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Saturday, May 25, 2024
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UB alum bikes across New York State to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research

Bob Ryan will ride along the 360-mile Erie Canalway Trail from Buffalo to Albany

<p>UB alum Bob Ryan biked from Buffalo to Albany to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer's.</p>

UB alum Bob Ryan biked from Buffalo to Albany to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer's.

Bob Ryan’s bicycle is equipped with the essentials for a bike tour: panniers filled with clothing, snacks, electronics, camping equipment, a phone mount and a water bottle.

Like many bike tourers, Ryan struggled to ride his bicycle at first with all the extra weight he had to carry.

“Nothing really trains you for riding with all the weight that you’re going to have on,” Ryan said. “Anyone who says that they train with gear — I’m not sure I would believe them.”

Ryan, a UB alum who studied architectural design for two years, became interested in bike touring when his friend, Evan Brigham, shared stories of his tour across Europe. Fascinated by the idea of traveling long-distance with only a bicycle, he wanted to experience the sensation of exploring new sights for himself.

In the summer of 1985, Ryan and Brigham traveled from Montreal to Rhode Island — Ryan’s home state. The 450-mile trip sparked his passion for bike touring and opened his eyes to a future of new possibilities.

“It was an amazing feeling to know that you can carry everything on your bike and be completely supporting yourself and providing your own power,” Ryan said. “So at that time, I made it a goal to myself that I was going to ride my bike across the country one day.”

Three years later, Ryan achieved his dream. Over the course of 88 days, he traveled alone from California to Rhode Island. Ryan recalled the kindness he received from complete strangers, who opened their backyards for him to camp overnight.

Following his achievement, Ryan worked at a local natural food business in Providence, Rhode Island, where he met his future wife, Wendy Gaines. After getting married in 1991, the newlyweds toured the rich history and beautiful landscapes of Europe. A few years later, Ryan took his last significant bike tour along the California coast.

After that trip, Ryan stopped touring and bike riding altogether — until 2019, where he came across the Alzheimer’s Association Ride to End ALZ

The cycling initiative raises money and awareness to advance Alzheimer’s research toward a cure. The cause hit close to home for Ryan; his father-in-law and mother-in-law were both diagnosed with the brain condition.

“It seems like I’m meeting friends all the time who have a parent or a family member who has Alzheimer’s,” Ryan said. “It’s a really tragic disease the way it takes parents away from their kids. Their memory is gone, they’ve got no recollection of who their kids are anymore. It’s just hard on everybody.”

Motivated to take action, Ryan registered for ride events. A year after joining the cause, his father-in-law, Spencer Gaines, lost his battle to Alzheimer’s. Ryan remembers him for his kindness and devotion to family. Gaines always made sure that the whole family could vacation together. 

“The two most passionate things that [Gaines] loved most — other than family — was skiing and golf,” Ryan said. “He built a vacation home out in Deer Valley in Utah, so that all the family could come out there and ski. And he also had a membership at the golf course there, so anybody could golf.”

On Sunday, Ryan began his first long-distance bike tour in years to honor his father-in-law and his friends’ mother, Barbara Eger. Instead of doing a one-day fundraising event in New Hampshire, he wanted to do more for the cause by committing to a multi-day ride from Buffalo to Albany.

This week, Ryan is traveling along the Erie Canalway Trail — a 360-mile trail that runs between Buffalo and Albany. While touring, Ryan takes distance one step at a time.

“The thing with bicycle touring is you don’t always know how much you’re going to do in a day,” Ryan said. “You just make your best guess.”

In preparation for his latest challenge, Ryan vigorously trained by riding 30 to 60 miles three to five times a week.

For his bike tour, Ryan arranged plans to rest by staying with a friend, camping along the trail and using Warmshowers — a nonprofit platform that allows bike tourers to find a host who is willing to offer free hospitality.

Not only is Ryan receiving support from people along the route, but he is also being cheered on by his donors on the sidelines. So far, Ryan has raised over $4,000 for the cause.

“I thank you for supporting the cause, I thank you for supporting my ride,” Ryan said. “I can’t thank you enough for your help in this ride. I hope we can make a difference, that’s my biggest hope.”

Ryan regrets not bike touring more earlier in his life. But he hopes to continue his reforged passion for as long as possible.

“I’m 62 years old, but I can still do this,” Ryan said. “I’m glad I’ve rediscovered it and decided to not let age be a barrier to stop me from doing it again and recognizing a passion of mine.”

Jason Tsoi is an assistant features editor and can be reached at jason.tsoi@ubspectrum.com


JASON TSOI
jason-tsoi.jpg

Jason Tsoi is an assistant features editor at The Spectrum. He is an English major with a certificate in journalism. During his free time, he can be found listening to music and watching films. 

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