When my mother, Joan Stokes, was 16 she biked 125 miles in one day on a commuter bicycle. I was 40 before I broke that record. I never had to ask her why she did it. Her personality drove her sense of adventure. She wanted to bike 125 miles, so she did. That sense of adventure was only taken over by her Parkinson’s disease (PD) her last few years.
My mother passed along her love of adventure and cycling to me. It’s in my genes. I grew up in Trowbridge, England, where my mother would pedal with me everywhere. After she taught me how to bike it wasn’t long before I was riding 10 miles to visit my older sister. I would later bike to college every day, snow or rain. I was soon routinely riding 25 miles roundtrip to get to my first job.
As an adult I moved to California. After my parents retired, they enjoyed visiting me and the piers at San Clemente and Oceanside, which reminded them of their English childhood and family vacations to the seaside. We would go on summer adventures to the Grand Canyon, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Nevada. Looking back, I am thankful that the initial years following my mother’s Parkinson’s diagnosis allowed us to still fulfill our wanderlust. These trips inspired my route for “Coast to Canyon,” my 700-mile cycling fundraiser for Parkinson’s. On May 20, I will leave the coast, more particularly one of Mum’s favorite piers, and pedal to the Grand Canyon.
Since breaking my mother’s 120-mile record 10 years ago, a lot has changed. I became an ultra-distance cyclist, taking part in 500- and 1,000-mile races. Unfortunately, over the course of 10 years I also saw my mother change.
Through the lens of a son living 3,000 miles away I saw the disease take over in stages. The first few years it was a slow progression. She lived the life she wanted, complete with multiple trips to California, a 3,000 mile continental road trip and her granddaughter’s wedding in Costa Rica. Years went by of her not being able to walk as far or fast as she wanted, but she remained active. In her last five years, symptoms sped up. The brakes came off in her last two years. She passed away in December 2015.
At Mum’s funeral, my father, Harold Stokes, asked well-wishers to donate to the Parkinson’s community instead of sending flowers. Inspired by my father, my gears were set in motion because I wanted to do more for the Parkinson’s community too, incorporating the one thing my mother and I loved – cycling.
“Coast to Canyon” will be a three-day, 700-mile, roughly 65-hour journey. My goal is to raise $15,000 for the National Parkinson Foundation. My teammate, Didier Ryser, will ride with me. Our support team – my wife, Didier’s wife and a friend – will back us up, keeping us hydrated, iced and alive. I will be riding three bikes: TIME VXR, Specialized S-Works Roubaix and the Felt AR2. Definitely not the commuter bike my mother rode in her youth.
I convinced my father to get some Vitamin D in the California sun for a few weeks before he went back to living with my incredible sister, Gillian. Together, they have been instrumental in promoting my fundraiser. We share the opinion that the more people who know about “Coast to Canyon,” the more people know about Parkinson’s.
I believe the power of movement is a healing force for the mind and body. I wish there was more of an emphasis on movement in the beginning of Mum’s 15-year fight. I am thankful to have the opportunity to take this ride in her honor. This sojourn allows me the opportunity to revisit those family trips I’ve relived hundreds of times, one pedal at a time.
The National Parkinson Foundation is focused on what people with Parkinson’s need to live well today until there is a tomorrow without Parkinson’s. To donate to my Team Hope™ page, please visit parkinson.org/teamhope/coast-to-canyon.