Last month's Valley Fire was a catastrophe: four people and thousands of animals killed, 76,000 acres burned, 1,910 structures (1,238 of them single-family homes) destroyed, and loss of habitat for countless numbers of wildlife.
It also created a dilemma for the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program – aka BORP – the Berkeley-based organization that offers adaptive recreation equipment and programs for physically disabled or visually impaired kids and adults, which was due to hold its annual fundraiser, the Revolution Ride, on Sept. 26 at the Trentadue Winery in Geyserville.
"We didn't want to cancel if we could help it because for many of these people, this is their favorite day of the year," says event planner Sarah Kidder, who helped organize the ride. "But it was looking doubtful. Yes, the fire was still on the other side of the Russian River, but a fire does what it wants to do. There's never a guarantee, especially the way it was spreading."
So she and BORP's executive director, Rick Smith, spent the next week anxiously monitoring the fire's progress and making backup plans for what to do if worse came to worst, including postponing the event or holding it somewhere else, like around Lake Merritt or the Berkeley Marina, which would be distant second choices at best.
Finally, on Sept. 18, came good news: The winery was still there, the roads were still open, and the air quality was good enough for the riders to breathe. So they crossed their fingers and went ahead with it.
And are they glad they did! "It was easily the most rewarding thing I've ever worked on," Kidder says. "My dad is in a wheelchair, which makes me realize how limiting life can be; but seeing the people at the BORP event, who face much, much more physical challenges than my dad, was truly inspiring. Everyone was happy and gracious and kind and thrilled to be there supporting this organization.
"There were everyone from quadriplegics to little kids with prosthetic legs from the hip down, all biking and playing and throwing paper airplanes through this beautiful vineyard. None of them were saying, 'What can you do for me?' Instead, they were out there doing for themselves. And that spirit of self-motivated behavior rippled through the entire event."
One of her concerns was whether they would be able to find enough volunteers to support the disabled riders, whether it was riding alongside them, setting up tables, tending bar or giving massages. But she needn't have worried. More than 150 showed up.
"It's been my experience with other events that usually you have a couple of great volunteers, a handful of pretty good volunteers, and the rest who are well meaning but disappear or aren't really that helpful. But at this event, at least half of the volunteers were great, and the other half were really, really good. No one disappeared, no one arrived late, and many continued to help past their designated shifts. Many of them even thanked me! It's I who should be thanking them!
"I now understand why so many people look forward to it all year long, and why this organization has done it for 13 years. It's so much more than a bike ride."
To contribute to this wonderful organization, please visit borp.org.