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The Ashley G Ride: WHS coach completes coast-to-coast bike ride

By Roger Greene
Coastal Observer

Finally sitting still after more than six weeks of freewheeling motion, James Brown found a familiar flavor to be comforting. But the taste of the tea at Carolina Wings in Litchfield, couldn’t wash away the surreal feeling.

For years, the Waccamaw High teacher and coach planned his ultimate cycling adventure. Having completed all but the final few miles of the Ashley G Ride, Brown wrestled with the fact that he had indeed pedaled from coast to coast.

Looking fit and relaxed, he appeared ready to tackle another ride from the Pacific to the Atlantic. However, appearances can be somewhat misleading.

“I’m ready to be home,” said Brown, who began his journey June 6 in Newport Beach, Calif. “It was an awesome experience. I wouldn’t change a thing. I had been thinking about something like this for such a long time, and had mapped it out in my head many times.

It’s hard for me to believe that I finally pulled it off. But it was a long time to be on the road. Things can get back to normal now.”

Routine for Brown is a little different than it is for most 52 year olds. As was the case last year, when he rode from Texas to his home in Surfside Beach, Brown already has some thoughts about another Ashley G Ride.

“He’s talking about Maine to Florida,” said his wife Sonja, who accompanied Brown by car on his trek. “But I think I need a year to recover.”

“My wife says we aren’t going to do anything next year,” Brown said. “Of course, she said the same thing last year. We’ll have to see what happens.”

Brown’s journey was in memory of former student, Ashley Gaines, who died in 2008 after a 14-month battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. David and Melanie Gaines, Ashley’s parents, established the charitable Ashley G Foundation in their daughter’s honor to fund research and assist patients suffering from lymphoma.

“It was an amazing feat,” David said. “What James has done the last couple of years does so much good. Cancer is something that has touched so many people.

“He and Ashley had a very special relationship. I know he feels like Ashley is out there with him. We feel the same way.”

Brown rode to Litchfield from Charleston on Tuesday, being welcomed by family and a host of friends after arriving at Carolina Wings. Later, he would ride to the Surfside Pier to be greeted by more well-wishers and bring his journey to an official end. When his front tire hit the Atlantic, it marked an end to more than 2,600 road miles that had taken him across portions of nine states.

“You can’t even compare this year with last year,” Brown said. “This trip was so much more physically demanding. But it was incredible being out there. Riding through the desert and the mountains, where you see virtually nobody, to major cities like Dallas. Then you get into the South, where each town is unique and has its own history. The things you see and the people you meet stay with you.”

“I thought he’d wear down as we went along, but he never really did,” Sonja said. “He had one really tough day in Texas, but he got past that and was right back to being upbeat and ready to go. It was something to see.”

Brown said he became more energized as he got closer to home and cruising up Highway 17 from Charleston with his family and those closest to him first and foremost in his thoughts.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing my kids,” said Brown, father to son Skylar and daughter Sydney. “It’s hard to put into words how much I’ve missed them, and my friends, too. It will also be nice to sleep in my own bed. Forty some nights in a hotel bed gets kind of old.”

“We miss him when he’s gone,” Sydney said. “He’s kind of crazy, and he has so much energy. I wasn’t surprised at all that he did this. I’d heard him talk about it before. He was determined to get it done.”

Brown raised roughly $17,000 for the Ashley G Foundation in 2011. Final totals aren’t in yet for this year’s ride, but Brown says no matter the number, the trip was a success.

“We got the word out to so many people just by networking,” Brown said. “It was great to share with them the special person Ashley was and to get them involved with such a worthy cause. All the calls and texts I got are what kept me going.

“And none of it would have been possible without Sonja. She takes care of everything. She does the hard work, all I have to do is pedal.”

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