For photographer John Dlugolecki, the Arthritis Foundation’s California Coast Classic Bike Tour started off as an event he had to shoot for one of his clients.
However, over the years, the annual event, which is in its 19th year, has steadily become a cause that has become near and dear to his heart in more ways than one.
Dlugolecki, who lives in Burbank, participated in his 17th California Coast Classic, a 525-mile, eight-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise funds and awareness for arthritis.
The tour started on Sept. 21 at the Boudin Bakery on 160 Jefferson St. in San Francisco and made its way down the California coast, making stops in Santa Cruz, Monterey, Big Sur, Cambria, Oceano, Buellton, Ventura and ended in the Pacific Palisades a week later.
“It’s a ride of a lifetime and a ride of many lifetimes for some of us,” Dlugolecki said on Thursday. “Is it hard? Yeah, but it’s doable. Everyone looks forward to it each year and the return rate each year is really growing.”
What Dlugolecki said he appreciates about the event is that the riders aren’t competing against one another.
While there are some participants who leave early and arrive at each stop as soon as possible, Dlugolecki said many riders get to each point on their own time and take in the sights as they go.
He said there are support vans traveling with the bicyclists the entire time, and if the terrain proves to be more challenging than others, they can hitch a ride until the road levels out, and they can continue their journeys on their bicycles.
“Biking down the coast is so much different than in a car,” Dlugolecki said. “On a bike, you’re closer to the shoulder. When we go through Big Sur, you can look over the railing and see the waves breaking down below.”
During his roughly two decades participating in the event, Dlugolecki has met many people of varying ages who have loved ones who have arthritis or have arthritis themselves.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are more than 100 types of arthritis and that children and adults can develop a form of the disease throughout any point in their lives.
Dlugolecki said his wife was diagnosed with arthritis in her knees, and, just two weeks before this year’s event, he was given the same diagnosis.
Instead of deterring him from participating, Dlugolecki said it fueled him and made the event that much more personal to him.
“I was really thankful I’m part of the Arthritis Foundation’s mission and part of the bike ride,” he said. “If I had just been diagnosed without that relationship, it probably would have hit me pretty hard, but now I’m just in good company with others that understand.”