More than 13,000 miles. Twenty countries. One tandem bike.
This is how Wynnewood couple Len and Susan Lodish have spent their vacations over the last 16 years. They're about to do it again, for the sake of another impressive number: $100,000.
That's how much they expect their bike tour will raise for the ALS Association's Greater Philadelphia Chapter. To date, their biking escapades have netted roughly $1.2 million for the charity.
It all started because Len Lodish had wanted to bike across the country ever since he was a kid. When the marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School finally made the commitment to go in 1996, he said, "I felt funny just doing it and not accomplishing anything else."
His cousin, Jules Lodish, had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease after the famous baseball player who succumbed to the progressively debilitating illness in 1941.
The couple solicited family, friends and fellow members of Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El in Wynnewood, for donations that would fund research and patient care for more than 850 affected families in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. To thank supporters, they mailed pictures and postcards along the journey. Susan, a freelance theatre director, served as photographer, snapping pictures from the back of the two-seater. (A friend who joked that they'd be divorced by the time they got to the continental divide got a picture of them kissing there.)
After 45 days, 3,300 miles and countless sore muscles, "we thought we were done," Len said. But one of the local ALS chapter co-founders insisted that they'd raised too much awareness to stop.
So while Jules' physical condition deteriorated, the couple continued through China, France, Israel and beyond. After each trip, they visited Jules in Bethesda, Md., to show him pictures so that he could "vicariously be on that ride with us," Susan said.
Jules, an oncologist, spent at least the last five years of his life paralyzed and breathing with a machine. Even in that state, the Lodishes said, he fought to live, spending hours twitching his face to control a computer cursor in order to communicate and advise others with ALS. "We just couldn't give up because Jules inspired us to keep going," Susan said.
And they kept going after Jules died in July 2008. Everywhere they went — Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Argentina, even Malaysia — they talked about their mission. One bed and breakfast owner in South Africa told them to contribute what they owed for their room to their campaign in honor of a friend who had just passed away from ALS.
Despite the exotic places they've been, Len said, the most hair-raising experience happened during a trip down the East Coast that included stops at ALS research facilities. They ended up on a four-lane highway with no shoulder outside New York City, cars speeding by and no exit for miles. A "wonderful soul" in a truck rode behind them flashing his lights for 25 minutes until they got to the exit, Len said. "We never got to thank him."
This year, they will pedal roughly 500 miles through Turkey starting July 17. A Wharton colleague connected them to locals, including members of a Turkish bicycle coalition who helped them plot a route. A member of the country's Olympic cycling team whose mother died of ALS will even ride with them part of the way.
Once they complete the trek, they'll ship their bike home and fly to Istanbul and then Israel for a less strenuous leg of their vacation.
There are two more noteworthy numbers to this story: Len and Susan Lodish will be donning matching spandex outfits at the age of 68 and 69, respectively. And they'll continue doing so "as long as we can," Susan said, "or until they find a cure."
To read more about the couple's travels, visit: www.alsphiladelphia.org/Lodish.