Today, we are going to jump in the “back in the day machine” and revisit the origins of the ride and our partnership with the Marine League Charities of Northern Arizona.
How it all began….
Some of you have been involved with this event since its origins in 1998. For others, this is your first year. If you haven’t already read about the ride history on the Flag2GC webpage, please check it out. I sat down with the Dirty Girls and asked them to share some of their stories about the ride.
“We needed a charity”
Janet Kerby told her mom that she had an idea for this ride but needed some help with logistics in Flagstaff and thought that proceeds from the ride should go to some charity. Janet’s mom recommended Toys for Tots. They found Hal Jensen’s name on the internet and contacted him. When they presented the idea about Flag2GC to him, Janet explained, “I have no experience as a ride organizer and I’m not even sure we’ll actually be able to raise any money.” To their surprise, Hal agreed to support them. He said, “these things have a way of growing.” Turns out, he was right. Years later, at his memorial service, we learned that he had just launched the Flagstaff chapter of T4T earlier in 1998 and was looking for fundraising opportunities.
1998: The first ride – 43 riders strong
The first year, MLC helped arrange for porta-potties, a bus to shuttle riders and a truck to transport gear. We learned that Marine’s follow directions exactly as prescribed, when – due to a mapping error – they set up finish camp 4 miles further than we intended. Only one rider (RJ Rooke) made it that far (the other riders revolted). We moved end camp (and RJ) back to where end camp is today. Tim Wilson cooked fajitas over a campfire …on tinfoil… because we forgot to pack a grill! There was only one keg of beer from Four Peaks and it quickly ran out. We passed a hat to have someone drive into Tusayan for more, but when they returned, everyone was already in bed. We cleared $900.00 and deemed it to be a success!
1999: Marines can cook!
After the first year, Hal told us that the Marines know how to cook. In fact, one of the Marines, Levi, was a cowboy chef! If memory serves, Hal, Levi and Ed Levine cooked for us that second year. The kitchen staff and complexity grew from there.
For the first 5 years, we only had solar showers and tarps. In the second or third year, the MLC offered to set up the tarps and showers for us. But their idea of set up a tarp was to just create a straight wall. We had riders strategically positioned to either see or NOT see the people taking showers. Eventually, Ed Levine came up with the idea of heated showers (with stalls). He built the initial shower design and became “shower czar” for many years. In 2016, the “Shower Safety Squad” assumed responsibility for oversight of the showers.
Shrimp on a stick at SAG1?
As the ride evolved and grew, so did support on the ride. For a number of years, SAG1 had a full gourmet breakfast spread. We served biscuits and gravy, even shrimp on a stick! The riders who ate the full breakfast usually regretted it later.
Over 20 years, there have only been three years (give or take) with incredibly bad weather. Only once did we have to cancel the entire ride. We’ve learned from experience when to pull the plug.
The Dirty Girls….and guys
Originally, “The Dirty Girls” consisted of Janet Kerby, Carie Wilson, Michelle De Haan (M1), Michelle Weigman (M2) and Kris. Kris was our geographer, M1 got us our first sponsors. Kris eventually moved to Alaska, M1 moved to Park City. M2 did all of our marketing while Carie handled finances on the fundraising side. Janet bossed everyone around.
Even though Tim hasn’t cooked since the first year, the Wilsons are still involved and Salt Fire Brewing Co. donates those kegs at end camp where you’ll find a cold one when you’re done. Paul Durazo jumped in to help with beer (three cheers for Paul!). Dave Hyson took on end-camp logistics. Over the years, many of the riders have gotten more involved behind the scenes: Chris Schultz, The Browns, Brian Stinson and others. Rob Perez continues to coordinate our SAG crew. Coconino Amateur Radio club and Maricopa County Emergency Communications Group help with communications, and CAMBRA provides emergency medical support.
We’re grateful for all of our volunteers – we couldn’t do this without you.
Toys for Tots
If back then, you told us we’d be doing this for 25 years or that we’d eventually raise more than $1M, we wouldn’t have believed you. It’s been a lot of work, but incredibly rewarding. “Hearing comments that this is one of the best and well-run rides is always reassuring.” explained Michelle Weigman, “What has really impacted me personally over the past 25 years is seeing the benefit of our efforts. The toy delivery trips to Havasupai and the feedback from MLC that they couldn’t do this without us is what keeps us coming back year after year.”
A personal perspective
When I first did the ride in 2010, I knew exactly three people. I didn’t have a clue what it was all about or what I was getting myself into. I’m glad I was paying attention during the pre-ride safety talk when M1 explained how to “assume the position” because less than an hour into the ride, a major thunderstorm rolled across the course. The group I was riding with decided that the lightening was getting way too close, so we dismounted, squatted with our heads between our legs and hands over our ears until it passed. I’ll never forget the smoking tree we passed shortly after we getting back on our bikes that had just been struck by lightning. I survived and even though the ride was called off at SAG1, I was hooked! Each year since then, I’ve met a ton of cool people and created many new friendships. I’ve also learned more about the ride, the charity and HOW MUCH WORK goes into organizing this event.
I ask that you take a moment to personally thank each of the Dirty Girls and all of the volunteers. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this is not only a family oriented charity event, but one put on entirely by volunteers (all of whom have day jobs). Every year, the Dirty Girls sacrifice a big chunk of their summer to keep this event going. I consider it a privilege to participate in this ride and suggest you do, too. Most importantly, if anything doesn’t quite go according to plan, PLEASE don’t get frustrated and make sure you cut the Dirty Girls and all of the volunteers a little slack.