23 August 2010

How far would you ride to make a difference?

Photo Source: © Paul Bussi, 2010

Join Park-2-Park Montana and Help Abused Children Find Safety and Thrive

By Jennifer Clunie, BicyclingHub.com

Since 2005, cyclists from diverse regions of Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Florida, New York, and Washington, D.C. have come together each September to journey from Glacier to Yellowstone National Parks to marvel at some of the most beautiful and undeveloped areas of Montana, all while raising funds and awareness for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Montana.

"I’d like to say that I think about [the pain children entering CASA programs experience from abusive or negligent parents] as I force my bicycle up the steepest side of Foys Lake Road for the umpteenth time, hoping that this time all the climbs before will make this one a snap. I don’t. It doesn’t. Park 2 Park Montana is more about me than the kids for whom I will ride.

"I’m riding for personal reasons. I need the sense of climbing to the top, at my own speed – slow but steady, but climbing. I want my bicycle to guide me to a higher dimension. I need a reminder that CASA means hope and progress, goals that are clear and attainable, and that awesome challenges are no bar to success. Slow but steady is okay. Really."~David Whitney, CASA volunteer and Park-2-Park Montana Ride participant Photo Source: © Paul Bussi, 2010

This 400 mile, 5 day tour will take cyclists from St. Mary – on the eastern side of Glacier National Park – through spectacular scenery down along US 89 through Dupuyer, Choteau, Great Falls, White Sulphur Springs and Livingston and conclude at Gardiner near Yellowstone Park. Limited to 50 riders to ensure adequate lodging accommodations and logistics in "Big Sky" country are met--"Once you get over 50, it's harder to wrangle that many people," organizer Joe Bryce remarks--this fully supported tour attracts cyclists with a wide range of abilities, from limited recreational riders to experienced cross-country trekkers who are looking for a challenge and believe in riding for a cause.

Averaging 80 miles a day (with the 3rd day boasting a triple-digit 108 miles and 6,000 feet of climbing), participants can expect to brave wind, rain, snow (yes, snow!) and gorgeous sunny days across the versatile landscape that defines Montana: mountains, high plains, grain fields, missile silos, streams, waterfalls and "scenery that would rival anyplace in the U.S."--all from from the seat of one's bicycle. Previous participants have also reported bear sightings in the distance as they rode along hillsides and bald eagle fly-bys, especially as the route passes by Freeze Out Lake Water Fowl Reserve. "Once those bike riders get on their bikes, they just don't want to give it up," enthuses Ellen Bush, Executive Director of CASA Montana and one of the primary event organizers. "They're going to smell the rain, meet a great group of people, and going to feel like a part of an epic adventure in the U.S."

Indeed, one of the most vivid memories Bryce recalled from the 2008 P2P ride was the mental and physical fortitude exhibited by all cyclists present. On Day 1, the ride begins with a "check your legs" 7 mile climb out of St. Mary's: that year, what started out in a rainy downpour turned to snow as the cyclists climbed higher into the stratosphere and the temperature began to drop. Reaching the summit, individuals pedaled through the snowstorm and descended back into rain; "the most fantastic thing," Bryce recalls, "is that nobody quit. You couldn't see through your glasses; rooster-tailing from the bicycle wheels in front of you negated any advantage from drafting; and spray from cars along the road was unbelievable. And NOBODY QUIT." When they rolled into that evening, local CASA volunteers prepared a hero's welcome, complete with hot coffee, warm cocoa and a bevy of snacks to re-fuel the riders bodies and souls.

It is these same essential qualities of fortitude and steadfast determination that enable CASA's volunteers and clients to weather the storms of life, with the Park-2-Park Montana Ride serving as a lynchpin between participants and the cause they are rallying around. An important feature that sets this ride apart from typical charity rides is the opportunity for participants to learn about the CASA network they are supporting along the way. Each evening, a local program or person is highlighted, enabling the audience to learn how the system works; in 2009, a CASA foster child came along for the first time, serving as a daily reminder of whom they were riding for. Photo Source: © Paul Bussi, 2010

Ellen Bush observes, "Often, folks come out of this trip really committed to doing something locally." Detective Mary Ann Rangitsch, who serves on the Bozeman Police Department in the Crimes Against Children division, become involved with the Parks to Parks Ride after personally witnessing how much difference one or two individuals could make in the lives of a child who had suffered abuse or neglect in some way. "The advocates become very involved in some of my cases…and I saw the good benefits CASA could do step in and aid in the process. They're not just there for the children; a lot of times, they're there for me, too." A veteran of P2P, Detective Rangitsch is doing her 4th 400 mile "tour of duty" for her 40th birthday. One of the things she enjoys most about her yearly bicycle sojourns? "We all get to points in this ride that you're by yourself--even if it's for just a few miles--where you can reflect upon what you've learned. You reflect back upon your life and how important this is, and be thankful for the friends that surround us; how lucky we are to be doing this, to just be able to pedal and enjoy life."
"I’m into my fourth case now. There have been no miracles, but I have made a difference. I know that. I’ve seen the children transformed from the broken spirits in the photos I described above into happier people. Once they were scared to see me when I arrived for my weekly visits. Now they greet me at the door. With any luck, the transformation breaks the cycle of abuse and neglect often seen in these deeply troubled families, but I will never know for sure. And I move on."~David Whitney, CASA volunteer and Park-2-Park Montana Ride participant

CASA Montana, a network of 15 local offices throughout the state, provides advocacy for abused and neglected children so they can thrive in safe, permanent homes. Trained volunteers serve as advocates to children in about 50 percent of the abuse/neglect cases in the state; 15 local programs service 37 counties and provide more than 400 trained volunteers. In 2009 these volunteers served over 30,000 hours on behalf of more than 1,000 children, nearly half of the 2,100 in out of home care. The 2009 Parks to Parks Ride raised almost $50,000 for CASA Montana and its local programs: organizers aim to top that goal this year.

Park-2-Park Montana runs September 6th-10th, starting at St. Mary’s KOA near Glacier National Park. The five-day adventure costs $595, including all lodging, meals and support, plus $300 in fundraising. To join the ride (spots are still open), sponsor a rider or make a donation to CASA Montana, visit www.park2parkMontana.org or call 866-862-2272.

Photo Source: © Paul Bussi, 2010

NOTE: BicyclingHub.com is offering CASA 10% of the proceeds from items purchased online. Visit BicyclingHub.com today!

Photo Source: © Paul Bussi, 2010

Special thanks to Ellen and Rick Bush, Joe Bryce, Detective Mary Ann Rangitsch and Paul Bussi of Ideal Photography for their time, passion and enthusiasm demonstrated while penning this article.

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