Hitting the road

Two weeks ago, Michele Pangle closed her eyes and tried to relax on the back seat of a motorcycle roaring down Live Oak Canyon Road in Trabuco Canyon.

"I found that not knowing when the turns were coming was easier," she said.

She held onto the rider in front of her and followed her body through the corners.

"It was really peaceful," Pangle said.

She was trying to experience what roughly 90 visually impaired passengers will feel this weekend when they hop on the backs of motorcycles and rumble through Orange County.

Since 2004, a growing group of motorcyclists have gathered in Costa Mesa for an event called Provide a Ride. The bikers sign up and come from across the state to chauffeur visually impaired passengers.

Saturday, they'll ride for about an hour and 45 minutes as far south as Coast Highway and as far inland as Trabuco.

For lunch, they'll stop in Orange, where one rider has offered up his house for food and music before heading back to Costa Mesa.

Provide a Ride exists by word of mouth, and organizers intend to keep it intimate, with fewer than 100 riders.

The idea itself was conceived by chance 11 years ago in a Marie Callender's parking lot.

Costa Mesa resident Cindy Harding and her husband, Kim, were picking up a pie before heading to a friend's house.

They parked their bikes outside, but before they went in, a man asked if his blind daughter could touch their bikes.

Typically, Harley riders can be protective of their bikes when they're shined up, Pangle said with a laugh, "but not this time."

The girl ran her hands over the seat, gas tank and handlebars while her father explained what she was touching.

When the Hardings came back outside from buying pie, the father and daughter were gone, but the couple realized they could have offered the girl more — a ride.

Later that year, about 25 riders participated in the first 30-minute Provide a Ride.

The motorcycle enthusiasts found their visually impaired passengers just by asking, Pangle said, but Harding hasn't been able to find the girl who sparked the idea. Harding is still hoping to find her.

This year, Provide a Ride expects 100 bikers and about 90 passengers to show up.

"It's gained momentum as time has gone on," Pangle said.

She isn't riding this year because of a back injury, but she plans to mingle during lunch and ask some of Provide a Ride's guests if she really did get a taste of their experience on the back of a bike.

Sign-ups are complete for this year's ride, but anyone who wants more information can contact Pangle at mpangle@live.com.

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