Peninsula cyclist nears N.Y.: Fundraiser for autism center surpasses goal

PORT TOWNSEND — What have you done in the past five weeks?

For almost every one of the days since June 30, Port Townsend’s Mike Tapogna has ridden his bike 100 miles, heading east toward his final destination of New York’s Central Park.

On Thursday, he plans to meet up with his parents and his son, Luca, for a great reunion. He’s logged more than 3,000 miles so far and has about 500 more to go.

Tapogna’s cycling effort is for Luca, 10, and all the other kids on the autism spectrum who are treated at Seattle Children’s Hospital Autism Center.

The ride is being done as a fundraiser for the center and for Tapogna who wants to raise awareness of autism.

His fundraiser page, Bicycling Cross Country for Autism at giveto.seattlechildrens.org/MikeTapognaBikesXC has raised $11,410 for Seattle Children’s Hospital Autism Center by Sunday, surpassing his goal of $10,000. All those proceeds go directly to the hospital.

A gofundme site set up by his sister, Margaret Campos, who lives in Bay Shore, N.Y., to fund Tapogna’s expenses, also has surpassed its goal.

The goal was $5,000; by Sunday, $5,300 had been raised. The site is at www.gofundme.com/mike-bikes-for-autism.

During his ride, Tapogna is also mixing in a bit of culture, taking time to visit historical sites and art museums, including the Art Institute in Chicago and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

Tapogna has an art degree and is documenting the journey for his son.

“At first, Luca was talking with me every day about things that were bothering him,” he said.

“After about a week, he began to focus on his trip to New York and now he’s really happy. I’ve been sending him postcards, drawings and gifts from the road and staying in touch by phone and through my blog.”

Along for the ride is Luca’s favorite stuffed animal, a duck called Tallish. Tapogna has taken photos of the toy in various locations. He found a companion prairie dog toy in Montana and a corn animal from South Dakota that he’s sent to his son.

In a phone interview from Pennsylvania, Tapogna said he’s been humbled by the response he’s received from people along the route.

“When I tell them why I’m doing the ride, they say they are aware of autism, or they know someone touched by it. There’s a personal connection made.”

He also talked about the generosity of strangers.

“When I was in Billings, Mont., two women saw my bike and asked me questions about the ride. They opened their purses and each gave me $20. Inside the museum, a man handed me a $20 bill. This has happened all throughout the trip.”

In the beginning, Tapogna said the effort seemed like a very long slog, but once he made it to Wisconsin, the time seemed to go quickly because “the states are smaller and state lines are closer to one other.”

“I spent seven days riding through Montana in brutal heat,” he said. “I beat severe storms there by mere hours, and missed torrential rains in South Dakota. I got lucky.”

He said he has been worried about the storms and flooding in the east. On Friday, he rode 30 miles in the pouring rain through Pennsylvania. Everything he carries was bundled in plastic.

Tapogna said his custom-made bike has held up very well.

“I’ve had only three flat tires in all of this time, which was amazing. I’ve been able to find bike shops for little repairs. I’m on my third chain — I changed it in Montana and Illinois.”

Along the way, members of the online bicycling community Warm Showers have hosted him. On one of his rest days, a family in Minnesota took him kayaking which he said was a real treat after the daily peddling.

The changing scenery has had an impact on his artistic eye.

“Going from western Washington and the blue water to eastern Washington and golden wheat fields to the rugged Rocky Mountains was inspiring,” he said.

“Then it was corn and soybeans for days and days and days. There have been ranch lands, too. Now I’m heading into cities and their environments. I still have one more mountain to climb in Pennsylvania.”

Tapogna is fueled by steak, jerky and Cliff bars, he said. He keeps a bag of carrots on his handlebars for snacking throughout the day and tries to eat a good meal every night. He admits he’s lost weight.

Tapogna plans to spend 10 days in New York City before flying back to the Northwest. He will show his son places he visited when he was a boy living in New Jersey. He has family there for visiting, and father and son will explore museums and art galleries.

Upon his return to Port Townsend, Seattle Children’s Hospital plans to invite him to talk about his Ride for Autism adventure, he said.

To follow him on Facebook, go to www.facebook.com/mike.tapogna.3.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]

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