Two years ago, Ian Mackay rode his electric wheelchair from Port Angeles, through Seattle and Pierce County and to Portland to raise awareness for the need for accessibility in the outdoors.
This year, he’s got a bigger mountain to climb — the North Cascades Highway.
The 36-year-old San Diego native will start his journey from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and across Washington on Sunday with hopes of making it to his home near Port Angeles two weeks later.
“Getting over the Cascades is going to be a huge challenge,” he said.
Mackay’s 475-mile, 13-day route comes with about 25,000 feet of elevation gain. But Washington Pass was the best route, in part because state Route 20 sees less traffic than the other available mountain passes.
Snoqualmie Pass wouldn’t work for two reasons, Mackay said: Construction is a complicating factor, and the dirt Palouse to Cascades Trail would be too far from his support van if something went wrong.
Stevens Pass was another option, but, “On the West Side of the Cascades, they call that the Trail of Death,” Mackay said. “There’s a lot of bike deaths in the recent past.”
(His full route, as well as day-to-day breakdowns and options to donate, are available at iansride.com.)
His two wheelchairs can go about 7 miles an hour on flat land and he have a range of about 50 miles per day — on flat ground — thanks to additional lithium batteries attached to the back of his chairs. The batteries are attached with a quick release, so the three bicyclists accompanying Mackay can remove them from the wheelchair if anything goes awry.
Another challenge will be the Eastern Washington heat: because of his quadriplegia, Mackay’s body no longer can regulate its temperature. Fortunately for him, Spokane is forecast to have a high temperature of 84 degrees, a far cry from the 100-plus-degree heat expected there midweek.
“The elevation should give us a little reprieve from the heat,” he said. “There’s a little more shade with the trees up there.”
Mackay’s bicycle envoy will spray him with water periodically to mimic the cooling effects of sweating, and he again will have an umbrella affixed to his wheelchair to help keep him shaded.
Mackay was paralyzed in a bicycle accident a decade ago, when he hit a tree while a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He depended on a ventilator for the first year after his injury, but now uses one only when he is sleeping.
He began to go outside as an antidote to sitting in front of the television all day and found it greatly improved his life. Now, he uses his platform as a way to increase awareness for the need for alternative infrastructure for bicyclists, wheelchair users and other people who don’t drive.
“Really, I’m partnered with the bike community,” Mackay said. “Everything that benefits them benefits me.
“I think, be it moms and strollers, be it bicyclists, be it dog-walkers, I want any alternative infrastructre we can get.”
For what Mackay accomplished with his first multi-day wheelchair adventure — including raising $5,000 for charity — Gov. Jay Inslee named him Washingtonian of the Day, and he was named the 2017 Washington Bikes person of the year.
“I think the first time was seeing if I could do it,” Mackay said. “Now, I want to encourage others, too.”