Bike Across Country: Maxatawny man, 71, rides for spinal cord injuries

Patriot photo by Lisa Mitchell Peter Karch, 71, of Maxatawny, rides across country starting May 5.

At age 71, Maxatawny resident Peter Karch hits the road on Sunday, for a cross country trek on his bicycle.

The Lehigh County Community College biology professor emeritus plans to pack 70 pounds of camping gear, food and water on his bike and ride more than 4,000 miles from Carpenteria, Calif., to Assateague, Va. to beat his already established 2003 world long distance bicycling record. He rides without the assistance of a support and gear team, so he must carry all gear and make his own bike repairs.

He rides for his daughter’s facility in California, Awakenings Health Institute, a spinal cord rehabilitation facility, fundraising and raising awareness. Laura (Karch) Gries, a 1994 Kutztown High School alumna, had experienced a spinal cord injury when she was a freshman in college.

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Traveling back home from visiting her brother at college with her parents on March 24, 1995, their Ford Explorer was clipped by a tractor trailer, then their vehicle spun around and was hit head on.

Laura was laying down in the back seat listening to music, and not wearing a seatbelt.

The vehicle flipped several times and Laura was thrown from the Explorer.

“I was the driver. It affected me significantly,” said Peter, who considered himself a safe driver prior to the accident. “It bothered me that I couldn’t correct the situation.”

He saw her lying in the roadway, and ran over to her. “She said, ‘Daddy, I can’t move.’ It was a very hard situation.”

Doctors told her she would never walk again. But she beat the odds and was walking again in a matter of weeks after the accident.

Now, Laura helps others with spinal cord injuries.

And her father, Peter, wants to help Laura in whatever way possible.

The first time Peter completed the bike trip across country 10 years ago was to fulfill a childhood dream. At age 10, he and a friend were at the school yard when they saw a couple guys ride up on “these absolutely beautiful iridescent blue and green French and Italian bikes with dropped handle bars and 10 speed. I’d never seen anything like it.”

He said, “If I had one of those bikes, I’d ride across country.”

At age 61, he completed that dream.

Ten years later, he is attempting the ride again to beat his own record and to raise funds for Awakenings Health Institute.

“Age is simply a number, you can’t just sit back and let yourself get old and say I’m not going to do anything. There are challenges to do in life and I want to use this to motivate people to do things, to follow their dreams, to satisfy all their if-onlies.”

He also realized, what’s the difference between the way people view age as a handicap and the handicap his daughter and his daughter’s clients experience?

So why not use this to raise awareness for Awakenings and raise funds for the facility.

Peter views himself as one who never gives up and one who likes new challenges. He backpacks a lot and he said the maxim of mountain backpacking is never give up altitude.

“If you want to achieve life’s greatest pinnacles, resist following the path of least resistance,” said Peter. “I think this is doing that. I do that with everything I do in life.”

Peter flies out to California on Thursday and starts his ride on Sunday.

To donate, contact Awakenings Health Institute, 124 N. Rios Ave., Solana Beach, Calif. 92075, or call 858-794-9956. Visit www.awakeningshealth.org.