Monte’s Ride to Defeat ALS: Honoring My Father’s Memory

By Mitchell Clute

On May 27, 2011, I set off with my wife Catherine and son Kieran on an 800-mile bicycle journey from our home in Ft. Collins, Colorado to Iowa City, Iowa.  Our journey, Monte’s Ride to Defeat ALS, was a fundraiser in honor of my father, Monte Clute, who lost his own battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1995.

Through our grassroots efforts, we raised more that $8,000 via Monte’s Ride, with most of our donations coming through our website, www.montesride.org, which chronicles our experiences in the course of planning, training for and completing our ride.

Monte’s Ride was my way of honoring my father’s spirit of adventure and joyous attitude toward life.

Why a bike ride? In spring of 1979, when I was thirteen, my father decided that our family—including my mother, Bonny, and my younger brother, Shannon, who was 9 at the time—would ride bicycles from our home in Colorado to our grandparents’ home in Michigan. We had never done a bike tour before, but in June we hit the road, following the route my father had planned. It took a month, but we made it.

Monte’s Ride to Defeat ALS followed much of the route of that long-ago adventure.  With each mile we rode, I felt closer to my father’s spirit, while at the same time my bond to my own son grew stronger.  We encountered our share of challenges along the route—days of relentless headwinds, when our top speed never even reached 10 miles per hour; extreme, unseasonal heat, with temperatures in western Iowa topping 100 degrees for three consecutive days; flooded rivers and unfriendly roads that forced us from our planned route; in addition to all the expected pains, strains and discomforts from spending 14 straight days in the saddle, riding 60 miles a day.

But whatever challenges we faced, they paled in comparison to what someone living with ALS faces everyday.  I knew from my father’s experience that simply trying to speak a sentence or place one foot in front of the other can be a more difficult task than anything we encountered.  The daily bravery of those living with Lou Gehrig’s disease served as a constant inspiration as we rode.

Our journey is also proof that anyone can make a difference.  I had no fundraising experience when we began, and the vast majority of the funds we raised for the ALS Association came through small, personal donations from friends, family, and those who found our website through our media exposure.  At times it was painful to revisit my father’s illness so intimately, but my spirits were buoyed by the many strangers who contacted us to tell of their own connection to ALS.  For such a ‘rare’ disease, it’s amazing how many lives ALS has touched.

So, if you’re considering your own grassroots fundraiser for ALS research, don’t underestimate the impact you can have, both on the lives of those currently living with the disease and on those who have not yet received a diagnosis.  Just weeks after we completed Monte’s Ride, newspapers wrote of new research linking ALS to a particular gene mutation, suggesting the possibility of effective treatments in the future.

Those potential treatments come too late for Monte, and for thousands now living with ALS, and it’s still far too early to even dream of a cure.  Still, every dollar raised is meaningful.  Your fundraising efforts can change lives.  When our Monte’s Ride crew rolled into Iowa City, 14 days and 800 miles from our starting place, our own lives had certainly been transformed.

Mitchell Clute is a Colorado resident and 1992 graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop (MFA, poetry).  He works as a producer and editor for the Boulder, Colo.-based multimedia publisher Sounds True, and lives in Ft. Collins with his wife and three children.  He can be reached at montesride@gmail.com