LOCKPORT – The world-famous Tour de France bicycle race has become notorious for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. But instead of pharmaceuticals, maybe the bikers should fuel up with tacos.
That’s what four local men plan to do next week as they ride about 220 miles to raise money for the Wounded Warriors Project, helping America’s injured service personnel.
Each leg of the Thursday trip will stop at a Mighty Taco location – all 23 of them. And each rider will down a taco and a loganberry drink at every one.
Jeff Tracy and Richard Mullaney of Lockport, Mark Kern of Gasport and Jon Lacki of East Amherst hope to raise at least $5,000 for the Wounded Warriors Project, which aims to help injured service members.
Wounded Warriors went for the stunt right away. “They like quirky,” Tracy said.
Kern, 24, was a sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division when he was wounded in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb blast in 2010. Kern left the Army in 2013 and is now studying for a management degree at Niagara University.
Tracy, a teacher at Starpoint High School, said Kern “still has some lingering side effects.”
“This ride started as a joke, but it’s taken on a bigger meaning,” Tracy said. “Our government is kind of letting these guys down in a big way.”
Kern has hooked up with some of the area’s best endurance athletes.
Tracy, 44, is a nine-time Ironman Triathlon finisher who in 2001 completed a five-month hike of the 2,162-mile Appalachian Trail. Last year, he rode his bike from his home in Lockport to his brother’s house in Utica, just for fun.
Lacki, 29, is an accomplished marathon and half-marathon runner with multiple finishes, including the Boston Marathon. He is currently working on his master’s degree in business administration at Canisius College.
Mullaney, the retired City of Lockport clerk and budget director, turns 62 in late July. He has two Ironman finishes and several other completed marathons to his credit.
“I’m not sure I ever said yes,” Mullaney laughed. “We’re good friends and have been doing triathlons together for 10 years.”
The Mighty Ride, as the event is called, starts at 6 a.m. in the Rochester suburb of Greece, site of the newest Mighty Taco. From there, it’s a short jaunt to the other Monroe County Mighty, in Henrietta.
But then things get really challenging, because the next stop on the route Tracy has planned is East Aurora.
“That’s going to be 60 or 70 miles through Warsaw and Varysburg on Route 20A, which means some pretty significant hills,” Tracy said.
After East Aurora, the four bicyclists will be weaving their way through Erie and Niagara counties, stopping at every Mighty Taco location. Their goal is to finish at the Lockport Mighty sometime that night.
“We’re proud to provide the fuel for the Mighty Ride,” said Russ Jasulevich, chief operating officer for Mighty Taco.
To start at 6 a.m., before the restaurants open, the foursome will buy tacos in Greece and Henrietta the night before the ride and stay overnight in Greece.
The idea of breaking up a long-distance bike ride with a steady diet of tacos isn’t as crazy as it might sound.
Tracy said, “With my experience and the others’ experience as endurance athletes, we’ve been down that road before. We’re used to refueling while working out.”
According to the Mighty Taco website, a base model Mighty has 208 to 227 calories, depending on the fillings.
Jasulevich said, “You can go with the wheat shell instead of the white shell. There’s even a vegetarian or vegan option in there.”
Tracy conceded, “There may be a side effect from eating all those tacos in a day.”
Perhaps more dangerous than the impact on the gastrointestinal tract might be the traffic, since Mighty Taco, like all other food chains, tends to locate on major, heavily traveled roads.
“We’re all experienced riders. We’re used to being around traffic,” Tracy said.
He said when it gets dark, the bikes will have lights, and Kern will drop back with a warning light at the end of the “pack.”
“It’s a great cause. Hopefully, we’ll have fun doing it,” Mullaney said.