AGNEW — A quadriplegic Agnew man will soon set off in his motorized wheelchair on a journey across the state to bring attention to the need for pathways accessible to disabled people, he said.
“This year, I am setting aside two weeks to go across the state of Washington,” Ian MacKay, 34, said recently at his home in Agnew where he has lived with his mother and stepfather for the last eight years.
“I am trying bring some awareness to the need for trails and bike paths in our state.”
MacKay will leave Aug. 13 when he rides the Coho ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, he said.
Then he will travel to Sydney and take a ferry to Anacortes, where his journey of about 314 miles truly begins.
Over the next two weeks, he — along with an entourage of caregivers and supporters — will travel south through the Seattle area, on through Olympia and finally to Portland, Ore., where he hopes to arrive about Aug. 22, he said.
30 to 40 miles daily
MacKay plans to travel 30 to 40 miles a day via motorized wheelchair, he said.
“The chair goes about 30 miles on a charge,” he said, “and it goes a max of about seven miles per hour. It is a jog if I want people with me.”
He said he will bring a second chair and will swap out at about the halfway mark each day to continue on.
During his trek, MacKay said he will ride on multi-use trails wherever possible.
Sometimes that will not be possible, he said, and he will need to travel along the side of the freeway.
“Unfortunately, much of the way is going to be on shoulders and sides of roads,” he said.
He hopes those portions of his trip will illustrate to the public the need for more wheelchair-accessible trails in the state.
“Every county has different funding and budgets and regulation,” he said. “But the more we have the better.”
MacKay said if he can focus public attention on the issue, that would make his journey complete.
“If I could bring some awareness” to this issue, “great,” he said.
“If we can cause change, excellent.”
Before a bicycle accident nearly a decade ago, MacKay said he was an avid cyclist who greatly enjoyed getting outdoors and participating in bicycle tours across the country.
MacKay grew up in Southern California, he said, and in 2008 was attending college at University of California-Santa Cruz to obtain a degree in biology when he wrecked his bike on the way home from classes.
“I commuted daily to school [via bicycle] and the campus was up on a hill,” MacKay said.
“Everyday I rode fast. I have always had a thing with speed. One day coming down I hit a little patch of sand, lost control went into a tree and broke my neck. I had a helmet on, luckily. I broke the helmet.”
He estimated he was traveling at about 38 miles per hour when he lost control of his bike.
“I spent three months in rehab trying to learn how to become a paralyzed man,” MacKay said.
“I can move just my shoulders. I can’t feel anything below my neck.”
The drastic change to his life was a major shock, MacKay said.
“Whether we like to think it or not, we all like to identify ourselves very physically,” he said.
“What we do kind of determines our [sense of] self. It was a new realization of how to identify as a man and it turns out that the body isn’t all that important. It just took me a while to realize that.”
In addition to being totally paralyzed, MacKay was not able to speak for many months following the crash, he said.
“The problem was when I first was injured my whole diaphragm was paralyzed so I couldn’t breathe,” he said.
“I went home on a ventilator full time” for a year.
Because of that, “I lost my voice for the first year,” he said.
“That was really brutal — not being able to communicate and share how you feel with your family and those closest to you.”
It was like a prison for his mind, he said.
“It was a deep funk. It was a dark time for me.”
Eventually, MacKay was able to breath on his own and begin speaking again, which he said made a world of difference.
Freedom through technology
Nowadays, MacKay relies heavily on technology to achieve a level of independence that otherwise would be unattainable, he said.
The two devices that really make a difference are his motorized wheelchair and a hands-free iPhone he can use, he said.
The wheelchair is controlled by a “sip and puff” system, he said, that consists of a pneumatic control switch interface unit used to send signals to a device using air pressure from a tube cupped by a person’s mouth.
“I puff to go forward, a light sip goes left, a light puff goes right,” MacKay said.
“I am doing this whole thing with a tube in my mouth.”
MacKay is able to use the iPhone without his hands, he said — something that was not possible only a few years ago.
Now able to communicate at will, and to move about in his chair — MacKay can go out alone on expeditions along the Olympic Discovery Trail, which passes nearby his home.
At first, MacKay said he was going “a mile down and back — then five miles. Eventually, I was spending five hours out there doing 30 miles on my chair. It sort of makes you feel like a man again. I consider myself a cyclist out there.”
Being mobile has allowed MacKay to meet many new friends out on the trail, he said.
“I did 2,200 miles last year on that trail,” he said.
“I spend a lot of time” out there.
Ready for his odyssey
Despite the challenges, MacKay said he is ready to embark on his new grand adventure.
“It is going to be hard on my body,” he said.
“It could be too hot. There could be things that hold me up.”
Just in case of such instances, MacKay will be accompanied by a small crew who will be there should he need any assistance, he said.
Those interested in helping with route suggestions or riding a part of the route with MacKay can contact him via email at [email protected].
MacKay also is looking for sponsors and donors to help cover the cost of his trip, including gas for his support vehicle, food and lodgings.
Anything he raises over and above trip costs — estimated at about $3,000 — will be donated to Washington Bikes to support statewide work for better connections that are safe, accessible and available to everyone, MacKay said.
Washington Bikes is a nonprofit organization that advocates for bicyclists and a more bike-friendly state, according to their website.
To sponsor MacKay’s journey, visit http://tinyurl.com/PDN-ianwcadventure
MacKay will blog about his journey online at www.iansride.com