Freedom riding father and son. Jon Hudgens and his son, Ian, plan to join a group composed mostly of firefighters riding to New York on bikes to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
A Jasper business owner and his son have the distinction of being the oldest and youngest participants in the Freedom Ride – a 1,035 mile bicycle ride leaving Atlanta August 26 and rolling into New York in time to commemorate the Sept. 11 attacks.
Jon Hudgens and his son Ian are both signed on as riders in the crew that began planning with just a simple idea of two firefighters making the ride with little accompanying fanfare to mark the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks which destroyed theTwin Towers.
The simple idea hatched by Mike Palmeri, owner of Cartecay Bike Shop in Ellijay, and a fellow Atlanta firefighter has since taken off .
“It’s something that has gained a life of its own,” said Hudgens, who owns the Art of Hair on Cove Road.
The elaborate multi-day event has around 20 participants, including other riders (mostly fire fighters), plus an array of support personnel and sponsors.
Hudgens, at 62 is the oldest, said he had been “somewhat talked into it” by a fellow biker – the coercer has since dropped out. But once on board, Hudgens got excited by the challenge and the trip. Hudgens noted he hadn’t had a real vacation in a decade and why not take off and spend more than a week on two-wheels heading to New York. His son, Ian, the youngest rider at 22, got excited hearing his dad planning for it and even though Ian wasn’t a road cyclist decided he would join in.
During a training ride last week, Hudgens was cruising around Jasper while this reporter tagged along. Hudgens, who looks and rides like someone 20 years younger, wasn’t exactly flying on that ride, mentioning that the 300 miles he had logged the week before had drained some of the spring from his legs. He also wanted to pace himself that Friday as he intended to roll consecutive 100 mile plus days that weekend.
Hudgens has ridden more than 100 miles in a day (a Century as cyclists refer to it) on numerous occasions but he has drastically ramped up his training to be able to handle the day-after-day of 100 plus miles needed to reach New York from Atlanta in only 16 days.
Hudgens said he and his son both have connections to New York and going back to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 is a draw.
“I used to be a bike messenger in New York and the thought of riding to New York and then riding in New York is appealing,” he said. Ian was born there and the route will go right by the hospital.
Hudgens said the toughest riding will be the more than 460 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway with its steep grades, through that section every man will “climb” by themselves and then re-group at the end point each day.
“After we get off the parkway, the group will be more like a pack of 15 riders working together,” Hudgens said. Cyclists get an advantage by trailing each other closely to cut down on the wind resistance with each rider “pulling” by riding in front.
When Hudgens tells his friends and clients at Art of Hair about the ride, “most people say I’m crazy.”
Hudgens said he has never done an event this long, but he comes somewhat prepared with a background in adventure racing, as a former Georgia duathlon (biking and running combined) champion and a former cross country coach for Etowah High School.
Hudgens said this ride is just one of those things you have to go out and do. Riding with Hudgens, he remains calm, almost lackadaisical on grueling climbs and in grueling conditions. Even if he isn’t the fastest, Hudgens might be one of the toughest riders. He’ll, without any drama, tell about a ride on a particularly hot day when took a wrong turn, ran out of water and got so dehydrated that he temporarily lost a portion of his vision – as though this happens regularly to other cyclists.
Hudgens’ advice for riding the long hills may serve him well on this ride, “You don’t have to get to the top first, you just have to get there.”
For more information to help sponsor the Freedom Ride, see www.freedomride2011.com. A going-away party/fundraiser for Hudgens is being planned for August 18. Details will be released later.