Blown and broken bike parts, intense heat and owl attacks didn’t deter Mathew Rogers from completing an ambitious endeavor to bike 555 miles across Washington state last month. His effort was intended to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease.
Rogers, a Gig Harbor High School senior, wanted to bike across the state since he was 13. He watched his grandmother’s condition deteriorate with Alzheimer’s disease during the past few years and saw how it impacted his grandfather and father.
That’s when he put his idea together: To go on a bike ride to help the Alzheimer’s Association.
Researching the disease and the best path for biking across the state gave him a plan. Being a Boy Scout, one merit short of Eagle, and a former national-champion orienteer gave him the skills.
“Mathew planned this trip from start to finish,” said his father Glenn Rogers, who rode along to support his son. “He stayed focused and got it all done. He contacted the (Alzheimer’s) Association to get information and create a fund. I helped get supplies is all.”
Mathew’s mom dropped the pair off to start in Tekoa, a small town on the border of Washington and Idaho, with bikes and a trailer of supplies. Mathew packed four days of food, some water, camping gear and a bike repair kit.
The bulk of the trek was to be on the John Wayne Pioneer Trial, an abandoned railroad line now used for biking and hiking. It spans two-thirds of the state, allowing them to stay off highways and “be safer riding in the middle of nowhere,” Mathew said.
Although the Boy Scouts’ motto is to “always be prepared,” nothing prepared them for the challenges they encountered during their eight-day journey.
With mom gone for only an hour and no cell-phone service, Mathew’s back skewer fell off, along with his back tire.
A rancher happened to pass by and found the two looking for the vital part.
“She was a bit shocked to run into us,” Mathew said. “Not many people go through the back of her wheat fields. We asked if she had an old bike we could buy to have the part. She took us to her barn and gave us what we needed to fix my bike.”
The pair only made it about 49 miles instead of the 80 they planned with Mathew’s broken bike, and they camped at Rock Lake.
Flat tires were a constant problem. Numerous spare inner-tubes, repair goo and patches weren’t enough for the heat and rough terrain of the trail.
The trail was a mine field of goats head — seed pods with a spike. Bike tires were an easy target, Mathew said.
The Rogers men had seven flats on the third day alone. They resorted to cutting up patches into small pieces to manage until they could buy more.
The next day, Glenn’s back tire rim shattered outside of Othello. Walmart was the only store that sold bikes, and the only one available was one fit for youth.
“Dad rode the kid-size bike for 80 miles until we could get to Ellensburg and my grandpa could have it fixed,” Mathew said.
The teen took pity on his father, switching with him on an uphill, sandy ridge near Yakima.
“We were having a tough time with the heat,” Mathew said. “I felt like my knees were coming up to my ears. I don’t know how he did it as long as he did.”
The four days in eastern Washington with temperatures hotter than 100 degrees and bike mishaps were the toughest part of the trip, Mathew said.
“Through it all, though, I was impressed by the sheer beauty of our state,” Glenn said. “The beauty was in different forms with the desolation and unpopulated areas.”
“It was all really beautiful,” Mathew added. “We saw lots of animals along the way; a Palouse moose, deer, coyotes. I had an owl swoop down at me a couple of times on my bike. That was a little scary.
“We saw a cougar by Snoqualmie pass,” Mathew said. “A train was going by, so it must not have heard us. He ran off, but we were as surprised as he was to see him.”
There were a couple of days when the pair didn’t see anyone. When they did, signs on the trailer had people offering support, encouragement and help when possible. Shade trees in Marengo and ice water in Othello became luxuries.
The tunnel on the trail at the Snoqualmie Pass was closed, so the only choice was to ride down I-90.
“Riding down the pass with cars going by at 80 mph was scary,” Mathew said. “We rode as fast as we could just to get it over with.”
Mathew arranged to visit memory-care facilities during the trip. The first one was scheduled in Ellensburg.
“With everything that happened along the way, I was a day late,” Mathew said. “They were understanding. I had a tour and talked to the residents. We also stopped in other care facilities.
“I really liked interacting with the residents,” he said. “People were appreciative and thanked me for doing the trip.”
The 555-mile trek ended after eight 11- to 15-hours days at Cape Flattery. It started with searing heat and ended with cold rain.
“I never wanted to quit, even with everything that happened,” Mathew said. “There were some down days, but I had no doubt that I was always going to finish.”
Mathew said the trip seemed to represent the constant struggle with Alzheimer’s.
“Each day brought a new challenge,” he said. “We just had to keep on persevering.”
The beauty of the trip helped them go, and it made it worthwhile, Mathew said.
“We couldn’t have done it without the people who helped and supported us along the way,” he said. “ Just like with having Alzheimer’s.”
Mathew was recognized on Saturday during the South Sound to End Alzheimer’s Walk in Tacoma. After he completed the walk, he spoke to the crowd of almost 800.
“I have learned a lot about the disease,” he said. “There are 5 million people with Alzheimer’s, but 15 million people care for them. It’s a family disease.”
Mathew has raised $690 for his fund, and more people have donated after they’ve heard his story.
“I have such admiration for Mathew,” said Keri Pollock, communications director for Washington state’s Alzheimer’s Association. “He’s an exceptional young man. He reached out to us and followed through with his plans. His motivation to help is inspiring.”
On the web
Mathew Rogers will be a spokesperson at other Alzheimer’s walks around the state. He plans to continue to raise awareness and funds for the disease. For more information, visit www.alz.org. Mathew’s fund is located at http://bit.ly/16iOv9R.