Ian Mackay rides his wheelchair to raise awareness for disabled people
Ian Mackay rolled into the Powerhouse Brewery in Puyallup at 7 p.m. Wednesday for a beer with some friends.
He arrived after six hours on bike paths and bike lanes that connect Tukwila to Puyallup. He had been traveling for five days on a trip that began in Anacortes and will eventually take him down to Portland.
Mackay, a quadriplegic from Port Angeles, is making the 11-day journey in his electric wheelchair.
The purpose of his trip, apart from showing what he can do in his wheelchair, is to build awareness for the need for accessible paths and to raise money for nonprofits that support that cause.
It is a trip that will take him down 340 miles of bike lanes and bike paths. He ends every day with a stop at another pub.
“It’s a long day of riding, and I enjoy a craft beer, so I decided I better sample Washington’s finest as I go down the state,” said Mackay, who prefers porters and stouts.
On Thursday, Mackay traveled from Puyallup to McKenna. On Friday, he hopes to go from McKenna to Bucoda in rural Thurston County.
Mackay, originally from San Diego, was paralyzed eight years ago when he crashed his bicycle into a tree while a biology student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. For the first year, he was ventilator-dependent, but now only needs a ventilator when sleeping.
He is able to use his iPhone through its disability settings, which helped prepare him for being on his own for long stretches (someone is always on call). Before his trip, he had gone as far as 30 miles in a day, and met a personal goal to travel 2,000 miles in 2015.
Mackay lives in Port Angeles, so he had to take a ferry to Anacortes to begin the trip. He’s been doing a nightly radio spot for KSQM-FM in Sequim at 6:30 p.m., keeping Clallam County locals updated on his quest. His trip has been paid for by donations from sponsors, and all extra money being raised is going to charity.
Mackay’s mom, Teena Woodward, is along for the trip as his roadie, driving nearby to be there if anything goes wrong and to bring along his other wheelchair, so he can swap them out halfway through each day. The batteries on his chair don’t last long enough for his 30-plus-mile-a-day pace cruising at a top speed of about 7 mph.
“Well, he started talking about this maybe six months ago,” Woodward said. “I said, ‘Really.’ He’s a big talker sometimes. I think he can do anything, and should try.
“I didn’t say anything more about it, hoping he’d forget.”
Woodward also ended up in charge of Mackay’s social media presence, even though she had never been on Twitter before.
“I can hashtag the hell out of anything,” said Woodward, whose phone had 1,168 unread emails on it Wednesday night.
Josh Sutcliffe and Josh Blaustein, Mackay’s caretakers in Clallam County, are biking the whole journey with him as his eyes and ears, because Mackay has limited range of motion in his neck. Their bicycles were stolen overnight Wednesday, but they were able to acquire others.
On Wednesday’s 28-mile journey, Mackay was joined by two of his friends who are also quadriplegic.
Kenny Salvini, 36, of Sumner is hosting Mackay and company for three nights, and he joined Mackay about halfway through the ride.
“I made the mistake of being his friend,” Salvini said. “Best mistake of my life.”
Salvini, who has had to use a wheelchair since a skiing accident 12 years ago, spent about six years as a shut-in, seldom leaving his room, he said.
Meeting someone who was in a wheelchair and thriving changed his outlook. Mackay said the same thing.
The other friend who joined Mackay was Jesse Collens, a 28-year-old from Auburn.
Collens had never gone as far on his own as the 7 miles he went Wednesday since becoming a quadriplegic while mountain biking 7 1/2 years ago.
“I think it’s an amazing thing he’s doing,” Collens said. “I’m kind of jealous, but I’m glad I can take part.”
Collens says it’s difficult to access trails from where he lives, but he nonetheless has set a long-term goal for himself to travel 15 miles in one day on his chair, something his friendship with Mackay has made seem possible.
“He’s one of the most positive people I know,” Collens said. “To do that from a wheelchair is inspiring.”
The heat wave coming to Western Washington this week poses a risk to Mackay, who can no longer sweat to regulate his body temperature. Instead, his support crew is periodically spraying him down with water, and they’ve affixed an umbrella to his chair to keep him in the shade.
Still, Mackay’s face has seen plenty of sunshine and has the glow to show for it. And he is seriously contemplating shedding his 13-year-old light brown dreadlocks, which flow below his knees, because of the heat.
But he rides on, getting closer to Portland, and even closer to another beer.
Find more information about Ian Mackay’s ride to Portland, and see maps of his routes, at iansride.com.
Two bicycles belonging to Ian Mackay’s support crew were stolen Wednesday night outside Kenny Salvini’s Sumner home. One is a black fixed-gear bicycle and the other is a 1980s 10-speed bicycle with a black frame and distinctive lowered handlebars. Anyone with information about the bicycles should call Sumner police at 253-863-6384.