What did you do on your summer vacation?
It's a standard question posed during the first day of school to help break the ice and get reacquainted. As both Pat and Tanya Roberts are teachers in the , they will undoubtedly have a great story to tell both their students and colleagues. As will their 15-year-old son Riley who is starting his freshmen year at Enumclaw High School.
The family of three embarked on a 34-day cycling journey this summer that took them from the Canadian border in Washington to the Mexican border in California, all in an effort to raise funds and awareness for a debilitating disease that has affected their family.
Tanya's father Jerry Arnett was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), three-and-a-half years ago. For him, the disease first affected his foot before spreading to his leg and it's now affecting his speech, she said.
It's an isolating disease, said Pat, because though it affects a person's physical abilities, their mind stays sharp.
That was why this summer adventure held so much meaning for her family, said Tanya, because not only were they raising funds in support of research and services for ALS patients, their efforts were being tracked by a growing following via social media and it gave a way for her father to see just how many people were supporting him through his family, as he battled the disease.
As educators, Pat admitted he was quick to dismiss Facebook, but Tanya found it became a useful tool to keep friends and family informed on their progress. At least that's where it started.
"Her parents thought I was crazy for suggesting this ride," Pat said, so it was helpful to be able to reassure them they made it to their destination each night.
The nature of the Facebook platform also turned their regular updates into near two-way communications; people were offering words of encouragement and support, and during days when the family faced rain, headwinds and general bad luck with flat tires and even a crash or two, they helped to sustain them and get them through the next day, Tanya said.
As days passed, more people were checking out her updates, and her entries were averaging between 15 to 20 comments each, Pat said. They were, in fact, developing a following, and though it put some pressure on Tanya to produce engaging and interesting information each day, their online fan club also enabled more people to learn about their journey and motivation, and that affected their fundraising abilities directly. They have exceeded their fundraising goal of $5,000 by $2,071 and received 10 anonymous donations to date via their fundraising page -- two such unnamed donations were a hefty $200 each.
A Family Adventure
As a PE teacher at , Pat enjoys being physical, so long journeys like this weren't new to him. In fact, he biked this same route 20 years ago alone.
It was that memory that spurred this idea for a family adventure in the first place. "I thought it would be cool to do it as a family," he said.
Their son Riley wouldn't take too much convincing, though Pat said he knew Tanya, a first grade teacher at , would need a good reason to do it. Both had proven previously they could handle the physical demands of the journey in a two-day bike ride, also in support of ALS awareness.
Tying this trip to a fundraising effort that was near and dear to her heart, then, was the way to go. "It had such a purpose to it," she said, "and it made the whole trip so much more meaningful."
While the overarching reason for the trip was a good one, Tanya couldn't quite forgive her husband's fuzzy memory of how hard the journey would be -- especially as they pertained to hills. "He said, 'oh, it's relatively flat with a few hills here and there,'" she said. "It's all hills."
Pat admits he's forgotten most of the bad parts from when he first tackled the route 20 years ago. He was 20 years younger, he pointed out, and 20 pounds lighter. "I didn't remember as many hills," he said. "The geology's changed apparently and these hills just sprouted up along the way."
For Tanya, the hills, the inclement weather and treacherous traffic conditions they sometimes encountered were the worst parts of the trip. The first four days they headed south from Blaine, Wash., were rainy and miserable, she recalled, and she was mentally down.
Son Riley, however, proved to be the group's optimist. "He was the most positive of all of us," she said.
The family averaged about 50 miles a day and rested in the evenings either at state park camp sites or motels. They carried their supplies with them on their bikes, and there were no sag wagons that accompanied them to provide relief. "It'd be like cheating," Pat said.
They traveled mostly along U.S. Route 101 in Washington and Oregon into northern California before switching over to the coastal State Highway 1 all the way to Los Angeles. The group's only break from their bikes was a 40 mile stretch that spanned Los Angeles as Pat deemed the area too treacherous for his family to tackle. They got a ride to just south of Los Angeles and resumed their bike ride all the way to the Mexican border on day 34.
To celebrate, the family flew to Costa Rica for an actual vacation before returning to Enumclaw earlier this month.
For Tanya, the best part of the experience was the "support we got from people, the encouragement," she said. "Raising the money, and it was neat for my dad to see on Facebook: every night he'd see the posts and the support that was out there."
For Pat, the opportunity to repeat something he did 20 years ago was great but by no means comparable to the first time. "It was 100 times harder than when I did it last time," he said, now worrying not just for his own well-being but that of his family as well.
The trip was well worth it, however, because in addition to raising money for a worthy cause, "I was experiencing something that's truly a once-in-a-lifetime adventure with my family," he said. "Most things that are worthwhile are hard. We were seeing things most people don't get to see."
Giving son Riley something to look back on and appreciate was another favorite for Pat about this trip. At 15, Riley thinks it's cool that he rode his bike from border to border this summer, but his parents say they don't think the significance of it has quite hit him yet.
In raising their son, Pat said he wants to be able to give his child these kinds of meaningful memories of doing something good with his family. Hopefully, "later, he'll realize that he did something special," said dad.
Mom's in charge of deciding next summer's adventure, and it may lean more toward 'vacation' than 'adventure.' Regardless, "I don't think we'll ever be able to top this," she said.
Support the ALS Association
Because the Roberts set up their fundraising project with the ALS Association, the funds they raise go directly to them to support both research as well as immediate services the association provides for patients such as equipment and accessibility, said Tanya.
You can continue to donate to the Roberts on their fundraising page at http://web.alsa.org/site/TR?px=2160661&fr_id=7531&pg=personal. Or for more information about ALS, the association, events, care services or support, visit the ALS Assocation website at http://webwa.alsa.org.
By the Numbers
3: States biked through
34: Days it took to complete the journey
1,670: Miles traveled
7,071: Dollars raised
Editor's Note: Pat is in the process of moving Tanya's Facebook updates over to the family blog at robertsfamilyride.blogspot.com. Relive some of their best and worse moments with them and check out some great pictures of the scenic west coast of the United States while you're at it.
Were you following the Roberts family on their journey this summer? How have they inspired you? Tell us in the comments below.