To cheers and chants of, “Go riders, go,” around 70 cyclists pedaled into the parking lot at Birchwood Elementary School, the first stop on the day’s 100-mile trek.
This year’s ride is the 10th Annual Ride for Missing Children, and it kicked off at 7:30 a.m. from the University at Albany.
Birchwood Elementary School 5th grader Aidan Page sang the National Anthem before the riders set out.
The Ride for Missing Children honors the memory of all missing children, raises awareness of the issue of missing and exploited children and emphasizes the need for education funding to pay for posters in the hopes of locating missing children.
The riders traversed the Capital Region, escorted by a variety of local law enforcement, including Albany County sheriff's deputies, state Department of Environmental Conservation police, Saratoga County sheriff's deputies and state troopers.
Lisa Luyckx is a fourth-grade teacher at Birchwood and has been participating in the ride for at least five years. She rides in honor of Craig Frear, a Scotia teen who went missing in 2004. He was 17 at the time, and Luyckx’s son played soccer with him.
“We want the families to know we’re still thinking of them,” Luyckx said.
At different points along the route, riders participated in a silent tribute. Families whose loved ones have gone missing stand along the route, holding wreaths in honor of their family members. The riders pass silently, in remembrance of the missing and the families affected.
“That’s very powerful for me,” Luyckx said. “I cry every year. It’s about being thankful for what you have and bringing attention to the issue. People are unaware of the problem. People go missing every day.”
As part of the organization’s efforts to educate students on personal safety, Birchwood hosted assemblies during which speakers talked with students about safety - both in real life and online. The message stuck with fifth-grader William Kruggel.
“You should always ask your parents (before going somewhere) and take a friend,” Kruggel said. He said the best part of the morning was seeing all the bike riders.
Two other Birchwood parents rode as well. Milly Gnatek became involved at Luyckx’s urging. This was her first ride, and she said it was going well. Her son Bradley had confidence in his mother.
“It’s really great,” the fifth-grader said. “Oh, yeah, I know she will finish the ride.”
Kosta Mirkovic’s mom also rode. He, too was sure his mom would finish. She rode last year as well.
“She was tired at the end,” Mirkovic said.
The cyclists took a 30-minute break at Birchwood, where they got a bite to eat - bagels and breakfast sandwiches - and distributed stickers and pencils to the students.
After breakfast, the riders got back on their bicycles and rode past the students one more time before heading down Route 7 toward their next stop at Forts Ferry Elementary School.
Final fundraising totals were not available Friday, though rider participation increased by 40 percent this year. Luyckx encourages anyone who likes bicycling to get involved.
"It's a cyclist's dream," she said, referring to the ride itself and the cause it supports. "It's powerful, even if we can bring them joy for just a moment."