Fireflies West Turns 10: Rising Money & Hope With The Mission: For Those Who Suffer, We Ride

 

By thelaegotist / / On the eve of the 10th annual Fireflies West ride down the California coast, Bryan Farhy, Fireflies West Founder, Executive Producer, Head of Sales, B R • F LA talked about the backstory and back-roads of a growing industry movement for good, one that has raised nearly 2 million dollars to date. What is Fireflies West? Bryan: Fireflies West is an annual charity bicycle ride that consists of approximately 40-60 riders from an international community of entertainment and advertising executives who cycle nearly 700 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money and awareness for leukemia research at City of Hope Hospital. The ride has always been fully self-funded which means that the cyclists and volunteer support crews pay for everything themselves (hotels, meals, gas, etc.) ensuring that 100% of every dollar donated goes directly to the hospital. How and why did you start the US ride? In 2003 I was invited by director Jake Scott to ride in the inceptive European Fireflies ride (which is also a leukemia charity event but for Hammersmith Hospital in London). That ride was and still is supported by Director Ridley Scott and the late great Director Tony Scott, who was a fearless survivor of cancer. We cycled about 1000 kilometers for 9 days across the French Alps from Geneva to Cannes, arriving at the Cannes Advertising Festival. At that time it was a very DIY ride. There were only a handful of us and we had paper maps, carried melted bits of food in our jerseys, and got water from streams and village fountains along the way. Our “Support Crew” consisted of a tall, lanky, terrific Frenchman named Fredrik, who we would basically see twice a day; once in the morning having his caffe au lait in the village square, then once again at night when we arrived exhausted, asleep at the destination hotel cafe in front of a bottle of rosé and a plate of cheese. I did that ride for 3 years and in 2006 I had the idea to start a U.S. based ride. So, I flew with my bike to SF and rode down to LA to see if logistically the route could safely accommodate a larger group of riders. This was in December, and unfortunately I rode the entire way in what a SF newspaper called “The Storm of The Century.” It was bloody hard and not a lot of fun. When I arrived in LA, I phoned Ben Hampshire, Phil Detchmendy and Erik Press, and told them that it was possible to bring a group down the PCH, but that I would need their help organizing the event. They all stepped up straight away and in 2007 we had the first official Fireflies West ride. There were 4 of us. Now there are 60, with a waitlist of nearly that many. Looking back at my lonely miserable ride, I can’t believe how far we’ve come and how much money we have raised. How has the ride changed you? We live in a cynical world with a lot of bad people and atrocious things happening every day, but what I have seen over these last 10 years, being a part of this ride, is that there is inherent good in the world and that people really do want to help other people. I realize this may come off sounding a bit mawkish, but I don’t care because it’s true. I experience it every year. Sadly, almost everyone has been touched by cancer in some way. Every year during ride, someone will inevitably share with me a very personal story of loss, give me a hug and tell me how much it means to them to be a part of the ride. And this is what makes me want to do it again year after year. Why is this important for the industry? We work in an industry of very tough competitors, but every year, for a few months before and during the 6 days of the ride, all that competition is put aside and we become a united force competing against one common enemy: leukemia. There are also lifelong friendships formed during the ride that transcend any industry model. I know this because I have made them along the way. Any good stories from the road? There are so many good stories but I’ll share this poignant one: In 2012 we arrived at the tiny coastal town of Cayucos, our usual stopover along the route. As we rode into town we noticed the main restaurant had a large 10’x4’-ish banner made out of construction paper dapped across the front porch, obviously hand- painted it: We were all pretty surprised and puzzled to see that sign. Later that evening, when we all piled into the place en masse, we were greeted by a smiling server who was cheering and clapping for us like a one-person welcoming committee. I asked her how the hell she knew we were coming and she told me that she had been following us on our Facebook page and figured since it was the only real restaurant in town we would most likely be dining there again. In fact, she had to convince her manager to bring on additional staff to make sure they could accommodate all of us. It seems that the year before, when we all ate at there, she asked a bunch of riders who we were and they explained the Fireflies West ride to her. She then told me that she had lost her best friend to leukemia and that our ride inspired her to go out, buy a bike, follow us on social media, and start training to do cancer charity rides. I’ll never forget the mixture of joy and pride on her face that evening we all walked in. None of us had any idea how our little ride had affected and inspired this one person, a stranger, in this small town in California. She was 43 years old, a single mother named Kathleen. Her daughter made the banner. We presented her that evening with a special Fireflies West jersey. She cried and then she showed us a picture of her bicycle. I don’t cycle but I want to ride next year, what should I do to plan & train? Reach out to [email protected] and tell us a bit about yourself and someone will get back to you. 10 years is a major accomplishment, how has the effort changed over the years? The ancient Greek historian Heraclitus once said, ‘You cannot step twice into the same river’. And so it is with the ride every year. This year, nature decided to make it impossible to ride the length of Big Sur because of a major landslide, hence we had to re-route around that which is much more complicated than it seems. But, I have an incredible team of smart production people who always make things go seamlessly. What do you foresee for the future? Hopefully a cure for leukemia and all cancers. To support Fireflies West and City of Hope Hospital’s renowned cancer care and research, please visit www.fireflieswest.com