The sun had just broken through the fog Sunday morning when some 200 cyclists in red, white and blue spandex pulled into a parking lot at Pacifica State Beach. The riders — most of whom are injured veterans of wars dating back to Vietnam — were taking a break from their 450-mile trek from San Francisco International Airport to Santa Monica.
Ray Ortiz, 41, was undaunted by the difficult stretch ahead.
“This is actually my 10th ride,” said Ortiz, a Gulf War veteran from Sacramento. “I’ve been all over the country with these guys.”
The weeklong ride is part of a program called Ride 2 Recovery, organized in 2008 by the nonprofit Fitness Challenge Foundation, along with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the military.
Many of the veterans are still recovering from bodily injuries sustained in battle. For them, the ride is physical therapy. But for others, the journey will help heal psychological wounds.
Ortiz, whose unit lost 11 men to friendly fire during the 1991 Middle East war, said he was riding to support younger veterans.
“For 15 years, I didn’t realize it, but I was struggling with PTSD,” he said. “I don’t want these guys to have to wait 15 years. When I tell them, ‘I feel this way,’ they understand. It’s not something you have to be ashamed of.”
Shawn Beidler, 29, of San Diego, served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan before being discharged last year. He also joined the ride to help others — a mission made more pressing after a good friend and fellow veteran committed suicide several months ago.
“It helps to have somebody to talk to,” Beidler said. “If you’re just personal with somebody, sharing your stories, it’ll get them to open up.”
Jim Penseyres, 64, of Rainbow, said he was glad young veterans were receiving more recognition than he did when he returned from Vietnam with an amputated leg.
“These guys get some great support,” Penseyres said as he climbed back onto his bike for the next segment of the journey.
Penseyres said the next six days of cycling will help a lot of the veterans begin to heal.
“The wounds that you can’t see are some of the most important ones you have to deal with,” he said.