I recently rode in the Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Ride, a cross-country relay to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease. I rode in the leg from Madison to Chicago on September 1-2. What follows are the notes I recently posted on the blog associated with the ride.
Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Ride Journal: Madison to Chicago
My Breakthrough Ride experience began in mid-April when the winter snows unexpectedly receded from the Minneapolis landscape and I could start training on the bike trails around Lakes Harriet and Calhoun. I was quite anxious about the ride, given that I hadn’t ridden over about 20 miles at one time in many years. And I knew that we would be riding 90 miles on the first day out of Madison and about 65 miles on the second day to get to Chicago. I rode the trails in high winds, in sleet, in winds that pushed my bike from the path as angry spring storms blew in off the Canadian plains. Why did I do this? Apart from the obvious challenge the ride itself presented, I was inspired in my training by Dr. Karen Ashe, an Alzheimer’s researcher at the University of Minnesota, and Director of the N. Bud Grossman Center for Memory Research and Care. Her passion for discovering a means to prevent Alzheimer’s disease instilled in me a desire to do something that could help make an impact on the course of Alzheimer’s research in the United States, and could help change the course of how we prevent and treat the disease in a global sense. I view my participation in the Breakthrough Ride as one tiny part of a collective effort to make the dream of a world without this scourge of a disease a reality.
So I pedaled through April, May, June, July and August. In the heat and wind, past roller-bladers, low-riders and Burley’s. In these pages, I read with trepidation of the heat, the winds, the spills as the relay moved across the desert and on into the Midwest. But more than being impressed by the challenge of the elements alone, the depth of emotion and passion of the researcher-riders fascinated and inspired me to continue on to my appointment in Madison.
As it turned out, the ride was certainly not as hellacious as the premonitions my tired mind had conjured up. The weather on the first day (Madison, WI to Woodstock, IL) was overcast and cool, relative to the 100+-degree days that previous legs of the relay had to endure. The rolling hills and cornfields of southern Wisconsin were beautiful. Sure, a 90-mile ride is never easy, but the care given to us riders by the relay-support staff (Glenn, Melanie and Evan) transformed miles into rides-around-the-block and hours into minutes. There were the trucks and harried auto drivers to deal with and the rough shoulders and the cracked pavement, too, but the smiles and the jokes and the sharing and the PBFO’s (peanut-butter fold-overs) took away the “mental” part of the ride. And the training I had done over the proceeding weeks turned out to be sufficient enough to smooth out the physical challenges of the long ride.
The second day turned out to be a bit more of a challenge. Our second-day leg was interrupted by heavy rains that always seemed to be on the verge of letting up, but never really doing so. Since we had to be Chicago for the noon-time rally, we were “airlifted” to an advance drop-site on the Lake Michigan shoreline. The rain stopped and we were led into Chicago by Harry Johns, the CEO and President of the Alzheimer’s Association. (Of course, we had a flat tire in the last four miles of the ride!) Actually, Harry insisted that Barb, Michele, Eric and I lead the group of us into the Chicago rally. But there is no question that Harry led us into Chicago, since there is no way anyone else could have described and followed the route he led us on through the maze of paths, into a parking garage, and down a grass covered embankment to the streets of the Windy City. We finally entered the chaos of Chicago noontime traffic when we made it to Randolph Street and could sense that the completion of our ride was only a few blocks ahead. I remember turning to Eric Norstrom (a native of Chicago) and asking him if there were any rules for driving in Chicago traffic. I think I heard him say “try to miss the cars!” It was an exciting last few blocks to the Thompson Center where we were cheered into the Plaza by an enthusiastic, cheering crowd of well-wishers and volunteers. (Shades of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” but without the music or Mia Sara.) What a great way to end a trip I will never forget!
Did I forget to mention the incident at the Edgerton Crossing? Suffice it to say that I now know that it is critically important to traverse railroad crossings at a vector perpendicular to the tracks and at slow speed. Despite admonitions to this effect that I had received seemingly only hours before, I attempted the impossible and lost to gravity and lack of friction. Luckily nothing was broken, though I suspect I might have bent a rail. (Stacy, my wife, and I visited the infamous site on our way home to the Twin Cities and some damage to the rails appeared evident.) The fall was scary and painful and embarrassing and bruising. It was a challenge for me to pick myself up and keep going, fearing another fall or another set of railroad tracks. But I knew that I would heal, the bruises would fade, and the scrapes and scratches would eventually stop bleeding, scar over, and disappear.
And this made me think of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers and families and friends for which there is pain, and fear, and embarrassment and scrapes and scratches with no hope of recovery. And that is what helped get me back on my bike and continue the ride, filled with the hope that our riding and the signatures we are gathering, and the enhanced funding we seek might lead to a future where the healing of those with Alzheimer’s disease could start, and their fear and bruising and trauma and anxiety could be made to fade away.
Good luck to the riders and I will see you in Washington!
-Dr. Michael A. Walters is a member of the faculty of the Medicinal Chemistry Department at the University of Minnesota, a Director in the Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development, and a collaborating member of the N. Bud Grossman Center for Memory Research and Care.