By partnering with the young, yet far-reaching organization Wheels4Life, Laguna Beach resident and avid cyclist George Vitolo wants to raise awareness about the transportation travails of residents in the developing world by enduring a grueling journey of his own.The Laguna resident of 11 years will bike continuously for 24 hours, taking only diminutive breaks to re-fuel on food and water, beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 2 until 9 a.m. Sunday. He aims to raise money to give bicycles to people in Africa. Wheels4Life, founded by extreme cyclist and local resident Hans Rey, partners with individuals like him as well as organizations and other groups that fundraise to provide free bicycles for people in need of transportation.“When I was down and out and things were really bad, I always had my bikes with me,” said Vitolo, 45, who hopes local residents will support his 24-hour journey by making a donation at Wheels4Life.com. “Once I just had the clothes on my back and two bikes. The bikes always got me through hard times so it was amazing to see that a bicycle could change someone’s life. That is what got me fired up to do this,” said Vitolo, a six-year ambulance driver for Doctors Ambulance in Laguna Beach and now a field supervisor for Medix Ambulence Service in Mission Viejo.During daylight hours Vitolo plans to pedal an Ibis mountain bike, courtesy of Laguna Beach Cyclery, on a nine-mile circuit through Aliso Wood Canyon Wilderness Park. From dusk until dawn, he will ride a circuit just short of 20 miles down Laguna Canyon Road and back. In addition to a few laps of the Aliso Wood Canyon circuit in the morning, Vitolo figures he will cover 500 miles in 24 hours if he can maintain his pace.Whatever the journey, there are often unanticipated bumps in the road, which is why Patrick Fetzer, owner of Laguna Beach Cyclery and supporter of Wheels4life since its inception, has pledged his support for the event.
“We are providing him with a bike, lights for the nighttime ride and loaning him a Garmen GPS unit so every time he comes into the feeding station, we will download the GPS unit into a computer, upload the session and put it back on his bike,” said Fetzer, whose online updates at www.lagunacycleryshop.blogspot.com will include Vitolo’s pace, elevation climbed, miles completed, and stories from his ride.
“He’s always had a passion for cycling and helping people and he’s doing both in one event,” said Vitolo’s fiancé Jessica Tucker, who will be manning a booth at Fairview and Coast Highway that will serve as Vitolo’s pit stop and a spot for fans wishing to be a part of the action.
In addition to the list of Vitolo’s supporters that will be present at his rest station, Reuse Jeans will be distributing 20 denim tote bags with gift certificates prior to holding a 3 p.m. raffle for Vitolo’s benefit where three pairs of jeans will be given away.
“To see how a bike can change people’s lives is amazing,” said Vitolo. “It’s like giving them a way to make money for their family or to gather water and students can use it to go to school,” he said of the $150 bikes Wheels4Life donates to those in need of transportation.
Although Vitolo concedes his longest ride to date was under seven hours, he’s confident his passion for the cause will keep his feet peddling.