Biking to Tahoe: Berkeley Police Team Rides to Feed Families

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Sixteen members of the Berkeley Police Department swapped their gun holsters for bicycles this morning to take part in the 15th annual "Turkey Ride" and raise money for the poor.

The officers, who set off at 6 a.m., will take three days to ride from Berkeley to Lake Tahoe. Riding by the back roads, they will cover a distance of 236 miles.

In the process, the group seeks to raise over $10,000 - money that will ultimately be distributed to local families during Thanksgiving and Christmas in the form of 500 turkey baskets.

Berkeley police Capt. Bobby Miller, who has participated in the Turkey Ride for several years, said the event takes a recreational activity and makes it into something positive for the community.

"Instead of simply riding socially, we get people to pledge money and do something good for families," Miller said.

The ride is arduous, especially for officers who have not attempted the epic trek before, he said. Some officers, who are not renowned for their physical fitness, believe a number of pledges are made because of doubts over their ability to complete the trip.

These doubts are occasionally well-founded. Riding over mile after mile of burning hot concrete, much of it uphill, has resulted in several riders pulling out over the years. On the first day, the riders cover 125 miles, from Berkeley to Jackson. On the second day, the entire 60 mile stage - from Jackson to Kirkwood - is uphill.

"I'll never forget that first Turkey Ride," Miller said. "I was not a cyclist at all then, and I felt like I'd die. We once thought about fitting the ride into two days, but I don't think many riders would cooperate with that."

Miller said he spends a lot of time persuading friends and family to pledge money.

"We also need to take our own time off work to go (on the Turkey Ride) and personally pay for our accommodation along the way," he said.

The pain, exhaustion and cost are worth it to the riders, however, when the pledged money is collected and distributed. Just before Thanksgiving and Christmas, the department works in conjunction with Berkeley Boosters, a nonprofit organization, to buy the baskets' contents.

"I can see exactly where the money goes," Miller explained. "We raise the money, then pack the food and deliver it personally - we're doing something that clearly helps people at important times of the year."

Each basket contains a large turkey and enough other items to feed 10 people. Last year, approximately 19,000 lbs. of turkey were gratefully accepted by local families, Miller said. These families are selected, based on need, by local charity organizations.

The Turkey Ride began in the mid-1980s when two officers joined the department. Both of them were avid cyclists and participated in several long rides around the country. In 1985, they decided to ride to Lake Tahoe when they had two days off.

The next year, several other officers expressed an interest in riding, but wanted a good reason to put themselves through the bicycling agony.

"That's when someone came up with the really good idea of riding for charity," Miller said. "I think it's great that we don't just send the check off to some charity, but actually witness the good it does for local families in the Berkeley community."


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