The downpours began as the riders made their way into Houston.
Seven of the cyclists got flat tires after riding over a metal gate, and several fell along the way. The wind was in their faces the entire last stretch.
Jeff Morse, 46, the leader of the annual Brotherhood Ride, couldn’t help but think that they were being challenged by the ever-motivated Damion Hobbs, one of the two fallen Houston firefighters, in whose memory they were riding.
“I think he was trying to challenge us to see if we were dedicated enough,” Morse said. “I think all 26 riders proved that we were.”
The third annual Brotherhood Ride wrapped up Saturday afternoon in Houston, with the 26 riders pedaling into a teary-eyed crowd of hundreds who had gathered to greet them at Houston fire station 26, the home station of Hobbs, 30, and Capt. James Harlow, 50, who were killed battling a house fire on Easter 2009.
They were met by city and fire officials, Hobbs’ and Harlow’s family members, and were escorted into Houston by a fire engine from station 26.
“It was unbelievable, the reception that we had,” Morse said. “As we were riding up the road to (station) 26, they had the bagpipe and drum players on the loud speakers playing ‘Amazing Grace.’”
Starting April 1, the cyclists from 14 fire and police departments — most of whom are from Southwest Florida, but came from as far away as Houston and Massachusetts — rode 850 miles over 10 days from Tallahassee to Houston in honor of their fallen brothers. This was, by far, the longest of the three Brotherhood rides, which started in 2008 with a 600-mile trek to trip to Charleston, S.C., and was followed up in 2009 with a 400-mile loop around Florida in honor of fallen Fort Myers Police Officer Andrew Widman.
This year the riders took back roads from Florida to Texas, with escorts from local police and fire departments along the way. With lots of hills and three 100-mile days in a row, this year’s ride was the most difficult, said North Port firefighter Kristy Halvorsen, 31, who has participated in all three rides.
“We were riding through the bayous. That was interesting,” Halvorsen said. “A lot of bridges. There were a lot of trains. Seemed like there were trains everywhere.”
Four of the riders were Houston firefighters, who helped the other riders get to know their fallen brothers, Halvorsen said. Harlow’s and Hobbs’ family members appreciated the riders’ efforts.
“It was devastating and we’re coming up on the one-year mark and it’s really tough for the family, but seeing stuff like this makes it easier for us,” Harlow’s son, also James Harlow, told Houston television station KPRC.
The annual ride, founded by Morse, raises money and shows support for the families of emergency services workers who die in the line of duty. Although totals aren’t in yet, Morse said this year’s riders raised thousands of dollars for the families of the fallen Houston firefighters.
The participants were driving back to Naples on Sunday, and expected to be back early this morning.
Morse said the planning for the fourth annual Brotherhood is already underway — an ambitious 1,300-mile ride to New York City for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, during which nearly 3,000 people, including more than 300 firefighters and 60 police officers, were killed.
“It’s a long way to go,” Morse admitted. “I’ve approached many riders with our group. They’re ready to bring it. Nothing is going to stop this Brotherhood Ride.”
Connect with Ryan Mills at www.naplesnews.com/staff/ryan-mills/