ST. GEORGE — A 365-mile bike ride from Salt Lake City to St. George was a checkmark off of one man’s bucket list, and an inspiring accomplishment for 11 others.
Six tandem bicycles rolled into the pavilion at Vernon Worthen Park on Thursday evening. On board were six visually impaired riders with their guides, all clearly exhausted after completing the long haul that started the previous Sunday.
The endeavor was the idea of Ken Duke, who thought of putting together the ride more than a year ago. Along with guide Ben Alvord, Duke said the bike ride was a bucket list dream.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Duke said, amid the hugs and cheers after finishing. “To finish with this group of people, we’ve become family. It’s great. We loved it.”
Along the journey, riders dealt with rain, heat, brutal head winds, an unbelievable amount of flat tires and semi-trucks driving past their shoulders at 65 mph – but all of it was worth it, Duke said.
The nonprofit group Achilles International helped the 11 other riders bring Duke’s dream to reality. The organization also works to empower people with disabilities to harness the athlete within and raises funds through donations to help disabled athletes participate in athletic events.
“Events like these are about raising awareness, helping people understand that people with disabilities can live and have fun and live life like everyone else,” Duke, the Achilles International chapter president in Salt Lake, described.
St. George resident Gail Yarker made the journey with her guide Tyler Fredsall.
“I’ll remember all of the support everyone gave us,” Yarker said. “All the SAG team (Support And Gear) stops. Everybody’s been great.”
One family member in particular was excited for Yarker’s return. Her dog Rider was at the pavilion, pacing and getting more and more anxious as the riders approached.
Stephanie Cordova made the ride with her brother Nick Cordova as guide.
“It was amazing to be with my brother,” Stephanie said. “He’s always been such a support to me. I’ll remember the downhills the most, going 40 mph. That was our reward after climbing those big hills!”
A large cast of support personnel helped the bikers throughout the ride. Four SAG vehicles followed behind, offering tools and equipment to fix bike breakdowns, and feeding the riders at various stops along the way.
One of those volunteers was Dallas Alvord, a teenager who helped in support and also participated during stretches of the ride on his own bike.
“It was really cool to go riding with the group, helping out where I could, and riding along,” he said. “It was fun cheering them on and rooting for each other.”
Some of the riders came back to Vernon Worthen Park on Saturday to run the St. George Marathon along with their guides.
Two of the other tandems that completed the ride featured husbands as guides for their wives: the duos of Aaron and Terri Rupe and Steve and Becky Andrews.
The sixth tandem bicycle on the ride was ridden by Lexie Eddington and her guide Richard Ensign.
“Especially what sticks out in my mind is just the camaraderie,” Duke said. “A lot of us didn’t know each other at the beginning, but now we’re all good friends.”
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