Willie Winters has biked 50 or 60 miles during a ride on many occasions.
Those include one-day rides to Long Beach, Ind., and two-week trips around Lake Michigan.
The Beverly resident’s next adventure, however, will take him across the country—and as usual, he will be raising money for charity along the way.
Winters is preparing to join Adventure Cycling in a bike ride from Washington, D.C., to Florence, Ore., beginning May 14.
His two-and-a-half-month, coast-to-coast trip, dubbed “Willie’s Wild Ride,” will raise funds for Pat Mac’s Pack, a local charity that supports pediatric brain tumor research.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be fun,” Winters said. “I’ll get to see some parts of the country that I’ve never seen and, hopefully, meet a lot of different people.”
Winters, 68, has been an avid cyclist for the last 15 years, turning to his bike to help him rehab after a hip replacement.
Two years ago, he joined a couple of friends in cycling around Lake Michigan, enjoying a 13-day, 1,100-mile trip comprised of about 80 miles per day.
He and his friends camped out almost every night. When they arrived back home, Winters realized that the ride had changed his mindset.
Winters said he felt ready to take on the upcoming 4,000-mile, 74-day trip.
“That kind of gave me the confidence,” Winters said, “that I could actually do this.”
Winters will travel to Washington, D.C., via train on May 11 to prepare for his trek.
The first leg will take him to Pittsburgh, and he will also ride through Ohio, Indiana, southern Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Colorado before trekking north into Wyoming and Montana. Campouts are planned for every night, including in Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
He will join about 15 riders, with a van escorting them to haul their supplies.
Riding in support of Pat Mac’s Pack is a cause near and dear to Winters’ heart. The charity is named after Patrick McNamara, a 13-year-old from Beverly who died of brain cancer in 2011. Winters is a cousin to McNamara’s mother, Dee McNamara.
Since 2014, Winters has helped Pat Mac’s Pack host a 100-kilometer bike ride every June to Long Beach to raise funds.
For his cross-country trek, Winters has created a fundraising page on the Pat Mac’s Pack website, and he will document his ride on his Instagram account, @Williebikes52.
The ride is Winters’ latest effort to honor Patrick McNamara, known for his wit and humor. He battled brain tumors beginning when he was 2 years old, and he and Winters often teased each other about the Cubs and White Sox, as McNamara cheered for the North Side team. Winters said the boy’s battle is a reminder to never complain.
“He was such a sweet kid, an inspirational kid,” Winters said. “Pat always called me ‘Uncle Willie.’”
Dee McNamara is grateful that Winters is going the extra mile—and then some—to support her family.
“Willie has always been a close cousin of mine, and I’ve always admired all the things he does for the community and his family,” she said. “Willie and Patrick had a great rapport, and Patrick enjoyed giving Willie a hard time.
“This is a huge challenge for him, and it is very meaningful that he’s honoring Pat with this ride because Pat also went through so many huge challenges.”
According to organizers, Pat Mac’s Pack has raised over $1 million, with $800,000 donated to Lurie Children’s Hospital and $300,000 to families battling cancer.
“Willie has been a strong supporter of Pat Mac’s Pack since the beginning,” McNamara said. “We can’t thank him enough for all he’s done in the battle against pediatric cancer.”
Winters has completed long rides around the Midwest and eastern part of the United States, but he’s never been to many of the western states he’ll soon visit.
He’s working with a personal trainer to prepare for this trip, completing 50-mile rides twice a week.
It’s been a long journey after his hip-replacement rehab.
“I always liked cycling,” Winters said. “I always had a bike. It just kind of went from there. I used to ride downtown with my bike.”
He said another important person in his life has enabled him to volunteer to help others.
“I could not do this trip without the support of my wife, Kerry,” he said. “Once she was comfortable with the idea, it fell into place. Kerry surprised me with a Christmas gift of coaching from a company that specializes in training people for cross-country rides.”
The bike ride to Long Beach was canceled last year due to the pandemic, and supporters were invited to bike around their neighborhood instead.
The ride was a men-only event its first six years, part of a guys’ weekend away also featuring golf and socializing. Women were invited to participate last year before the event was canceled, and they are again invited to this year’s ride, which will take place on Sept. 17.
Until then, local residents will be rooting for Winters over the next three months.
“This is a dream come true but also a challenge,” he said on the Pat Mac’s Pack website. “I have been training and hope that the training takes me all the way to Oregon, over three mountain ranges and across the plains.
“I look forward to seeing the beauty of America from a bicycle.”