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Coast-to-coast bike ride gives farmer ‘peace of mind’ after accident

Kevin Miller | BDN
Kevin Miller | BDN
Lee Kayhart, far right, stands with his wife, Pat, as well as friends Bob and Terri Rohde on the Bar Harbor boat ramp on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011, not long after completing a coast-to-coast bike ride. Lee Kayhart, of Addison, Vt., lost both arms in a farming accident more than 25 years ago but never let the loss stop him from achieving things, his wife said. The couple rode a 3-wheeled recumbent bike retrofitted to allow Lee Kayhart to shift gears, steer and brake with his prosthetic arm and hook. They said Sunday that they plan to fly back across the country this time, however.
By Kevin Miller, BDN Staff

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Lee Kayhart faced many daunting questions in the immediate aftermath of a 1984 farming accident that claimed both of his arms, not the least of which was how he could operate a tractor and other equipment on his Vermont dairy farm.

Yet looking back more than a quarter-century later, Kayhart also remembers a recurring dream about riding a bike, a dream that he could neither explain nor entirely forget.

He never gave up on farming and retired only recently. And while it would take years before he would ride a bike again, Kayhart, his wife and close friends completed a feat on Saturday that few other cyclists can claim: a coast-to-coast ride.

“Right now, the whole thing seems kind of surreal,” Kayhart said late Saturday morning, not long after wetting the tires of his modified tandem bike in the salty waters of Bar Harbor. “I know we’re done, but it seems like a dream.”

Their cross-country journey began roughly 3,700 miles and 80-plus days ago on the coast of Washington when Lee and Pat Kayhart as well as Bob and Terri Rohde and Rick Meyer set out from Puget Sound. Of course, the bigger journey began after the 1984 accident on his Addison, Vt., farm during which a piece of farming equipment took both of his arms.

“I have some peace of mind now that my purpose is to be an example for other people,” said Kayhart, a warm and friendly man at ease answering questions about his unusual bike or his physical disability. “Basically, life isn’t perfect. You have challenges in life but you can still have a very satisfying, happy life. I have tried to live my life that way.”

A lifelong farmer, he learned to adapt with the help of one prosthetic arm equipped with a hook. Writing in an online journal about their cycling adventure, Pat Kayhart described her husband of more than 40 years as “an amazing, positive individual” who never says never, whether in farming or enjoying life.

“He never considered a different occupation,” she wrote. “He just needed to learn how to farm with no arms. Just a challenge, not a problem.”

The cycling expedition’s roots extend back to 2008 when Lee Kayhart saw Terri Rohde cruise by his motor home on a “recumbent trike,” a three-wheeled bike in which the rider sits in a seat inches off the ground with the pedals stretched out in front.

Lee, who had ridden a conventional bicycle but never felt stable, approached Bob Rohde about the trike and soon the two men were ordering Lee his own. They worked with the shop owner and staff to adapt the bike to allow Kayhart to shift gears, brake and steer.

As their friendship deepened, the two men began discussing and eventually planning a coast-to-coast ride, which Bob Rohde said was always on his “bucket list” of must-do things in life. The plan evolved further when Pat Kayhart, who was never a serious cyclist, expressed interest in pedaling cross-country rather than driving their RV.

The couple purchased a two-person or tandem bike made by Greenspeed. After some trial and error, the bike was retrofitted with a new hydraulic braking system, electronic gears that shift with a push of a button and new steering to allow Lee Kayhart — the more experienced, long-distance rider — to drive the trike.

As long as a small car and weighing about 80 pounds without riders or equipment, the bike wasn’t always fast or easy to power up mountains. The group encountered all types of weather, mechanical problems, bumps, bruises, dog bites, cars and other challenges.

Throughout the trip, Terri Rohde drove the support vehicle and served as cook, navigator, planner or served any other role as they pedaled and camped their way across what they call the “northern tier” of the U.S.

“We’ve had so many neat experiences, you and I would be here for a week,” Lee Kayhart said in an interview. “The one thing I will say is we met a lot of really great people. There are some wonderful people in this world.”

On Saturday, the scenic waterfront of downtown Bar Harbor was largely hidden by fog thick enough to obscure a massive, seagoing cruise ship moored a few hundred yards offshore. But the fog and steady mist did not dampen the mood as the group — after finishing off a celebratory bottle of bubbly — posed for pictures and talked with curious onlookers and bikers eager to learn about the Kayharts’ unusual ride.

Several friends who had seen the group off in Washington were in Bar Harbor to witness the official finish. The group planned to return to their campground before leaving Sunday for Arizona.

If Lee Kayhart’s physical limitations presented challenges during the trip, they are rarely, if ever, mentioned in the group’s online journal entries. Instead, the entries read like seemingly any other journal written by close friends on a journey of both group- and self-discovery.

Pat Kayhart had to overcome her own doubts, pains and bad days as she undertook the first true, long-distance bike ride of her life. But as Kayhart told her granddaughter recently, “It’s all about a positive attitude, determination and a stick-to-itiveness,” she said.

A religious man, Lee Kayhart credits God with sparing his life back in 1984. He credits that higher power, his wife and his friends with helping him achieve this latest goal.

“Life is good. God is good. Friends are good,” he said. “You can’t have too many friends.”

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