Journey expands cyclist’s horizons

Stevens Point man traverses two continents to help those losing their sight to macular degeneration

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Published February 19, 2007 by JSOnline.com
By Tom Held 

Stevens Point man traverses two continents to help those losing their sight to macular degeneration

Quinn Baumberger set off on his bicycle from the edge of North America last May, seeking to help those losing their vision to macular degeneration.

Nine months, hundreds of encounters and 19,000 miles later, he's found that his own eyes have been opened to different cultures and landscapes, extremes of poverty and generosity, decay and beauty.

Baumberger, a 23-year-old graduate of Stevens Point High School, is near the end of his journey. In Argentina this weekend, he had a reunion with his parents, Brad and Rose, and his brother, Jeff. Together, they are covering the last 300 miles of his trek, ending in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city of South America – roughly 19,500 miles from his starting point in Deadhorse, Alaska.

"I'm kind of getting depressed about ending the trip, but I'm excited about ending it also," Baumberger said last week, stopped with his bike at a phone booth along a highway in central Argentina.

"It's been a bipolar trip," he said. "I've had the best, best times of my life over and over, and I've also had the worst."

At different points in the journey, illness, stifling heat, freezing cold, rain, doubt and loneliness all contributed to Baumberger's worst days.

He sprained an ankle in Nicaragua that kept him off the bike for two weeks; intestinal bugs left him writhing and racked with fever in Mexico and Bolivia. At times, the inability to secure dry ground for his sleeping bag and suitable food overwhelmed him.

But beautiful mountain passages, high deserts and long stretches of smooth pavement have provided highs that surpassed the lows. The miles and late nights shared with strangers and the generosity Baumberger found among the poorest people inspired him.

In Mexico, a family with five children living in a hut made of reeds and corrugated steel fed him and gave him shelter. They shared their meager supply of rice, unable to understand Baumberger's language.

"They gave me everything they could give me," Baumberger said.

Inspired by grandfather

The adventurer set off on his cycling tour to raise money for a disease that slowly blinded his maternal grandfather, Joe Ludwig of Stevens Point. Baumberger is nearing his goal of raising $19,500 for macular degeneration research, $1 for each mile covered.

But his motivation was not entirely altruistic.

The journey itself appealed to someone who has always been something of an explorer and a risk-taker.

His mother, Rose Baumberger, remembers him packing snow near their house in Plover to create a landing area for his snowboard jumps off the roof.

After he graduated from high school, he moved to California and devoted his time to steep mountain pitches and outdoor recreation.

Baumberger expanded his explorations after hearing from a friend who had pedaled the Pan-American Highway.

"It's more insane to me working at some place only for money and not because you feel it's improving your person or someone else's, than to be thrifty for 10 months in order to do what you love," Baumberger explained on his Web site, www.lineofsightproject.com.

Early doubts

His parents, while supportive, were nervous about their son's plans.

His father, Brad, joined him on the first 1,400 miles, a 28-day stretch from the northern coast of Alaska to the Yukon Territory.

When they parted, the elder Baumberger had doubts that Quinn would make it.

"There were doubts in his voice," Brad Baumberger said. "I had a feeling that once he got close to Mammoth Lakes, California, and his friends, he would stop and push it off to the back burner."

Each day on the road, however, became motivation for the next.

"Every day, I wake up and am excited to get on my bike to see the next area," Quinn Baumberger said.

He has plotted his course largely by placing a finger on a AAA map, knowing he can cover the distance to the first knuckle in two days.

Over the course of his ride, Baumberger has fixed 50 flat tires, replaced nearly every part of his bike, been robbed twice, carried more than 100 pounds of gear, eaten little but rice and pasta for weeks, and replaced his worn shirts with those he has found on the road.

He has cooked on a camp stove, read the five books in his pack, and slept wherever he found shelter.

He has relished every challenge as much as every triumph.

Both have helped him see what he truly values: experiences, friends and family.