Rhonda Rose with her husband

Late husband inspires widow’s bicycle ride to Maine

By Rob Ollikainen

Peninsula Daily News

DYERSVILLE, Iowa — Rhonda Rose said she took a “midlife sabbatical” to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

The 49-year-old Port Angeles woman is riding a bicycle from Fargo, N.D., to Maine in honor of her late husband, Christian Hans Petersen, who died March 2 after a 10-month battle with colon cancer.

Petersen was 48.

Rose has already pedaled more than a quarter of the 2,500-mile odyssey, which began in Fargo on May 19 and will end, she hopes, near Bar Harbor, Maine, on June 30.

Rose said her husband’s battle with cancer inspired her to attempt the ride.

“It just seemed like something I was meant to do,” said Rose, when reached by cellphone from Dyersville, Iowa, on Sunday evening.

In the weeks prior to Petersen’s death, Rose was having recurring dreams about bicycling cross-country. She told her brother she wanted to escape the reality of her situation.

After the initial grief wore off, Rose found a fully supported women’s bicycle tour group online and joined them in Fargo.

Beyond the therapeutic benefits she gets from the open road, the 43-day ride doubles as a fundraiser for the patient navigator program at Olympic Medical Center’s Thomas Family Cancer Center in Sequim.

“My husband lost his battle with cancer, but he got excellent treatment at our local cancer center,” Rose said.

Patient navigators are social workers who serve as advocates for cancer patients throughout their treatment.

The program is a resource from the initial diagnosis to the end of treatment that helps families find programs that can ease the financial and emotional burdens that come with a cancer diagnosis.

Rose has raised about $800 toward her goal of $10,000. Donations can be made from a link on Rose’s adventure blog, www.rhondalinrose.blogspot.com.

Rose and her husband loved spending time in the outdoors. The couple completed three Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classics together.

Memories of those long rides came flooding back to Rose on May 24, when she rode mostly alone on a 106-mile segment from Milaca, Minn., to Stillwater, Minn. It was the first time she had ridden that far since her last Seattle-to Portland ride with Petersen.

“There were some emotional moments that day,” she said.

Rose is posting regular updates to her blog, which is peppered with photographs and stories about the journey. She encourages feedback from people on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Even on Memorial Day weekend, Rose said she was impressed with the sheer number of U.S. flags on display and surprised by the beauty of Iowa farmland.

“I’ve never been to this part of the country,” Rose said. “I have to say I’m impressed with the beauty of the Mississippi River.”

On Saturday, Rose and other riders in the group met a farmer named Bob who proudly showed them a refurbished red tractor.

A lightning storm stopped the group about halfway though a relatively short but hilly 43-mile ride Sunday.

“Metal bikes and lightning are not a good mix,” she said.

The group typically rides between 60 and 90 miles per day. Rest days are taken about once a week.

From Iowa, the route will cross northern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio and continue along the shores of lakes Erie and Ontario to upstate New York. The route will take the group through Cleveland and Niagara Falls.

A van travels with the riders to provide water and food to the riders at regular intervals. A small, portable kitchen is used for cooking.

“I’d say we’re eating very well,” said Rose, who is taking an extended leave of absence from her job as a loan consultant.

Margaritas are served when the team crosses a state line.

Although Rose isn’t the fastest member of the 16-member group, she is one of the most dedicated.

While some occasionally board the van for portions of the route, Rose slowly but steadily tries to finish every leg.

“I’m trying to get every mile in,” she said.

Physically, Rose is holding up well. She is building strength in her legs and getting used to the more uncomfortable aspects of a six-week bicycle ride.

“You’re definitely sitting on a bike saddle for eight to 10 hours,” Rose said.

Rose said her adventure is helping her deal with her grief. It also reminds her that “every day is a new day.”

“Tomorrow, we’ll get back on our bikes again,” she said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at [email protected]

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