In the early morning hours of April 2, friends Terry Cunningham and Mark Ballock walked their touring bikes to the shoreline of Santa Monica and dipped their wheels into the Pacific Ocean.
Full of excitement and nerves, the duo asked Cunningham’s wife Carol if everything was a ‘go’ for what was to come next.
After getting assurance from their safety and and gear driver, they hopped onto the respectable bikes and started the long journey to their final destination – the Atlantic Ocean.
It was a moment Cunningham never would have imagined 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years ago. But it’s funny, he says, how things change once you fall in love with the bike.
As Cunningham tells it, he never had much of an interest in biking while growing up in Grove City. Sure, he would use it to meet up with friends or to deliver papers around the neighborhood for extra money, but riding a bike was never something he was overly fond of.
And, truthfully speaking, he would always cringe or wince whenever he would see people trying to bike up Mount Diablo with its 3,846 feet of elevation.
“I thought they were nuts,” he said.
But his perspective on biking, and bicyclists in general, started to change when Ballock, whom he met while they were both working with the San Ramon Arts Foundation, commemorated his 50th birthday by biking from Seattle, Wash. to San Francisco, Calif.
According to Cunningham, Ballock gushed about his epic journey and encouraged him to get on the saddle.
Though an avid runner and sometimes hiker, Cunningham was hesitant to pick up the sport. But a few months before his 60th birthday, he decided to go ahead and buy a bike.
“And I’ve been riding and hooked on it ever since,” he said.
Throughout those seven years on the bike, Cunningham has travelled to some wonderful destinations. He has been to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park and Astoria, Ore. And last year, he even biked the Blue Ridge Parkway. But Cunningham and Ballock wanted a greater challenge – to traverse the country on an epic coast to coast trip.
When he told his sister, Carol Jean, of their plans, she says she felt sick to her stomach.
“I was scared to death,” said the Grove City resident.
She said it wasn’t necessarily the distance that made her feel ill, though that did play a factor. She said what really scared her was his eye sight.
“He doesn’t see very well,” she said.
Born with bilateral cataracts, it was only through surgery and then later specially crafted glasses donated by the Lion’s Club that allowed Cunningham to see.
“To this day, riding in a car with him scares me to death,” said Carol Jean.
She asked him to reconsider, but he turned down that request.
He said by that point, it wasn’t just a bucket list item. It was a full on quest to ride and raise as much money for the Lazarex Cancer Foundation as possible.
Like so many out there, Ballock and Cunningham’s lives have been affected by cancer. Though neither have ever had the disease, they have seen friends and loved one diagnosed and sometimes lose their battle with cancer.
For Cunningham, it was his father that lost his battle with lung cancer when he was in his 70s, so he dedicated his ride to him. For Ballock, it was his late father and late wife whom he dedicated his ride to.
With the memories of their loved ones in their hearts and on their minds, the two set out on Route 66 on April 2 to raise money for the non-profit that donates all of their proceeds to help those with advanced stages of cancers access potentially lifesaving treatment.
They were only on the road for three days when they met a woman who was taking her mother who had late stage pancreatic cancer to visit her childhood home in Arizona one last time.
At nearly every stop, Cunningham said, they met someone whose life has been affected by cancer. And at nearly every stop, people offered money to go toward their cause.
“We were in Oklahoma when some motorcyclists from Kansas City came up and asked what we were riding for,” he said. “When we told him, he said that he was a time-time cancer survivor and then proceeded to write a check for $500.”
For Cunningham and Ballock, what began as a ride dedicated to a few people took on a life of its own as they began to ride for those they met on the road, and for the thousands that started to follow their blog and share their own stories of survival and sorrow.
“It was just amazing to me,” Cunningham said, “that amount of support.”
And as they approached Virginia, their last state, on May 28, Cunningham received a call from Carol Jean who told him that their mother, Lauran, had passed away. Though she has been suffering from dementia for some time, their family believes it was an undiagnosed type of cancer that ultimately took her life.
With this news, Cunningham asked Carol Jean if he should put his biking journey on hold to come back to Grove City. She said no.
“I told him to continue on,” she said. “I believe it’s what mom would have wanted.”
With another reminder of what they were riding for, Cunningham and Ballock traversed their last sate in good time. On May 31, 60 days after taking off from Santa Monica, Cunningham and Ballock saw the Atlantic Ocean and dipped their tires in the water.
“We were pretty euphoric,” he said of their accomplishment.
He was ever more in awe when he saw just how much money was raised.
“Over $13,000 and its still growing,” said Cunningham with a big grin.
He said he couldn’t wait for those funds to get into the hands of someone who needed some hope in their lives during their battle with cancer.
Carol Jean, who initially didn’t want her older brother to undertake this journey, said the family couldn’t be more proud of him.
“I’m just relieved it’s over though,” she said.
For now, he added.
“I have some more fundraising trips in mind.”
He said knowing that he and his bike could be helping people and potentially saving lives makes every mile on the road worth the time and effort.
To read Mark and Terry’s blog, visit http://oldspokesoutridingcancer.blogspot.com and re-live their coast-to-coast journey through their eyes and camera lens.