-- Amid the horror, confusion and grief that followed their husbands' deaths in the 2001 terrorist attacks, Susan Retik and Patti Quigley were inundated with kindness.
Family and friends offered love and companionship. Their husbands' employers continued to pay their salaries. Strangers sent flowers, food and cash.
Yet through their grief, the two widows managed to react with kindness themselves, reaching out across an ocean to a different culture to consider the plight of widows in Afghanistan.
Retik and Quigley were struck by how women, especially widows, were marginalized by the Taliban regime and by Afghan society: They had no life insurance and often no money or property to help them carry on after their husbands' deaths.
"I thought -- look at all the support we're getting," said Retik, of Needham. "What must it be like for widows in Afghanistan?"
It turned out that Quigley, who lived in neighboring Wellesley but had never met Retik until several months after their husbands were killed at the World Trade Center, had similar thoughts.
The two began talking about the connection they felt with widows in Afghanistan, the same nation where their husbands' killers had trained and where war raged in the years after the attacks.
Months later, they came up with a plan to raise money for them.
Earlier this year, they created Beyond the 11th, a nonprofit foundation to aid widows in areas touched by conflict, and they plan to mark the third anniversary of the attacks by riding their bikes from New York, where their husbands' lives ended, to Boston, where their final flights began.
"Instead of the cycle of violence and terrorism escalating, if we can on that day show kindness and reach out to other people, what better thing to do on September 11th?" asked Retik.
The two women plan to ride the first 220 miles of the route together, making their way through back roads of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and into Massachusetts, where they hope to be met by 200 more riders for the final 30 miles to Boston. Each rider will represent one of the 202 New Englanders killed in the attacks.
For Retik, 36, and Quigley, 40, the ride is an outgrowth of their friendship, which blossomed even as they coped with a terrible loss. Both women were pregnant when their husbands perished aboard the planes that slammed into the trade center.
Retik and her husband, David, already had two children, Ben, 3, and Molly, 2. She was 71/2 months pregnant Sept. 11. Two months later, she gave birth to a second daughter, Dina.
Quigley and her husband, Patrick, had a 5-year-old daughter, Rachel. A month after the attacks, she gave birth to another daughter, Leah.
The first few months after the attacks were a blur, with family and friends constantly coming and going, piles of mail arriving, dozens of phone calls to answer every day.
By February of 2002, Retik and Quigley began getting together for dinner, sharing their grief and talking to each another in a way no one else could. "There's a point where other people just don't get it," Quigley said.
Quigley came up with the idea for the bike ride. Neither of the women were avid cyclists, but both had kept in shape by running and doing aerobics. They bought bikes together in March and began their training with a 14-mile ride. Since then, they've built up to 50 miles and plan to ride about 100 miles per day by September.
The ride will begin Sept. 9 at the site of the World Trade Center and end two days later at a new memorial in the Boston Public Garden. They are hoping to raise $100,000 for food, clothing, education and job training for Afghan widows and their children.
As the ride nears, about 75 riders have signed up to do the final leg with Retik and Quigley. The riders have pledged $30,000 so far to help Afghan widows.
"We want to help these women by providing them with the financial aid they need just to survive," Retik said. "But we also want to establish a personal connection between American and Afghan widows to remind both them and ourselves that we are all real people who have suffered terrible and unimaginable losses."