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Riders prepare for cross-country trek

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway and Maj. Mike Powell are preparing to take on 6,700 miles of road and unpredictable weather to raise money for Special Olympics.

As a kickoff for the 2007 Iron Torch Ride, taking place June 19 through July 6, Conway, Powell and other motorcycle enthusiasts will ride Saturday morning from the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department located at 2900 University Parkway in Lawrenceville, breaking at Watson's Mill Bridge and then on to the Lanier National Speedway at One Raceway Drive in Braselton for the finish.

The weekend's ride is open to the public and requires a registration fee of $25 for a single rider and $35 for a rider and passenger combination and includes lunch, with all proceeds from the kickoff ride, as well as the June ride, benefiting the Special Olympics.

Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais said interested riders can sign up beginning at

8:30 a.m. Saturday before the 10 a.m. ride.

"I'm really looking forward to the challenge of this 6,700-mile ride we have in June, and Saturday's ride is a fun way to get us prepared for what lies ahead," said Conway. "These athletes are so inspiring and have overcome great odds to compete in Special Olympics. They inspire me, and I hope I can take their courage and inspiration with me on the upcoming trek we will be making across the nation. We hope we are able to raise a lot of money for the athletes on these rides."

Conway said he and the department have a $50,000 fundraising goal for the ride. Only about halfway to that goal, Conway said he hopes this weekend will push the collection pot closer.

The June ride will take Conway, Powell and numerous other law enforcement officers from across the United States on a 6,700-mile trek from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Key West, Fla., riding 500 miles a day.

Conway said he and Powell will ship their bikes to Alaska June 2 and fly out June 17.

"The interesting thing is the first 828 miles are gravel," Conway said. "I don't know if that can be made comfortable. It's going to be interesting."

Conway will ride his white 2002 Harley Davidson Road King and Powell his 2005 Harley Davidson Electroglide Classic during both rides.

"We're doing this to bring awareness and raise funds, and that's basically what it's all about - helping these kids," Powell said of the upcoming rides.

Conway and Powell said they are both looking forward to this weekend's kickoff and hope to get the community involved with the cause.

"I think we've got a beautiful ride ahead of us on Saturday morning," Powell said. "We've (Conway and Powell) been working together to raise funds, and it's a good cause, people have really been interested in helping us."

n What: Iron Torch Ride

kickoff

•When: Begins at 10 a.m. Saturday

•Where: Gwinnett Sheriff's Department, 2900 University Parkway in Lawrenceville; $25 (single rider) registration fee for Saturday ride and $35 for rider and passenger (meals included)