NEW YORK - The rock music was upbeat and the mood was festive as 1,500 cyclists waited in front of the World Trade Center site yesterday for the start of a memorial ride that will cover 270 miles before concluding tomorrow at the Pentagon.
Cyclists from 44 states and eight foreign countries, many of them disabled, were full of energy as the opening ceremonies for the Face of America 2002 ride began just after 8 a.m.
But when Dan Walker, a New York firefighter from Engine Company 216, began singing a song he wrote to honor city firefighters who lost their lives Sept. 11, everyone grew quiet, understanding that they were not here just for the challenge of an arduous three-day ride.
"You people look like you're in pretty good physical shape," said Peter Kiernan, co-chairman of World T.E.A.M. Sports, the nonprofit group sponsoring the ride. But having read all the applications for the Face of America event, he added, "I know inside that you are bleeding."
Kiernan estimated that "probably 70 percent" of the riders had lost a family member or friend during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But even for those with no direct connection, the tragedy is still close.
"Even if you don't know someone," said Cindy Beyer, 26, from Manhattan, who had pictures of four people on her jersey who had died Sept. 11, "you know someone who knew someone."
"People are riding for a thousand reasons," said Beth Macklin, 42, from Skillman, N.J. She lost her 23-year-old son, Justin, in a car accident two years ago, and since then has found no outlet for her "emotional energy."
When she heard about the Face of America ride, she knew she had to do it. Waiting for a ferry at the South Street pier that would take riders from Lower Manhattan to Sandy Hook, N.J., during the first 80-mile leg of the ride, she showed those next to her a picture of her family, including Justin, attached to the pack on her handlebars.
The ride's oldest participant is Bolek Zajiczek, a 76-year-old Polish war hero who lost both arms during World War II. On his ride application, he wrote, "I lived through Stalin. I lived through Hitler. I can teach America how to live through this."
Glen Goldstein, World T.E.A.M. Sports' chief operating officer, was given the daunting task of staging this event. "I do bike events for a living," he says, but because of the Sept. 11 connection, there's a "huge difference" between organizing Face of America 2002 and other rides. "We had a lot of people who said, 'I haven't ridden a bike since I was 7, but I'm going to do this.'"
Today's ride of 126 miles will head south from Tuckerton, N.J., to Cape May, where cyclists will get their second boat ride on the Cape May Ferry to Lewes, Del. From there it's across Delaware to Maryland's Eastern Shore at Tuckahoe State Park, northwest of Denton.
Tomorrow, riders will make their way to the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis for lunch sponsored by the Naval Academy, and several hundred day riders will join the group for the final 40-mile leg to the Pentagon.
It's not too late to join the Face of America 2002 ride. Walk-up registration tomorrow for day riders will be from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. at the Pentagon's North Parking Lot in Arlington, Va. From there, cyclists will be transported to Annapolis, where they will ride back to the Pentagon for closing ceremonies, which are set for 4 p.m.. There is a $75 registration fee. See www.worldteamsports.org for more information.