Tom Baltes is in the midst of an epic journey against arthritis.
The 61-year-old Camas resident is riding 4,260 miles on his bike across the United States, raising awareness and funds for the National Arthritis Foundation.
As his legs endure consecutive days of 100 mile rides, he will undoubtedly think of his sister, Pam and brother, Ken, who are affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
This chronic inflammatory disorder typically impacts the small joints of the hands and feet. It also affects the lining of joints, causing painful swelling that can result in bone erosion and joint deformity.
Baltes has mild osteoarthritis, but that isn’t stopping him from cycling and setting a goal of raising $30,000 to combat the disease, as well as spread the word about Volkssporting, an international walking, biking and swimming program. Baltes serves as the president of the Vancouver USA Volkssport Club.
“It can be very beneficial for arthritis sufferers and healthy people, too,” he said. “As I leave on this journey, I am looking forward to the opportunity to connect with people across the country affected by arthritis.”
During the first 600 miles of his journey, he is joined by Colorado resident Eric Uhlberg, 56. He has served as the Baltes’ family financial advisor for 25 years and is an avid marathoner and triathlete.
Several of Baltes’ friends and family members will step in along the way.
“I’m really looking forward to the great time together and motivation that they’ll provide,” he said.
Baltes, a lifelong cyclist, will ride a Cannondale, while Uhlberg will opt for a Specialized road bike.
“We have a wonderful friendship and when I was out visiting last year, Tom told me about his idea to ride across the United States,” he said. “I thought it was a great cause and decided to join him during part of that journey.”
When Baltes proposed the idea to his wife, Louise, she said, “Go for it,” and offered to be his support driver.
“She is a critical part of making this happen,” Baltes said. “We just have to ride our bikes. She has the more complicated part.”
Prior rides include the 363 mile Oregon Coast route and several rails-to-trails rides. These are former railway lines that have been converted into paths for pedestrians and bicyclists. Louise has joined him on many of these adventures.
As of press time, Baltes and Uhlberg had finished the first leg of the journey to Missoula, Montana. The route took them through Washington and Idaho.
Baltes noted in his blog that, “The air continues to be heavy with smoke from the more than 22 wildfires in Washington and dozen or so in Oregon. Idaho seems to be burning too.”
He will ride solo during the next leg on the northern tier route, which runs from Puget Sound to Portland, Maine, and crosses the Cascade, Rocky, Adirondack and Appalachian mountain ranges. Along the way, the route passes through Glacier National Park, the headwaters of the Mississippi and Amish country. Louise will also join him on her bike for portions of the ride.
Uhlberg is excited to be a part of the journey.
“I’m looking forward to having the chance to support Tom and Louise in some way, and to accompany them on this great adventure.”
During the ride, Baltes has included only seven rest days, two of which will be used to attend a family reunion and Volkswalk event in Minnesota.
Before embarking on his trek across America, Baltes did extensive research on route maps, fueling, and the mental and physical preparation needed for a journey of this magnitude.
“It was a little challenging, but once I looked at more of the maps and talked to Len Forkas, who has won his age group in the Race Across America, I felt more at ease,” he said. “I also talked with Eric a lot about food and nutrition. Reaching out to people who have done these types of endurance activities before was very helpful.”
Both men read Forkas’ book, “What Spins the Wheel,” to get a better idea of what to expect.
Baltes is also counting on his logistics experience in the Air Force to help him prepare.
“Planning something of this magnitude fits in well with that,” he said. “Both Louise and I are retired officers, so we know how to plan big operations.”
When Baltes ends his cycling journey, he already has another goal in mind: Hike 800 to 900 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon and Washington.
“I enjoy cycling, but I also love to hike and walk, too,” he said.