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BHS students elated after 600-mile ride

By Ben Lumpkin Daily Planet staff
Tuesday August 21, 2001

Far from collapsing in exhaustion, 17 Berkeley High students ended their 600-mile cycling trip to San Diego County’s Santana High School Monday with a burst of spontaneous dancing. 

After riding the last five miles from a camp site on the edge of town Monday morning, the Berkeley students arrived to find more than 100 parents and students from the Santee community cheering them on and offering high fives. 

The formal “protocol” of the welcoming ceremony in Santee had to be temporarily abandoned as the pumped-up Berkeley High kids launched into a spontaneous, open-air dance party with Santana High students they had only just met. 

“The dancing just got my spirits up,” said Maria Herrera, a Berkeley High graduate headed for UC Berkeley next year. “I kept on telling them that they were treating us like we were family. And they said that’s the kind of community they are.” 

Interviewed by phone  

Monday, Herrera was ready for a dose of hospitality and warmth, after a 14-day cycling journey where she often struggled to keep up. She fell off her bike twice, hurting her back so badly on one of the falls that she needed a day of riding in the “support” van to recover. 

“Every day for me was tough,” Herrera said. “I have the most bruises out of anybody.” 

The Berkeley students undertook the trip to show their sympathy for the Santee community, where a school shooting at Santana High left two students dead and 13 wounded in March. 

Catherine Jamison, who helped lead the trip as a consultant for the Berkeley Boosters Association, said the students went through many highs and lows, both emotional and physical, over the course of their journey. 

“One of the most challenging things was figuring out how to live together out of the back of a trailer,” Jamison said.  

The students camped out in state parks most nights on their way down, using equipment provided by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. They took five minute showers each night – if they were lucky – and turned in by a little after 9 p.m. The next day of cycling would last from dawn to 5 or 6 p.m., as the students traveled anywhere from 30 to 80 miles a day. 

“I came back after just four days, and I’m used to camping,” said Berkeley Boosters Association Executive Director Ove Wittstock. “But I was glad to have my own shower at night.” 

As high school students from economically disadvantaged families, the Berkeley riders have faced their share of challenges in life. But none were cyclers. Most had never camped out before. Some had never traveled outside of the Bay Area before. 

Taking turns on a cell phone during the 10-hour drive back up to Berkeley Monday, the Berkeley students made no effort to suppress their glee at having overcome such a formidable challenge. Some said they had been transformed by the experience.  

Aramon Bartholomew will be a junior at Berkeley High next year. He said the trip to Santee gave him the courage and confidence to set some tough goals for himself in the years ahead. At the top of the list: a 4.0 grade point average and admittance to the Air Force Academy. 

“Now, I can do anything,” Bartholomew said. “It’s time for me to find another goal and finish it.” 

Berkeley High student Evelyn Del Cid – the only girl who biked every single mile of the trip to Santana High – said completing the trip was full of symbolic meaning for her as well. 

“I’ve always feared the future, I guess,” Del Cid said. The way she sees it, Del Cid explained, the bushes, the trees, and the hills that she battled past on the way to San Diego “were all obstacles that I’m eventually going to face in the future. 

“And I did it this time, so why can’t I do it again?” she said. 

Herrera agreed that the trip has given her a level of confidence and energy unlike anything she’s ever experienced before. But the true heroes, she said she told her audience in Santee Monday, were the members of the Santee community. 

“In the beginning we just wanted to get through the trip,” Herrera said. “But as the days progressed, it was more about (the people of Santee). They could see it in our eyes – that we cared.”