On August 10, 2017, Craig Spiezle set out to ride his bike more than 3,800 miles from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, to raise money for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, a mental illness that affected his father and family. With 20 other riders (each with their own purpose for riding) and a few guides, the plan was to make their way across the country in 47 days, averaging about 95 miles a day. On day three, Spiezle was hit by a car.
“I was on Route 30 coming out of Portland. It’s a beautiful scenic road, but doesn’t have much of a shoulder. The woman saw me but couldn’t pass without going over the center, so she effectively ended up taking me out.”
In a bizarre turn of events, the woman stopped at first but ended up fleeing the scene when she realized, according to Oregon law, she was in the wrong. The next day she was arrested after returning to the scene and was eventually charged with two felony counts, including hit-and-run. Spiezle was OK, but suffered some severe scrapes on his arm, wrist and hips and took some hard overall impact to the body. Although initially an emotional event for him, Spiezle was quickly able to see the silver lining.
“The support was extremely positive, and oddly enough tied back to the fundraiser. Two news stations came to interview me because they had heard about it through the police department. I had my jersey on for Alzheimer’s, and what happened was an unanticipated number of people approached me to share very personal insights,” he says. “There were total strangers, in a nonjudgmental way, sharing their pain and guilt as a caregiver. I didn’t plan to have that experience, literally people hugging me and crying and talking.”
In the moments when he decided to keep riding after the accident, Spiezle thought a lot about his own dad.
“When that woman did that, I thought about how to respond, and my first reaction was to use a few four-letter words. But I thought about my father, and he never would have done that,” Spiezle says. “I remembered life is full of setbacks, whether professional or personal, but they make you stronger and can help you strengthen your resolve. It’s healthy to have ups and downs.”
Relunctantly, Spiezle took a brief 10-mile respite in the van but then was back on the bike within the hour to complete the miles that day. Although the story of his accident didn’t necessarily follow him across the country, the overwhelming theme of connecting with people remained for every single mile. Whether he was riding through small towns in South Dakota, Wisconsin and New York or through Amish country in Ohio, people seemed to come out of nowhere to give donations and make their own personal connection.
“It was really something. I took some time to self-reflect, and I did a little riding by myself by design. You learn a lot about yourself on these trips and how you can make a difference. That was a big thing for me,” Spiezle says.
As of late November, Spiezle raised more than $13,500 for the Alzheimer’s Association, but every time he reaches a goal, he sets the bar higher. “Now I’m trying to hit $15,000.” As the managing partner at AgeLight LLC, he has since gone back to his day job, consulting for large companies and government agencies about internet security. But he thinks about doing another ride every day.
“I would do another ride in a heartbeat. I’m open to ideas, so anyone can invite me along.” He laughs. “I’d like to get my wife, Liz, involved, too. She was so supportive throughout the whole thing. That was really important.”
Spiezle says the lessons he learned were innumerable. For instance, on his next ride he resolves to go a little slower, take more time to see the surroundings. But for the most part, he’s happy with how he finished, and happier with the confidence it gave him in his ability to contribute to a cause in a meaningful way.
“It wasn’t just for my dad; it was for everyone dealing with the disease. It was for the families and the impact it has on them. I think that was my biggest takeaway—hearing the stories.”
To read more about Craig’s journey or to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association, visit rideacrossamericasite.wordpress.com.