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At 71, Pennsylvania man to cycle 4,000 miles cross country

Peter Karch, 71, is determined to become the oldest person to bicycle 4,000 miles from California to Virginia. Here he is with a bicycle near his home in Maxatawny Township, Pennsylvania.

MCT PHOTO
















, on April 23, 2013. (Emily Robson/Allentown Morning Call/MCT)

Peter Karch, 71, is determined to become the oldest person to bicycle 4,000 miles from California to Virginia. Here he is with a bicycle near his home in Maxatawny Township, Pennsylvania. MCT PHOTO , on April 23, 2013. (Emily Robson/Allentown Morning Call/MCT) Purchase photo reprints »

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - At 71, Peter Karch is ready to leave his mark in the cycling world.

The former biology professor at Lehigh Carbon Community College plans to bicycle more than 4,000 miles solo and unsupported from California to Virginia.

“I want to do something in my life before I die that no one else has done,” says Karch. “I’m tired of doing things that everyone has done. I want to do something different.”

Karch was to leave his Kutztown, Pa., home and fly to Southern California, where his daughter was to drive him to the departure city of Carpinteria. Karch will cycle, carrying about 70 pounds of food, cooking and camping gear for as long as his legs will last each day.

He will sleep on the fields near the road, communing with nature’s elements. He hopes to arrive in Assateague, Va., in less than two months.

It will not be the first time he traverses the length of the country. Ten years ago, he rode the same distance in 61 days. But this trip is a little different.

“This time,” says his wife, Lillian, “I am proud that he is doing it for something greater than himself.”

“I’m riding to drum up awareness for my daughter’s spinal cord institute,” he explains. “I want people to recognize it, know that it exists and raise some funds for it.”

His daughter was paralyzed by a neck injury during a traffic accident in 1995. Karch was driving when a tractor-trailer sideswiped his van on interstate 78 near Clinton, N.J.

“At that moment,” Karch says about the accident, “I couldn’t control the situation. That did bother me, it still bothers me.”

Laura, 18 at the time, made a miraculous recovery. With intense physical therapy, Laura regained her ability to walk. Her efforts earned her the Hall of Fame Award for Determination from Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Center in Allentown, Pa., where she did most of her rehabilitation.

Now as the founder of the Awakenings Health Institute in Solana Beach, Calif., Laura is using her experiences to help others with their recovery.

“Peter is riding for her and all her patients,” says Karch’s wife of 49 years, “those who can’t do this.”

Karch’s desire to complete the expedition follows a life of adventures.

Lillian says about Karch’s newest challenge, “I have decided at this time in my life that this is not the time for me to worry. He wants to do this, he has to go and do it to be happy with himself.”

Karch’s dream of cycling cross country emerged when he was a child. It took him a lifetime of planning and preparation to accomplish the feat at age 61. This was just one of his lifetime dreams. The other two including hiking a large portion of the Appalachian Trail and sailing across the Pacific Islands. He has accomplished all three of these goals.

Now he wants to prove to himself that he can surpass his own accomplishments a decade later.

“I want to demonstrate that you’re as old as you allow yourself to feel,” he says. “Your only limitations are the goals that you set for yourself.”

Karch will not be keeping a blog or any other tools to track his journey, other than perhaps his maps and his journal. There will be no support team to change flat tires and provide him water and shelter. His journey is an exercise in survival and self-sufficiency as much as it is a cycling challenge.

He’d like to establish a record as the oldest person to bicycle cross country without support. But Race Across America, which keeps records of cross-country cycling expeditions, does not recognize Karch’s route and unsupported style of riding in its record-keeping criteria, Karch says.

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