Diane Mattens’ trip east was quick.
She hopped on plane at SeaTac and flew across the country in a handful of hours.
The road back was arduous and long as she pedaled 4,295 miles on her bike. The trip, if it can be called that, was a 70 day fundraiser and support-driver for people living with multiple sclerosis.
Mattens, a Freeland resident left Washington in late May and came home Aug. 4. She spent hours upon hours sitting on a bike seat through sweat, rain, wind, sun and flat tires.
“It’s an opportunity to see the United States visually from the saddle of a bike,” Mattens said. “It was also great to meet people along the way that I would never had the opportunity if I was in a car.”
Mattens has lived with multiple sclerosis, an inflammatory disease which damages the nerve cells in the spine and brain, since 1985 — almost 30 years. After she was diagnosed, her father died while on a similar bike ride to raise awareness and money for MS research.
This trek was a tribute to her father, to other people living with the disease and to herself. At 56, Mattens was the oldest member biking the Northwest Tier route of Bike the U.S. for MS. She rode with eight other cyclists from Maine to Seattle, sleeping in tents at campgrounds in 13 states including New York, Illinois and Montana. Along the way, the group also met people diagnosed with MS and did service projects like painting and gardening. During one of the projects, Mattens met a woman who had to use a wheelchair because of MS. The woman, a former runner, told Mattens she discovered a way to run in a pool using pulleys that raised her endorphins enough that she almost felt a “runner’s high.”
“Age shouldn’t be a factor that says, ‘No,’” Mattens said. “I feel in better shape now than I did in my 20s.
“One big message that I really focused on is, ‘Modification.’ Everybody can move, can exercise, can be strong.”
On such a long bike ride, there were plenty of mishaps. She had four flat tires, ended up swapping out the type of tires, replaced the chain and needed new brakes. There was also the time during the third week she was hit by a car — or rather, a truck.
Mattens was pedaling through a small town with the group, all in line one after the other. There was a safe distance between each bike, Mattens said, when a truck turned left in front of her, bumping the bike and throwing her onto the road. The truck kept going and never stopped.
“After that happened, you’re a little shook up,” said Mattens, who had road rash on her hands and knee. “You have to get your composure and get back on the bike, which I did.”
Mattens said she downplayed the incident when she checked in with her husband Dave back on South Whidbey.
As a fundraiser, Mattens had a goal of raising $13,000, which she surpassed with a total amount of $15,591.
Though she said she loved the experience of going coast to coast by bicycle, she doubted she would ever do the Northern Tier ride again. That didn’t exclude other Bike the US for MS routes, however.
“Anybody can do this ride,” Mattens said.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I don’t think I could ever get the time off to do this ride.”