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NIH Record

Fundraiser for Lung Association
Shalizi Embarks on Cross-Country Bike Tour

By Rich McManus

Unlike most of us, Ary Shalizi, a 22-year-old pre-IRTA fellow in the dental institute, knows exactly where he will be every moment of the period June 15 to Aug. 1. That's because he's got pavement duty, big time. The Big Uneasy -- a cross-country bicycle trip from Seattle to Washington, D.C., via the blue highways, not the interstates.

If a crow were to undertake the journey, it would flap for 2,329 miles. Obliged by geography and road availability to take a more circuitous route, Shalizi will pedal, with about 1,000 other folks participating in The Big Ride, an American Lung Association-sponsored fundraiser, for at least 3,000 miles.

Ary Shalizi is now pedaling from Seattle toward the Mall in downtown Washington, the terminus of a cross-country fundraising bike tour designed to raise $6 million for the American Lung Association. His first trip across the U.S. "may well be my only time," he said.

The ALA cheerfully describes the event as "47 stress-free, office-free days," for which entrants pay a $150 registration fee and also commit to a marathon nearly as grueling as the tour itself: each rider must secure -- from friends, family, whomever -- $6,000 in donations to the ALA. To prepare for this stressless block of time, Shalizi has ridden a clumsy mountain bike to work for the past 6 months and trained in the NIH Fitness Center when the weather's been too foul for biking.

"I ride every day, usually about 25 miles," he said. "On weekends, I add more miles. Basically, I need to get used to being on a bike for 6 hours a day."

A graduate of Oberlin College who majored in neuroscience, Shalizi grew up just across Cedar Lane from NIH. His mother works in an NICHD laboratory. "She's the reason both my brother and I ended up in the sciences," says Shalizi. "Sometimes she would take us to work with her, and to keep us occupied she'd make us do protein titrations."

He went to the Barrie School, a small, private high school in Silver Spring, which is where he adopted cycling as a pastime. "They had a Travel Week every spring, where the students took trips with the teachers," he recalls. "There was a 5-day Pennsylvania bike trip through Amish country, which I did every year I was there." Shalizi's longest bike ride so far -- 70 miles -- came during a Multiple Sclerosis Bike-a-thon during high school.

A pedaler for the past 9 years, Shalizi says, "I always wanted to bike cross-country." He saw a full-page advertisement for The Big Ride last year in the Weekend section of the Washington Post and decided to sign on. Only 10 riders from the D.C. area joined the tour, he said. "There must be a lot [of riders] from California."

Participants must arrange to get their bikes, tents and supplies out to Seattle in time for the tour; Shalizi left NIH on May 29 and flew to Seattle on June 12. "Luckily, I don't have to carry any equipment during the ride," he said. A truck carrying bikers' tents and food will trail the pack daily. Each rider is expected to complete an average of 80 miles each day. The course for each day is open for 10 hours. Cyclists who overachieve and reach the endpoint early can rest; stragglers who don't complete a segment are swept up by a sag wagon.

"It will be sort of a moving tent village," said Shalizi. Every seventh day, a rest stop is planned, usually in a college town -- Madison, or Missoula, for example -- that can accommodate an influx of migrant fundraisers. Breakfast and dinner each day are arranged by the tour management company, the same one that organizes AIDS rides, Shalizi noted. Riders are on their own for lunch, except on those desolate stretches where there are no restaurants.

Shalizi, a 22-year-old pre-IRTA fellow at NIDR, shortly before his big-time pavement duty for charity.

"I'm pretty sure I'll lose weight during the trip," predicted Shalizi, who already disappears within his baggy attire, "or at least it will be rearranged."

Corporate sponsor GTE will donate free telephone and email access to the riders, so they can stay in touch with family and sponsors. Those who drop out of the ride face a strong disincentive -- they must find their own way home.

"I'm pretty sure I'll stay with it," said Shalizi. "After all, every day when we start again, I'll be headed back home anyway."

At NIH since October 1996, Shalizi hopes to return later this summer to a job as a biologist at NIDR. He plans eventually to attend medical school.

Just before leaving the security of home and campus last month, he confessed to some fears. "Am I scared? Definitely. It's a long trip. It's so far. I haven't ridden consistently, 6 hours a day for 7 weeks. It's going to be like a job -- 'Ride your bicycle!'"

His family is concerned, but supportive. "At first they thought I was completely insane, but they've gotten used to it. They're proud I'm doing it, but they still think it's a little crazy."

Weather's not a worry because he rode all winter to work. What scares him is the possibility of an accident. Two months ago, he was hit by a car that turned, without signaling, in front of him. "It knocked me down, but the bike was hurt more than I was," he said. "But I'm not too worried this time -- I'll have a kind of living cushion around me."

Shalizi splurged on a new touring bike for The Big Ride (see first photo). He's on it now, coming home. The long way.

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