the children are treated to a special appearance of the Mayor of Newark, Cory A. Booker.  Mr. Booker on the board of directors for the Lets Move program supported by the First Lady, Michelle Obama.  Mr. Booker spends about 20 minutes with the children as we wait for Gary and Peter to arrive.  They finally arrive, I am outside signaling them to pick up their bikes and run up the stairs and to get on their bikes and ride down the halls to the gym where the Mayor and the children were waiting.  They are able to meet each other.  The mayor stays for a few minutes, and leaves as he has another appointment he is late in leaving the kids.  We feel honored that he has stayed for so long, as he has a busy schedule.  The director of the Newark YMCA, Michael Bright says that the Mayor never stays that long.  They too, are honored that he stayed and that even though he was late to his next appointment, that spending time with the Dream Team and the kids at the YMCA was very important to him.   The YMCA had another special treat. They were raffling off a bike to the kids in the after school program.  Principal Glover was happy to award the bike to a lucky girl~!

We leave the school and venture to the Newark YMCA down town following Michael.  We arrived and had a wonderfully prepared meal.  It was great getting to know new friends and spending time with them and talking about our adventure thus far.

Today was one of the hottest days on record for this time of year.  The YMCA did not have air conditioning for all of its rooms, and they decided to transport us to another location.  We were supposed to stay in their hotel.  We ended up in Clifton NJ at a Howard Johnsons.  Another adventure awaited us. We were finally checked in around 10pm, and ready for a good nights rest in A/C.

We are all Friends Here !

Day 5

We leave New Jersey and today we do not have any schools to attend.  New York City schools  have the day off.  We also thought with scheduling it would be difficult because today would be the hard ride through New York City.  The Dream Riders are able to fulfill a dream by riding their bikes across the Hudson River on the George Washington Bridge.  Gary took a video, and it looked amazing.  In the RV the students are working diligently and putting together footage for the website.

We arrive in Statford Connecticut to our nicest hotel yet.  Today it was stormy, luckily the rain did not start pounding down until the Dream Riders arrived at the hotel.

It was about an hour, and we were in our car and a van to friends of Peters, who lived in Fairfield, CT.  They were so gracious to host our crew.  We had a tasty bbq dinner and awesome nachos before hand.  It was a great time to relax and to get to know each other a bit better.  The night ended with us gathering around a table and Dan doing a card trick.  He must have done is 7 or 8 times.  We were trying to figure it out.  Kaitlin recorded it with her phone. 

Day 6

Second Hill Elementary School in Stratford CT is our first stop of the day.  It was only 2 miles from the hotel.  Problem was that it was on the other side of the train tracks. Our RV height clearance is 12' 6".  Each time we came to a train track to go under, they were about 10 feet high.  We had to back track and find a way over the tracks, and not under them.  We stopped and asked an nice Salvation Army truck driver, and he gave us directions.

At the school we were greeted by Principal Jamie Palladino.  He is the brother to our middle school principal Brian Palladino.  The riders waited until the students were ready, and rode right into the gym.  Gary and Peter spoke for about 15  minutes.  What was really cool about this school visit was that we had SKYPE hook up so both schools could speak to each other.  Students from PCIS asked questions to the CT students, and vice versa).  It was amazing to see technology at work.  The students here have decorated the gym with posters and landmarks of the sights we will see along the way from DC to Plymouth.  Amazing art work.

We meet for lunch.  Apparently there have been may hills between here and Stratford.  Peter decides to take a break from riding, and lets two of our boys take a turn on the wheels.  First Maxx, and then Walter.  Each ride about 20 miles with Gary.  For Maxx it is a conquering of a fear.  When he was younger, he fell off a bike and broke his arm.  He has a huge scar on his forearm as a reminder.  For Walter, why would he miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to ride with the Superintendent of Schools?  Both students did exceedingly well.  Their parents should be proud of them for this accomplishment.

While the Dream Riders are biking their way through Connecticut, we arrive at our next location, the Mystic CT YMCA.  What a beautiful location, right on the water in Mystic Harbor.  Our crew is able to Kayak in the harbor for about 2 hours.  A great break for everyone who has been stuck in RV all week.  I do not venture to kayak. I have never done it before, and I did not feel this was the place for me to learn for my first time.  I had many other things I needed to do to prepare for the next day.

Dream Riders arrive at the hotel.  Maxx is walking gingerly, as I am sure the seat of the bike was not was he was used to, however he and Walter did and exceptional job keeping up with Gary.  Both boys are beaming with accomplishment.  One says, when would he ever get a chance do be a part of something like this again.  We meet for dinner at the Diner attached to the hotel.  Dan from the YMCA is so gracious and treats our group to dinner.  We are so thankful for the support of all of the YMCAs on our trip back home.  They have truly been amazing.  I want a job working for the YMCA.

Tonight we are joined by Ruby ( Gary's wife) and his son AJ.  AJ will be riding next to his dad for the rest of the trip.   

Day 7

It is cold and rainy. It is amazing what a difference latitude makes in the weather conditions.  Two days ago we were in 96 degree weather, and now it is 55 degrees.  The bikers are off and ready to go.  There are now 3 of them as Peter, Gary and AJ take off.

The RV lingers in Mystic, and returns back to the Mystic YMCA to take additional footage and photos.  We then venture to Boston and arrive at the YMCA Constitution Inn in the Navy Yard in Charlestown.  Great location, and wonderful people again at the Boston YMCA.  We are so blessed !

While we are waiting for the Dream Riders, we accidentally take a walking tour of Charlestown in search for a Dunkin Donuts.  Finally we find it, sit for a break then head back to the hotel.

The Dream Riders arrive, we have dinner reservations at 7:30 pm at the Warren Tavern in Charlestown. It was a great meal. Students ( kids) at one table, and adults at the other table.  At the end of each night it was wonderful to recapture the events of the day/week and discuss them.  This is our last night together.  We are all taking it in and feel that tomorrow we will be excited to be home with our families, but yet the bonds we have made are strong and saying good bye will be difficult.

Day 8

Wow, is it really Day 8 ?  Have I been with these people for this long?  It has gone by SO quickly!  I am amazed that we are all still friends.  There have not been any issues along the way.  That is a testament to itself knowing that there are 15 people here in close quarters.  I think it is because we all are on board with the purpose of this adventure, and we are here to support Gary accomplish his dream. 

We arrive at the State House on Beacon Hill in Boston.  Gary and Peter and joined by about 20 people who will ride from Boston to Plymouth.  What we did not have from the beginning of this adventure  was police escort for the Dream Riders.  We are SO lucky that with prior planning, we are able to have an escort from Boston to Plymouth from all of the towns in between, along with the Plymouth Police Department.

Bike boys were able to ride with the Plymouth Police Chief in his car.  They had been cooped up for most of the trip in the SUV, and I found out they have never been in a police car.  ( YEA !  good news!), so I spoke with the Chief and arranged for them to ride along with him.  I hope they had a good time using the sirens and lights.

Driving through Boston with police escort was phenomenal.  Being allowed to go through red lights while the motorcycle police held traffic was amazing.  I was in the RV, police cars in front, and Dream Riders behind us.

First stop of the day was the Quincy YMCA.  We met some members that were in their transitional program.  Gary and Peter spoke for a few minutes, and they had a snack.  Off to the next YMCA location in Hanover.  This facility was beautiful, I think one of the best ones I have ever been in.  They provided lunch for us.  We then left and headed for Plymouth.

This part of the trip was bittersweet.  We would be leaving the RV and going back to our lives.  Plymouth was on the horizon.  I was wonderful coming down 3A into North Plymouth, taking the left onto Water Street and driving by the Mayflower II and Plymouth Rock.  The bikers took a short break at Stephens Field, then we reorganized and put Gary and Peter at the front with the Chief behind, then us ( RV) and then the bikers followed by other police cars.  

The procession pulled into Jordan Hospital with a huge crowd awaiting our arrival.  It was amazing to see the support from the Town of Plymouth.

We then were on a stage behind the Senate President, Theresa Murray MCing the festivities.  It was great to hear Peter speak.  He brought tears to my eyes.  What a great and caring man to have at the head of our hospital.  Gary spoke about his dream being accomplished.  Lastly Florence, one of our students, spoke briefly about her experience along the trip.  She had a prepared speech typed out on her lap top, but ended up folding that lap top away and spoke from the heart.

What an amazing 8 days.

I feel privileged to have been invited to participate.  

I know each of the 15 people were hand selected by Gary.

We were there to support him accomplish his dream, and in doing so he has inspired many of us to think about what our dreams are and to set goals to accomplish them.

As we go our separate ways, some to college, one to the Navy in October, some back to work, and all of us back to our families, we can look back on the great memories and realize that we have been a part of something bigger than us.  We were team members of the DreamRide. 

We are all friends Here !

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