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Turkey Patrol

Matthew Artz Daily Planet Staff
Thursday September 05, 2002

Ten Berkeley police officers assembled outside headquarters in the dark, early hours Wednesday. 

They’re trained to handle shoot-outs, armed robberies and domestic disputes but none of that prepared them for what they were about to face – three days, 216 miles and 18,000 feet uphill, all on bikes. And all for charity. 

The 17th annual Turkey Ride, when it concludes Friday in the mountains of South Lake Tahoe, will have raised about $10,000 to help feed needy families this Thanksgiving Day and during the winter holiday season, say the participating officers from the city and UC Berkeley police departments. 

“The great joy is handing out the food baskets during the holidays,” said Lt. Bruce Agnew, who along with Sgt. Alec Boga founded the charity ride in 1985.  

“A couple of us went for fun in 1983 and during the trip we talked about turning it into a fundraiser.”  

The route is challenging. Day one takes them 125 miles into the Central Valley. Although the terrain is relatively flat there, the cyclists must withstand 100-degree temperatures and a breakfast at Jack in the Box. 

“It’s probably the worst breakfast you can have, but it’s open,” said Doug Hambleton of the BPD. Day two includes 68 miles and two grueling climbs as high as 8,000 feet into the Sierra Nevada. Day three consists of a 26-mile ride through mountain passes, ending at cabins in South Lake Tahoe. 

The rigors of the journey foster camaraderie. “After riding all day in up mountains, we get together for beers, slump against a wall and razz each other,” said Frank Onciano, a bike officer in downtown Berkeley. 

Some cyclists get heckled more than others. Onciano recalled one sergeant who acted a little too macho before his first ride. 

“He found out it’s not so easy when the sun’s at your back at 113 degrees,” Onciano said. “We haven’t seen him since.” 

Wednesday’s rookie was Lt. Adan Tejada from the UC Berkeley Police Department. Although he was unsure how he’d hold up, he expected the ride to be a relaxing alternative to his day job. 

“This is fun,” he said. “At work whenever you answer a call you never know if you will end up fighting for your life or somebody else’s.” 

In the months preceding the ride officers ask friends, neighbors and local merchants to sponsor them with 5-cent to $1 donations for each bicycle mile.  

Last year the cyclists raised enough money to give away 500 food baskets to needy Berkeley families. Each basket has food for about eight people. The food distribution is arranged by the Berkeley Boosters, a charitable organization affiliated with the BPD. 

The officers don’t just sacrifice their legs for the hungry; they forfeit something from their wallets. Each officer pays $125 to cover the costs of food and lodging during the trip. And the riders use three vacation days to make the trek. 

Lt. Mike Freeman, a retired UC Berkeley police officer and competitive cyclist, says the most fun comes November. “The best part of the ride is delivering the food on Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. “That’s why we do it.” 


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