As Dale and Carol Plathe of Algona rested on the couch at the home of Shirley and Mike Lickteig, Carol’s brother and sister-in-law of rural Perry, as they talked about their bike ride to Perry Monday as part of RAGBRAI. They each wore T-shirts that proclaimed "We Need to Cure ALS." A drawing of a martini glass with bubbles further decorated the shirt. It’s not a fund-raising effort, just a way to do what they enjoy, while spreading the word.
And, they are pleased with crossing one more ‘to do’ item off their bucket list, despite Dale’s ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Life expectancy for ALS is two or three years, Carol said. Dale, who was diagnosed in September 2006, has already outlived the life expectancy of people with ALS. Although they didn’t ride the entire length of Monday’s 80-mile route on Monday from Harlan to Perry, they felt very good about riding from Yale to Perry on their specially adapted recumbent bicycle. Carol rides in the front, with Dale right behind. The two-seater has an independent peddling system that allows the two to peddle at their own speed, or simply take a rest.
"Dale is a strong peddler, so it’s not unusual for me to rest for a while or just peddle slower," she said with a laugh.
Dale was diagnosed with ALS in June of 2006. "It was weird because we were on our way to the Rob Borsellino memorial service when my arm muscle started to twitch and wouldn’t stop, he said. Dale explained that his mother had also had ALS and because of that he and Carol followed Borsellino’s columns (for The Des Moines Register). Dale was soon diagnosed with ALS.
But Dale doesn’t let the progression of the disease stop him from continuing to be as athletic as possible. He and Carol, childhood sweethearts who grew up on Algona, were avid bicyclists before his diagnosis, and have continued to ride by adapting bikes to Dale’s changing physical condition.
"ALS affects everyone differently," Dale said. "For my mother, it affected her speech first. For me it has been my arms. My arms are paralyzed, except for a little movement in the fingers.
The first adapted bike he had was a recumbent bicycle. That worked for a while, until he rode it into the ditch. This spring, he and Carol bought the new recumbent bike. They put 800 miles on the bike before RAGBRAI even started.
The routine for the couple is to have Dale get on the bike first. Then, Carol puts gloves on his hands that have Velcro attached. There is also Velcro on the handlebars so his hands are stuck to the handlebars. The handlebars are changed to curve upward to make it harder for his hands to slip off.
It works very well, Carol said.
Dale said he’s simply does whatever his body allows him to do. His legs have remained relatively strong, although have weakened a bit recently. The couple said they are able to do a portion of the RAGBRAI route because of all the great help they have received from family and friends, as well as Dale’s attitude about the changes ALS has caused to his body. They are accompanied on the ride by Dan Lickteig, Carol’s nephew, and Patricia Vigil, both Opera singers from Philadelphia. "Dan and Patricia kind of talked us into doing this and it was something we had always wanted to do," Carol said. Dick Lickteig, Carol’s brother and his wife, Dee, are the support crew and drivers of the van. He also built the wooden ramp for the back of Carol and Dale’s truck. The ramp can be pulled down so the 65-pound bike can be wheeled onto the truck and secured.
"The ramp makes it much easier for me to load the bike, Carol said.
And, their overnight stay in Perry was at the home of Carol’s brother and sister-in-law Mike and Shirley Lickteig.
Mike said he wasn’t surprised at all at Carol and Dale deciding to do the ride, particularly since Dale has been so athletic all of his life. Dale played football in high school and still holds some school records at Bishop Garrigan High School in Algona.
Mike said talked with his sister and brother-in-law Tuesday and they were able to make the entire 40-some mile ride to Des Moines, after a couple set-backs and some help from a fellow cyclist.
"They broke down yesterday, and we thought we had it fixed. Then 10 miles into the ride today (Tuesday) they broke down again," Mike said. But, while they were waiting for the sag wagon, another rider came along and fixed their bike and they were able to finish Tuesday’s entire ride.
On Tuesday night, Carol said they had a lot of fun doing a day and one-half of RAGBRAI, but on Wednesday they planned to ride the High Trestle Trail, rather than continue on RAGBRAI.
"This has been a wonderful experience, but we have both had enough. It is difficult to maneuver this big bike around all the people and it is so crowded," she said. "Other people can walk their bikes through the towns, but we can’t do that."
Still she said, "It’s been fun and the people we met on the ride have been very supportive."