The 40 Brotherhood Ride bicycle riders raising money for fallen firefighters were more than two hours late arriving in Rock Hill Tuesday evening.
A crowd of about 60 waved American flags to welcome in the riders on the latest leg of the 1,600-mile journey from Florida to New York City to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 - the horrible day that 411 firefighters, police officers, paramedics and other emergency responders died while committing the greatest acts of bravery in memory.
"Awesome!" said Ebony Howell, 8, who wasn't even alive when 9/11 happened and more than 3,000 people died in terrorist attacks on New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania.
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"I am so proud," said New York native Veronica Erwin, who knew three people who died in 9/11. "This is awesome."
Ebony and Veronica knew awesome when they saw it - and Tuesday's bicycle ride escorted by York County and Rock Hill firefighters and trucks sure was.
And of those incredible, awesome emergency responders from all over America, the oldest, the most grizzled - the one with the almost-indecipherable Bowery accent and the pot belly made of steel - came in under his own power.
"Pappy! The iron horse!" called out a 43-year-old cop from Fort Myers, Fla., who was one of the other older riders. But not as old as Pappy.
Pappy is Dan Rowan, and he is 56, but Pappy is what he had stenciled on his leg. Pappy is not riding for strangers. He is riding for guys just like him who responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and never came home.
Pappy Rowan, a New York firefighter for 21 years and now a cop in Arizona, worked in a firehouse in Lower Manhattan near Chinatown that housed Engine 33 and Ladder 9 - and lost 10 men Pappy had worked with that day.
Pappy trained most of them. He knew their wives and their kids and their dreams.
"The New York Fire Department" - it sounded like New Yawk - "never loses," Pappy said. "We took a beating that day. We were bruised, battered - but we did not lose. Those guys did not lose."
Of the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11, Pappy Rowan worked with 53 of them - plus Mickey Judge, the chaplain who died tending to the fallen. Each day of the Brotherhood Ride the riders read off names of about 20 men who died in the World Trade Center. They read the names before leaving in the mornings.
Pappy reads Mickey Judge's prayer.
"I ride this bike for everyone of those tough guys," said Pappy, who after riding about 100 miles Tuesday over hilly terrain somehow still had enough water left in his body to cry some more.
"Today we rode for Bobby King. Bobby King shouldn't-a been there that day. His shift was over. He suited up. He rode the rig and he jumped in to help. He had three kids and he never came home to see those kids.
"Why do I ride today? I would ride anywhere to honor these guys."
Pappy keeps laminated photos and Mass cards from the funerals of the guys he worked with in the pocket of his bicycle shorts. He pulls them out and looks at one for a firefighter named John Tierney.
"Two weeks on the job, and he died a hero," Pappy said.
He talks of Bobby Evans and Donald Regan and Jeffrey Walz, who left a baby boy named Bradley. Andrew Desperito, Salvatore Princiotta Jr., Timothy McSweeney, more.
Just some of the 411 names on the back of each rider's shirt - the reason all these riders torture themselves on this long ride.
Pappy Rowan, who retired in 2004 from FDNY, said when he gets to New York, it will be tough.
"I am gonna cry, and I ain't no crier - except for these guys," Pappy said.
But the reception he received in each place along the ride made the trip exceptional. For that there is no tears. The Rock Hill Elks Lodge, whose leader is a Rock Hill Fire Department captain named Kenny Martin, provided the overnight lodging, the food, the escort, and the love.
"Rock Hill made me proud today," Pappy said.
"I am proud to do this for these riders," said Martin, burly just like Pappy. "I am proud to be a firefighter today."
The riders head through Charlotte this morning and will overnight in Salisbury, N.C., before leaving North Carolina for points northeast - and New York City.
Pappy Rowan will ride every mile. His 56-year-old body will ache, and he will drop about 30 pounds, and he will do it anyway - because 10 men he worked with died, and 54 he knew died.
"Because my guys deserve it."
See video below.
Want to help?
To donate and follow the ride over the next 10 days, go to brotherhoodride.com.