Last summer Doug Bahniuk rode his bicycle from Fairbanks to Anchorage. This would not be a huge deal except for the fact that he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease around eight years ago. As it was, it still wasn't a big enough effort for Doug, who will push his PD limit out to a truly noteworthy new distance with his forthcoming attempt to ride 900 wilderness miles from Alaska's North Slope to Anchorage, its largest city.
Doug took time out from training, updating his website, and repacking his bearings to answer a few questions from Off and On.
1.) How much more difficult do you see this ride as compared to last year's sojourn between Anchorage and Fairbanks?
There is a huge difference. First is the distance: 900 miles vs. 400 miles. Then there is the road surface. A significant percentage (about 80%) of the road between Deadhorse and Fairbanks is gravel. Gravel roads are dangerous, because it's easy to slip and slide, and difficult to ride because of potholes. A big concern is the self-reliance issue. I have to carry enough food and water, or find water, to last five days. That's a big order. And while I only had to camp two nights last year, I expect to have to camp at least ten nights this year. And a lot of that will be in bear country. No, I'm not bringing a gun.
2.) What did you learn last year that will most change your approach to this year's ride?
The wind can be relentless. It's just brutal. So I'm trying to get (be) in better shape to deal with it.
3.) Could you give us a brief rundown on the gear you plan to take?
Batteries, soap, blue jeans, camera, camp stove, cell phone, cooking gear, flashlight, imodium, inner tubes x2, knife, light jacket, magnifying eye glasses, multi tool, Parkinson's meds, patch kits, penicillin, rain jacket and pants, riding shorts, shaving gear, spare shirt, sleeping mat and bag, tape, socks, spokes, string, tent, spare tire, tire pump x2, tooth brush and paste, toilet paper, wrenches, water filter/sterilizer, zip bags, candy bars and freeze dried meals. That's not everything, but you get the idea.
4.) What are you doing differently to prepare for the ride than a person without PD would do?
I've been experimenting with how long my meds last, and how I function without them. They seem to wear off in three hours; you could almost set a clock by that. It's very difficult for me to move without them, but I can do it. If I lose them or they get ruined, well, let's just say it's not good.
5.) What are you looking forward to most about the trip?
The scenery, the sense of isolation. Riding.
6.) What are you looking forward to least about the trip?
Rain! Lord, I hope it doesn't rain too much!
7.) Why a bike ride? Why not jog the whole way, or engage in a dance marathon for Parkinson's Disease Research?
Bikes are practical and open the world to you. Jogging would not be practical. A dance marathon is not my style; where's the danger? I don't really get into "team" sports, and to me, dancing, or similar efforts, is a team effort.
8.) Have you always been in love with bicycles?
My father bought me a blue, open frame (aka "girl's"), three speed "English Racer" for my third birthday. I learned how to ride it before I was four. I've been in love with bicycles since then. I can go anywhere on a bike. It takes time, but it gives me such a sense of control over my life to know that I can do that.
9.) So when you're out there on one of these expeditions, maybe a bit bradykinetic, (slowness that comes with PD) a little dystonic, (muscle cramps associated with PD) a long way from medical care and tired on top of all that, do you ever think "What am I doing here?"
Oh, absolutely! And let me add to the scenario: It's raining and I'm camping in bear country! Yes, I wonder what the heck I'm doing here! But I've learned to shrug it off, not feel sorry for myself, and concentrate on what I have to do. And I remember to feel joy. When all those things happen, I remind myself to feel pride, to enjoy the beauty, to enjoy the rain. I tell myself that I'm a tough SOB and I challenge the Gods to bring it on. I mean what's the worst that can happen? I sleep in a mud puddle? Been there, done it. I die? I've come to terms with my mortality and would rather go down fighting than in a hospice bed.
10.) Once you pull this off, what is next?
I'm not sure. Maybe I'll ride across Oregon again, I love Oregon. Maybe I'll just concentrate on raising funds for PD research. I doubt there will be anymore Alaska trips.
If you would like to contribute to the cause of ending PD through Doug's effort visit his website, where he has a variety of levels and ways to participate. To read an earlier Off and ON Q&A with Doug, check here.