Will Parker

Miles to Go

by Will Parker on June 19, 2015 Comments Off on Miles to Go
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.
–Robert Frost, from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”


She slumped face-first onto her backpack, which rested on the hard plastic latticework of a pier-side picnic table. Her eyelids oscillated–rapidly at first, and then, gradually, more slowly. Soon the movement ceased.

Given the time of day (mid-afternoon) and her proximity to the ocean–one might guess that she’d been overcome by beach-day languor. But her sagging mouth and bloodshot eyes suggested otherwise: She looked drained. Exhausted. Beat.

I’ve thought of her, that tired woman I saw by the Oceanside, CA pier, often as I’ve watched Rob White attempt to cycle almost non-stop across the United States. Now in his 4th day of cycling, he’s only taken 3 significant sleep breaks, each one lasting about an hour and a half.

Rob, emerging from his first sleep break of RAAM.

Rob, emerging from his first sleep break of RAAM.

Can you visualize what that sort of sleep-deprivation feels like?

Try for a minute. It might be easy for you if you’re tired while reading this. But it might not be if you’re well rested. After all, one of humanity’s greatest blessings (and one of our greatest curses) is our ability to forget all but the slightest imprint of even the greatest pleasure and pain.

But try, anyway.

First, you might imagine or remember, sleep-deprivation brings irritability. Everyone and everything seems mean, petty, and intentionally designed to harm and thwart you. After that comes pure exhaustion–the overwhelming desire to stop whatever you are doing and shut your eyes. The desire to lie down and rest. Here, you might even begin to wander into the foggy beginning of a dream–but you shake that off by an act of will–for you must stay awake. Next, blessedly, the tide of exhaustion begins to go out for a while. Now, you start to feel punch-drunk, maybe even giddy, but you notice that others don’t seem to be responding to your speech in the way you expected. It’s as if they are not paying attention to what you are saying. Confusion becomes an issue. The simplest mental calculation requires heroic effort. Finally, and most jarringly, your emotions seem primed to boil to the surface rapidly. It’s as if your civilized veneer has been flayed away–no mental wall remains to contain expressions of anger, sadness, and love.

Sleep-deprivation exposes you to the harsh light of the world’s judgment, naked.


Rob at the Congress, Arizona, Time Station

“What’s the point of this exercise, Will?” you might ask. “After all, Rob White chose to do this race–I wish him the best, but I don’t have time to worry about the sleepless suffering of a masochistic cyclist.”

In my darker moments, I’ll admit that I’ve thought along those lines, too. I like Rob. He’s a good man, and I don’t like to see him hurt himself–I don’t like to see him expose himself–for the sake of a stupid bike race.

“Stop, Rob, quit!” I’ll think. “Sleep! Rest! Enjoy food and fellowship–all the things that make life pleasant and decent!”

But I’m wrong to think that way. For Rob doesn’t race for himself. He races for those with brain cancer. He endures suffering for a just cause. He rides through pain and exhaustion to raise money for brain cancer research. Because those with malignant brain tumors cannot opt out of their disease. They can’t simply quit their race, their portion of suffering. Not while tumors crush and choke their brains.

Many do find rest, at least. But too many do so, around 15,000 brain cancer patients a year in the U.S, in Frost’s snowy woods. In death.

I know, I know, you’re thinking: “Cool it, Will! I’ve just finished a long work-day!” And I get it. It all sounds a little melodramatic.

And maybe you’re sick of hearing this sort of plea for donations. After all, there are all sorts of good causes out there. Charities devoted to curing different horrible diseases. Charities dedicated to ameliorating other species of human suffering.

So why give your money, emotion, and time to 3000 Miles to a Cure, rather than those other charities?

I don’t know–in fact, I encourage you to give to those charities, too.

What I do know, though, is that brain cancer impacts the seat of the human soul–if that exists–altering personality and sapping motivation. And I know that there are exciting research developments–both on the horizon and right now–in the field of brain cancer research. And I know that today is the one year anniversary of my aunt’s death from brain cancer. And I know that I miss her.


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Will ParkerMiles to Go

Rob’s RAAM Day 3

by Will Parker on June 19, 2015 Comments Off on Rob’s RAAM Day 3

Just before dawn of day 3, a mile or two Time Station 9 in Flagstaff, AZ, we caught up with Rob’s night crew. We asked how he was doing. They replied, “great!”

Worried that they were giving us an easy answer, we asked again, “no, really, how is he doing?”

They replied again that he was doing quite well (above is a little video from their shift)–he had a good night climbing up into the highlands of Arizona where the temperature dropped, giving him a reprieve from the brutal heat of the California desert he left yesterday evening. Today brought a new challenge, though–as most days of RAAM do–the rough roads and heat of the Navajo nation.

Rob at daybreak descending into the Arizona desert.

Rob at daybreak descending into the Arizona desert.

Rob stayed in good spirits all day, however, delighting his crew with humorous semi-coherent rambling and Kung Fu antics.

Rob imitating the Karate Kid outside Tuba City

Rob imitating the Karate Kid outside Tuba City, AZ.

Saddle sores and other rear-end irritation are starting to become an issue. Despite this, Rob rode strong all day, entering Utah’s Monument Valley in the late afternoon.

Keep checking for more on Rob’s 2015 RAAM–and donate to support brain cancer research at 3000milestoacure.com.


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Will ParkerRob’s RAAM Day 3

Rob’s RAAM Day 2

by Will Parker on June 18, 2015 Comments Off on Rob’s RAAM Day 2

Rob’s second day got off to a rocky start–he took a fall on a piece of bad road (another RAAM rider also spilled on the same piece of asphalt)–which inflicted some minor scrapes and bruising.


Sunrise, too, didn’t treat Rob well. As the temperature in the Southern California desert quickly reached above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, he began suffering from nausea, a not uncommon experience for RAAM riders in the desert.



Despite these challenges, Rob managed to smile for his crew throughout the day–and maintain a very good pace. Moreover, in true Rob White fashion, he continually asked about his crew’s welfare and encouraged them throughout the day.

He took a hour and a half nap at Time Station 6 in Congress, AZ (where the always kind Bullshifters Cycling Club waited cheerfully on the needs of both Rob and his crew).

He looked strong, though, ascending the Yarnell Grade (ascending out of the desert) and said he felt more rested. Tonight, he is expected to pass Flagstaff, Arizona.

Keep checking for more updates from 3000 Miles to a Cure as Rob attempts a grueling challenge to raise money for brain cancer research.

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Will ParkerRob’s RAAM Day 2

Rob’s RAAM Start/Day 1

by Will Parker on June 18, 2015 Comments Off on Rob’s RAAM Start/Day 1

Rob said he was nervous before the start (the phrase “scared s***less” might have been thrown around.)–he was still able to down some shrimp tacos at the Oceanside pier, though.



And he came out riding strong from Oceanside.


Less than 100 miles later, Rob experienced the first classic landmark of RAAM: the “Glass Elevator” a mountain descent leading in to the town of Borrego Springs, California. This stunningly beautiful descent brought Rob into the desert where he pedaled through his first night of RAAM, taking only one 15 minute rest break.


Rob going down the Glass Elevator

Rob going down the Glass Elevator.

Rob enters the desert.

Rob enters the desert.


Here’s a great video recap from 3000 Miles to a Cure media intern Viviane Feldman. Stay tuned for news from Rob’s second day.

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Will ParkerRob’s RAAM Start/Day 1

Who is Rob White?

by Will Parker on June 15, 2015 Comments Off on Who is Rob White?

Rob White, under our makeshift shelter.

RAAM peels you back. Brain cancer peels you back.

–Maria Parker, RAAM finisher

Rob White is a 2015 Race Across America (RAAM) contestant, raising money with his ride for brain cancer research alongside 3000 Miles to a Cure.

But who is he?

Let’s start with the physical and go from there:

Rob stands a couple inches above average height, with ropy arms, a thick torso, and the swollen calves that often protrude from powerful cyclists. He is muscular, but not in the way of actors or bodybuilders. The muscles of his arms and chest look like they’ve been laid down in thick slabs by repetitive physical labor–not sculpted carefully by time in the gym.

He talks with a Wisconsin accent–his home state, and where he still resides–and his sentences are often accompanied by “I guess” used in a conciliatory manner. He’s relatively soft-spoken, but smiles a lot.

He is a father, with one daughter and one son, both in college.
He is an outdoorsman, who enjoys hunting, fishing, and bird-watching. His second passion, besides cycling, is spending time in nature.
He is a painter–with his own small business–“It’s all I know how to do, so that’s what I do,” he said.
He is an athlete, albeit one who still laughs at the title: “I’m a painter. I was smoking up until 6 years ago,” he chuckled, “I don’t see myself as an athlete. I’m just a guy who likes to ride his bike a bunch.”

It's an event

Whatever he may call himself, he is a man with a track record of endurance feats (he finished third in the 860 mile Race Across the West last year)–which extends farther back than his cycling career. As a young man, he says, he walked 35 miles “half a dozen times” to visit a girl he was dating.

He is a man of faith, a Roman Catholic, though he is reticent about his belief: “I tried to keep that kind of quiet because I don’t know if people understood,” he said near the end of our interview, “but apparently a lot of people….” and he paused here as if searching for the right phrase, “do get it.” He talked a little of the redemptive power of suffering–suffering to help others–in the tradition of the saints:

“To me this suffering, this pain, is being offered to those who with no choice at all have this brain cancer that they can’t choose. You know?” White said. “That’s where all this is being offered to. To…to…those people that… don’t need to suffer.”

He is also a motivated man. A close friend’s son has brain cancer (in remission)–and Rob sees the fight against brain cancer as part of a bigger struggle against all cancers–his sister-in-law died of ovarian cancer after a long struggle with the disease.

Most of all, he is a good and humble man–a man who paused his training a few days before the biggest race of his life, just to keep a few car-troubled media interns hydrated, entertained, and supplied with ice cream sandwiches.

Rob keeping us company in the desr

Rob keeping us laughing after some car trouble.

So, we know who Rob White is.

But who will he be during RAAM?

Race Across America is a brutal, 3000 mile cycling battle against the harshest geography the continental United States has to offer. Racers ride under their own power, with minimal sleep (the race clock never stops) until they either reach Annapolis, are disqualified for missing a time cutoff, or quit. Half of RAAM entrants (who have to complete grueling ultra-cycling qualifiers to even enter the race) do not successfully finish.  Many racers vomit, cry, and experience hallucinations on their journey across the country.

It’s an event that peels you back with its cruelty and beauty.


So, will Rob keep his kindness and discipline in the heat of the desert? Will he keep smiling through the long plains of Colorado and Kansas? Will his courage shatter in the winding hill-ways of the Appalachians?

We can watch as he undergoes the pain and suffering of this self-chosen trial. We can see if he makes good out of it–see if he finds transcendence in it. And–here is where my great fascination with RAAM lies–we can wonder how we would do in a situation of similar difficulty.

That fascination is widespread among the humans I’ve known–maybe not for RAAM, specifically, but for war stories, journey narratives, and lifeboat tales. It exists, I think, because many of us have experienced great trials–and we all know innately that we will experience great trials in the future. Trials filled with pain, with suffering, and with the presence of death. Trials like brain cancer.

While we wait for or cope with these trials, we can look to those who embrace these tests: those who seek them out–a little baffled, maybe by their decision, but inspired by their courage and eager to learn from their struggles. If Rob’s example in this trial of suffering teaches us something, or if it gives us hope–then he and the saints are right: suffering is redemptive.


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Will ParkerWho is Rob White?