LA2DC Recap

In early 2015 I knew the 100 year  anniversary of the Armenian Genocide was coming up. I knew about the March for Justice that would take place on April 24, 2015. I really wanted to do more than the March for Justice but what could I do?

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March for Justice

Video credit: Kevin Mardirossian

In late February my friend Roobik Asadorian sent an email to me along with a few other friends. He told us about the LA2DC ride and said he was considering doing the entire two week ride. The ride would start from the March for Justice in Los Angeles and go to Washington D.C. Could this be the something more I was looking for? I thought about it for a couple of days and then made the commitment.

Roobik, Garo the Legend and I at Leg #1

Roobik, Garo the Legend and I at Leg #1

In December 2014 I found myself burned out on riding. Work had been really busy too so I decided to take all of January off the bike. Now I wondered if that decision would hurt me becomes I only had 7 weeks to train for LA2DC. I had not been on the road bike since August when Roobik and I along with a few other friends rode from San Francisco to L.A.

Except for the January break I had been been mountain biking and mountain unicycling so I was fit however, the geometry of the road bike is different so if I jump into big rides to soon my knees will suffer. I eased into it slowly increasing riding time and distance with each ride until we were doing big mountain century’s. My knees did hurt at times but I worked through it.

Roobik and I on a training ride.

Roobik and I on a training ride.

The three weeks prior to the start of LA2DC Roobik and I were both logging close to 300 miles per week with a lot of elevation gain. I was feeling good and Roobik was untouchable!

The crash on day two injuring Roobik’s shoulder was devastating to both of us! It was such a let down that he would not be able to complete LA2DC! Not to mention that he has to deal with the pain of the injuries and he can’t ride at all for 8 weeks!

One question that would come up often during LA2DC when people would hear my name is are you Armenian? I am 50% Armenian from my Mothers side. My Father was Irish, German, Scandinavian and maybe Italian or Greek. Roobik joked at the start of LA2DC that I was now 100% Armenian! By the end of LA2DC I felt like I was 150% Armenian! The fact is I always felt more Armenian because we have a big family on my Mom’s side. My Dad was an orphan and I never had any family on his side to relate to. Also he passed away when I was just 10 years old.

Leg #1 with Photo of my Grandparents, Aunts and Uncle. I will carry this photo with me everyday of my journey

Leg #1 with Photo of my Grandparents, Aunts and Uncle. I will carry this photo with me everyday of my journey

I wanted to do this ride to honor my Grandparents, Aunts and Uncle from Diyarbekir who survived the genocide. I also wanted to raise awareness and hope to help stop future genocides so other people don’t have to endure what my family went through. My family left our ancestral home of Diyarbekir in 1923 and went to France. They did not feel welcome in France and my Grandfather eventually wanted to get the family to the States. At the time they could not immigrate into the States so they went to Havana, Cuba where my Mom was born in 1929. She would immigrate to the U.S. In 1944. She first lived in New Jersey then came to live in Los Angeles in what is now Little Armenia.

When I first signed up for the LA2DC ride I figured I would ride three days have a day off and then repeat. I never intended on riding everyday. The biggest ride I had done before this was 10 years ago when I rode 520 miles with a group of four friends from San Francisco to L.A. We did this ride in five days. I remember that ride being very tough to ride that many miles each day and how tired I was at the end!

After a few days of hearing other peoples family’s stories of their lives during and after the genocide and thinking about what my family had lived through I knew I could not stop! I had to ride each day!  In the past even with my Armenian friends we rarely talked about our families history during the genocide. Talking about it with the other riders during this event as well as with news crews and our documentary film crew certainly brought on many emotions for me. I also felt a bond with the other riders that was deeper than just our shared ethnicity. We were also bonded by these tragedies that our families and our people had suffered through.

Each day was a challenge to keep all the riders together. A support vehicle followed behind  to support us and keep us safe. If the group was to spread apart then it was a challenge for the support vehicles to support us. It was also nice to stick together to show unity. Some riders were slower and some were faster, some were fresh and some had many miles on their legs or injuries slowing them down. Sometimes we would have the Jack Rabbit. Thats the guy that gets to the front of the pace line and sprints ahead dropping everyone. Then there were the guys that were excited and would go out so fast and strong for the first half of the Leg and then struggle to complete the second half.

Before the event began I thought I would ride the first leg and then drive to the hotel and have time to see some points of interest. That rarely happened. By the time we finished riding each afternoon then a 2-3 hour drive to the end of the second leg, shower, stretch, eat, wash clothes, prep for the next day, team meeting and some socializing it was time for sleep! Most days I was getting to sleep around 11:00 and waking up around 4:00-5:00. Some nights I barely slept due to the pain from crashing or just all the excitement and emotions!

This ride would not only be a test of my physical strength but also my patience, and mental strength! As well as an emotional journey. Spending that much time riding on the road with motorists that don’t usually look out for riders or feel that we don’t belong on the road is a real mental game, especially after having crashed twice during the event. I always thought that L.A. motorists were bad drivers. During this event I found out that there are inconsiderate and crazy drivers everywhere!

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Kevork, Anush and I

I can’t say enough about the people I met on this journey.  They are all incredible people! I know I now have many new lifetime friends after this incredible journey! I am looking forward to getting together for rides with them in the future! Unfortunately not all of them live in the Los Angeles area.

We were lucky to have fairly good weather along the way. Sure we had our rainy days, cold days, hot humid days and it was windy most of the time but we did not have any major storms to deal with.

This sign sums it up well!

This sign sums it up well!

As we traveled across the country we would stop and talk to people when we had the chance to tell them about our mission. I found that many people I spoke with had not heard of the Armenian Genocide. Some people like the two guys I spoke with in New Mexico had their own problems. It was a beautiful place to live but jobs were hard to come by. They were mad about all the tax payer dollars going to fight wars and help other countries when there are many people here in the States who can’t find jobs.

We saw so many abandoned homes and building along the way. Miles of rough road in desperate need of repair. It seemed there could be so many jobs fixing these roads and buildings. I guess it was an eye opener for me to see how many people are living in poverty here in the land of opportunity!

We encountered many roads along the route that were not at all bike friendly. Some roads had shoulders but they were so full of potholes, debri and road kill that they were not safe for riding. Most roads had no shoulder and the edge of the road would often be cracked and have potholes so we were forced to ride towards the center of the road. Most of the motorists were friendly. They would give us a friendly short beeb followed by a wave or thumbs up. Then there were those that would give us the long drawn out honk and sometimes another digit of the hand up. Often I would worry about the support vehicles traveling at slow speeds behind us to protect us while we were on busy roads while cars and trucks jammed past!

I have always been the guy that organizes all the trips and events that I have been on. Not having to plan or worry about the details of the trip was a new experience for me. I must say it was pretty cool! The organizers did a wonderful job! Our director Sabra was awesome even with hardly any sleep most of the trip! All of our support staff was so helpful and professional! It truly was amazing that everything went so well for this being the first time doing such a huge, intricate event such as this!

I feel forever changed by this event. It truly was the best experience of my life! I find myself thinking how can I ever top this, I don’t think I ever can!

I feel as though this was an awaking for me. I find myself wondering what more can I do? Grigor has an idea about building trails in Armenia. I am a professional trail builder so I will be looking into ways I can help.

My Total Ride Stats:

14 days of riding. 9 of those days were well over 100 miles.
1305.5 Miles
56,998′ Elevation gain

Click here to view my photo album  I hope to add more photos from other riders soon.

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Posting the Photo of my Family to the Portraits of Courage in D.C. My journey is now complete!

On Wednesday, May 20, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives to honor those who took part in the cross-country LA2DC bike ride and run to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide, and remember those lost.

Thank you Congressman Adam Schiff!

Grigor the magnifisent!

Grigor the Magnificent!

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Hagop and I

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Vicken and I at Window Rock

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Greg, Thomas and Sabra

Artin

Artin

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Sos, Hans, Vasken, Sedrak, Grigor and Nick

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LA2DC Leg 26 Day 14 5/7/15

Van : Ravensbruck

11198465_10153236637205056_2049473204_nToday we started at Gathland State Park the Civil War site of the Battle of South Mountain.  

IMG_2507We had a 65 mile ride ahead of us which would be the shortest ride for me in several days. I figured it would be an easy day. We had a large group of around 30 riders. Today we only have one leg and since this is the last day everyone wanted to ride. As with the past few days the roads were narrow and not very bike friendly. I could  feel that many of us were road weary from days on the road dealing with cars, dogs, road kill and potholes. It was a bit frustrating navigating to Downtown D.C. since none of us were familiar with the area. We got lost a few times.

At one point of the ride my heart dropped and I thought we may have lost some riders. I was riding mid pack. A truck past us on the left and raced ahead. We were in rolling hills so I could not see the riders ahead. All of a sudden the truck driver slammed on the brakes and swerved sideways. I thought he may have hit someone but luckily he had not. Apparently he passed some riders and must have thought that was everyone and as he came back over he realized there were still riders ahead and he hit the brakes. Thankfully no one was hit! 11210212_10153236637090056_611620724_n

We had three more riders join us when we were 40 miles into the ride. The D.C. traffic was heavy and at times it seemed like it might be faster to walk but we tolerated the traffic and for the most part the drivers tolerated us. I would soon find out how much D.C. motorists love their car horns. It seemed like a constant irritating honking for the last 10 – 15 miles of the ride.

As we got closer to the finish we could see the LA2DC runners on the other side of the street. It was a hot and humid day and I could see some of them were having a hard time with the heat but they carried on. As we approached the park there was a crowd to cheer us on. We made a parade lap around the park and then congratulated each other, posed for photos and sang Armenian patriotic songs and listened to Grigor recite a poem.

Ride stats:
64 Miles
4245′ Elevation gain
Ride stats on Strava

My personal total mileage for the trip was 1305.5 miles in 14 straight days of riding.

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LA2DC Leg 24 Day 13 – 5/6/15

Sivas : Sachsenhausen

IMG_2470Today’s Leg is a monster! This will be the toughest Leg of them all at 110 miles and over 12000′ of elevation gain!

When I first signed up for LA2DC. I saw that they had plenty of riders for this Leg so I thought I would just skip it. However, now that I had ridden each day of LA2DC I could not stop now!

The LA2DC warriors to join me on this Leg are Hagop Koulyan, Aram Kavoukjian, Eric Josephbec, Khachik Gevergyan, Vicken Seplian and Anush Ricci. Vicken and Anush needed to be picked up at the airport and would meet us later. They both had ridden with us for several days for some of the earlier Legs and then had headed home. They had planned to come back for the last day and ride Leg 26 but they missed us too much so they worked it out so they could come back a day early and have a go at the mountains! 
IMG_2474Vicken caught a a red eye flight and never slept! This would be a tough ride fully rested but to tackle it with no sleep, that is proof of his amazing spirit!

The last few days we would pass a lot of cemeteries. Today it seemed like they were every 5-10 miles. We also passed many historical sites. I wished we had more time to take in some of the sights and history but we have to keep the wheels rolling!

The first 10 miles of the ride was mostly flat and small rolling hills. About 12 miles in we hit the first steep longer climbs. My legs were burning and my pulled muscle in my back was aching. The way I felt at that time I wondered if I could make it through this day. Then the words “I must” popped into my mind and I began to say it out loud to myself repeatedly and I rolled on! IMG_2479

I told myself I would just get to 100 miles and then I could get picked up. Khachik offered to be my domestic. He is such a good guy and a very smart and smooth rider. He pulled on the flat sections but once we hit the hills it was everyman for himself because pace-lining doesn’t usually work very well in steep terrain. Khachik knows how to pace himself for the long haul. He kept telling others to slow down in the beginning of the ride. It is difficult for some riders to know their bodies and how to pace themselves to be able to ride these long distance rides. Learning this comes with time and experience. The old children’s story about the Tortoise and the Hare is a good one for cyclists to be reminded of.

IMG_2475We would be 33 miles into the ride before we would get word that Vicken and Anush would be meeting us shortly! This was exciting news for me because I really enjoy the company of these two. We pulled over for a break while their bikes were prepped to ride. Hagop, Vicken, Anush and I had ridden several Legs together so it felt like the gang was back together!

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It would take me to about mile 50 to really feel warmed up. I felt good for the rest of the ride. I am used to climbing and do well on the longer climbs since I have a chance to ease into them. The shorter climbs are the ones that hurt me because by the time I warm up to it and get in the climbing mode it is over. Just as I was warming up I could see one of the other riders that was going hard in the beginning slowing down and not looking to good. I bet he wished he would have listened when Khachik and I told him to take it easy earlier!

The hills got steeper and longer the further we went. I tried to keep the group together but we were spreading further apart the farther we went. It was really hot and humid out. The temperature was somewhere in the low 90’s and the humidity was probably close to that too! Surprisingly I was feeling really good. I guess all those climbing miles I did in training were paying off!

At mile 95 I passed the support vehicle as they were checking on another rider. I told them I would go to 100 miles and then get picked up. As I passed the 100 mile mark I did not see the support vehicle anywhere in site so I figured I would just keep going and finish the last 10 miles to complete the Leg. The remainder was rolling hills with a few longer climbs and then it ended with a nice downhill run!  When I arrived Khachik and Hagob were already there. The others would arrive shortly after. IMG_2487

Ride stats:
109.3 Miles
12,228′ Elevation gain
Ride stats on Strava

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LA2DC Leg 23 5/5/15

Sis : Sobibor

Today I decided to mix things up. I have been riding the first leg each day and today I decided to ride the second leg. Three of the riders on the second leg group like me are riding all the way to D.C. So they have been riding together almost everyday. Those riders are Vasken Melikian, Grigor Gevorgyan and Sedrak. Also Khachik and Nick would be joining us for this Leg.

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Since this was the second leg of the day we would drive for a couple hours to the start of the Leg while the first Leg riders rode. The drive over was interesting! Grigor was reciting Poems and leading in the singing of Armenian patriotic songs. It was a lot of fun! It was also nice to get the drive done first instead of after the ride when we are tired, dirty and hungry!IMG_2462

These guys are all good and experienced riders. They know to start easy and get in a good warm up. After a few minutes I felt comfortable in the pack and could relax a bit. IMG_2466

This would be our biggest day of climbing so far with almost 8k of climbing in over 100 miles. The climbs were mostly rolling hills, so the climbs were short. Since I could not stand up and charge to the top of the short climbs as the others were doing due to my back pain I would fall behind on each climb. The guys would slow down at the top to let me catch up!

When we got to the busiest road of the day it started to pour rain. We rode in the rain for a while and then took cover under a bridge for a few minutes. It seemed that after a while we were outrunning the rain and it started to ease up. It was a scary spot to be riding in the rain on such a busy road. Several times we pulled to the side and had our support vehicles do the same to let cars pass. It did not take long on this road to back up so we pulled over often. It seemed as though we were in the middle of nowhere so we could not make sense of how busy the road was!

A couple of times I moved to the front of the pack and Khachik told me to move to the back that he was my Domestique today and I needed to rest. Domestique is a french word meaning servant. In cycling a Domestique is a team member that works for the leader by riding in the front so the leader can conserve energy.

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During the ride most of the conversation was in Armenian so I did not understand most of it. But the mood was jovial and the time went by quickly. I am slowly picking up a few Armenian words here and there.

Ride stats:

117.4 Miles
7579′ Elevation gain
5085 Calories

Ride stats on Strava

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LA2DC Leg 20 Day 11 – 5/4/15

Samsun : Dachau

As we gathered for the starting photos of today’s leg it began to rain. I had checked the weather forecast early in the morning and it did not call for rain so I was not expecting much rain. We were almost ready to take off when we decided we wanted to take our windbreakers. It’s a good thing we did. IMG_2432

We had all the same riders from yesterday’s ride except for Mark who would be heading home today. We had one new addition named Nick who had completed the first leg with us. We went over some pace lining rules as we started to ride.

The crew was working together well. This being our second day together helps a lot. Pace lining really takes many days with the same riders to feel confident with the other riders and to get everyone flowing smoothly. I was still paranoid from my two crashes so the riders that were not flowing smoothly I stayed back more than I would have liked and was always looking for my bailout option! I do not want to wind up laying on the pavement again any time soon.

We were flowed into Terra Haute pretty smoothly and quickly. We were 23 miles in. That is when it went from a few drops of rain to a very serious downpour. Some of the guys went into a coffe shop to use the restroom and I duct for cover against a building while Bobby adjusted our air pressure for better traction in the rain. IMG_2436

For the next 25 miles it rained pretty steadily, at times it really opened up for short periods. It is difficult to pace line in the rain because the water is shooting up from the rear tire of the bike in front of you. Plus with wet street and potholes everywhere there are safety concerns. This slowed our pace down quite a bit.

As the rain eased up the rain the road got even rougher. At times it was just gravel or dirt with holes and dips everywhere. The pace was even slower now. This extremely rough section lasted about five miles. The positive thing was the scenery was incredible. We were riding through a dense woodland area. It reminded me a bit of the Northern California Coast minus the redwood trees.

Once the forested area opened up to meadows and pastures we passed a few country homes here and there and the road became a little smoother now.

At mile 60 we stopped for lunch. A local guy was driving by and he asked if we were the group riding from California. He had seen a piece about us on the local news the night before. He said he had spent 20 years in the military and traveled all over the world and until that news piece he had not known about the Armenian Genocide. This was a reminder of why what we are doing is so important! He said “Its a shame what happened to those people” to him it was “those” people but to me they were my family and my people!

IMG_2443The lunch break felt good to relax and eat but we stopped longer than I would have liked and it was hard getting warmed up again. We continued along the country road a while longer before turning on to a busy road and then heading into the city.

Overall this leg seemed to have the roughest roads of all the legs I have ridden! Many of the busier roads have shoulders but they are so full of potholes, cracks and debris 90% of the time we don’t dare ride in them. It really made me appreciate the riding we have in Southern California!

Today Everone finished and Rafi and Ed having completed the last two legs said this is a new record for them! I have now ridden over 1000 miles!  IMG_2449

Today’s ride stats:
114.9
3409′ elevation gain.

Today would be the longest day both in miles and time.

Ride Stats on Strava

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