The Chain Reaction of Cycling: Lauren's Ride

The Chain Reaction of Cycling

Lauren’s Ride

Story Sponsor: San Luis Obispo Real Estate Agent Steve Hopkins

By Jamie Relth

Anyone who hears the story of how Nipomo firefighting engineer John Byrne rode his bicycle a little over 3,400 miles, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge, in 36 days is amazed by his fortitude. Anyone who learns that he did this ride to raise money to help his 22-year-old quadriplegic younger sister, Lauren, is astounded by his big heart.

But the way Byrne tells the story, his incredible race across America was truly remarkable because of the unexpected generosity of others, and it was made possible due to a series of little miracles, accidents and chance acts of kindness that, together, resulted in a feat he wouldn’t have believed possible.

For instance, Byrne might never have started cycling in distance rides, had it not been for a family friend who had donated a $4,000 bike to Byrne to race in a three-day, 300-mile race. And Byrne might not have learned about his sister’s struggles with becoming an independent adult, had he not gotten into an argument with her and afterwards decided to soothe things over. Even after learning of her troubles, he may not have realized he could help if he hadn’t become a Big Brother, volunteer work that made him ponder his relationship with his own sibling.

According to Byrne, these were just a few examples of how small, seemingly unrelated events set him on a path that would lead from California, over the Rockies, through small towns in Kansas and Missouri, and into the North East, on an unbelievable endurance adventure.

The goal to ride across country to raise $60,000 to help Lauren attain a greater sense of independence through a car designed for disabled drivers happened overnight, Byrne says—literally. He had the idea, posted it on Facebook, and soon after received overwhelming encouragement and support in the form of donations, a website built for the cause, and fundraiser events. Byrne says it all fell into place, and he had his sister’s example of perseverance to lead the way through the steep challenges in preparing for the ride. “She is a really motivating person. She hasn’t let her injury stop her,” he says, explaining that Lauren does wheel chair rugby, goes to college and has an unbeatable outlook and attitude.

Despite the stars aligning for Lauren’s Ride, Byrne says “There were a lot of challenging times.” Admitting that planning the route was not his forte, he says he figured 100 miles a day; planned no rest days; and did not factor in obstacles like sickness, injury or fatigue. On his second day, prepared for a 100-mile ride, he faced what ended up being a 130-mile ride. He rode with little rest or sleep for the first week, and then got sick the second week. In the Rockies, he faced 100-plus mile rides and gusting winds for an 11-day streak. Unforeseen hills hit him in Missouri, throwing a 17,000-ft climb at him over a two-day span.

But the biggest surprise he encountered was the kindness that met him at every step along the way. At one point, a fan following his daily blog about the ride arranged to have a chiropractor meet him to help with some of the discomforts of bending over a bike for such long hours. The fire stations which friends had arranged for him to stay at along the route routinely blew him away with their generosity, offering everything from warm beds and hot meals to fundraiser dinners and route advice. One time, in the Rockies, his chain broke and a retired fireman-turned-bike-shop-owner pulled over to fix his bike.

All told, Byrne and his entourage de force raised over $60,000, through the SLO County Firefighters Benevolent Association, enough to purchase Lauren’s car as well as her driving lessons. The trek lasted just over a month, from September 9 to October 14, 2012, but the people he met, the lessons learned, the charitable gestures received and the physical training endured have filled Byrne with memories he will cherish the rest of his life. And although Byrne reports that he is still sore from the long ride, you’d better believe that won’t stop him: he’s already signed up for the SLO Marathon and Wildflower Triathlon in 2013, now a firm believer that you can do anything you put your mind to. “If you follow your heart,” he says, “it’ll come together.”


If your heart leads you to donate to the Lauren’s Ride cause or find out more about Byrne’s wild ride, visit