Meet the man traveling 300 miles by wheelchair for more accessible trails

Eight years ago, Ian Mackay was on a routine bike ride back from class at the University of California, Santa Cruz, when his entire life changed.

“I was going pretty quick on the bike trail back to my house — I always was a bit of a speed demon — when I hit some sand and wiped out,” Mackay told GrindTV. “I went headfirst into a tree and suffered a spinal chord injury. I broke my neck.”

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Mackay had broken his C2 vertebrae, and was left paralyzed from the neck down. Mackay had also partially paralyzed his diaphragm, making it impossible for him to breathe without a ventilator.

Ian Makcay Ian's ride accessible trails

In the time since his injury, Mackay has met a handful of individuals living with spinal chord injuries, and is hoping his ride can call attention to their situations. Photo: Courtesy of Ian’s Ride

“The first year [of recovery] was brutal,” Mackay writes on his website about the experience. “I spoke little because I was uncomfortable with the speaking valve required to talk with a ventilator. I watched way too much TV and was basically mopey.”

After some time, Mackay regained his ability to breathe on his own again, and was fitted with a power wheelchair that he could control through an air pressure gauge attached to a straw he blows into. Finally able to move again, Mackay began getting back to what he enjoyed most.

“I thought being able to get out and explore nature was over when I became quadriplegic,” Mackay told GrindTV. “But once I could move on my own and regained some independence, I began exploring some of the bike paths and nature trails around my house.”

Ian Makcay Ian's ride accessible trails

Ian’s mother Teena (left) has been extremely supportive in his venturing back to the outdoors. Photo: Courtesy of Ian’s Ride

Suddenly reconnected with a lifelong passion, Mackay told GrindTV he logged 2,300 miles on his wheelchair exploring the trails near his house in Port Angeles, Washington, in the last year.

A fan of bike touring prior to his life in a wheelchair, Mackay came up with a crazy idea: What if he could ride his wheelchair some 300 miles through the state of Washington from north to south?

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And so, the idea of Ian’s Ride was born.

Beginning on Aug. 13, Mackay embarked on what will be an 11-day journey that began in Victoria, British Columbia, and will carry him to Portland, Oregon. The idea, at first, was born out of a desire to explore Washington and stop at many of its renowned breweries.

“I really just wanted to go for a nice long ride and maybe drink some beers along the way,” the 34-year-old Mackay told GrindTV about his journey.

“But then I thought, why not use my journey to bring a little bit of awareness to the fact that, all across the nation, disabled people use bike paths and what not to get from point A to point B, and there’s a major need for improvement to those paths.”

Ian Makcay Ian's ride accessible trails

A former biology major at UCSC, Mackay said he has always loved being in nature, and wants other disabled people to have to opportunity to explore the outdoors. Photo: Courtesy of Ian’s Ride

According to Mackay, a startling number of bike paths and nature trails across the country aren’t accessible to disabled people, making it nearly impossible for them to get where they need to go.

“I’ll often have to jump on the highway where I live — which I don’t recommend for anyone else to do — and I have to ride on the side of the freeway and try to make sure I don’t drift into traffic,” said Mackay. “Highways aren’t designed for wheelchairs to be on.”

So to call attention to that disparity, Mackay teamed up with Washington Bikes, a nonprofit group dedicated to increasing the amount of safe, complete, accessible bike connections in Washington.

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The group has helped pay for Mackay’s food and lodging along the way, as well as covered the expenses of Mackay’s support crew (his mother, Teena, and two cyclist friends, Joshua Blaustein and Josh Sutcliffe).

Ian Makcay Ian's ride accessible trails

Despite growing up in Southern California, Mackay says the hardest part of his journey thus far has been managing the heat along his route. Photo: Courtesy of Ian Mackay

Currently five days into his journey, Mackay is raising funds for Washington Bikes through his website, and hoping that his feat will bring some notoriety to his cause.

“I think improving these trails so that everyone can use them is mutually beneficial for society,” Mackay said. “Beyond encouraging more people to cycle and getting traffic off the road, I think it’s just psychologically better for people to be able get somewhere completely on their own.”

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