For an eyewitness, it was over in a flash, but made quite the impression.
For three days, dozens of cyclists, in tight formation, whizzed past pedestrians and motorists from Richmond to Washington, D.C., to call attention to a sorrowful cause.
They rode to honor law-enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. And they raised money for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.
On Saturday, the whirring column of riders and their escort vehicles whipped through Orange, Culpeper and Fauquier counties, starting in Charlottesville and pausing overnight in Warrenton. On Sunday, they completed the last leg of their three-day journey, traveling from Warrenton to the nation’s capital to pay tribute to their comrades and console fallen officers’ families and friends.
As the cyclists pedaled north on Saturday past downtown Culpeper’s Davis Street shopping district on Main Street, pedestrians waved, shouted, applauded and high-fived the riders to cheer them on their way.
Those greetings and encouragements were repeated by officers’ families, friends supporters--as well as some appreciative shoppers--outside the Target store on Montanus Drive, off U.S. 29, where the cyclists briefly rested and refueled Saturday afternoon.
There, Culpeper Police Sgt. Luke Altman’s family--his wife, Teresa, and daughters Sedona, Selah and Ember--came to speed him on his way.
Altman, who lives in Reva in western Culpeper County, is riding in the tour for the third straight year. An avid cyclist, each year, he pedals about 2,500 miles for fun and exercise.
Area resident Christine Smith, with son Jonah and daughter Sophie, stood in front of the Pepperberries store at Main and Davis to await the riders as they came into Culpeper. And then jumped in their car to meet the riders at Target.
“My daughter got excited, and said, ‘Let’s go follow the parade,’ so we just kept going,” Smith said.
As the wife of a police officer, “I always try to support police events,” Smith said. “And I wanted to support all the people who are riding. I like fitness and exercise, and know how hard that must be. I think it’s good to see some faces cheering you on while you’re out there.”
Her husband, Culpeper Police Officer Jason Smith, drove a vehicle escorting the riders from Orange to Warrenton. Brian Scarborough, the husband of her personal trainer, Bridget, whose brother Brian was an officer, was among the riders.
Herndon Police Chief Maggie A. DeBoard, president of the Police Unity Tour’s Chapter IV, which organized the Central Virginia ride, gave a shout-out to “the great brotherhood” of people such as Smith who, at the last minute, filled a breach in providing support vehicles and crews for Day 2 of the ride.
In an interview, DeBoard expressed appreciation to the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office, Culpeper Police Department, Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office and Warrenton Police Department for “pitching in and doing a tremendous job with almost no notice.”
At Target, in the alley between the store and Dick’s Sporting Goods, riders parked their bikes along one wall, sat, stood, stretched and guzzled Gatorade and water and ate bananas, orange segments, popsicles and energy bars. And, of course, some texted loved ones, checked email or phoned home.
Dayton, Ohio, Police Maj. Wendy Stiver sat on the curb to adjust her bicycling shoe covers. An eight-year veteran of the national event, Stiver said it took her that long “to learn the hard way what shoes to wear.”
And then, as rain began falling, the riders hopped on their bikes and sped off for Warrenton, escorted front and back by support vehicles. It kept raining the rest of Saturday afternoon and on through Sunday, but that didn’t deter the riders.
Based in Virginia, Chapter IV’s 2019 ride included members of law-enforcement agencies in 17 states, including Las Vegas, Chicago, Dallas, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Ohio and Kentucky. The chapter’s motto: “We ride for those who died.” Formed in 2010, Chapter IV took its inaugural ride in May 2011.
The chapter’s 230-mile-long route is one of the Unity Tour’s hardest, with the scenic Virginia Piedmont’s many hills posing a great physical challenge for participants, DeBoard said. The first day, participants pedal 100 miles. By the end of Day 2, an 80-mile ride, they’re dog-tired, she said.
Some 140 riders took part in the Chapter IV ride, which ended in Washington on Sunday, the start of National Police Week.
All told, more than 2,200 officers participated in the 2019 Police Unity Ride, converging at RFK Stadium in Washington for the final leg to the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, where riders pedaled between the memorial’s walls in another gesture to honor the fallen. Thousands of survivors watched.
“This event happens every year on May 10-12. It doesn’t matter what days of the week it falls on,” DeBoard explained. “May 13th is when the national memorial holds its candlelight vigil on the National Mall, and the ride comes into Washington the day before that.”
“When we reach the wall, it is incredibly emotional, especially for those riders who have lost colleagues,” she said. “It never gets any easier. There a lot of survivors present who visit the memorial during National Police Week, and the memorial has flowers, pictures, and notes from kids who lost parents. People are crying and saluting and paying tribute.
“It is humbling to be there, and we’re very thankful to be in the position to do what we can do to honor those officers’ service and sacrifice,” DeBoard said.
It is the only “living memorial” in the U.S. capital, with at least 130 new names added to its wall every year, she noted.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is on E Street, between 4th and 5th streets, NW, in Washington.
For details and videos about the Police Unity Tour, visit putiv.org.
For more on National Police Week, visit policeweek.org/index.html.