Cyclists take the ‘Big Ride’ against lung disease

Posted July 17, 2013 at 12:00 am

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Probably not too many noticed cyclists coming into Miller last Tuesday, July 9. There were 14 in all—seven women and seven men, and they came at their own pace, so they didn’t all arrive at one time.

But the 14 do have a common goal: as part of the Big Ride Across America, they are raising money for the American Lung Association, raising awareness of lung disease, and serving as advocates of the Clean Air Act.

The first Big Ride, sponsored by the American Lung Association, took place in the summer of 1998. More than 700 bicycle riders crossed the country from Seattle, Wash. to Washington, D.C. They made a memorable overnight stop in Miller, and camped out at Crystal Park.

Big Ride Across America has continued over the years, but with considerably fewer riders. The participants take the same route as the first Big Ride, and do a stopover in Miller.

Each Big Rider was required to raise a minimum of $6,500 to participate in this year’s ride. So far, the group has raised $110,000.

The 14 bikers left Seattle June 17, and they plan to reach Washington, D.C. on August 3. They average 83 miles per day.

This trip—like the ones before—will cover 12 states and 3,300 miles in 48 days. The group was having a second breakfast at Miller’s Ranch Café (their first breakfast was much earlier, before they left Pierre). Miles logged when they reached the café totaled 1623.5.

They would camp on the school grounds, and take off early July 10 for the next leg of the journey. Not many miles east of Miller, the cyclists would reach the half-way point of 1,650 miles.

Jeff Sloan, 56, from Maine, was somewhat the spokesperson. The bikers ranged in age from 17 to 64, Sloan said, and came from many states, among them Indiana, Boston, Oregon, California, New York City and upstate New York.

A fellow from London, England will meet up with them in Chicago and ride part of the way with them.

Even with a short stop-over in Miller, the riders keep busy. Bikes always need a repair or two; some supplies need to be stocked; and they aim to be ready for sleep by 8 p.m.

Sloan said he trained for some time in preparation for the “big ride,” and one of the women noted the first couple of weeks were the hardest…then you “settle in.”

Everyone had a story about why they made the decision to make a cross-country bike trip. Tim Landwerlen, 30, of Indianapolis, Ind., said he had several reasons, but a main reason was because his son had been born premature with under-developed lungs, and was hospitalized for some time. Later, he developed a lung virus that also was life threatening. “Also,” he said, “I quit smoking last August, and my mother quit.”

He’s a Marine, and Landwerlen says many Marines are heavy smokers. He’s urged a couple of his buddies to quit.

Kendall Smith of Imbler, Oregon, is riding in honor of his mother, who died of cancer in 2009. He’s also making the trip for his senior project. All Imbler High School students must complete a project before they can graduate.

A University of Rochester med student, Cara Hall of West Seneca, N.Y., is riding in part to continue research measuring riders’ lung function. She had also suffered asthma as a child.

The cyclists were impressed with the Black Hills and the Badlands, but were also impressed by the fields, farms and ranches. “I had a different expectation,” said one of the riders. “It’s beautiful here, and we’ve seen a lot of small towns.”

They were also impressed by the friendliness. “South Dakota has very nice people,” Sloan said. “They are friendly.”

They related a story about a woman in Kadoka who, when she heard one of the group was having a birthday, went home and baked a cake. “That’s what’s memorable,” said Sloan. “We just don’t find such friendliness in more populated areas.”

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Ruth A. Moller|The Miller Press

SOME OF THE CYCLISTS pose for a picture before heading for the school to set up their gear. The tall man in back is Jeff Sloan, the “spokesperson.”