Cyclist fights MS with cross-country trek
STARKSBORO — Starksboro resident Katy Blue jokes that her plan to cycle across the country this summer is a “turning 40” thing.
But for Blue, who is, yes, 40, the ambitious adventure to ride alone from Vermont to Seattle is more than a mid-life whim: The cross-country trek makes good on Blue’s long-time dream to see the country, and serves as a tribute to Blue’s father, Bob Blue, who died in 2006 after a 20-year battle with multiple sclerosis, or MS.
After her father’s death, Blue found herself devastated — and angry.
“It made me want to get back at MS, and do what I can to end it,” Blue said. “I want to see a cure found, and I want to make a difference.”
That difference could amount to as much as $50,000 in money raised for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society if Blue reaches her fund-raising goal during the course of her summer ride. She’ll set off on June 1, and spend as much as three months riding into prevailing headwinds as she cycles from east to west through 11 states.
As much as is uncertain about the ride — everything from when and where she’ll stop to the people Blue will meet along the way — there’s one thing Blue never questioned: her ability to one day mount her cycle and set off for the West.
“I’m stubborn. Once I make up my mind to do something, I do it,” she said. “I knew I would make it happen no matter what. It was just meant to be. If I had to sell my house and sell my car and quit my job — whatever it took, I was going to do it. It’s that important to me. This is the most important thing I’ve ever done.”
RIDING AGAINST THE WIND
Blue isn’t fazed that, as she put it, some people are telling her she’s crazy to battle the headwinds. Blue even named her bike “Isis,” after the Egyptian wind goddess.
“Either way you go, you’re going to deal with wind,” she said. “I can handle it. If there’s wind it makes it more of a challenge.”
The wind won’t be Blue’s only challenge: Though an enthusiastic cyclist, the longest ride she’s ever ridden was a 100-mile event last summer.
Come June, she’s hoping to put in anywhere from 50 to 100 miles — a day. She said she knows that the physical challenge will be the biggest one she’s ever faced, but she’s also confident that she’s ready. She spent the winter cycling away in place in her basement, fighting off the boredom of indoor training by parking her bike in front of a television, and she regularly commutes 46 miles round-trip to her job in Burlington.
“It’s very hard on your body,” Blue said. “But I’m prepared for that and I’ve given myself enough time so that if I feel like I need to take a day off, I can do that.”
Blue has been enamored with cycling since 2006, when she moved back to Vermont after a four-year stint in Florida. Her father passed away that year, and she began participating in some of the fund-raising rides for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. By the time a friend gave her a hand-me-down bike, Blue was hooked.
It’s not always easy to jump on her bike, though. Blue joked that because she lives atop a hill in Starksboro, any ride she makes ends with an uphill slog home.
“If I can bike up Big Hollow I can bike up the Rockies,” Blue joked.
In fact, though she knows scaling the Rockies will likely be the toughest stretch of her trip, Blue is most excited about the leg of her trip that will take her through Montana, Idaho and Washington. Aside from a short trip to Nevada, she’s never spent much time in the West.
“I’ve always wanted to see the country,” she said. “Plus I’ve spent the last 20 years working behind a desk, and I just need to break away from that and go crazy.”
FIGHTING BACK AGAINST MS
Blue’s father, Bob Blue, was 57 years old when he died. He was a longtime schoolteacher and songwriter, and was the kind of man his daughter said had a million friends.
As the disease took hold, Bob Blue had to give up his job as a teacher — something he loved dearly. He was eventually confined to a scooter and lost the use of his arms and legs, but he continued to volunteer in classrooms in Amherst, Mass.
“No one could have enjoyed life and had a better attitude than he did,” Blue said. “He enjoyed every day.”
He was also a “brilliant” songwriter, according to his daughter, and wrote more than 200 songs over the course of his life. Blue’s favorite was “Their Way,” a parody of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
“You could give him any subject at all, and he could just sit down and write a song about it,” Blue said. “He just had a gift for that.”
Blue hopes that she can raise $50,000 for the MS Society for her ride. So far, donors have given more than $5,000 directly to the organization in Blue’s honor, and Blue is hopeful that she can earn more as the date of the ride draws closer. She’s been trying to raise funds for a long time, she said, but it’s just now that most people recognize that she’s going ahead with the ride.
“I’m optimistic about it,” Blue said.
ON THE ROAD
A few weeks after Blue sets off, her boyfriend and Mary Hogan Elementary School music teacher Chuck Miller will follow by car. The two will be communicating along the way and will try to meet up along Blue’s route when they can, but Blue knows she’s going to be spending a lot of time alone on the road.
She’s budgeted three months for the ride, though she said if she could complete the ride to Seattle in two she’d consider it a big accomplishment. She’s planning to tow a trailer with a single-person tent, and she’ll be looking for campgrounds as often as she can.
She’s independent, and she’s not worried about those long stretches of time by herself. If anything, Blue is excited about all of the unknowns — the trip, she’s sure, will be an adventure, however it turns out.
And as for Bob Blue, she’s sure her father would be thrilled about the trip.
“He’d love it. He would wish he could go with me,” Blue said. She paused for a moment.
“But I know he is with me.”
Donors can visit Katy Blue’s webpage at http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/bob.blue.
Reporter Kathryn Flagg is at [email protected].