Doug VanOsdell didn’t let a potentially crippling disease get the better of him.
He also has no plans to let age, wild animals, bad weather, distracted drivers or pure exhaustion stop a grand attempt at celebrating his new lease on life.
The 65-year-old Apex retiree is in the midst of a bicycle ride across the country. He flew to Portland, Oregon, on Memorial Day, with his bike and about 80 pounds of equipment.
He went to the Pacific Ocean, took a selfie on the beach, and then set off on a 4,200-mile journey. He plans to arrive at Emerald Isle on the Atlantic Ocean in August – around the time of his 66th birthday.
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“It’s just been in the back of my mind for a while,” VanOsdell said in May before setting out.
He did the mountains-to-coast trail in North Carolina three times to see if he really wanted to spend an entire summer sleeping outdoors and living off the back of a bike.
Then, he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that has the potential to leave its victims paralyzed. VanOsdell says he’s now 95 percent cured and that his brush with illness finally convinced him to try such an ambitious bicycle ride.
Survivors of the disorder often are left with lingering numbness, weakness or fatigue. But VanOsdell, who took up long-distance biking after he quit long-distance running, knows how to power through such feelings.
“I have always been active and ran until my knee gave,” said the former engineer, who worked at Research Triangle International for 35 years. “I ran a couple marathons but I wasn’t getting faster, so I decided to switch horses, try something else.”
That something else has led to this months-long journey in which VanOsdell often will be alone.
He’s keeping a pace of 60 or 70 miles a day, with a day off every week or so. He’ll pass through a dozen or more national forests as well as Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
So far, VanOsdell has left Oregon, cut through parts of Washington and Idaho, then skirted the southwestern corner of Montana.
Last weekend, he had some much-anticipated company.
He took an extended stop in Bozeman, Montana, to see his daughter’s family. Reached by phone there on June 15, he said he thoroughly has enjoyed the 1,012 miles he already has traveled. By then, he had traveled 16 days but has a few months more to go.
“I think I’m learning some things about me, and what it takes to do this,” he said.
“The question of, ‘Can I do this?’ is no longer a question in the physical sense,” he said. “Now it’s just about keeping the mental focus.”
Kathy VanOsdell, his wife, came to Montana to see him for a few days.
“He has done well,” she said. “I think he’s two days ahead on his schedule, but he’s got some high climbs to come in the Rockies.”
Indeed, one upcoming mountain pass is 11,500 feet, or more than two miles, above sea level. Much of his journey will be spent in the thin air at 7,000 feet or higher until he gets into the flat Midwest.
The riding has often been solitary. Snaking rivers and snow-capped mountains occupy him during the day, and starry skies greet him at night.
When he’s feeling lonely, he said, he thinks about photos to take, or stories to remember, for his online journal, which he calls “The Hurrier I Go.”
The journal updates are sprinkled with details of the day’s route. It’s hosted by the website called Crazy Guy on a Bike.
Before Doug husband left, Kathy VanOsdell said the website name seemed pretty accurate. She didn’t believe biking across the country was the safest idea, she said, but eventually realized it was a dream he wasn’t going to give up.
“I’m supportive, and prayerful,” she said. “He’s going to be pushing his physical elements to the max.”
He plans to continue south through Wyoming and Colorado before turning east, through Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky and Virginia, before making it back to North Carolina.
And along the way, he’ll marvel at the history and nature he’s experiencing.
“The stars were stunning last night at Sula,” he wrote from Montana. “It was really dark before the moon came up. I stood around and just looked for awhile. At 4,600 feet, Sula is not really that high, but last night was special.”
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran
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