EDMONDS — Two retired guys with artificial joints are using pedal power to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
What’s up with that?
Gene Woodard, 68, and Ray Wittmier, 67, are bicycling coast-to-coast for Maya, 13, a family friend, and St. Baldrick’s Foundation. The girl nicknamed “Mighty Maya” successfully underwent treatment five years ago for a Wilms’ tumor, a form of childhood cancer.
Maya’s “honorary uncles,” as the men call themselves, are riding 50 to 90 miles a day. Lodging is at mostly one-star motels and with friends and relatives along the way.
Woodard and Wittmier are footing the travel bill. All money raised goes for St. Baldrick’s, known for head-shaving events that raise millions for research and show solidarity for children who lose hair from treatment. Pledges have topped $7,000 so far.
Their trip started May 20 at the beach at Golden Gardens Park in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Final destination: Jones Beach on Long Island, New York.
Google Maps says that the distance is 43 hours and 2,877 miles by car. By bike, it’s 259 hours and 3,170 miles. Walking is 933 hours. By plane, a mere five hours and 15 minutes.
The cyclists figure 50 days on the road should do the trick.
By the way, their bikes are not e-bikes.
“Our hearts are our motors, our legs are our pistons,” Woodard said.
“We’re purists,” Wittmier added.
They have nothing against electric bikes.
“Maybe 10 years from now,” Woodard said. “That’s a big maybe.”
The two have been friends for decades through their work at the University of Washington. Wittmier, a former UW assistant police chief who spent the past decade managing federal court security, commuted to work by bike from Alki Beach. Woodard, longtime director of the UW building services department, biked to work from his Edmonds home.
“When Ray and I retired last year we did this bucket list item of riding across America and we wanted to have a purpose and some meaning to it,” Woodard said.
“Mighty Maya” was the inspiration.
“We decided to do this before we got too old,” Wittmier added.
Both men received new joints last year.
Woodard had a hip replacement. Wittmier had a knee replacement.
“Part of what we want to do maybe later on in the ride is to try to encourage other senior citizens to remain active and set goals and seek challenges, even though you may have some physical limitations like both Ray and I have overcome,” Woodard said.
The joints have held up well, so far.
There is no pit crew following them with supplies or to change flats.
They tote about 20 pounds of the necessities in rear saddle bags: spare tubes, tools, gloves, two non-biking outfits, sandals, a couple pairs of underwear.
“Two skullcaps, because I don’t have any insulation on top,” Woodard said.
The freedom of the road on a bicycle is their reward.
“You take in much more by bike,” Woodard said. “We saw the Wenatchee River. I’ve driven to Leavenworth dozens of times before, but riding by at the speed of the bicycle I was able to take in all the magnificent beauty of the currents and the rocks and the trees and the water. You get a different perspective.”
The highway noise can be soothing.
“I have a new favorite sound,” he said. “It’s when we’re riding on the shoulder and the sound of cars going over the rumble strips in the center lane, that’s an audible signal they are giving us plenty of room. We’ve heard that sound all day long. People are courteous and that makes you feel good.”
They are in Montana now. South Dakota is soon.
“We kind of look forward to comparing our bikes to the kind we run into in Sturgis,” Wittmier said.
If all goes as planned, they’ll dip their front tires into the Atlantic Ocean at Jones Beach in time to watch the Fourth of July hot dog eating contest.
How will they get back home?
“Fly,” Wittmier said. “Oh, yeah.”
Five hours and 15 minutes.
To learn more or donate: stbaldricks.org/fundraisers/cyclingforMaya