Every July when Connor Smith was growing up, he’d go to the annual Anchor House Ride for Runaways send-off and wish he could be tagging along with his dad. Some years he would wait along the side of the road and wave a sign as the Anchor House buses filled with cyclists headed out of town for the week-long trip. And then he’d eagerly await his dad’s return.
“I’d get frustrated, because I didn’t understand why I couldn’t go. I rode with my dad and joined some of the training rides with the Anchor House people, and I was always biking then because I didn’t drive a car yet,” he said. “I wanted to just go out there and do the ride.”
Conner’s wait finally ended this year when her turned 18, the minimum age to participate in the annual Ride for Runaways. He joined the ride just in time to accompany his dad on his 25th Anchor House trip.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “It probably won’t seem real until the last day when we reach the mall at the end.”
Smith is one of a handful of 18-year-olds participating in the 37th annual Ride for Runaways this week. The oldest two cyclists are 76.
The cyclists pedal to raise money for Anchor House, the only shelter for runaway, abused and neglected kids and teens in Mercer County. The ride raises more than a third of the funds to run Anchor House and several other programs helping kids in crisis each year.
Connor’s dad, Mark Smith, a veterinarian in Hopewell, started doing the Anchor House ride in 1990 after reading about the ride in the newspaper for several years. He didn’t think he could ride 500 miles, but then he learned that a neighbor participated in the ride. The neighbor convinced him he could do the ride too, and helped him train.
He only skipped the ride once in 2002, when a daughter was returning from the Peace Corps.
When he celebrated his 20th anniversary on the ride five years ago, he said the only thing that would make the ride even better was doing it with his son.
For his 20th ride, Smith decided to aim high and attempt to raise $1,000 for each year he had done the ride. He exceeded his goal of raising $20,000. Would he be able to top it off for his 25th ride? He He decided he’d try to raise $25,000, and he has surpassed the goal already, raising $26,515 so far.
“A lot of people have been donating all 25 years,” Smith said. “Some people even donated the year I missed the ride. I raised $5,000 that year. The majority of my supporters are from my veterinary practice. People come in the office and ask me if I’m going on the ride again. They sign up as sponsors quickly after my annual appeal letter goes out. I really appreciate their support. Each night on the ride I send out a few postcards to supporters to say thank you.”
The Smiths and the other 171 cyclists participating in the Ride for Runaways biked 74.4 miles Sunday from Oswego, New York to Geneva for day one of the Ride for Runaways. They enjoyed scenic views of Lake Ontario and rolling terrain and farmland before crossing the Erie Canal. Then they ended the day at Lake Seneca.
“We biked with a lot of different groups, ” Mark Smith said. “All along the way we joined different people. My favorite part was biking along the lake.”
Connor Smith said his favorite part of the first day was when the rolling hills ended.
“I was glad when we stopped doing the big rollers,” he said. “”I liked the gradual hills I could cruise on much better.”
“There were a couple of early good climbs just as we were starting out the day, ” his dad said. “It started to get hot out the last 10 miles. The last 10 miles of the day are always the toughest part.”
On day two of the Ride for Runaways Monday, the cyclists will pedal 61.2 miles from Geneva to Corning.
Planet Princeton and Planet Trenton, in partnership with the Trentonian, are the official media sponsors for the 37th 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.