News

Power to the lungs: 48 days on a bike

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Ron Nowicki was never a big cyclist. Even today, the 58-year-old Federal Way resident doesn’t identify strongly with bike culture.

But Monday morning, Ron set out on the ride of a lifetime from Seattle to Washington D.C. For the next 48 days, he’ll ride about 80 miles a day across the northern United States with about 30 other riders from across the country as part of a fund-raiser for the American Lung Association.

At home last Friday, he was more nervous about the trip than excited. “I’m really just not sure yet,” he said.

Ron didn’t have any pre-conceived ideas or expectations about the trip. There weren’t any big tourist stops on the way, with the exception of Mount Rushmore, and he’s not the type to collect photos of old barns or bridges. “There are no, that I know of, no touristy things,” he said. “I had nothing in mind. I didn’t have a special thing for going across.”

“It’ll be the journey, not the destination,” said his wife, Bonnie, who stood next to him in the kitchen.

Ron started cycling about two years ago, when his adult children got him what he called a “comfort bike,” one with a large, padded seat, upright handlebars and lots of shock absorbers. “I was getting old and fat, and they couldn’t do anything about me getting old,” he said, laughing.

He rides for fun, without getting terribly wrapped up in the gear, jargon and jerseys displayed in some segments of the Northwest cycling scene.

He twice did the Courage Classic, an August ride over the three mountain passes in Western Washington, with flat pedals and tennis shoes. He liked it, he said, because it wasn’t a race. The other riders were older and more supportive than riders in some of the more popular events. “If you get a flat, five people stop to help you,” he said.

He can’t recall exactly where he caught wind of the American Lung Association’s ride across the United States — he thinks it was in follow-up materials he got from participating in the Courage Classic — but it intrigued him. “I showed it to Bonnie and thought she’d talk me out of it,” he said. “But she didn’t talk me out of it.”

“He wanted to know my opinion. I wouldn’t say,” Bonnie said. “I said, ‘If you want to do it, it’s your decision.’ He wanted to do it.”

To be considered, participants had to raise $5,000 for the American Lung Association. Ron surpassed the amount, but a few riders who signed up were disqualified because they hadn’t met the bar. The only other requirement was that riders be physically able to do the ride.

Ron went to Phil’s Bike Shop, an independently owned shop in Twin Lakes, and bought a Jamis steel-frame bike — last year’s model — and a few parts. He also went ahead and got some expensive shoes and clipless pedals, as well as some stainless steel spokes and hubs. He taped a few additional spokes to the frame, just in case.

He twice did the Courage Classic, an August ride over the three mountain passes in Western Washington, with flat pedals and tennis shoes. He liked it, he said, because it wasn’t a race. The other riders were older and more supportive than riders in some of the more popular events. “If you get a flat, five people stop to help you,” he said.

He can’t recall exactly where he caught wind of the American Lung Association’s ride across the United States — he thinks it was in follow-up materials he got from participating in the Courage Classic — but it intrigued him. “I showed it to Bonnie and thought she’d talk me out of it,” he said. “But she didn’t talk me out of it.”

“He wanted to know my opinion. I wouldn’t say,” Bonnie said. “I said, ‘If you want to do it, it’s your decision.’ He wanted to do it.”

To be considered, participants had to raise $5,000 for the American Lung Association. Ron surpassed the amount, but a few riders who signed up were disqualified because they hadn’t met the bar. The only other requirement was that riders be physically able to do the ride.

Ron went to Phil’s Bike Shop, an independently owned shop in Twin Lakes, and bought a Jamis steel-frame bike — last year’s model — and a few parts. He also went ahead and got some expensive shoes and clipless pedals, as well as some stainless steel spokes and hubs. He taped a few additional spokes to the frame, just in case.

“In six months, I’ve done 2,000 or so miles, and I’m doing another 3,000 over the next few weeks,” he said.

Early Monday morning, the group of 33 riders met in the foggy mist at Sayer’s Park in Seattle. “They were off at 7:15,” Bonnie said.

Along the route to Washington, D.C., Ron and the other riders will stay at campgrounds and university dorms.

Bonnie plans to visit Minneapolis July 22 as the riders are passing through, so Ron will “get a few nights of comfort” in her hotel room, she said. His parents are planning to visit him when he passes through Ohio, and some family friends might drive from Virginia to D.C. at the end of the ride.

In addition, some of the riders from previous years who live along the route throw parties or provide food for the riders as they come through.

Participants are limited to two bags for the entire ride — one for clothes and the other for camping gear — and both bags are carried in the Support and Gear trucks. Riders get breakfast and dinner each day, and they carry their own food for lunch.

While Ron is a strong rider — bicycling over three mountain passes is a testament to his ability — he admitted he’s not “a die-hard biker.” He pointed out the ride across the United States is not a race; it’s more like a tour, with stops along the way and days off sometimes. “It’s a bike ride,” he said. “I’m not going to set a record. I’m already old.”

While he doesn’t have any concrete expectations, he does have an open, youthful outlook on what the next 48 days have in store. “I haven’t done that since I was 6 or 7 — get up, ride your bike and camp at night,” he said. “I plan to go across the country fueled by ice cream and pie.”

Monday afternoon, Bonnie said Ron had called from their first rest stop at Snoqualmie Falls. “He was eating ice cream,” she said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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