Cycling for Cancer
Two alums reprise a 900-mile childhood bike ride to raise money for the Carbone Cancer Center.
Fifty years ago, Antigo, Wisconsin, teens Nick Schmelter ’79 (above left) and Mark Blaskey ’77, MS’79 (above right) decided to ride their bikes to the Canadian border and back as a summer adventure.
Schmelter, then 16, and Blaskey, then 18, camped out in tube tents and documented their 872-mile adventure with a Kodak Instamatic camera and a journal Blaskey kept.
What they thought was a once-in-a-lifetime journey got a revival in July. Exactly 50 years to the day later, Schmelter, Blaskey, and Blaskey’s wife, Emily, pedaled that same route with a new focus: raising money for research at the UW Carbone Cancer Center. Their efforts led to more than $7,000 raised for Carbone’s Greatest Need Fund.
“Cancer has affected many people, and we feel so very fortunate to be able to do this,” Schmelter says.
A resident of Vernal, Utah, Schmelter reconnected with Blaskey during the COVID-19 pandemic. When Blaskey brought up his desire to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their bike trip by riding the route again, Schmelter quickly agreed, and, in the wake of losing his sister to cancer, suggested they tie their efforts to fundraising.
The cyclists began their journey at Blaskey’s childhood home in Antigo. They rode north to Bayfield and followed the edge of Lake Superior up to the U.S.-Canadian border and back again. A close friend drove along in an RV to serve as their daily base camp and sag wagon.
Both men reflected on how simple their trip seemed as teenagers.
“Neither Nick nor I can remember any hesitancy at all from his father or my parents for going,” Blaskey says. “Nick was just 16. And then we didn’t call home for four days. Can you imagine that in this day and age?”
The trip was filled with nostalgia for Schmelter, who worked in the Chequamegon and Nicolet National Forests in the early 1980s. They biked past Schmelter’s first house and the towns where his children were born.
Blaskey experienced a full-circle moment just as they arrived back in Antigo. He noticed an RV parked on the street with Las Brisas, its model and the Spanish word for breezes, written on the side. His sister, who died of cancer in 2020, ran a vehicle dealership named Las Brisas in southern Missouri. He was overcome with emotion.
“I just could not believe the serendipity of that,” Blaskey says. “This is why we did this ride. It’s for our friends and family and people we don’t know who have faced cancer, and here was my sister speaking to me in the final 300 yards of the ride.”
Published in the Winter 2023 issue