"Nothing compares to this experience in my entire life."
That was how Kenneth Kozloff, vice president and administrator, Inova Alexandria Hospital, described his four days as part of the Ride to Remember. He was one of 211 bicyclists who left Ground Zero in New York City on Sept. 8 and arrived at the Pentagon on Sept. 11.
"I have never done anything like this before and will probably never experience anything like it again in my lifetime," Kozloff said. "This was truly a ride together."
Buttressing that enthusiasm was rider Ron Henry, the hospital's director of marketing and business development. "It was one of the most incredible things I have ever been a part of. There are few things in life that can make you that proud to be an American," Henry emphasized.
Under the joint sponsorship of the Fairfax County Police Department and Inova Health Systems, the ride had the dual purpose of honoring "our fallen public safety and military brothers and sisters killed in the attack on America" and raising funds for the Inova Regional Trauma Center at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Lt. Jim Redfield of the Fairfax County Police Department, the event's coordinator, said, "We felt we needed to raise awareness of safety issues, and raise money for the Center. Each rider was challenged to raise $500.
"Since 2000, the department, in partnership with Inova Health System, has held an Annual Mountain Bike Competition Event in support of the region's only Level 1 Trauma Center. This year we felt privileged and honored to be able to rename our event and dedicate the Ride to Remember in honor and memory of our fallen comrades," Redfield said.
IN ADDITION TO Henry, Kozloff was also joined by Fred Sachs, chairman, Inova Health Care Services Board, and Cynthia Phillips, RN, a member of Alexandria Inova Hospital's nursing staff, in the endeavor. Seven physicians from Inova Fairfax Hospital participated as well.
"It was a great opportunity for me as a nurse, since I had treated some of the people from the Pentagon that day. It was also very moving on 9/11 when we stopped and took off our helmets to observe a moment of silence at the times the planes had struck the buildings," Phillips said.
"We were also riding for our 1,600 employees who couldn't participate," Kozloff said. "We called in twice a day to give them an update on our progress."
Various teams were formed to raise funds in their name. However, since Kozloff was riding alone, his entry was dubbed "Team Ken." He raised the most money of any single rider with a total of $24,000. Overall, the event made $190,000 for the Center after expenses, according to Kozloff.
Averaging approximately 70 miles a day, the group traveled primarily on Routes 1 and 130 through a variety of jurisdictions.
"All along the way we were handed off from municipality to municipality. Everywhere we went, people were cheering us on, waving flags, blowing their horns, it was unbelievable," he said.
Henry recalled, "There was one particular moment that stands out to me. We were riding through this small town in Maryland, and the local police were helping to control traffic. As we approached this one main intersection, there was this police officer standing in the middle facing us and saluting as we went past. It was very moving."
In addition to the riders, there was a large support group and detailed logistics. "All of our bikes were brought to New York by Interstate Trucking, who also put them in huge trailers each night," he explained. "Hotels and meals were prearranged, as well as all our supplies.
"We also had great support on the trail from the doctors on the ride. They were even filling out prescriptions and giving out medication for those that needed it. There was only one injury. One lady fell and broke her wrist. But they got a tandem for her so she didn't have to steer. Everyone who started finished the ride."
Sachs joined in the testimony to the comradeship of the riders. "I was riding with a bunch of doctors and surgeons when my chain came off. It required a mechanic to fix it, but they all immediately got off their bikes to help," he recalled. "The people we banded with were just so great."
He found, "It's awfully hard to put the experience into words. It was almost like an Outward Bound event. When someone asks why I did it, I tell them it was twofold, as an individual tribute to those impacted by 9/11 and to raise funds for the trauma services at the hospital."
STARTING FROM Battery Park early on the morning of Sept. 8, following a blessing by Monsignor Zammit of New York, the group rode past Ground Zero about 7:30 a.m., the site of the destroyed World Trade Center. "That was a pretty solemn part of the ride. Everyone was very quiet as we went past," Kozloff recalled.
"Then we went over the Brooklyn Bridge, onto the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and then into New Jersey. That's when New York handed us off to New Jersey [officials]. All along the way we had both state and local police escorts," Kozloff pointed out.
"At one point in New Jersey, I can remember hearing someone yell from their stopped car to a local cop asking what was going on. When he told them we were riding from New York to Washington, the motorist said that was impossible, and that 'nobody can do that.' The cop said, 'These guys can,'" Kozloff related.
"Our first stop was in Trenton, N.J. We stayed at the new Hyatt Hotel. We all shared rooms. Each night I made it a point to eat dinner with a different group to get to know as many as possible," he said.
"We kept together throughout the trip. That was one of the real pluses to this event. We weren't spread out over five or 10 miles. As I was riding and we would come to a hill a lot of times, I would put my hand on someone's back to help push them up the hill," Kozloff explained.
HE WAS MORE than ready for this ride. "I started training in May and rode nearly 1,800 miles. I was doing it on the weekends and averaging about 150 miles each weekend. One day I did 90 miles — 45 miles out and 45 back," he said.
"Twice during the summer I actually rode 250 miles over a four-day period to make sure I could do it. One of those rides was while I was at the shore, and I had a real head wind. I was not going to let this 55-year-old body be outdone by some 26-year-old," Kozloff declared.
The others also adhered to rigorous training schedules in preparation. "Training for the ride was actually harder than the ride itself," Sachs admitted. "I started training in June and rode about 800 miles."
Henry is a member of a mountain bike team and does a considerable amount of biking. However, as he stated, "Road riding is a lot different, and it did require some specialized training. I started that about two months before. This was also my first four-day ride."
FOLLOWING THE RIDE past Ground Zero, the second-most memorable part of the trek for Kozloff was getting into Baltimore in late afternoon. "We were chanting 'USA, USA,' and it caught on with all the residents. They were coming out of their homes, restaurants and bars joining in the chant and cheering us on. Your adrenaline is really rushing," he said.
Sachs remembered, "Somewhere between the Delaware Memorial Bridge and Baltimore, one of the police officers bought an American flag, and one of the state police got some plastic pipe to make a flag pole. It became our standard, and the ride became more recognizable to the crowds along the way."
Kozloff pointed out, "We got to Baltimore at rush hour, and that flag and police stopping all the traffic really helped.
"When we finally came into Washington, we found that they had closed all of Pennsylvania Avenue for us so we could ride directly to the White House. When we left there, we went across the 14th Street Bridge and into the ceremony at the Pentagon. There was no chanting as we crossed the bridge. Everyone was very quiet," Kozloff recalled.
He noted that the largest group of riders was composed of police officers, then those representing Inova Health Systems, followed by firefighters and a variety of other groups. Approximately 85 percent of the riders were male, according to Kozloff.
After the Pentagon ceremony, the riders held a celebration with all the food donated by a variety of area restaurants. Making that happen was Michael Anderson, owner of Mango Mike's of Alexandria, who also made the 270-mile ride, according to Kozloff.
SITTING IN HIS OFFICE on Friday the 13th, Kozloff was both still pumped about his experience and, by his own admission, suffering from a little camaraderie withdrawal. "You didn't want it to end. It was very emotional at the final celebration," he said.
"When we stopped at various places along the way, like the firehouse in Aberdeen, Md., you could feel you were really connecting with people. And we stopped, on average, about three times a day. I want to organize a reunion, and I'm going to," Kozloff declared.
One of his more poignant memories and one that caused him to reflect on its meaning was the wind on Sept. 11, 2002. "A lot of the riders commented about the wind that day. You really felt the wind. It was as if it were lifting us to our destination," he reflected.
"Then, as we disbursed after the celebration, it just stopped," Kozloff recalled. "It was over."