Life cycler

Gilroy resident’s Mike, left, and Kathy Mathiasen gear up for

Mike Mathiasen is biking cross-country for lymphoma
Gilroy – Mike Mathiasen’s custom-made REI touring bike is packed with everything he’s going to need over the next three months – clothing, food, cooking utensils, a tent, sleeping bag and tools.

All he’s got to do now is ride that bike across the country.

In an effort to raise awareness about lymphoma, a disease from which his wife suffers, Gilroy resident Mathiasen, 59, and longtime friend Bill Pritchard of Alameda will start pedaling in a couple days from the westernmost point of the continental United States, Cape Blanco, Ore. to the country’s easternmost point, Quoddy Head, Maine.

Dubbed The Biking Vikings, – “Bill has Swedish heritage and I have Danish heritage so that’s where the Vikings come in,” Mathiasen explains – the two will pedal the 4,000 mile journey across the northern part of the country passing out press releases and business cards and spreading their story to anyone who will listen.

Kathy Mathiasen has mixed emotions about her husband’s trip, especially since an April spill over the handlebars of his bike just a mile from their home landed Mike in the hospital with a chipped tooth and a lower lip so badly mangled it required stitches. But despite her worries, Kathy is happy to see her husband undertaking an adventure he’s always wanted to have – and for a good cause.

“He’s crazy,” she says. “I think it’s wonderful. He’s always been an inspiration for friends and myself. He’s got a lot of great energy. He’s a great cheerleader … He really turned (my whole situation) into, ‘You’ve got to celebrate life while you’ve got it,’ and he does that. Mike does that.”

In 2002, Kathy, a 48-year-old registered nurse for Kaiser Permanente, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a disease made up of a group of several closely related cancers that affect the lymphatic system. The cancer isn’t curable and the overall five-year survival rate is only 59 percent, according to the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

Kathy underwent chemotherapy, but was also involved in a two-year clinical drug trial. The treatment worked, and she’s now in remission. However, the same approach did not work for a good friend Kathy met during treatment.

“We just happened to be in the same waiting room and we started talking. He and I were diagnosed at the same time, had the same type (of lymphoma) and his just took a different avenue,” Kathy says. “It’s the same type of cancer and unfortunately, he has not gotten a remission … Mike’s riding for (him) as well.”

And for others in the same type of situation.

Adds Mike, “This type of cancer, it cannot be beat. It will be back and in addition to money for research, hopefully more advances will be made and my wife can use them next time around. We’re ready for the fight.”

This isn’t the first time Mike Mathiasen and Pritchard, who met in the Air Force over 40 years ago, have taken their bikes cross-country. In fall of 2001, they, along with two other friends, biked a more southern route from Huntington Beach to Georgia. It took the men two months to travel the 2,700 miles.

Mathiasen said the two stayed in motels every few days or at campsites when they were available. But oftentimes, they just camped by the side of the road, especially when campsites became scarce as they traveled through Texas and the South.

“We did camp by the road in some pretty odd places … construction sites behind a pile of timbers,” Mathiasen says. “One of the most memorable spots was an abandoned oil drilling site in West Texas.”

The ride took place not long after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which made the journey even more interesting, especially through Texas and the South, where Mathiasen said people were particularly suspicious about the heavily-packed cyclists.

“In East Texas, the police stopped us and wanted to see ID’s,” he says.

But others were very welcoming of the riders, asking if they needed any money or a free meal. Mathiasen recalls one man’s southern hospitality.

“Breakfast was grits with Cheez Whiz,” Mathiasen says. “He said, ‘I’m gonna make you a real Southern tradition,’ and boy, was that kind of heavy for breakfast.”

For the upcoming ride, Mathiasen definitely wanted to go north, so he chose a route that was suggested by a cycling magazine. In the beginning, the trip will lead the Biking Vikings through the Cascades, Rocky Mountains, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota to the Missouri River. Then, the route will take a turn to the Mississippi River, continue across the northern part of Minnesota and to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. At that point, Mathiasen says he and Pritchard will decide if they want to ride south below the Great Lakes through Michigan or north over the lakes into Canada, where they would later drop back into the U.S. in Buffalo, N.Y. The trip will conclude with a tour through the Finger Lakes, the Adirondacks, the Greenback Mountains in Vermont, New Hampshire and finally, Maine.

Whichever route they chose, Mathiasen will take time into account.

“I want to do the trip, but I don’t want to make it a career,” he jokes.

Mathiasen says he’d like to average about 50 miles per day, but that depends on the health of his riding partner. Pritchard, who suffered a minor heart attack after their last trip, recently failed a pre-trip stress test. To be on the safe side, doctors implanted a heart rate monitor and mini defibrillator in his chest. So the focus of the first part of the trip will be to see how much Pritchard can handle. But in the event that his partner won’t be able to continue on bike, Mathiasen said the plan is for Pritchard to continue on by car while he continues to ride.

“I will be riding the whole thing no matter what,” Mathiasen said.

The Biking Viking’s entire trip will be chronicled on their Web site, www.bikingvikingsforacure.com, which will be managed throughout by Mathiasen’s 14-year old niece Abby Duerr. The site, which is already up and running, will keep track of the duo’s progress. An oddball “stats” section will also keep track of hospital visits, falls and road kill.

The site also provides links to the American Cancer Society and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Though Mathiasen says he and Pritchard themselves won’t be collecting money, he hopes people who hear about them will go to the Web site and donate to those two foundations.

At the end of the journey, Kathy plans to meet her husband in Maine. What will they do then? Travel back cross-country, of course.

But this time, it will be by car.

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