EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 1, 2014

Hampstead woman completes 3,000-mile bike trip

Hampstead woman completes 57-day bike trip today

By Dustin Luca

---- — HAMPSTEAD — When Karen Coffey turned 50, she decided to do something big: leave her job for two months and ride a bike across the country.

She said it’s one of the best decisions she ever made, not just for her, but also for Make-A-Wish Foundation families.

Coffey’s trip wraps up early this afternoon in St. Augustine, Fla. as she knocks down the final 47 miles of her journey. Over 57 days, she will have traveled 3,076 miles with about 30 other women from around the country.

While riding, she was fundraising for Make-A-Wish with a goal of $15,000. She will finish just shy of $18,000.

The journey was devised by a friend who was upset about turning 50, which Coffey did last May.

“I had a friend who was really struggling with 50. I said, ‘I don’t want to struggle,’” Coffey said. “I wanted to see what I was made of.”

The trip was out of her comfort zone, she said. Preparing meant working out on a bike, each day taking longer and longer trips while saving up money for the long road ahead.

She took a two-month long leave from her consulting career in March and flew to San Diego. She started her trip there March 6.

Along the way, she said she was surprised by how vast and sparse America is.

“There were parts of Texas where we went 10 days and there was nothing but ranches and roads, and a little motel,” Coffey said.

Where there were motels, there were reminders from home waiting for her.

Cards and care packages with everything from jokes to funny pictures were waiting at most of the motels Coffey stayed in.

Lisa Tennant was one of three women who sent mail throughout the trip.

“What we were intending to do was let her know as much as we could during her trip that she was on top of everybody’s mind,” Tennant said. “Even from far away, we were thinking about her and cheering her on.”

Coffey had something else on her mind, particularly while moving through Texas.

She chose to raise money for Make-A-Wish, which helped a family close to her endure a battle with neuroblastoma years ago.

The child, Canaan Bernier, lost his battle at the age of 8, but not before becoming a cowboy in Texas, his life-long dream.

Coffey said the $15,000 goal she set wasn’t going to cure cancer or help someone win their battle.

“But if you look at the collective experience, one of the highlights during that time was the Make-A-Wish trip, because it created new memories,” Coffey said. “It was for the entire family, not just the child that was sick.”

Ultimately, $18,000 will cover the cost of making two dreams come true, said Donna Parker, vice president of development for Make-A-Wish.

“To have somebody singlehandedly raise close to $20,000 is huge,” Parker said. “We love Karen. We wish we had more people out there like Karen. We wish we could be there to welcome her home.”

Before Coffey can come home, she has to complete the trip.

The group will have a police escort for the final 7 miles of the trip, which ends at the Atlantic Ocean.

“I’ll be crying, at least, for the last 7 miles,” Coffey said. “I can’t believe I did this because, when you’re doing it day by day, it’s chunking it out. It’s just moving the miles.”

The miles became routine once they started rolling away, she said. Three thousand miles is only out of sight for someone who puts it there, Coffey said.

Her advice to anyone considering a similar journey is simple: Think it. Plan it. Do it.

“Put every excuse you have, write it down, put it away, and think about the reasons you can do it,” she said. “I’m an average girl, and if I can do it, anyone can do it. The biggest challenge I have found is people can’t think big enough.”

Coffey kept a blog during her trip. To see it, visit http://bit.ly/1iK2Y6i.