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Ready for the road: Joe Urso and his wife Cheryl will make an eight-day motorcycle ride from Florida to Farmington this month to raise funds for Special Olympics CT. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Joe Urso drove to Florida 20 years ago. He vowed he would never do it a second time, but he will break that vow this month. He will be doing the route again but in the other direction, south to north, starting in Florida and returning to Connecticut. What’s more, this time he will do it on a motorcycle and his wife Cheryl will be riding on the back.
Joe is taking part in the Dream Ride, a fundraiser for the Special Olympics, with three other Essex residents also on motorcycles, Chris Shane, Gary Riggio, and Bill Niedbala. The four cyclists will fly to Palm Beach while their cycles are trucked down.
Joe and the other motorcyclists from Florida will start on Friday, Aug. 16 and arrive in Connecticut for the Friday, Aug. 23 grand finale. Riders will converge on the Farmington Polo Grounds from 12 different locations along the East Coast and Canada. They will be joined by local motorcyclists who have not made long treks but are attending the Dream Ride’s finish.
According to Joe, there will be some 4,000 riders at a weekend-long series of event, which include car and motorcycle shows, carnival rides, food trucks, and live entertainment. There are individual admission fees for each of the three days or a ticket for the entire weekend. Funds raised support the Special Olympics.
The Dream Ride and the Farmington events are sponsored by the Connecticut-based Hometown Foundation. That, however, does not mean the cyclists have a free ride. Each of the four Essex riders has to pay more than $3,000 out of pocket to participate. The contributions they receive go directly to the Special Olympics.
The Essex motorcyclists have already held a fundraiser for the Special Olympics and Joe, representing all four Essex riders, has a donations page (app.mobilecause.com/vf/FL2CT/JosephUrso) on which contributions can be made to the Special Olympics until the end of the year.
Joe rode motorcycles as a young man and though his two brothers got motorcycle licenses, he did not.
“They were always saying that I should, but I never did. I was working, married,” he says. “For 40 years I didn’t ride motorcycles.”
But then Joe turned 60.
“I thought if I didn’t do it then, I never would,” he says.
So he bought a bike, and got a license. Now he is on this third bike, a Harley-Davison Tri Glide Ultra. What that means, translated from motorcyclese, is that Joe’s bike has three wheels. That makes it more stable, particularly when he has to come to a stop.
“You can’t fall off a three-wheeler,” he says, explaining on an earlier two-wheel bike he caught a pants’ cuff as he put his feet down to stop and the bike fell over. “If I had not had a helmet on, I would have been crushed.”
Joe says 34 motorcyclists will depart from Palm Beach. Their first day of their trip will be the most demanding, covering 400 miles to bring the riders out of the Florida heat to Georgia. Then the motorcyclists will cover 300 miles a day.
Every hour and a half the riders, who will be escorted by state police, will stop to fill their gas tanks and stretch their legs. Joe’s bike has a luggage rack. but that will not be necessary as a tractor-trailer will carry their bags from one stop to the next.
Arriving at that day’s destination will be special and not only because it means Joe can get off the bike. He is philosophical about the consequences of sitting in the cycle’s saddle for hours every day.
“There’s nothing you can do. The seats are what they are,” he says.
At every evening stop there will be a dinner for the riders with Special Olympics participants from the area in attendance.
“I am really looking forward to that,” Joe says.
What Joe worries about during the ride itself is the weather.
“Torrential rain; we ride rain or shine, I suppose, maybe not in a hurricane,” he says. “But what are the chances of going six days without rain on the East coast?”
The ride fits perfectly into Joe’s new schedule. He retired earlier this month as a multimedia sales manager at the Norwich Bulletin. He has his own small graphic arts company and expects to continue doing business, and he also is an artist, mostly working with oil pastels.
“Expensive crayons,” he explains.
He does still life and also plans to develop a business doing pictures of people’s pet animals. But he doesn’t want to get too busy.
“I don’t want to do too much. After all, I’m retired,” he says.
Joe, who graduated from Paier College of Art in Hamden, grew up in New Britain and actually went to school with one of the other Essex motorcyclists on the Dream Ride, Bill Niedbala. The two met in 3rd grade at Holy Cross Elementary School and went to Pulaski High School together. Years later Joe bumped into Bill shopping at Walmart. After each asked what the other was doing there, they established that they lived little more than a mile away from each other.
When Joe tells people about the upcoming motorcycle trip, he says he often gets the same reaction: Omigosh, you are doing a ride that long. He admits it is more motorcycling than he has ever done.
“But I’m doing it and I’m very excited,” he says.
In fact, he adds if it works out, he can see a future where he and Cheryl do the ride every year.
No matter how often they do it, however, Joe says that one thing will not change: Cheryl sits behind him.
“She’s never going to drive,” he says.
To find out more about the events at the Farmington Polo Grounds from Friday to Sunday, Aug. 23 to 25, visit www.dreamride.org.
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