Local cyclist heads out on the Big Ride

Published on Thu, Jun 13, 2013 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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Martha McCauley is in it for the long haul – literally.

Since December 2012, the 52-year-old Custer woman has traversed a healthy portion of Whatcom and Skagit counties on her bicycle in pursuit of mileage. To date she’s racked up more than 2,500 miles of pavement on her Salsa Colossal road bike, but in the next seven weeks she’ll more than double that as she joins a team of 14 cyclists who will ride from Seattle to Washington, D.C. as part of the 2013 American Lung Association’s (ALA) Big Ride.

The lung-busting 3,300-mile road trip will test her mettle and every muscle in her body as she crosses the Cascades, 
Rockies, Alleghenies and Appalachians to the Atlantic. It’s the longest ride she’s ever done by far, and most certainly the most demanding, with varying elevations, grueling climbs and soaring summer temperatures, but McCauley is undeterred. “It definitely won’t be a vacation,” she said. “But I’ve done century (100-mile) rides and long distance rides before. I’m excited about it.”
The 48-day ride is a long-deferred dream for the mother of three who works as a science teacher with Home Connections, a homeschooling partnership in Blaine. “I’ve wanted to do this since I was 19,” said McCauley, who is an avid cyclist. “It’s never been the right time until now. Now, my kids are older and don’t need me as much, and I’m in the process of starting a new career. My husband said ‘Go for it. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.’”

Riding with the ALA, she’ll be raising funds for their education, advocacy and research programs – a cause that hits close to home for McCauley. Her father died of emphysema in 2011 after a 10-year battle with the disease. 

“He was a pretty strong fellow other than his lungs,” McCauley said of her father, who was a long-time smoker. “But the emphysema would put him in the hospital at minimum once a year. Sometimes it was three or more times. It eventually consumed him. I knew that if I were able to do this, I wanted to do it for the American Lung Association, because I really believe in what they’re doing to educate people.”

 Founded in 1906, the organization advocates for clean air, works to reduce tobacco use and provides education and funding research for asthma and lung disease. According to the ALA website, lung disease, including asthma, emphysema and lung cancer, is the third leading cause of death in America.

As part of the ride, McCauley and the other riders will also be participating in an ALA clinical study on exercise-induced asthma. “They’ll be learning about how it effects us as we ride at elevation,” McCauley said. “We’ll be monitored the entire trip.”

Endurance foods, padded bike shorts and chamois cream have become commonplace in the McCauley home as she 
prepares for her trip. She’s stocked up on nutrition gels and energy drinks to keep her going on the road since she can’t stomach solid food on the long treks, and her gear is ready to go. 

“My kids even bought me a nice rain jacket so I can stay dry,” she said with a laugh. But it’s no joke. It’s an article of clothing that gets put to good use, because rain or shine, the chartreuse jacket-clad McCauley hops astride her bike, navigates the winding gravel driveway from her home and goes out to build her endurance mile by mile. “It’s the only way to prepare,” she said. “You have to get out on your bike and ride. I even go in the snow. You just layer up and get out there.”

Big Ride riders will typically ride around 80 miles a day on the trip. The first day includes a daunting 3,800' climb from sea level as they best Snoqualmie Pass. “It’s going to be a huge challenge,” McCauley said, acknowledging that the daily mileage increases (she was maxing out at 250 miles a week at her peak) and elevation climbs could be a concern. “If I can just make it through that first day, I know I can do the rest.”

The Big Ride begins on June 17, and riders must raise $6,000 to participate. Close to 60 percent of the funds go directly to the ALA to support research and education while the rest covers the costs of the ride. As of press time, McCauley had raised $4,761 toward her goal.

To donate, or to keep up with McCauley on her blog while she’s on the road, visit marthasbigride.blogspot.com.