On Friday June 17th, a biker began his 3,811-mile, cross-country journey from Seaside to New Jersey in support of a cure for rare kidney disease.
At 11 a.m. on June 17, Will Kleemeier performed a wheel dipping ceremony in front of the End of Trail Lewis and Clark Statue in Seaside, OR, to mark the start of his venture from Seaside to Ocean City, New Jersey.
Kleemeier will bike an average of 65 miles daily, following maps provided by the Adventure Cycle Association, a nonprofit bicycling organization with 54,000 members.
The maps include information on campsites and different lodging along with rest stops.
“I’m not creating a route from scratch. I’m using something developed by bikers for bikers, so I know it’s going to be safe,” Kleemeier said.
Kleemeier, a native Pennsylvanian, suffers from a rare, incurable condition known as Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD).
“I was living a normal life,” Kleemeier said. “When I was 40, my mother talked to me and my siblings and said, ‘I have something called Polycystic Kidney Disease. It’s a hereditary disease. I recommend that you guys get checked out.’
“At 40, I got checked out. I went to a nephrologist (who) specializes in PKD, and they did an ultrasound. We talked about my family history, which up until that point, I knew very little about, but we determined that I had Polycystic Kidney Disease at 40.”
PKD is difficult to spot, and people often don’t know they have it, according to Kleemeier.
“People that have it start developing cysts when they’re young, and they just don’t know it,” Kleemeier explained. “They continue to multiply and increase in size until your kidney function has declined so dramatically, you either need to go on dialysis or get a transplant.”
Kleemeier said he was in denial until the symptoms began to affect his life.
“After a couple more years, my blood pressure went way out of control,” he said. “That’s when I started doing research on the disease myself and determined that I need to take this more seriously: alter my lifestyle, exercise more, eat healthier, and just be better, you know, more conscious of it.”
PKD impacts more than 600,000 Americans, according to Pedaling for Kidney Disease, a website Kleemeier founded in his efforts to raise community awareness for PKD.
“As a quiet and private individual, sharing was a difficult decision for me,” he writes. “But I now freely discuss my journey with others, and the Pedaling for Kidney Disease fundraiser is a continuation of this discussion.”
The bike route Kleemeier will follow passes through several states, including Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
The journey will take approximately 318 hours from start to finish, according to trip details provided on Kleemeier’s website.
“My first route had to change because I was going to go through Yellowstone Park,” Kleemeier said. “It’s closed indefinitely, (but) I knew that in Missoula I (could) go straight east.”
While Kleemeier has trained rigorously for the multi-day journey, he admits he cannot prepare for every contingency.
“I’ve trained enough to really pay attention to my body to know whether or not I need to rest or bike a little slower, and some of the things that are actually going to be challenging for me in Pennsylvania I was not able to do,” he said. “I was able to duplicate hills, but I was not able to duplicate the altitude. I have to take (the challenges) as they come and then make plans when I reach that point.”
Of all Kleemeier’s reasons to set off on a 3,811-mile bike ride, he said he hopes “for more people to become aware of this disease.”
“Whatever funds I raise, hopefully, it can accelerate finding a cure because I have three sons, and there’s a 50/50 chance that one of the sons might have the disease,” he said. “If there’s no cure for me, maybe they can find a cure for the next generation.”
You can track Kleemeier’s cross-country travels through his website www.pedalingforkidneydisease.org or Peddling for Kidney Disease on Facebook.
To arrange a ride-along with Kleemeier in a show of solidarity and support, email email@example.com.