West Coast Grocery Execs Leave Business Behind (Briefly) For 235-Mile Bike Ride

Pete Hejny, Unified Grocers; John White, Chicken of the Sea; Michele Markus; Don Ropele, retired from Ralphs; Danijel Markus, SAG team; Bob Kelly, Hidden Villa Ranch; Kevin Davis, Bristol Farms; Karl Schroeder, Albertsons Cos.; and Dave Hirz, Smart & Final.

Pete Hejny, Unified Grocers; John White, Chicken of the Sea; Michele Markus; Don Ropele, retired from Ralphs; Danijel Markus, SAG team; Bob Kelly, Hidden Villa Ranch; Kevin Davis, Bristol Farms; Karl Schroeder, Albertsons Cos.; and Dave Hirz, Smart & Final.

A few years ago, a group of food industry executives pedaled their bicycles from Kevin Davis’ place in Montana through Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons to Jackson Hole. Some who were part of that group joined Davis, chairman and CEO of Bristol Farms in Southern California, on his latest ride—this one down a 235-mile stretch along the Pacific Coast from Monterey to Santa Barbara.

While Davis is often referred to as “The Glue” that connects his bike-riding industry buddies, the 2016 trip came about when Don Ropele, retired VP of Ralphs and a mentor to many in the grocery business, mentioned that he wanted to take a bike tour down the coast through Big Sur—“kind of a bucket list ride,” according to fellow rider John White, SVP at Chicken of the Sea. It didn’t take long for the ride to take on a life of its own, fittingly becoming known as “The Don Ropele Tour of the Coast.”

In addition to Ropele, Davis and White, the Tour’s riders included Dave Hirz of Smart & Final, Karl Schroeder of Albertsons Cos., Bob Kelly of Hidden Villa Ranch, Pete Hejny of Unified Grocers and Ropele’s daughter, Michele Markus.

According to Davis, White coordinated the trip and the accommodations and, “as usual, the hardest part in coordinating a bunch of executives on a ride is making sure everybody can make it…but everybody showed up and everybody rode, and it was phenomenally well planned and a lot of fun.”

The four-day trip—from July 13-16—took the group down Highway 1. The group’s SAG (support and gear) team included Michele’s husband, Danijel, who followed the riders in a van. Other spouses joining the riders on the trip were Cindy Davis, Kim White, Julie Hirz and Aurelia Schroeder.

“The wives were in other cars, doing fun things, shopping, etc.,” said Davis, laughing. “They arrived at all the good spots before we did and were set up in the hotel rooms. They had a fun time together. They already all knew each other, but they got to know each other a lot better and they had a great time together.”

Day 1: A bumpy start

The group met in the late afternoon at the Monterey Plaza Hotel, which sits on Monterey Bay in Cannery Row,  for a 20-mile warmup ride around the 17-Mile Drive, a scenic road through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove.

The short ride wasn’t without incident, however—as both Hejny and Ropele took tumbles.

“Pete was trying to put his feet up on his handle bars and lean way forward like some of the riders do in the Tour de France…,” said Davis. “He was kind of fooling around and he caught his knee on his handle bar, and we were only going like 5 miles per hour, and his wheel went sideways and he fell over. It sounded worse than it was, but when we all slowed down to turn around and come back, Don Ropele turned his wheel really sharp and fell over and crashed. So we had two guys crash in the first 17 miles on the slowest part of the deal with no traffic, no anything. Karl Schroeder made the comment, ‘Our record isn’t too good. We’ve only gone 17 miles on an over 200-mile bike ride and we’ve already had two of eight guys crash.’ We were cautious after that, gave each other a little more room and took it pretty easy. But that’s what happened the first two hours out of the gate.”

White pointed out that Hejny and Ropele were undaunted by their falls, “a precursor to a great ride.”

The group later checked in at the hotel and walked over to have dinner at the nearby Chart House restaurant.

Day 2: The toughest day

This day took the riders 85 miles from Monterey to Ragged Point, north of Hearst Castle. The group pedaled Highway 1 down the Big Sur coastline, the Pacific Ocean always on the right in full view and sometimes overlooking sheer, 300-foot drops to the water. The path also took the group through redwood groves. It was, notably, the toughest day of the Tour, according to Davis, and included more than 6,500 feet of climbing. The day also separated the riders “into packs of fitness,” he noted.

“We’ve all done a lot of 100-mile rides together, but I would say that Karl Schroeder was in phenomenal shape (Tour de France-shape, according to White; Schroeder also is a runner and ran the 2016 Boston Marathon prior to this Tour). And Pete Hejny, Bob Kelly and John White were in great shape. Those four guys were gone. Then it was Michele and Don Ropele, and then Dave and then me. That was the order of fitness.

“It was a real challenge,” added Davis. “While we regrouped at rest stops, I would be arriving right as they were finished resting and starting to leave. So the first full day I got blasted and barely could even walk that night.”

The group stayed at Ragged Point Inn, where they also enjoyed dinner that evening.

Day 3: Scenic views

The third day proved much easier than the previous, taking the riders about 75 miles from Ragged Point to Shell Beach. The terrain was relatively flat and rolling, with approximately 2,200 feet of elevation gain.

The route took the riders through Piedra Blanca (Elephant Seal Rookery), San Simeon (Hearst Castle) and Morro Bay, where they visited the large monolith and had lunch with their spouses. Wildlife, including Tule elk, sea otters, elephant seals and peregrine falcons, was seen along the way.

Nearing the end of that segment, as the riders were making their way into Shell Beach’s Dolphin Bay Resort, Hirz’s bike sustained two flat tires within about 300 yards of one another.

“The road was kind of rough there, and there was some shrapnel, like pieces of steel or wire from street sweepers or something, that had punctured his tires. We had to fix that, which was a pain, but we were only 3 miles from the day’s finish at that point,” said Davis. “Once we got him fixed we rode on in, and there they had a gigantic hot tub—so everybody was already down in the hot tub by the time we got there.”

The group prepared and shared a big Italian dinner that evening in one of their suites.

Day 4: To the Santa Barbara pier

Before heading out for the final 55-mile leg of the Tour, the group enjoyed a fresh breakfast prepared by the spouses in the same suite as dinner the evening before.

“We had a great big breakfast because the last day there was a stretch of road that was all freeway that we had elected not to ride, so we jumped in the van and it took us down to Buellton, the next place we could ride from along Highway 1. That part of Highway 1 is not on the coast; it’s inland around Vandenberg Air Force Base.”

Davis said the last day of the Tour was the easiest, with a relatively flat surface and about 1,500 feet of elevation gain. The most difficult portion, he revealed, came at the beginning.

“If you’ve ever been to Buellton, going back toward Santa Barbara toward Highway 1, the first 6.5 miles is straight up, probably 6 to 7 percent grade, to the top of a hill. It’s a long climb right out of the shoot before you’ve even warmed up. Then you have about a 6-mile descent down the other side to Gaviota Beach. Then you turn south and go Highway 1 down past UCSB…into Santa Barbara. Instead of staying on the highway there, we went to the coast and went Cliff Drive right down along the coastline and dropped into the (Stearns Wharf) pier in Santa Barbara, right downtown.”

The group completed the Tour by riding their bikes to the end of the pier and had lunch at The Harbor Restaurant.

“That side of the ride was pretty much uneventful,” said Davis. “It was beautiful, and those last two days were a lot flatter than the first day. Four days of riding over 200 miles—everybody loved it.”

About The Author

A former newspaper editor and publisher who has handled digital duties for The Shelby Report since 2011. She once enjoyed leisurely perusing the grocery store aisles but, since having a baby in 2016, is now an enthusiastic click-and-collect shopper.

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