Some motorists honked. Many waved. One man pulled over to share a bottle of water.
Such was the reaction Thursday at the unusual sight of an American flag being ferried along Sonoma County roads by a group of runners and cyclists who are participating in a cross-country relay honoring U.S. veterans.
Known as the Old Glory Relay, the event involves 62 teams moving a single flag from Washington state across the nation to Florida. The goal is to raise awareness for programs and services benefiting former U.S. military personnel.
For active-duty Air Force service member Angela Harris, participating in the relay is her way of paying tribute.
“It means a lot, actually,” Harris, a Lincoln, California resident said Thursday prior to getting on her bicycle for her leg of the relay. “You think about your comrades ... and the people you’ve lost.”
The relay began at sunrise on Sept. 11 at the Space Needle in Seattle. It will travel the length of California in coming days before turning east to cross the southern half of the country. The journey is scheduled to conclude Nov. 11 — Veterans Day — in Tampa, Florida.
The city is the headquarters of Team Red, White and Blue, a nonprofit organization that supports veterans’ causes.
“Our basic mission is to enrich veterans’ lives,” said Adrienne Sherk, a Petaluma native and the Pacific Regional Director for Team Red, White and Blue.
When it’s all over, the relay teams will have covered roughly 4,200 miles. Thursday’s journey from Hidden Valley Lake in Lake County to Petaluma covered 55 miles.
Friday, the team will cover 47 miles through Marin County across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.
Most of the participants are volunteers for Team Red, White and Blue. But many of the segments still have room for more runners, cyclists or walkers. For more information, visit the Old Glory Relay website.
Few of the relay segments are as challenging as the steep uphill climb on Petrified Forest Road west of Calistoga that greeted Ryan Tonkinson Thursday. The Oakley man gratefully accepted bottled water from a motorist who stopped.
Picking up the flag at the intersection of Petrified Forest and Calistoga Road, Harris and Buddy Brayson of Santa Rosa faced a challenging ride along the narrow and winding thoroughfare into east Santa Rosa, where they braved traffic on Farmer’s Lane on their way to Sonoma State University via Petaluma Hill Road. Thursday’s ride finished at Petaluma’s Lagunitas Brewery.
Harris let out a happy yell as the pair passed by Montgomery Village. This is her third time participating in the relay.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “When you are on the back roads, people stop and get out to salute. It’s a really good feeling because they see what it (the flag) represents.”