A 60-mile bicycle ride from Aiken to Greenwood Fire Department Station 1 arrived an hour early Wednesday. No matter that the 27 police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel had been part of an expedition, peddling 100 miles per day since the Carolina Brotherhood Cycling Tour began Saturday in Rocky Mount, N.C.
Rest was over. The next mission was at hand.
"FIVE MINUTES; WE'RE ROLLING! FIVE!" a stern voice shouted over a megaphone.
The ride goes on.
For these cyclists, and the 14 accompanying support personnel, the focus was clear: to honor six fallen police officers and firefighters of the Carolinas who were killed in the line of duty in 2012. Another, Aiken Master Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson, who was killed in December 2011, is an addition to the list of honorees, and Wednesday's ride, from Aiken to Honea Path, was in his honor.
"This is the most humbling experience of my life," said Jim Squittieri, a Charlotte firefighter and founder of the tour, which is in its second year.
USC Aiken chief of police Kevin Liles, who actually had trained some with Richardson, said that was enough incentive to arrange his schedule for at least one day with this event.
"It doesn't matter which department something like this happens to. When it happens everybody in all the departments pull together," Liles said.
They also had to pull together when others - North Carolina's Bobby DeMuth Jr., Jeremiah Goodson Jr., Dewayne Hester, William Mast Jr., Randall "Shane" Thomas and Aiken's Sandra "Sandy" Rogers - were killed in the line of duty last year.
The weeklong tour stops in Hendersonville, N.C., today, then Marion, N.C., on Friday. And then, they embark upon a 6,000-foot elevation climb the Saturday, the final day, into Boone, N.C.
It is more than a test of will. It's a way to let the victims' families know they are not forgotten. After the tour raised $34,000 last year, Squittieri said the tour had raised $25,000 through Wednesday.
"It's emotional," Squittieri said. "It's a way to show their families that we still care for them, and we're there for them. This means a lot to them, some of maybe who we have not met, and it certainly means a lot to us."
Cycling can be grueling, especially in this recent hot weather while steering along inclines. They stop at every 20-mile marker to take in whatever nourishment they need to carry on.
"We ride as fast as the slowest one," Liles said.
They trained together; they worked together, and they grieved together.
And, as life commands, they carry on together, never forgetting the ones who are no longer here.
The ride goes on.
Chancey is sports editor at the Index-Journal. Contact him at 223-1813; e-mail email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @IJSCOTTCHANCEY. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.