HOMETOWN COVERAGE CHRONICILING OUR PURSUIT

Cyclist will log 3,500 miles on charity ride

KEN HOFFMAN

Courtesy photo

David Baldwin is riding across the country raising money for The Center. He’s writing a blog about each day’s ride, complete with videos and funny stories. Follow along at pursuitride.org.

Sometimes doing the right thing can be a big pain in the butt.

Houstonian David Baldwin is riding his bicycle across America to raise awareness — and $13.5 million — for The Center, the largest facility in Texas serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Baldwin is about a quarter of his way across the United States.

Guess which part of his body hurts the most?

“My butt hurts something awful,” he said. “I’m putting all sort of creams and stuff on it, but the only thing that helps is sitting in an ice bath for 20 minutes every night. That’s painful, too, but it gets me back on the bike the next morning.”

Baldwin is 53. “I’m a fat, slobby-looking old man. I am in no way, shape or form supposed to do a journey like this,” he said.

So whatever possessed this engineer-turned-investor to jump on a bicycle and pedal 3,500 miles from Oregon, over mountains, across prairies and through big cities, to Delaware? That’s 25 MS150s back-to-back, never missing a day.

“My wife Maire and I have been associated with The Center for about 25 years,” Baldwin said. “We don’t have children. When we made that decision, we knew we wanted to get involved in an organization that helps people. We picked The Center, which services people with cerebral palsy, autism and Down Syndrome. We’ve done everything from paint bathrooms, to board work to organize fund-raisers. It’s been the best experience of our lives.”

He wanted to do “something more substantial.” About a year ago …

“I was lying in bed, stressing out because The Center was facing some serious funding problems. I went for a short bike ride and it became clear to me, ‘This is it! I’ll ride my bike across America to raise money.”

Maire Baldwin, an economist, is joining him for some of the ride.

He already has raised $12 million toward his goal of $13.5 million. That will help The Center buy the land it sits on, erase its debt and stash afew million in the bank to keep it operating for many years. The Center services 500 people, with 300 living on its campus. The Center is legal guardian to 65 people.

“I can’t imagine — or allow it to happen — The Center not being there to help these people and their families who have trusted us,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin started his journey in Astoria, Oregon, on June 6. He plans to dip the front tire of his bike in the Atlantic Ocean in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on Aug. 3.

He is not riding alone. About 350 volunteers are supporting the ride, with 75 of them riding along with him on different stages. He usually has three or four people pedaling in front to break the wind. He has a decked-out motor home — bedroom, kitchen, video editing room and barbecue grill on the back — along for the ride. Country music stars would be envious.

A mobile bike shop is trailing him in case of mechanical breakdown or flat tires.

The mobile home is splashed with the logos of 45 corporate sponsors like a NASCAR racer. Bike Barn loaded up the trailer with tools, bicycle parts and emergency gear.

Baldwin is riding a custom-designed Trek bike with front and back shock absorbers. He paid for the bike, so it wouldn’t come out of money targeted for The Center. He’s doing this ride on the cheap as much as possible.

Trek Travels arranged his route, keeping Baldwin off major highways, and on roads with safety shoulders.

“They didn’t pay any regard to mountains and steep inclines, which disappointed this old guy,” Baldwin laughed.

Asked if he’s encountered mountains yet, Baldwin said, “That’s all we’ve encountered!”

A few days ago, he endured the Teton Pass in Wyoming. Some of the hills were so steep, it was like riding straight up a wall. He will face the Continental Divide — twice. Then there’s the Rocky Mountains.

Baldwin is writing a blog about each day’s ride, complete with videos and funny stories. Follow along at pursuitride.org. You can pedal along vicariously by visiting The Center at 3550 West Dallas near downtown. They have a room, called “Mission Control,” with stationary bikes and large screens showing video of Baldwin’s ride from the previous day.

Baldwin will visit with organizations across the country that service disabled adults.

“I want to bring back their best ideas, so we can implement them and do things better for our clients in Houston,” he said. “That’s one of the original purposes of this journey.”

So far, problems have been few: sore muscles, one flat tire and one idiot in an 18-wheeler who sideswiped Baldwin into a ditch. The team is using super-thick heavy tires to avoid flats.

Baldwin and his support team are eating half their meals picnic-style outside the mobile home. They’re stopping at small-town cafes and ice cream shops for lunch and snacks.

“The best things we’ve eaten so far were a calzone in John Day, and some huckleberry ice cream in Swan Valley, Idaho,” Baldwin said.

The huckleberry is the state fruit of Idaho.

Baldwin weighed 196 pounds in Oregon. He was down to 189 in Wyoming,

“I’m burning between 5,500 and 6,500 calories a day. When the team goes to dinner, we order two of everything. One of the volunteers is a nutritionist. She’s drilled into my head that I have to eat right for this to work. I’m learning,” he said.

There always has to be a spoil sport.

Each day’s ride begins with a group meeting and safety check. He’s riding different distances, depending on inclines and weather. He’s not riding at night. As his journey rolls on, Baldwin will pass through Yellowstone National Park, Minneapolis, Madison, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., where several events with organizations similar to The Center are planned.

“I’m going to make it, and I know I’ll be emotional when I reach the end,” he said. “I can assure you that I’ll have tears in my eyes. I may have to walk my bike up some of the mountains, but I’ll finish. To think I would let The Center down, and not give my best — I couldn’t do that.” ken.hoffman@chron.com Twitter: @KenChronicle