Rapp Rough Ride benefits free clinic

Rappahannock patients receive $560,000 in free medications annually

By Larry Stillwell
Special to the Rappahannock News

The numbers speak for themselves: Nineteen percent of Rappahannock County residents under Medicare age — 1 out of every 5 — are uninsured, considerably more than the 14 percent of Virginians in that category. Fortunately, residents who lack health insurance and whose income is less than twice the federal poverty level qualify for free health care in the town of Washington’s location of the Fauquier Free Clinic.

Better yet, the 2017 Rappahannock Rough Ride, now in its 21st year and to be held on Saturday, Sept. 16, will once again help the clinic fund its free medical, dental, and mental health services for Rappahannock residents lacking health insurance. It’s a unique local event supporting a vital community resource devoted to serving many low-income neighbors.

The Rough Ride enters its 21st year next Saturday, Sept. 16. By Alisa Booze-Troetschel

Every September for over two decades, the Rough Ride has been an important fundraising and community relations event for the nonprofit free clinic — it usually draws a couple hundred bicyclists and nets about $20,000 that can be used to buy meds and other supplies for direct patient services.

Every one of those dollars, like every charitable dollar donated to the free clinic, pays for six dollars’ worth of free medical services, thanks to the scores of volunteers whose dedication powers the free clinic’s good works.

Though its main location is in Warrenton, and though the word Rappahannock is lacking from its name, the clinic has been a vital resource for low-income residents of Rappahannock County since it first opened in 1993.

Clinic director Rob Marino says the annual Rappahannock Rough Ride is an opportunity to remind everyone of that, especially potential Rappahannock County patients who might not otherwise realize the clinic’s many services are available to them.

Services available to qualifying patients extend beyond the free clinic itself, since it coordinates with the Fauquier hospital and other medical specialists for diagnostic services, specialty care, and prescription medications. Rappahannock patients at the clinic receive close to $560,000 in free medications every year.

In the past five years, more than 450 different Rappahannock residents have benefited from free clinic services, making nearly 4,000 free clinic visits, including 754 visits for dental care and 63 for the clinic’s new mental health services. Currently, 175 of the 2,200 registered free clinic patients are Rappahannock residents.

About 700 of those 4,000 clinic visits were at the free clinic’s satellite site at the Rappahannock Health Department on Main Street in Washington, which opened in September 2000 following advocacy by residents Philip and Merrill Strange, Jean Lillard, Jennifer Matthews, and others. It’s open during the evening on the third Wednesday of each month.

The local services are provided by a team of local volunteers, including Drs. Jerry Martin, Brooke and Anne Miller, Frank Brosgol, and Patty Daly, as well as RNs Jennifer Matthews, Joanne Tepper, Jennifer Ritter, and Sherry Pace, among others. They are supported by a volunteer administrative team that includes Bev Atkins, Barb Dennis, Liz Blubaugh, Heather Young, Mary Jane Cappello, Sallie Morgan, Brion Patterson, Cecile Scott, Holly Lanigan, and others.

The Rough Ride consists of a number of route options, but all begin and end at the Washington Volunteer Fire and Rescue station, where rescue squad volunteers serve up a hot and hearty breakfast buffet while riders mingle outside, filling water bottles, getting ready, and studying the maps of their chosen routes. Depending on weather, anywhere from 150 to 250 riders are likely to show.

Riders choose from a number of routes, both paved and unpaved. The shortest and easiest is a paved 12-mile round trip along Fodderstack Road to Flint Hill and back. More experienced bikers might choose the 35-mile or 60-mile paved options. And for the hardy and adventurous, there are true “rough ride” options — one 20 miles long, another 33 miles — over gravel through Gid Brown Hollow and out through Rock Mills and back.

“It’s not singletrack mountain biking but it’s not paved, either,” Marino says.

Group by group, they set out for their chosen route, followed by volunteers in cars who are armed with water, snacks and first aid kits. On the long, rough routes, there are well-stocked rest stops at the Laurel Mills Store and the Marriott Ranch where riders can take a break and enjoy snacks and cold refreshments.

Bikers as well as sponsors can sign up for the Rough Ride on the clinic’s website at www.rappahannockroughride.org. Online registration is $40 for adults and $20 for children. Each registered rider will get a piece of pie (courtesy of Kettle Run High School’s National Honor Society), a t-shirt (they can also purchase a Rough Ride logo cycling jersey for $75), and a map. After the ride, they are welcome to lunch at Washington Fire & Rescue.

It’s a full day for everyone, both riders and volunteers, that has really caught on as a fun community event. During its two decades, the Rough Ride has become an extraordinary annual success.

“It’s a ride, not a race,” Marino says, and most importantly it’s a fun family day, a chance to spend a beautiful fall day in the country, a no-pressure nice time with no winners or losers, and plenty of good food and good companionship.

“There’s something about the Rappahannock community, a cool vibe” that has contributed to the Rough Ride’s steady growth over its 21 years, he marvels.

He credits the help the clinic gets from Sheriff Connie Smith and her crew (who escort bikers along a short stretch of 211 at the start of one route) and from the Washington Fire and Rescue volunteers. That kind of community cooperation makes the Rough Ride an annual family and community event everyone looks forward to each fall.

Thanks in large part to the community effort that produces the Rappahannock Rough Ride every year, no one in either county who is poor and uninsured needs to miss out on medical care, dental care, or mental health care, either. So, when you see all those bike riders swarming through the county on Sept. 16, tip your hat and say a quiet thank you for all the good they are doing while having so much fun.

To find out more about the free clinic check out www.fauquierfreeclinic.org or call 540-347-0394. To sign up or learn about the ride head over to www.rappahannockroughride.org.