July 29 (DAY 1) – Phoenix, AZ to Payson, AZ
I arrived at the hotel the night before with a bit of anxiety for the day ahead of me. On paper it looked like a pretty tough day on the bike, but sometimes the paper is wrong. The next morning at breakfast, I met Melanie and Evan in the lobby of the hotel. These two would be my guardian angels for the next three days – a combination of companion, cheerleader, and chef. The ultimate “road warriors,” and with all due respect and by their own admission, “road moms.” Steve Yozwiak, TGen’s Senior Science Writer, was there to help send me off, as were Ernie Otto and Cathy Griner from the Desert Southwest Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Ernie and Cathy helped me kick off my fundraising efforts on my rider donation page. Thanks again for the support!
Before I knew it, we were off. Day one started at the beginning of the Beeline Highway. At the first brief rest stop, Mike Sierks was there to help provide some additional motivation and to share some wisdom as to how to keep sane when riding solo on the desert roads. Back-to-back solo riders… actually, I can’t believe Melanie and Evan are still sane. The next several hours were absolutely beautiful. Nicer than expected weather, amazing scenery, and some tough back-to-back-to-back climbs. To make things more interesting, the last couple of climbs had a thin layer of sand in the shoulder – it felt like I was trying to go uphill…on the beach. In the end, the day proved to be truly epic as predicted on paper. The statistics: approximately 6.5 hours on the bike making for around a 9 hour day in total, 74 miles, 6,500 feet of climbing (!), and an estimated 5,250 calories burned. One of my toughest, and yet most inspirational, days on the bike.
After an hour or so of resting in Payson we were off to a great dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. About halfway through dinner my efforts from the day caught up to me and it took my total concentration just to stay conscious and upright at the dinner table. Melanie faked some ill effects of the elevation as well to make me feel better (totally busted). It was a pretty weird sensation. For the rest of the night it was all about sleeping and, when awake, eating as much as possible to help replenish those spent calories. What would tomorrow hold? Especially if I can’t recover from my efforts today. Finally, how many lives did Melanie save today? We may never know. She stopped to help at least three stranded motorists who had broken down on the uphill sections. Me, I didn’t want to stop for fear of not getting started again so I just tried to encourage them to get on-line and sign the petition once they were home safely.
My ride today is dedicated to my wife and son. Luke, I am doing this to help ensure that you don’t have to “lose” your grandparents to this devastating disease. Heather, I look forward to growing old with you and I don’t want to worry that our time together might be cut short by Alzheimer’s disease. I hope that others reading this blog can relate to these feelings. If so, please sign the petition for the Breakthrough Act and tell your friends and family members to do the same. This is an important step in our fight against this devastating disease.
July 30 (DAY 2) – Payson, AZ to Heber, AZ
Up early for a great breakfast at the Beehive. Still overcast outside but looking a little more threatening this morning. I am still not feeling like myself – still in calorie debt I assume. But, once I am back on the bike I feel fine, in fact I feel a lot stronger than I expected to feel on day two. Unfortunately, I spend a lot of time in and out of the follow car during the first part of the day – a combination of weather, hairy looking shoulders, and heavy traffic. All is clear for the Mogollon Rim climb though, and what a climb it was (~1,300 foot elevation gain in under 5 miles). About halfway up I was rewarded with a brief rest break as I had to change a flat tire. From there the rest of the climb was great and at the top we all jumped in the “Pony” for some re-fueling and celebration that most of my climbing for my entire leg was pretty much complete. Just as we are about to hit the road again, we were absolutely inundated with over an hour of classic Arizona monsoon rain accompanied by a nice double digit drop in temperature. It was impressive, refreshing, and “boot worthy”.
We pulled into Heber much earlier than expected which left us all some additional relaxing recovery time. At 5:30 we were meeting for dinner and we were met by my wife and son as a surprise. They drove up from Phoenix to join me for the final leg of my segment – it was a great surprise and such a wonderful gift.
Today I would like to dedicate my ride to the research teams out there working tirelessly to fight this disease. Earlier in the day I rode by Christopher Creek. Just last year, our entire Neurogenomics Division spent two nights there at our scientific retreat. I am honored to work with such a dedicated group of scientists who are not only awesome at what they do, but are really a lot of fun just to hang out with. It brought a smile to my face, as I was slowly riding by, to think that just off the road here our entire research team had been sitting around a fire ring discussing our scientific aspirations for the coming year and specifically addressing what we would like to accomplish regarding Alzheimer’s disease.
July 31 (DAY 3) – Heber, AZ to Holbrook, AZ
Day three started with a hearty breakfast. Awesome food and even better hairdos – well, at least Evan and I enjoyed the hairdo display. I was ready to roll – finally feeling like myself again and looking forward to a fast day on the bike. It was an absolutely perfect day. Most of the time was spent in the big ring just flying down the road as quickly as my legs would take me. Overcast again for most of the day. It seemed like we were in Holbrook in no time at all. Along the way we met Stan at one of our rest stops – in the middle of nowhere living the good life, it seemed. Three miles from the hotel I broke a spoke on my rear wheel. Thankfully I could just nurse the bike home to the hotel from there.
What an amazing feeling it was to finish up my segment of this ride. Those short three days seemed like an eternity – Melanie and Evan must feel as if they have been on the road for several years at this point (don’t tell them, but they are really just getting started). I was also greeted by my wife and son at the hotel with our little one carrying a congratulatory sign for his dad. Dinner that night was with Celeste – my other guardian angel who is typically one day ahead of us scouting out the route and noting any hazards. Just as we were finishing, in the door walked Lee and Bruce – the two riders who will be taking up the reins tomorrow (along with some special guests).
I would like to dedicate my ride today to all of the caregivers out there. You guys are an amazing bunch. Thank you for all that you do. The statue in front of our hotel for the evening was titled “Winged Messenger”. I thought that was rather fitting for what we are trying to do with this ride. So, even as I was ending my time on the road, I was inspired to keep battling on against this disease. I look forward to seeing everyone again in D.C. Thanks for reading.
– Matthew Huentelman, Ph.D., is an Investigator in the Neurogenomics Division at the non-profit Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix. Dr. Huentelman’s research is primarily focused on the molecular profiling of neurological traits and disease. Specifically, his laboratory focuses on the study of Alzheimer’s disease, aging and autism.