The Autism Blog was kind enough to feature my cross country bike ride back on July 23, 2018. At that point I was on day 24 of my 41 day bike ride from Port Townsend, WA to Central Park, NYC in an effort to raise funds, and awareness for autism. Now the Seattle Children’s Autism Center Blog is allowing me to follow up their post with my own. My solo and unsupported bicycle ride was inspired by my ten year old son, Luca who was diagnosed at Seattle Children’s Autism Center with High Functioning Autism. I decided to ride cross country as a way to bring awareness to autism, raise money for Seattle Children’s, and honor my son.
I raised $11, 780 for the center and rode 3,436 miles. I could not have done the ride without the amazing support of my wife Catherine who was a single mother for 41 days. Her and Luca had good days and bad days. I talked to them frequently and as my ride progressed, the phone calls were more and more positive. I sent them tons of postcards and also sent Luca a prairie dog plushie from Montana and a corn plushie from Mitchell, SD. I took great joy in sending him things and telling the post office workers all about him.
I was overwhelmed by the connections I made with people along the way, all of whom were touched in some way by Autism Spectrum Disorder, whether it was a friend or relative. Some of the most important interactions I had were with parents of older kids on the spectrum in their late teens. Hearing about their successes and difficulties made me think of Luca and his future. We work so hard as a family to help him achieve success in things that most people take for granted. Meeting people who have the same challenges is very helpful.
As much as I missed Luca out on the road, he was always with me in two special ways. The first was his pet duck plushie named “Tallish” who he wanted to accompany me on the journey. The other was a small wooden carving of Luca inspired by ancient Rome (soldiers away from their families for long periods of time would have carvings of them that they kept in little leather bags). Tallish was a great companion and a constant reminder of my smart, funny, unique and beautiful boy. He was so bedraggled and road worn when I returned that Luca suggested we give him a bath. Tallish has never looked better after his spa treatment.
I found the challenge of riding cross country a lot like the challenge of parenting a child on the Autism Spectrum. There were moments of intense joy and there were moments where I was pushed to the absolute limit. Finding the strength and determination to overcome the obstacles I faced on the road parallel those I face as a parent. In either situation, giving up is never a choice. I never give up on Luca and I never gave up on my mission to spread awareness. I learned a lot about myself in 41 days. I learned that raising a child with Autism is part of who I am, not just something I do. It takes a village, starting with my wife and continuing with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.
To say my ride was an emotional and life changing experience is a huge understatement. There were many times out on the road, alone with my thoughts, especially when I had so far to go still, I would get overwhelmed by emotion and shed some tears, thinking about what I was doing and why. I would embrace the tears and be comforted by the love I felt. When I realized how many people were following along and reading my blog, it added another layer of meaning to what I was doing. I received such great feedback and support, the ride was exactly what I hoped it would be, a way to put the spotlight on Autism and the need for research and understanding.
The beginning and end of my trip were the most physically demanding. Idaho, Montana and Pennsylvania had the most challenging terrain as far as elevation gain, heat and humidity. I was incredibly fortunate with weather and only got rained on twice. Wisconsin was probably my favorite state to bicycle through. They had the best and oldest “rails to trails” on my route and their rural roads were rolling and beautiful. I had a visit from my parents in Minnesota, my sister in Chicago, and I reconnected with old friends along the way. As an artist, I made sure to get my cultural fix by going to the Art Institute of Chicago, The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and Grounds For Sculpture in New Jersey.
The second half of my ride went very quickly and I was crossing state lines much quicker once I hit the Midwest. Montana and Pennsylvania were the longest states I went through. In Pennsylvania I did a radio interview with “Brad and John in the Morning” on KISM radio, Seattle. It turns out John saw my blog and wanted to highlight my ride and my cause. He has a brother with Autism. It felt good to reach a wider audience on the radio and talk about Luca, Autism and the ride.
My wife and I decided early in the trip that meeting me in Central Park with be overwhelming for Luca. He would fly to New York the day after with his grandparents. As I approached New York, Luca was over the moon with excitement. I think he truly understood the scope of what I had done and why. I rolled into Central Park while I was on the phone with Luca, it was if he was riding next to me. When I arrived at Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon memorial in Central Park, I was filled with an amazing sense of pride and accomplishment. So many of my friends and family were there to greet me, all wearing the “biking for autism” shirts that Luca and I designed. It felt triumphant. It felt as if I made a difference. I succeeded on many levels.
My reunion with Luca at JFK airport was beyond words. He was absolutely beaming with joy. We did our secret handshake and then hugged each other. We spent time in NY with my family and then headed back to Port Townsend ten days later. Being back with my wife Catherine feels so good. We are back to being a family unit. We continue to work hard everyday with Luca. There continue to be ups and downs, but we will never give up. Hard work pays off and love keeps us moving forward.