Even when you are retired life has a way of interrupting your plans. Whether you have travel plans, projects on the to-do list, or just hanging out at home, sometimes other things take priority. That is the situation my wife and I find ourselves in. Our priority the last four months has been helping our son-in-law care for our daughter. In my last blog post I was optimistic that she would soon be in remission and headed to Duke University hospital for a second stem cell transplant as she battles Adult T-Cell leukemia (aka acute lymphoblastic leukemia). A month ago we were told that the chemotherapy medicines and the immunotherapy she received over the past four months did not have any affect on the leukemia and there was no other treatment options available. So she made the difficult decision to go home and be comfortable during the time she has remaining. It was devastating and heartbreaking news but she has handled the cards she was dealt with grace, courage, and dignity. She is truly an inspiration to our entire family and her friends.
So while we offer her our love and support she encourages me to get out and ride my bicycle. As I ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway this spring I have the pleasure of watching wild flowers bloom, young leaves emerge on tree limbs, and hearing birds sing their beautiful songs as I chug up these mountains. Often I am treated with the loud call of a Pileated Woodpecker or see a Red-tail hawk catch an air thermal and glide gracefully over a nearby valley. John Burroughs once said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” Biking on the Blue Ridge Parkway gives me a chance to let my mind drift to a place of calmness and peace for a few hours. As I climb higher and higher the views open to something so majestic it is hard to describe. As I pass through 4000 feet I find that spring has not yet arrived at this elevation. Trees are still bare and there is no leafy vegetation sprouting up through the leaf litter.
While I have taken several shorter bike rides my two biggest and most strenuous rides this spring were in opposite directions from the Blue Ridge Parkway parking area just off Rt. 74A east of Asheville. Starting at an elevation of about 2,100 feet I rode south for 24 miles to Mt. Pisgah climbing to an elevation of 5,000 feet. The next “big” ride was north of Rt. 74A. From there I climbed 21 miles to the Craggy Gardens Visitors Center to an elevation of 5,200 feet. My goal was to reach both destinations as a way to train for my future bike ride and to prove to myself that I can climb to those heights.
I once told my wife that there is something about the Blue Ridge Parkway that beckons me to ride from one end to the other. I don’t know if it is a call to challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone and do something extreme, or some primal need to prove to myself that I can sustain myself outdoors without the creature comforts of home. Whatever the reason, when I begin my trip to finish what I started two years ago I hope to find peace with myself and with God, and at the same time honor my daughter’s life and legacy.
It is for this reason that I will complete my remaining 350 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway later this summer as a fundraising endeavor. I will be seeking pledges for each mile I ride to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for research. I will soon be notifying others via social media of a website established in Melissa’s name for those who just wish to make a tax deductible donation instead of pledging an amount per mile (amounts donated via pledges is also tax deductible). My goal will be to raise $25,000 for research to find a cure for this type of cancer.
The thought of cancer striking my family like it has is devastating and unfathomable. But it has hit us and I hope that someday the money raised in this campaign will help save someone in the not to distant future.