Get on your bike and ride…

Leslie Blankenship will also cross the country on two wheels this summer. Her 50th birthday inspired her to challenge herself and fundraise for the Sonoma Valley Boys & Girls Club, too. Leslie departs Astoria, Oregon on June 19, arriving in Portsmouth, New Hampshire 50 days, and hopefully many dollars in pledges, later.

Ah, the glorious summer past time of riding a bicycle. Pump up the tires, choose a route, feel the breeze in your face as the scenery whizzes by. There is nothing like the sensation of freedom. Well, at least that’s the feeling for you and me. But for another segment of the population, riding a bike is a whole other story.

This story profiles three Sonoma residents with an entirely different connection to biking – one that is at once exhilarating, challenging and heartwarming. Read on for how these three people are cycling to change lives.

Leslie Blankenship:
Midlife cycle for Boys & Girls Club
Leslie Blankenship will turn 50 on June 13. Eager to celebrate the milestone birthday in a big way she was disappointed when she couldn’t cajole any friends into taking a commemorative trip or anything of the sort. Undeterred, she changed tactics, deciding to do something for herself while giving back at the same time.

Now, she’s crammed a year’s worth of training into just three months, challenging herself beyond her wildest imagination as she readies herself for a cross-country cycling trip. That’s right, 3660 miles in 50 days. And if that’s not enough of a gauntlet to throw down, she’s fundraising for the Sonoma Valley Boys & Girls Club by way of pledges at the same time, an organization for which she’s sat on the board for the past seven years.

“I figured if I was going to embark on this grand ride, I might as well make it count for someone else, too,” she said.

Saddle sore and weathered though she is today, Leslie is extremely excited about leaving on her ride on June 19. She’s logged most of her 2700 training miles alone and she’s looking forward to the camaraderie of the 50-day ride with a team of other cyclists.

“The ride departs from Astoria, Oregon and, after dipping my bicycle wheels in the Pacific Ocean, I will ride along the Hood River then across southern Idaho, up over the Teton Pass to Jackson Hole. After that I cross Wyoming, go down through the Bad Lands to Mt. Rushmore, across Michigan, Wisconsin, upstate New York, Vermont and into Portsmouth, New Hampshire. My metaphor is 50 years celebrated across 50 states in 50 days – even though it’s not technically all 50 states.”

Leslie would love to raise as much money as possible for the Club, asking for as little as one penny per mile which, for donors, adds up to just $36.60. Donors and those interested in following Leslie’s ride through her blog can visit or the Boys & Girls Club web site at Or simply drop a check in the mail to: Sonoma Valley Boys & Girls Clubs, P.O. Box 218, El Verano, CA 95433

Mark Winter:
Team in Training century ride
Sonoman Mark Winter is an avid mountain biker. Last year, his desire to “give back,” brought him to join a local Team in Training organization where participants dedicate themselves to train for a major sporting event while raising money that directly benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. With little road cycling experience, Mark chose to do a 100-mile century ride around Lake Tahoe, an annual event aptly named “America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride.”

“It was such an eye opening experience, all the way around. I pushed myself physically and mentally beyond my bounds, riding alongside leukemia survivors and bike racers alike – while really helping people in need through fundraising. I learned about what families dealing with blood cancers go through on a daily basis. It felt amazing to push hard, knowing that all the effort directly helped such a needy cause,” said Mark.

The experience was so inspiring that he was quick to sign up again this year, bringing fellow teammates Kim Buchanan and Brigid and Bruce Pickering along for the ride. Unfortunately for Mark and the team, this year’s ride occurred during some of the most unseasonable weather Mother Nature can dish out. Undaunted, on they rode, some 400 miles while climbing more than 21,000 vertical feet.

“We trained hard all spring and this past Sunday, we definitely succeeded in our efforts. Despite miserable conditions including rain, sleet, wind and hail, we completed our ride and raised over $12,000 in the process. It was a great ride and a great experience.”

To contact Mark about his ride or to donate, email him at

Nels Matson:
Cross-country for Children’s Heart Foundation
Loretta and Jerry Thomas couldn’t be prouder. The Sonomans’ grandnephew will embark on a 3,800-mile cross-country cycling trip to raise $75,000 for the Children’s Heart Foundation. The mission: Bike4theCHF and the cause couldn’t be nearer to the Thomas’ hearts.

At age two, Nels was diagnosed with a rare congenital heart defect and underwent open-heart surgery. Fine today, Nels will make his second cross-country cycling journey to raise money for and awareness of CHF. Nels’ teammate will be Ironman athlete Nick Busta who has his own unique motivation – his wife Jeni who was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, basically half a heart.

Together, the two men departed California on June 1 from the Golden Gate Bridge. They will arrive in New York City on July 16, stopping in major cities along the way where they will visit hospitals and connect with the children they are determined to save through their fundraising efforts.

To make a donation, learn more about CHF, follow the Bike4theCH journey or register to ride along with the team for a portion of the ride, please visit

Nels Matson departed June 1 on his cross-country cycling trip to raise money for the Children’s Heart Foundation. He will arrive in New York City on July 16 after riding 100 miles per day for a grand total of 3,800 miles.

Mark Winter, Kim Buchanan and Brigid and Bruce Pickering celebrate after their 100-mile century ride around Lake Tahoe this past weekend. Despite inclement weather, “Team Sonoma” team raised more than $12,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

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