“To me there is such a joy and beauty being outside in creation,” says John Riddell, who is most happy enjoying the glories of Lancaster County’s changing seasons from the seat of his bicycle. “Riding inside is really boring.”

Riddell, 65, began his fascination with the bicycle as a boy in Princeton, New Jersey.

“I was born in 1958 and rode my bike to school — that was the way you got around,” he says.

In school, he was also an ardent cross-country track athlete and continued to enjoy running until a doctor suggested he find another sport — too much stress on the joints.

“I’ve had a love of biking since 1990,” he explains.

The scenic area around his Quarryville home and Lancaster County’s rail trails has nurtured Riddell’s love of riding.

“We’ve lived here since 1986 and love the small-town culture. It was a great place to raise children. All four graduated from Solanco High School.

“It’s also a great place to ride,” he continues. “People mostly get out of your way. At least 90% are kind and want you to be safe.”

Riddell explains that he enjoys riding on two levels.

“First, I enjoy challenges. I like to set a goal and achieve that goal — that drives me a lot,” he says.

A challenge can include riding from Quarryville to Ocean City, Maryland, all in one day. In the last 10 years, he has also biked across North Carolina twice, across Florida, and across the state of Kansas with an organized group.

On longer rides, his friend, Jeff Worley of Willow Street, is a frequent companion, although he also enjoys solo rides on local country roads.

Last summer, in France, Riddell rode a section of the Tour de France in the Pyrenees.

“I rode to the top of a mountain by myself. My wife, brother, and daughter were there waiting for me. It was so exciting and memorable to achieve that goal and to be able to celebrate the achievement with family at the top. A local French cyclist captured the moment with a picture using my phone!” 

During the warmer months, weather permitting, Riddell even rides from his home in Quarryville to his office at the Dayspring Christian Academy in Mountville, where he is the director of finance and human resources.

He explains the 50-mile roundtrip gives him time for spiritual contemplation, the other aspect of riding he appreciates.

“Biking helps clear your mind, but it’s also a time for me to talk with the Lord,” he says.

While his three sons and one daughter are also athletic, “this is my thing,” says Riddell. “My wife, Deb, prefers walking and gardening.”


A 500+-mile Ride for Cancer Research

While he rides for enjoyment and meeting personal goals, Riddell is very excited to participate in this year’s 10th annual Empire State Ride (empirestateride.com), a more than 500-mile cycling adventure from New York City to Niagara Falls to raise money for cutting-edge cancer research at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York.

“When I started down this road, it was all about going on this awesome ride. But in the weeks since then, I’ve been struck by the number of people in my circle who have faced cancer,” says Riddell.

“While I will enjoy the challenge, I am now participating in memory of friends and family members who have lost battles with cancer and to honor those who survived it.”

After raising at least $3,500 in donations (Riddell’s personal goal is now $10,000), he will join about 350 male and female participants for the seven-day ride, from July 20-27, definitely in the heart of summer.

“I don’t mind July,” he says. “I prefer hot rather than cold weather — if it rains, at least it’s warmer rain.”

Riddell continues, “Each day, we’ll ride about 80 miles. We start the ride by 8 o’clock in the morning, after breakfast. Everybody leaves when they are ready. This is definitely not a race.”

Every 20 miles there is a rest stop with snacks and drinks as well as a bicycle mechanic. People who can help with other bike or health problems are also on call.

“We stop for lunch and keep riding to the finish line for that day,” he says. “Then it’s showers and dinner.”

Each night the group hears a different 45-minute presentation about the successes of the hospital and their research.

Afterward, the organizers have set up lawn games and other entertainment, but most people are tired and understandably don’t stay up late. Tents and air mattresses are set up for participants each night.

“This will be my first weeklong ride without a friend along,” says Riddell. “But I’m looking forward to meeting new people and making friendships. Most participants are from the Buffalo area, including some who have received treatment at the center and just want to give back.”

The event raises about $1 million each year.

As he trains for the ride with growing enthusiasm, Riddell explains, “The more I get into it, the more energizing it is for me to be part of something that will help generations to research a cure for cancer. Understanding how many people have been impacted by cancer in my own life has built momentum in me.”


A Brush with Death

Riddell feels especially fortunate to be able to participate in such a demanding ride because he has had his own brush with death that could have easily ended his biking activities, if not his life.

He tells the story: “Fourteen years ago I was out one Saturday morning in Solanco, training for a long-distance ride. Somehow I fell and had a bad brain injury. A helmet doesn’t keep you from getting hurt — it just helps keep you from getting killed.

“My brain was pushed to one side — I was four days in the hospital, and it was four months before I returned to work. Fortunately, there were no long-term repercussions. I did eventually get back on the bike, but the first five times, I rode with a friend — very slowly.”

Now he sees some benefits from this life-altering event.

“It changed a lot of things in my life and even led to a positive job change to my current position at Dayspring. I’m very thankful to be alive.”

Riddell looks to a future where he’ll continue riding as long as he can. For now, he’ll continue training every day to increase his endurance and muscle strength in the Lancaster County countryside on his Trek Domane, a bike he won during another charity event.

He summarizes, “With riding, you get the physical benefits of staying in shape. You sleep better, have less stress, and get more enjoyment in life. And riding in such a beautiful area as the seasons change fills the spirit and heart with joy.”


On the cover: Riddell and Worley at the end of a fundraising ride in Rehoboth Beach, Del., in August 2021.

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