Most people who meet Steve Quam of Anderson, S.C., are amazed that anyone who is 68 would even consider bicycling across the United States let alone do it.
What is more amazing is that this is not his first cost-to-cost bicycle journey….and he has Parkinson’s Disease.
The disease is the reason for the trip.
Quam spent Thursday night, Sept. 4, in Moulton. He hit the road Friday morning bound for Falkville.
Over breakfast, he shared his story.
“This is my third trip on bicycle and it is my longest,” he said. “I will be home at the end of October. It will be a 4,500 mile trip.”
He began in Washington state. His trip ends at Edisto Island, South Carolina.
Along the way he spends the night with friends who have hosted him before and about 80 United Methodist Churches. Sometimes he camps out. He stayed the night at Moulton United Methodist. Youth minister Josh Howard shared breakfast with Quam on Friday.
“I do this for the Davis Phinney Foundation and for me. Exercise is essential to maintaining movement for people with Parkinson’s Disease,” Quam said. “I do it to raise awareness about the disease and its symptoms.”
Quam is a big admirer of Phinney who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when he was only 40. Phinney was a world class cyclist who won a bronze medal in the Olympics and the Tour de France bicycle race.
“I admired what Phinney did as a cyclist. I am not good at raising money but I am good about talking about Parkinson’s Disease.”
He is dedicated to the mission of the Davis Phinney Foundation which is “living well with Parkinson’s.”
Money Quam raises is used to study the effects of exercise on Parkinson’s Disease, on funding free seminars for people with Parkinson’s Disease and their families and producing educational materials.
Whatever funds Quam raises is matched dollar for dollar by Taylor Phinney, Davis Phinney’s son.
“You slowly lose control of things that used to be automatic, like riding a bicycle,” he said.
Quam explained that his first symptom of the disease was in his fingers. Quam is an accomplished musician who plays many instruments but the flute is his favorite.
“One day I noticed that my finger kept dropping down and hitting this key,” he said. “Then I noticed I was having trouble with my lips when I blew into the mouthpiece.”
At first his doctors had no idea what was wrong. Parkinson’s Disease is hard to diagnose. There is no test for it and many doctors are not trained to recognize it. Quam saw several specialists before his diagnosis was made.
“It is like your muscles forget what to do automatically,” Quam said. “I had to analyze every move I made in playing the flute and think about what used to come automatically. I could play other instruments but the flute is my favorite and I was determined to play it.”
Parkinson’s Disease also effects hearing.
“We think people are not talking loud enough,” he said. “Speaking is a problem. People with Parkinson’s Disease have trouble judging how loud to speak and we mumble.”
Quam was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease when he was 62. He had always been a bicycle rider and for him the exercise he gets cycling is vital. It keeps his muscles functioning.
“People with Parkinson's Disease tend to become couch potatoes because it takes so much effort to move.
The cause of the disease is undetermined but there is a genetic factor that is important.
“My father had Parkinson’s Disease,” Quam said. “It runs in families. Some researchers think it could be linked to pesticides because Parkinson’s Disease is reported more in rural areas than urban ones.
“People with Parkinson’s Disease suffer from depression and I think about Robin Williams killing himself. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. But you can treat depression. We also have a number of sleep disorders, he said.”
Quam is now retired from his profession in medical administration and both he and his wife are certified music therapists. His wife, Jeanne, is the master planner of his trips and helps to arrange places for him to stay with different organizations and churches.
Quam peddles a simple bicycle and pulls a small trailer that would usually hold a small dog. A sign on the trailer tells passers-by about his mission and lists his website which is www.sqpd.us.
He travels about 20 to 25 miles a day in hill country and from 35 to 40 miles on flat land. He really has no set timetable but a GPS helps his wife keep track of him.
On Friday, the rain had stopped and the sun was slowly showing its face when Quam mounted his bike and headed out.