Mainer’s west-east bike trip aids fight against glaucoma

Posted Aug. 26, 2008, at 7:22 p.m.

HOPE, Maine – If you ever want an 18-inch pancake for breakfast but don’t know where to find one, ask Ron Smith of Hope. He’ll direct you to Bergie’s Cafe under the Big Sky on Route 2 in Nashua, Mont.

“It’s just a little place that seats, maybe, 20 people,” he said of Bergie’s.

The 18-inch pancake was but one of the memorable highlights for Smith, 61, on his transcontinental bicycle ride this summer to raise money for glaucoma research.

Smith, who has glaucoma, is a self-styled hermit who lives on top of a mountain, has no neighbors, and says he lives “quite simply.”

A 1964 graduate of Camden High School, Smith is a Vietnam veteran who retired from his job as an electrical instrument technician at the former Champion paper mill in Bucksport 10 years ago. Since his retirement, he has challenged himself at mountain climbing, distance walking and bicycling.

In May he shipped his aluminum Trek bicycle from Rockport to Seattle and flew there from Maine. He left Seattle by bike around May 15 and returned to Hope on the Fourth of July.

His goal was to bike from Cape Flattery, the farthest northwest point of the contiguous United States, to West Quoddy Head in Eastport, the farthest northeast point of the U.S. He arrived back in Hope on July 4 for a picnic with his family and biked on July 6 to West Quoddy Head, returning home July 9 to fulfill his goals for the journey.

Smith traveled the 4,750 miles in 54 days, averaging 89 miles a day. Before he left Maine in May he predicted he would do well to average 50 miles a day.

“I went around the Olympic Peninsula,” he said of the large national park that lies across Puget Sound from Seattle. “I rode around that peninsula before I started east.”

One of the hardest frustrations of his trip was the scarcity of road signs through Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“The route numbers wouldn’t tell you if you were going north, south, east or west, and the signs wouldn’t tell you what the next town was,” he said.

“It’s one thing if you’re in a car, and you’re five miles away — that’s no problem. But when you’re on a bicycle, you start wondering how far it is to the next town,” he said.

“People in Wisconsin told me it was too costly to put all these extra signs up,” he said. “I thought back on how well-identified Maine is on the road.”

He also encountered roads so narrow in Montana that there was barely enough width for his bicycle and a large truck to pass each another.

“There was no shoulder or place to pull over, either,” he said.

Smith said his trip was a success because he raised “thousands of dollars” for glaucoma research. Since the money was sent to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, for which he was riding, he does not know the final figure. Sometimes along the way, people would give him small amounts, which he saved to send in when he got back to Maine.

He calls the disease “the silent thief of sight” because it can be active without symptoms before loss of vision occurs. The disease can lead to blindness, but with treatment, vision can be preserved, according to Thomas Brunner, president of the San Franciscobased Glaucoma Research Foundation.

Now that Smith is home, he no longer has a trip diary on GRF’s Web site, a search engine choice for glaucoma and a national model of Internet accessibility for the visionimpaired. To make a donation, visit http://www.glaucoma.org .

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