Auburn family biking cross-country to Washington, D.C.

Kathy and Bruce Wandler are all smiles as they embark on their 3,300-mile journey to the nation’s capitol as part of the Big Ride Across America. -
Kathy and Bruce Wandler are all smiles as they embark on their 3,300-mile journey to the nation’s capitol as part of the Big Ride Across America.
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Well-prepared, eager and focused, Bruce and Kathy Wandler embarked on a long-awaited cross country trip Monday.

Destination: Washington D.C.

Distance: 3,300 miles over 48 days.

Consumption: Not an ounce of outrageously-priced gasoline, just plenty of grit and leg power.

The Wandlers are wanderers and wonderers. And that is why the Big Ride Across America, a benefit trip for the American Lung Association, appeals to them. The Auburn family – a tight-knit group of longtime avid bicyclists – often makes day trips by pedaling long miles through scenic country. They have come to know and appreciate the beauty of Washington from their two-wheel excursions.

But this trip is somewhat different. They are doing it for many reasons, notably for a good cause and a dear loved one. Bruce, a semi-retired general surgeon who has practiced in Auburn for 30-plus years, and his niece from Kent, Kathy, a clinical laboratory assistant at Auburn Regional Medical Center, will join 35 other cyclists from around the country in the ride for ALA. Funds raised from the nationally organized ride will support research to find cures for lung diseases such as cancer, emphysema and asthma. It also will provide educational programs to help children with asthma live happy, productive lives, and teach them to make informed decisions about smoking.

The Wandlers also are riding in memory of Bud, Bruce’s brother and Kathy’s father who died suddenly of a ruptured aortic aneurysm more than five years ago at age 67. The brothers had talked about making such a transcontinental retirement bike trip for years – but tragically, it never came to be.

Now, Bruce and Kathy will be riding with him in spirit. This one’s for Bud, who shared the love of cycling with family.

“I’m hoping to learn more about my dad, find out what my limitations are and maybe learn more about small-town America,” Kathy said of her trip’s expectations.

In good health, Kathy and Bruce decided to jump at the chance. The timing is right, the course inviting and the cause worthwhile.

“It’s not just a ride, it’s an adventure,” Bruce said. “And this can’t be about us. It is about giving something back.”

The Wandlers have been affected by lung disease as a family and in their profession. They closely have witnessed and shared the experiences of pain and suffering caused by lung diseases.

“I even cried with the patient,” Kathy added.

The trail of tears has carried over onto the bike, their social and therapeutic outlet.

Uncle and niece have trained long and hard for the trip – to the tune of 150-170 weekly miles. They have traversed between 1,900 and 2,000 miles since January, battling one of the wettest and coldest first six months on record in the Puget Sound.

On their trip, they hope to average 85 miles a day, depending on the frequency of hills, passes and unforgiving headwinds. They will ride for five days, rest every sixth, before resuming the ride that will take them through the heart of the northern United States,.Over a period of nearly seven weeks, they will pass through such towns as Harlowton, Mont., Newcastle, Wyo., De Smet, S.D., Owatonna, Minn., Viroqua, Wis., Morris, Ill., Kendallville, Ind., New Waterford, Ohio, Confluence, Pa., and Clarksburg, Md.

They plan to reach the nation’s capitol on Aug. 9.

Riders will be assigned camp and cooking duties to help keep costs down and increase the fundraising return for the ALA. A support truck will transport the riders’ clothing and cooking gear. A sag van will provide water, snacks and respite for those who can’t ride that day.

The Wandlers are ready. Bruce will take his trusty Trek 520, a bike he has had for 17 years and one that he has ridden for about 15,000 lifetime miles. Kathy will spin her longtime Specialized bike she has taken for about 12,000 lifetime miles.

Here’s to a smooth ride.

“And hopefully the prevailing winds will prevail,” Bruce said.

For more about the ride and the ALA, visit

Mark Klaas can be reached at 253-833-0218, ext. 5050, or

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