PORT TOWNSEND — Mike Tapogna is an avid cyclist, a skilled mason and an artist who says that his most important role is that of devoted dad.
On Sunday, the 44-year-old will begin a 3,000 mile cross country bike ride from Seattle. He will leave Port Townsend from the ReCyclery Saturday at 9 a.m. His journey will end in New York City in August.
His goal is to increase awareness of autism and to raise money for the Seattle Children’s Hospital Autism Center.
Tapogna’s son, Luca, is 10 years old and just finished fourth grade at Blue Heron Middle School.
Luca was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at Seattle Children’s when he was 5 years old.
“He’s high functioning, which makes him really interesting,” Tapogna said. “Luca and I have a special relationship. We do adventuring and role playing together.
“He’s an amazing artist, he loves to draw sci-fi comics. I just love him to death,” Tapogna added.
“My wife, Catherine Leporati, and I have worked hard over the years to help him succeed. Autism is something we’ve learned a lot about. I’ve always wanted to ride cross county. So I put the two together. My wife is supportive. It’s all come together.”
Tapogna said that the autism spectrum is enormous and that everyone is different.
“It’s not easy if you’re a parent, but it’s also incredibly rewarding as a parent,” he said.
“People who aren’t on the spectrum take things for granted like everyday things, social things. I think that’s what I’ve learned about the most. There’s a lot of adaptation.”
Tapogna plans to make the trip in 40 days, biking a route that skirts the northern states. He hopes to arrive Aug. 10, averaging 80 miles per day.
“It’s a route of my own design. I’m going to see people along the way — family friends, childhood friends, some family members,” he said.
“I’m using ‘Ride with GPS’ to help find bike-friendly roads. I’m nearly done with mapping.”
Once he is on the road, people can track Tapogna by going to www.ridewithgps.com and searching for “mikestro industries.” He’ll also post his progress on Instagram as well.
“I’m using Warm Showers, an amazing site for bikers,” he explained. “It’s a nationwide network. You sign up and you look at the map, and if there’s a host there, you have free accommodations. When you’re done with your tour, you host someone.”
Since March 1, he’s logged 2,500 miles. He’s riding a custom-built bike that’s made of steel and weighs about 20 pounds. His gear, food — nuts, an energy gel, bars and salami — and water weigh another 25. He plans to have a burger and a milkshake every night after a long day’s ride.
He’s been consulting with the ReCyclery and Dan Stranahan who has advised him on his choice of gear. The two have been doing long rides together, including a 110-mile practice ride to Hurricane Ridge and back. Bob Chung at PT Cyclery has tuned up his bike and is building wheels for him. He feels he’s ready to go.
His sister started a Go Fund Me Mike Tapogna page to help raise trip expenses. He estimates that will be around $3,000.
“Luca is excited for me,” Tapogna said. “I’m taking one of his favorite plushes, a duckling named Tallish. Tallish went to Seattle with me, his head sticking out of my bag and I took photos of it. I’ll photograph Talllish along the way for Luca. That’s how he’ll keep our connection.”
Luca will meet his dad in New York City at the end of the ride and they’ll spend the week there before heading home to Port Townsend. Tapogna is looking forward to sharing all of Tallish’s adventures with his son.
Tapogna has raised just about $11,000 so far for the hospital’s Autism Center Fund. For more information, see https://giveto.seattlechildrens.org/MikeTapognaBikesXC .
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]