Sequim Wheelers, seen on the historic Railroad Bridge near the Dungeness River Nature Center, prep for a ride on the Olympic Discovery Trail. The nonprofit’s season begins in May, and it has an open house for potential new volunteers on April 20 at the River Center. It also has an orientation for new volunteers on April 25 at the River Center. (Sequim Wheelers)

Sequim Wheelers, seen on the historic Railroad Bridge near the Dungeness River Nature Center, prep for a ride on the Olympic Discovery Trail. The nonprofit’s season begins in May, and it has an open house for potential new volunteers on April 20 at the River Center. It also has an orientation for new volunteers on April 25 at the River Center. (Sequim Wheelers)

Sequim Wheelers gearing up for 2024 rides, seek recruits

Nonprofit looking for help during for 20-week season

SEQUIM — A hundred years from now, if the world is still spinning, John Gagan hopes these wheels are spinning, too.

The nonprofit Sequim Wheelers is about to kick off the group’s seventh season with an open house set for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday in the parking lot of the organization’s unofficial home, the Dungeness River Nature Center, 1943 W. Hendrickson Road.

It’s the Wheelers’ annual call for potential volunteers to see the adaptive bikes they use and talk with current volunteers.

An orientation meeting for new volunteers follows that, starting at 4 p.m. April 25 at the Dungeness River Nature Center’s Raven Room, where the Wheelers describe the training sessions new volunteers will need to attend and provide the training syllabus for the 2024 adaptive bike riding season.

Gagan, the club president, was a recruit himself. After concluding a job as finance manager at the city of Clyde Hill in the Bellevue area in 2018, he moved to Sequim. At the time, Sequim Wheelers — an adaptive cycling organization that helps people of all ages and abilities enjoy a bike ride, particularly those of advanced age or with disabilities — was just getting started under the leadership of founder Nicole Lepping, a local special education teacher.

Sequim Wheelers was one of only a handful of 501(c)(3) groups in the country to provide outdoor adapted biking fun for people who cannot ride a bike by themselves. The group works with local retirement and rehabilitation facilities along with other nonprofits for free hour-long rides offered Monday through Saturday, and it also has a Book-a-Ride program for physically challenged people living at home who would like a safe and friendly outdoors experience.

A neighbor suggested Gagan check out the group.

“I wanted to give back to the community,” Gagan said. “It’s the perfect way to get on a bike ride, be outside.”

The group more than survived the COVID-19 pandemic. It thrived.

The Sequim Wheelers offer free hour-long adaptive bike rides Monday through Saturday from late spring through late summer to people of all ages with physical challenges. (Sequim Wheelers)

The Sequim Wheelers offer free hour-long adaptive bike rides Monday through Saturday from late spring through late summer to people of all ages with physical challenges. (Sequim Wheelers)

Rides totaled 70 in the group’s inaugural year in 2018, and, by 2023 they grew to 380 — a 443 percent increase that group members attribute in part to the club’s “safe, friendly and reliable services.”

Volunteerism with the group has similarly increased, growing from its stable of 14 pioneering helpers in 2018 to 61 active volunteers last year.

The club is also expanding its outreach. In 2023, Sequim Wheelers provided guidance and on-site visits to volunteer organizers from Poulsbo and Lacey who are looking to start up similar programs in their communities. The Wheelers later this month are making a stop at Salish Coast Elementary School in Port Townsend to offer rides for youths.

In addition, since early this year, Sequim Wheelers has been affiliated with the international adaptive bike organization called Cycling Without Age based in Copenhagen, Denmark, to help the Sequim club better manage resources and gain knowledge.

The program also got a regional spotlight with King5’s feature in August 2023.

Gagan, who now volunteers as group ride pilot for Sequim Wheelers, is hoping to help make a key transition for the “new startup” phase to something much more permanent: a fixture in the Sequim community.

“It’s a unique type of nonprofit,” he said. “I’ve met airline pilots, teachers, engineers … it’s fun to be around other people,” he said.

Joining up

The group wants to make it easy for new volunteers to join, Gagan said. Not wanting to put any burden on those who are retired, the ideal volunteer can help out for a couple of hours a week for at least 15 of the 20 weeks during the Sequim Wheelers’ season, which runs from the end of May to the first couple of weeks in October.

A typical ride, Gagan said, is from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., with a half-hour’s worth of prep time, an hour ride and 30 minutes of equipment put-away. Rides traditionally depart from the River Center and head west on the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT), turning around at the Kitchen-Dick Road intersection.

Any less than once a week, Gagan said, and volunteers can at times forget how the electric-powered adaptive bikes work and handle. Going only once a week keeps most helpers fresh.

Volunteers can also help out as a “safety,” he said. Those riders, on their own standard bikes, help provide assistance getting across intersections, keep an eye on those receiving the rides and manage the rare interaction with horses on the ODT.

Just about anyone can volunteer, Gagan said.

“Some people are intimidated,” he said, “but our training program is pretty extensive.”

Those who want to help out but may have a tough time getting on a bike or conflicting schedules can help Sequim Wheelers on the administrative side, Gagan said, doing anything from website assistance to taking photos of the group on the trail, posting pictures of rides on social media or working up a group newsletter.

Monetary donations are also appreciated, he said; donations are tax-deductible.

“Our bikes eventually wear out,” he noted, and one- and two-rider adaptive bikes can be expensive.

Users of the ODT can also show support for the group, Gagan said, by the simplest of pleasantries: saying hello.

“That’s supporting us; even acknowledgement [is important],” he said.

A number of community groups and organizations have the Wheelers’ proverbial backs, Gagan noted, including the River Center for providing a launching point and available rooms for rental, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe for providing funds to cover the organization’s insurance costs (“I always feel like they’re looking out for us,” he said), and a neighbor who provides a space to store some of the adaptive bikes.

“I want Sequim Wheelers to be appreciative of everyone who helps us out; they’ve been very helpful to us,” Gagan said.

And, he noted, the group also relies on Lepping, its founder who remains a key part of the organization.

“We are just as excited about the beginning of our Sequim Wheelers season now as we were seven years ago,” Lepping said.

“Our program reflects a deep appreciation for the inter-connectedness of nature, every individual, companionship, adaptive biking and our inclusive community.”

For more about Sequim Wheelers, visit sequimwheelers.com or email volunteers@sequimwheelers.com. Donations to the group can be sent to the website or through standard mail to: Sequim Wheelers, PO Box 1852, Sequim, WA 98382.

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Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at editor@sequimgazette.com.

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