By: Wynne Love

While most 5th graders look forward to relaxing on spring break, there are some who choose to spend their week an altogether different way.

The Ride Across California, or RAC, is a week-long, 370-mile bike ride for ambitious 5th graders. Dubbed River to Riptide, the trek starts with riders dipping their back tires in the Colorado River in Yuma, Arizona, and ends when they reach the Pacific in Carlsbad.

A bike tour and a camping trip rolled into one, the ride generally attracts around seventy 5th graders, with another thirty to forty parents and siblings acting as support drivers along the way. “The mission of the Ride Across California,” explained longtime coach and volunteer coordinator Gary Rossi, “is to show 5th graders that when they establish a goal, develop a plan, and then carry out a plan they can accomplish anything.”

Former 5th grade teacher Dennis Bueker and his principal Mike Fickel at Deer Canyon Elementary started the ride in 1991. “They thought this would be a great project as a coming of age for 5th graders as they prepare to go to middle school,” said Rossi. The RAC was inspired by the book, Hey Mom, Can I ride my bike across America?, by John Seigel Boettner, which Bueker still reads to participants around the evening campfires. Now heading into its 22nd year, the tour has become a tradition for families over the Poway Unified School District spring break.

Some participants start training as early as September for the spring tour. Riders must join the Rancho Family YMCA Bike Club and make use of their extensive training program in order to log 300 miles of biking, including two challenging Escondido rides, before the RAC.

“Sometimes there is nothing but sand, road, wind, and cactus,” said Rossi. Tackling 30–50 miles a day, rides can get long and tedious, but no one quits, and no one’s left behind. Families camp each night, gathering around the campfire and enjoying meals provided by the support teams and other volunteers along the route.

“When they get to the beach and see the Pacific Ocean,” said Rossi, “they are all smiles since they now know they can accomplish any goal that they put their mind to.”

Sound exciting? Registration for the April 1–7 ride closes March 12th. For more information, call the Rancho Family YMCA at 858-484-8788.