Ride Across California

Michael Fickel

Dennis Bueker, Fifth Grade Teacher at Midland, Sundance, and Deer Canyon Elementary Schools was always involved in getting students active in outside experiences to enhance their learning beyond the walls of his classroom.  He sponsored backpacking trips for 5th graders, middle and high school students from 1972 through 1994.  Through the auspices of Poway Unified School District, students were able to take long backpacking trips usually between Mammoth Lakes and Yosemite during their summer break.

When Dennis and I met in 1981, we immediately knew we had a similar philosophy of education:  "Kids learn more from doing than from listening to a teachers' monologue."  My experience as a teacher and principal was similar to Dennis' backpacking trips but involved bicycling rather than hiking. 

Several teachers and staff at Sundance were also bicycle enthusiasts.  In 1982, we began sponsoring bicycle rides in Penasquitos Canyon and on the dirt roads and paths beyond Sundance towards Del Mar.  We would ride any kind of bicycle available and take students on the rides with us on Fridays after school during daylight savings time when we had enough daylight to ride from 3:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m.

The year Deer Canyon was being constructed, Dennis read the book, "Hey Mom, Can I Ride My Bike Across America" by John Seigel Boettner.  Dennis suggested that I should read the book and discuss an experience for fifth graders similar to these students riding across America in the "Hey Mom" novel.

I read the book and immediately told Dennis that a 70-day trip across America with a bunch of fifth graders would be insane.  He settled me down when he explained his idea of a condensed experience over Spring Break to Ride Across California.  The RAC was invented.  Our first RAC was scheduled for Spring of 1991.

Many mistakes were made in 1991.  We didn't train, we didn't realize that we would need massive amounts of water and ice to successfully get fifth graders and ourselves across the desert alive, and we could only find three wonderful moms to drive with us as chase drivers.  Our first rag tag group completed the ride from the Colorado River to the beach, and I still don't know how we were so lucky to all get back to home base at Deer Canyon.

As you know, the RAC has been a yearly event since 1991.  My assignments from 1986 took me to a District Office position for three years, Canyon View for one year, Deer Canyon for four years, Chaparral for six years, and Morning Creek for three years.  The riders increased every year as my principal jobs moved me from school to school. 

When Poway Unified was no longer willing to sponsor the RAC (a change in Superintendants was the end of Poway's willingness to shoulder the liability involved in a bicycle ride across the state), the Rancho Family YMCA came to the rescue.  The YMCA has done a marvelous job in continuing the RAC.  When I retired in 2003, Dennis continued organizing the RAC in coordination with the YMCA.  During that time, Dennis worked with many parent volunteers and with multiple YMCA representatives to provide fifth graders with the RAC experience.  When Jana and Gary Rossi became involved with their children, a new leader emerged to take over the RAC.  When Dennis retired in 2006, Gary Rossi assumed the helm.  Gary has done a wonderful job during the last twelve years as the "leader of the pack".  The Rancho YMCA Sports and Fitness Director, Jesse Pazdernik, has been the "glue" that held the RAC together during the past ten years, and we are fortunate that Jesse will continue in his role. We appreciate the efforts of both these men and especially their dedication to fifth graders.

The RAC was founded to give fifth graders a right-of-passage experience that would build self-confidence and a "can do" spirit before entering that life experience called Middle School.  The RAC was meant to show students the contrasting climates, social structure, living conditions, and topography of the southern end of their state.  Life is quite different outside of Rancho Penasquitos.  The ride was also meant to create a "one for all and all for one" experience without the competitive consequences of a race.

Other objectives of the ride are:

  • To teach every rider that worthwhile accomplishments are a personal matter and not a method of determining who is better, faster, or more superior;
  • To show all participants that each individual must work hard to ensure the success of everyone;
  • To demonstrate that success for everyone is the measure of a satisfying trip or experience; 
  • To have students experience camping in a tent as an alternative to camping in a spacious, air-conditioned motor home; and
  • To teach students that it takes a dedicated set of adults and cooperation from young people to successfully move 250 people across the state;   

Given that the RAC has accomplished many positive outcomes for the past twenty-five years, Dennis Bueker and I will be rejoining the RAC to re-emphasize  the philosophy on which the RAC was conceived and to participate in the training, teaching the curriculum, and providing input to the YMCA for maintaining the high level of success of this once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment. 

We are happy to be back.
Dennis Bueker & Mike Fickel