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'Tour of Duty' Charity Cyclists Rest in West Hollywood

A team of American and Australian riders are biking from San Diego to New York City in honor of both nations' armed forces and first responders, and to raise funds for wounded veterans and families of 9/11 victims.

Participants in the "Tour of Duty" charity bicycle ride rested their heads in West Hollywood on Sunday night after completing their first day’s ride.

Twenty-four American and Australian riders are doing a 29-day, 2,600-mile Tour of Duty ride that started in San Diego on Aug. 12 and will end Sept. 10 in New York City.

The ride is in honor of both nations' armed forces and first responders. Each country has 12 participants: four representing firefighters, four representing police and four representing the military.

The bikers stayed at the in West Hollywood courtesy of the hotel’s managing director Alan Johnson, a native of Melbourne, Australia.

“We consider it a great honor to have the Tour of Duty people staying with us,” Johnson told Patch. “It’s all about the ride. It reflects the values of humanity, camaraderie and self-sacrifice.”

Johnson has arranged for the riders to stay at Ramada Inns in several cities as they ride cross county, saying it is a cause the Ramada supports completely.

Before settling in for the night, the Tour of Duty riders had a hot shower and dinner at the Beverly Hills Fire Department headquarters.

They were greeted there by supporters, including Brad Burlingame, president and CEO of the West Hollywood Marketing and Visitors Bureau, who came out to thank the riders for their charity efforts. which was taken over by hijackers and flown into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

"I'm always grateful because people like this—these men and women who are firefighters and representatives of the military and other first responders—they still care very much about this," Burlingame said. "This is not about mourning for the loss of that day. It's remembering what we learned from that day. For me, it's profoundly appreciating what these types of people do to protect us every single day—here in America and around the world."

Tour of Duty event director Paul Ritchie is a firefighter with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in Melbourne. He came to America two years ago to run in the Tour of Duty race, a cross-country relay that year, to honor victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"It was our opportunity in 2010 to commemorate 9/11—as firefighters—to remember the people who were taken. We came over here and together we ran with our American colleagues. It was a great success," Ritchie said. "What we wanted to do was come back now and acknowledge the military for all the great work they do."

When asked why the event was a bike race this time around rather than a run, Ritchie said it was "just a different way to do it."

Event organizer Jon Sculley, another firefighter with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade who joined the Tour of Duty run two years ago, said camaraderie is what inspires him and others to come here to raise funds for charity. 

"There's a huge alliance between our two countries," Sculley said. "That's why we decided to come to America."

After dinner, the Tour of Duty team visited Beverly Hills’ , which features a from the World Trade Center.

New York City Fire Department firefighter Liam Flaherty, who also ran with the Tour of Duty two years ago, said his company lost nine members on Sept. 11, 2001.

"When we were in New York on 9/11, I only thought about the five boroughs of New York. I really didn't realize how it affected the rest of the world," Flaherty said. "When you come 3,000 miles away and see a piece of steel that we were walking on 11 years ago and how they take it to heart here, and how much they care about what happened back in New York, you're speechless."

The Tour of Duty ride is raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project and the New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund

To help the Tour of Duty raise funds, text "RIDE" to 41444 or contribute here.

To support the team by purchasing a commemorative Tour of Duty coin, go here.

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