I have not been able to write very frequently lately because there is so much going on. Since Feb 25 we have been traveling with 8 people, 2 rvs, and a full size van. We have 4 riders and this morning we picked up one more for about 15 miles.
Since San Antonio (feb 24, 25) we have seen a little of everything. The first day we rode on a narrow highway with no shoulder and a very rough surface, not much traffic which was the saving grace. The next day we started in Bastrop, TX and rode through two parks for 18 miles off the beaten path. We encountered some steep hills in the parks that I could not handle with one leg so Dad or uncle Steve had to jump off and push for a bit. Back on the highway we had another stretch of no shoulder and ended up in La Grange, TX that night. The next day (Feb 27) was full of more hills and shoulderless travel. In the middle of nowhere among grassy grazing land, we came across a guy on a bike heading the other direction. He pulled over to talk and we saw that he had packs on the front and back of his bike, it looked like he was on quite a journey himself. He had started in Ft. Lauderdale, FL and was headed to San Diego. Very nice guy, his name was Dave (not surprising as we have met a total of 9 Daves on this trip so far).
You can read about his journey at http://palmerlandtrust.org/Daves%20Ride/index.html.
That night we stayed in a tiny RV park in Navasota, TX. We circled the wagons to avoid the wind. Wally fired up the bar b q for some incredible barbq chicked and we all sat around and enjoyed the incredibly nice weather.
Side Note:I can not say enough for our support team on this trip. Wally, Mary and Mom have worked tirelessly to find us places to stay, drive us around, and cook for us among many other things. Its crazy to move camp every single day, I don 't recommend it for the leisurely traveler. This trip would not be going as well as it is without this team.
The following day was a short one, 32 miles and we ended up in Conroe, TX just North of Houston.
The Albert B. Alkek Institute of Biosciences and Technology
On March 1 we took a side trip to IBT in Houston where we met a research team who focuses on Friedreich’s Ataxia and other triplet repeat (GAAGAAGAAGAA) diseases. First we met Marek Napierala and Albino Bacolla. Marek and Albino took us on a tour of their lab and tried to explain what they are doing. They did a very good job translating between Science Speak and Lame-o Language.
As I understand it:
DNA is a sequence of codes that tells the body how to make the proteins and other stuff that we need. Messenger RNA decodes the DNA and reads the code. Friedreich’s Ataxia is caused by a long repeat at a certain point in the DNA, the repeat is GAAGAAGAAGAA. If there are too many repeats, the messenger RNA gets confused and does not make the right ingredients for normal operations. This confusion results in a lowered level of the Frataxin protein in people like me. A lack of Frataxin screws with Iron levels in the blood and causes me to spill my Martini and stumble down stairs.
So Marek had an idea a few years ago, he proposed that if they could shorten the number of GAA repeats, they might be able to increase the amount of Frataxin that is produced. This idea is being investigated as a collaboration between this team and two other research teams including the Lab of Joel Gottesfeld who we met at Scripps in San Diego. Marek, Albino please feel free to leave comments to correct me where I failed to get my facts straight.
Side note: That day Marek got word that he would be receiving a generous grant from the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance. He also told us that he recently received a grant from the National Ataxia Foundation. These two grants will fund his projects for the next two years! Also, Marek did not toot his own horn but we found out that he was named Young Investigator of the Year by NAF.
We also met Dr. Bob Wells who started this research institute and is a huge force in the fight against triplet repeat diseases. Bob gave us a brief history of the institute and a signed copy of his book Genetic Instabilities and Neurological Diseases. He assured us that he has the best and brightest working on this problem. Dr. Wells took us to a very nice dinner where I had the best enchilada ever.
Thanks Marek, Albino, and Dr. Wells, we had a great time. We are amazed at what you are doing. Good luck, we are rooting for you!
Yesterday: March 2, 2007
Yesterday at IBT in Houston we met Angela Cloud. Angela’s husband has a type of Ataxia called Spinal Cerebellar Ataxia 1 (SCA1). His family has been devastated by this disease. 2 of his siblings have it and 4 of his nieces and nephews have it. Angela is very interested in finding out all that she can about the disease and she loves to support others as she is one of the lead support group leaders in the area for NAF. Angela is also a cyclist so she met us in Conroe this morning for a ride before she had to be at work. She drove an hour and a half to be with us and rescheduled her appointments so she could ride a bit longer. She rode with us through hilly Conroe for about 12 miles before she had to go.
As we left Conroe, the hills disappeared and we started picking up speed, we hit 20 mph and held that speed, or near it for almost the entire day. Except for a couple flats and a narrow shoulder, we had a stellar day traveling 70 miles.
We are getting into the flat bayou lands. We passed several marshes today and we have started to encounter some of the construction being done to rebuild from the hurricanes. It is hard to find a spot at an RV park because many of the spots are being occupied full time by construction workers.
Today: March 3, 2007
Started in the thriving metropolis of Batson, TX where we left off yesterday. We traveled 30 miles on rough road with no shoulder and stopped for lunch in Silsbee. Though we did not realize it at the time, we were all thinking the same thing: "We pushed a bit too hard yesterday, I am not sure if I can go any further today." However nobody said anything so we continued on. Outside of Silsbee, the shoulder smoothed out and was much roomier. After 40 miles our path took us to the north into the wind and a gradual incline. These two factors slowed us down to about 8-10 mph. Again we all thought "should we call for the sag" but nobody said a word. At 50 miles we were 10 miles away from our destination and at this point we could not throw in the towel, so we struggled through the last stretch and the burning muscles turned into verbal expletives which I will not repeat. During the last 5 miles or so David led the pack and I drafted behind him. This was the first time I had ridden behind a trike and he provided a great draft, I avoided the headwind and saved my legs, thanks David.
It was a struggle, but we made it. Today was officially the most exhausting day so far.
Tomorrow we will finally cross the Louisiana border! We have been in Texas for way too long and I am ready for a new state. We plan to have a nice camp fire and burn all of our Texas maps.
I am lucky enough to have great support from my entire family. My Uncle Steve is here with us for a while and he is actually one of my inspirations for this trip. He has an incredible amount of drive for fitness and pushing his body to the limits. A few years ago his knee stopped working. An X-ray told him that it was worn out and he needed a new one. This was going to be a setback for someone who loves to hike, fish, hunt, mountain bike and who downhill skis at least 50 days a year. However it was inevitable so he went ahead and had his knee replaced. Much pain and physical therapy later he found himself back on his mountain bike riding with a small group of friends in the middle of Nowhere, Montana. Somehow he managed to fall off his bike resulting in a compound fracture of his femur in the same leg that has the fake knee, ouch. So that sent him back to the hospital for a few more metal rods and lots of physical therapy. Years later, his knee will still only bend to about 80 degrees so he had to chop the crank on the left side of his bike so that he can get his crank all the way around (this is where I got the idea to shorten my crank). His drive to do crazy stuff and push himself to the limits remains into his late 50s. He still pushes the young guys on his back country ski trips and it is hard for me not to push myself to the limit when he is riding behind me humming and singing.