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Man Embarks on 900-Mile Ride for Parkinson's Research

Doug Bahniuk has battled the illness himself, and will ride hundreds of miles through Alaska to raise money for Parkinson's research

Three weeks before tackling a 900-mile bike ride in Alaska, Doug Bahniuk stopped by to get his wheels ready for the big trip.

He had two bicycles to bring in packed in his car that was parked nearby. Usually he just carries both in at the same time. 

“I’m always being Superman and doing more than I should, so I figured I’d take one over at a time instead of two at a time,” he said.

When Bahniuk returned to his car, the bike he planned to take with him on the trip was gone.

“It was literally five minutes,” he said.

The Expedition bike, loaned to him by Cain Park Bicycle owner Gary Schumacher, had been fitted for the ride — a comfy seat, fenders, a rack, among other improvements. It was worth about $1,000.

Bahniuk was crushed. But he's used to overcoming obstacles.

The 58-year-old has Parkinson’s disease, and is riding from an area called Deadhorse, AK, to Anchorage starting July 21 to raise money for research into the illness. He leaves Sunday, and the bicycle shop was able to find and prepare another very similar bike for him.

Sometimes his foot twitches out of the pedal. So he puts it back in. Sometimes his hands tremor so much, he can’t change a tire or pitch a tent until he’s taken his medication. So he waits until the pills kick in.

“I’m not really worried, to be honest with you, about the tremors. I’ve been dealing with them for a while now. I’ve been practicing to not take my medicine to make sure I can function without it in case, heaven forbid, the medicine gets all wet and ruined. There’s a lot of rain up there,” he said. “If that happens and the medicine gets ruined, I’ll just have to deal with it.”

Schumacher is confident Bahniuk will be fine.

“It’s either crazy or very courageous, but I understand the challenge. The beauty of a bicycle is that you can be self-sufficient, and you don’t have to rely on anything if you’re properly prepared,” said Schumacher, whose completed a few long bike rides himself and said he loaned the bike to Bahniuk to live “vicariously” through him.

“It’s an ambitious ride. But Doug is very meticulous. I’m sure he’s prepared and thought of more things than I have.”

Why he rides

Bahniuk has been riding bikes since he was a toddler.

“I’ve been biking almost my whole life. When I was 3 years old, my father bought me a three-speed, an English racer. It was blue,” he said. “I still remember it to this day. I never had training wheels or anything. It’s one of my earliest memories.”

He’d bike 100 miles from his home by himself and not tell his parents. His love of cycling grew and led to longer trips.

Two years ago, he biked from Portland to Boston. The 1,400-mile trip (he took a plane for a portion of the trip) took him a month. 

Last year, he traveled 382 miles on two wheels from Anchorage to Fairbanks, AK, and raised $30,000.

But he wanted a bigger challenge this time.

The ground he’ll face is unpaved, full of potholes and glass, he said. There are several difficult climbs. Temperatures range from 40 to 90 degrees. He’s bringing spare tires to prepare, took spinning classes in the winter and has trained throughout the spring.

But he can’t plan for or avoid certain dangers of the trip, like the fact that bears, wolves and coyotes share the area he’ll be camping in.

“I don’t want to get killed by a bear. They’ll definitely be there.”

Oh, and he’s riding alone with no cellphone, and carrying supplies, including MRE's (Meal, Ready to Eat), himself. Satellite phones are too expensive, and he’s already put a lot of money into the ride. If something happens, he’s on his own.

“Do you think there is someone crazy enough to go with me?” he asked. “I do it for the challenge of doing it. This is a very difficult thing to do, to pull off a ride like this, and I guess it helps reinforce my self-image as a strong and tolerant person." 

He has a few fears.

“If I fall and break my arm or knock myself out or break a leg or something happens, that’s a real bad thing.”

Bahniuk lives in Orange and has a wife and three kids, and founded Adelsys Inc., a biomedical engineering company that repairs lab and medical equipment based in Cleveland Heights.

He’s asking his assistant, Julie Curtis, to call an area called Cold Foot after four days to check in on him. Bahniuk plans to bike 80 or 90 miles each day, and complete the ride in about two weeks. If he doesn’t arrive, Curtis is to send out a search party.

“We’re all a little nervous around here when he goes on his bike rides. We stand by the phone and the computer to see if he’s done any updating to see if he’s alive,” Curtis said.  “I think he’ll be able to finish it. It’s kind of crazy if you ask me ... but he likes to do stuff like that. What can you do? Gotta root him on.”

He hasn’t raised much yet for his cause — the Davis Phinney Foundation — but hopes more donors will come forward soon.

He has another ride coming up in the fall starting in the South Chagrin Reservation where people can donate to the Davis Phinney Foundation and participate in rides that vary from 10 to 50 miles. 

But even if he doesn’t raise more money this time, Bahniuk said he simply looks forward to the ride. The reason why he's riding 80 to 90 miles a day instead of 50 as planned is so he can make a Davis Phinney Foundation pledge ride in Colorado Aug. 6. 

“I just really, really enjoyed riding my bicycle, it set me free. And it still does today. I have this problem with Parkinson’s, and when I get on my bike and ride, I just feel cured.”

You can read more about Bahniuk's ride, donate and learn more about him on his blog, Doug's Wild Ride

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