Ring, ring, ring.
“Hello, can I speak to LeRoy? We have a cyclist who isn’t feeling well.”
Ring, ring, ring.
“Hello, LeRoy? The front tire of my bike is shredded. I need to get a ride to the next rest stop so the bike mechanic can replace it.”
Ring, ring, ring.
“LeRoy, one of the cyclists is off course. Can you go and find him?”
When the cyclists are out pedaling on the Anchor House Ride for Runaways, LeRoy Harms’ cell phone rings more than a dozen times an hour.
He is the field coordinator of the 38-member support crew that is run like a small military operation, and is the main troubleshooter when problems arise. His his phone number is also the support hotline cyclists call if they need help. He does not stop working until the last cyclist is done for the day.
“They’re my people, my responsibility. That’s what I do,” he said.
This week, Harms is one of two Anchor House Ride for Runaways participants who will be celebrating their 25th year participating in the ride, a feat achieved previously by only two people. Longtime participants will be honored Thursday night at the Anchor House banquet, where the cyclists will also find out how much money they have raised for Anchor House so far on the 35th annual ride. The ride raised $473,000 last year.
“I stuck with it all these years because they raised quite a bit a money, and I thought the charity was worthwhile,” Harms said. “If this ride didn’t raise the money it did, I would have been out of here a long time ago.”
Harms, who moved to Delaware in 2011, previously live in Hopewell and used to be a tombstone dealer. He heard about the Anchor House ride and thought it was always something he would like to do. In 1987 his friend John Spedding mentioned he was going to do it.
“I always thought it was a cool idea, and I was always tempted to go, but could never work up the guts to do it,” he said. “Then John said hey, you will never guess what I am going to do . I’m going on the anchor house ride. The following year he decided to come back, he called me up, and I bought myself a Raleigh bicycle.”
Only 56 cyclists participated in the Ride for Runways the first year Harms went on the ride in 1988. The ride was from Maine to Trenton.
“On the bust ride up to Maine, the longer we were on the road, the more terrified I got,” he said. “A 48-year-old man pedaling a bike 500 miles. I said to myself what was I thinking? By the time we got to Maine I was absolutely beside myself.”
The lone support crew member at the time was Joan Slavin, who road the entire route back and forth each day in her Subaru Brat. Harms was a cyclist for about half a dozen Anchor House rides, but the support crew members were in short supply and he was asked if he was willing to help. His first year he drove a 15-passenger windowed van along the route.
“There were no rest stops, and the cyclists had to stop and buy lunch. They had to fend for themselves,” he said. “One cyclist showed up 10 at night because made a wrong turn. Back then, sometimes you didn’t see people all day until you got to the hotel. People had war stories to tell. I came home with a dozen war stories that first year I rode. I considered the ride a personal best. I’d never done anything like it before and it was very exciting.”
Harms eventually took over managing the support team operation and selecting and arranging rest stops.
“I knew they were having trouble recruiting support people. I made a point to make sure the support people were treated well and to do what I could to get them to come back,” he said. “I tried to give them the types of jobs they liked to do, and to match people with teams they would be comfortable with. We ended up with an 85-percent return rate, and made significant improvements to the ride.”
Every year, Harms says it will be his last and he will retire. But he keeps coming back. He insists this year is his last ride.
“It’s fun, and I’ve met a lot of really nice people,” he said. “You see some of the people only once a year, but the friendship is renewed.”
Harms, 73, has made the ride a family affair. All three of his sons have participated in the ride as cyclists or support crew members.
His son Bruce Harms, 48, works the support crew with his wife, Irene Harms. Bruce Harms participated in his first ride when he was 25.
“He has done the ride 23 years,” Harms said. “I’m making it to 25 years. He says he wants to make it to 50.”
Ride Notes: The cyclists biked 80 hilly miles Wednesday from Latham, New York to Kingston, New York, and climbed 4,300 feet, including one five-mile climb and several steep hills. The heat index reached over 100 and several cyclists struggled to finish the day. Support crews have been giving out a record amount of water this week. Thursday the cyclists will bike 71.9 miles from Kingston to Matamoras, Pennsylvania.
Reporter Krystal Knapp is a cyclist in the 35th annual Anchor House Ride for Runaways. For more information about Anchor House or to make a donation, visit www.anchorhouseride.org, where you can also make online donations in a cyclist’s name. Donations can also be sent to the Anchor House Foundation, P.O. Box 2357, Trenton, NJ 08607-2357.