Two-dozen bicyclists stopped in Havre Monday, a thousand miles short of the end of their cross-country trip, to help two families, as part of their dual purpose to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis and to help people with the disease.
Don Fraser, working with part of his team to help paint at the house of Cheryl and Bob Florea, said the stop-and-work in Havre was just another point along the two-and-a-half month trip.
“On May 28, we left Bar Harbor, Maine, and our last day is Aug. 4, when we’ll arrive in downtown Seattle and stop at the waterfront, ” said Fraser, the founder of Bike the U. S. for MS.
The group raises money for research on and treatment of MS, as well as for projects to help people with the disease.
Fraser said part of that is the cyclists stopping along their routes to do work — along with painting at Florea’s house east of Havre, nine others from the group of 23 cyclists helped Havreite Linda Strong clean her house — and also to raise money to hire professional contractors to do work for other people with MS.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system, which can lead to permanent disability and even death, according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control.
Part of the money raised on the routes goes to the James Q. Miller MS Clinic in Charlottesville, Va., to help pay for research and for treatment of patients.
According to a release last week, the cycling organization already has raised more than $175,000.
Fraser was inspired to start the fundraiser and awareness trips in 2007 by his mother, who suffers from MS, and hopes to help the 400,000 Americans now diagnosed with the disease, and the 200 more diagnosed each week.
The northern route along U. S. Highway 2, the run Fraser took in 2007, is one of three this year. Another runs through the middle of the country, from Yorkstown, Pa., to San Francisco, Calif., and the third runs along the West Coast, from Seattle to San Diego.
The cyclists have to raise pledges to ride on tours — Fraser said each of his team members had to raise $1 per mile for the 4,295-mile trip.
Donations can be made on the Bike the U. S. for MS website at www.biketheusforms.org by visiting the profiles of the cyclists themselves.
The team on the northern route left Malta Sunday to come to Havre, and planned on camping at Joplin Monday night.
Cheryl Florea could not be at the house when the work was being done — her husband said she has been diagnosed with cancer and was at treatment Monday. He said her MS is fairly well under control right now — Cheryl Florea was diagnosed with the disease about five years ago — and he hopes the research will continue to allow doctors to slow its progression down, until a cure is discovered.
“There seems to be a lot of people with it, and we don’t know why, ” he said.
He said the help of the cyclists around his house is greatly appreciated.
“They are doing more in one day than I could do all summer, ” Florea said.
Linda Strong also appreciated the help. The cyclists were helping her clean house, something with which she has trouble because the disease has affected her sense of balance. It is difficult to get down to clean floors and baseboards, she said.
“My worst problem is the floor, ” Strong said.
Strong said she was diagnosed about 10 years ago and is receiving treatment.
She said she was surprised that the team was only working on two houses Monday. Strong said she knows of at least 58 people with MS between Chester and Malta.
Fraser said the group contacts local and national multiple sclerosis organizations to find projects while they are en route.
“We’ll be through next year on the same day, ” he added.
The group traveling through Havre was from a wide range of the country — a large contingent were from Carbondale, Ill., others from places like Miami, Tampa and Tallahassee, Fla; Gridley, Calif. ; Blacksburg, Va. ; and one a transplant from Wales now living in Shelburne, Vt.
Brandon Kotek of St. Paul, Minn., said he found out about the fundraising bike trip on Facebook and contacted Fraser to find out more.
“I wanted to find a support group doing a cross-country trip, ” he said during a break from painting the Florea house. “Something for a good cause.
“It is a good time, ” he added. “Everything is just beautiful. ”
He said the group has been camping 95 percent of the time — sleeping in a hotel in Havre Sunday was a treat — and is looking forward to biking through Glacier National Park.
Kotek said the support is tremendous. People are picking up the cyclists’ tabs in diners, offering use of showers and laundry facilities — one man in Illinois brought them pizzas and pop.
“All of the people in all of these towns are so generous, ” he said.