Richland man rides cross-country on recumbent bicycle for a good cause

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldJune 9, 2013 

There's a bit of Indiana Jones in 70-year-old Alex LaVoie of Richland.

He even resembles Harrison Ford, who played the wild and crazy adventurer in the Indiana Jones film series.

LaVoie let loose his unbridled side recently when he decided to cast his fate to the wind and ride his recumbent-style bicycle cross-country.

A recumbent bike has a large wheel in the rear and a smaller one up front. It allows its rider to pedal in a semi-reclining position, and Alex says the large seat makes it a comfortable ride. It also has 12 speeds.

His odyssey started Feb. 23 when he and Helen, his wife of 47 years, set out from St. Augustine, Fla., on a 4,000-mile trek on America's backroads. Helen, 68, stuck close to her man driving their motorhome.

But this wasn't just a test of endurance. Alex decided to make his adventure a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project, which is a nonprofit organization that provides aids to severely injured military men and women that the government doesn't pay for.

After 3,509 miles and multiple states, he has raised more than $30,000 toward his $100,000 goal.

"The Wounded Warrior (Project) is a very worthy cause," he said. "It takes care of veterans who the government doesn't take care of."

When Alex retired in 2012, he and his wife sold their Richland house and bought a motorhome so they could travel more. It also provided an opportunity for Alex to ride his bike more often and greater distances, as well as his dream of riding his recumbent bike cross-country.

"We went from 2,600 square feet to 400, from two and half baths to one, and a two-car garage to none," Helen said. "It took some getting used to at first, but we're doing good."

But driving that motorhome behind her bicycle-crazy hubby wasn't always fun.

"Driving 20 to 30 mph in a motorhome across the country can get a little crazy sometimes," Helen said with laugh.

So they figured out a routine where Helen would follow for a while, then pass and stop and wait for Alex to catch up several miles down the road.

"That proved to be a lot easier on both of us," he said.

The toughest part of the bike ride were the long, steep slopes of the rugged Rocky Mountains and the sandstorms. Some of the narrow backroads he rode through were treacherous for a lone bike rider with narrow road shoulders for cars to pass.

"But the views were beautiful," Alex said.

Their route took them through the southern states until they reached Dallas. From there, Alex headed north through Albuquerque, N.M., Flagstaff, Ariz., Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and arrived in the Tri-Cities last week.

The couple will be in town until June 17, then they'll take off on the last leg of the journey to Seattle. The motorhome is parked at the Moon River RV Resort in Richland, and Saturday the couple will attend a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior organization at the US Cellular store at 5024 Road 68 in Pasco.

The public is invited to drop by the cellphone store between noon and 1:30 p.m., and check out Alex's bike that has earned a bit of fame during the trek.

"Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer came out to greet us when we stopped in Arizona," Helen said. "We were so honored she took the time to come meet with us."

The LaVoies are transplanted Canadians who emigrated to the U.S. in 1991. They lived in Las Vegas for a few years, then moved to Richland in 2007.

"We love it here," they said. "And the people at the Moon River RV Resort here in Richland have been wonderful since we got back into town."

It's been a long, exhilarating journey, Alex said. But he doesn't believe he'll do it again. Riding his bike 25 miles a day, however, is something he plans to do forever.

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