Many people take a trip when they retire. Which is what Randy Wussler is going to do next month.
But unlike retirees who want to relax on a cruise ship, get behind the wheel for a road trip or fly to see famous sites, Wussler’s 3,400-mile cross-country trip will rely solely on his leg power.
Wussler, who turns 58 on Monday, plans to ride a bicycle across 11 states, starting on April 21 at Torrey Pines State Beach in La Jolla and concluding in Manasquan, New Jersey, where he grew up. He estimates arriving sometime in June.
“I have been involved in endurance events for 15 years … but have done nothing of this magnitude,” said Wussler, a Rancho Bernardo resident who has done 15 marathons and a 2019 Ironman competition.
But he has another goal for the undertaking — he wants to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and awareness of Type 1 juvenile diabetes. It’s a cause close to his heart. His 25-year-old daughter, Lexie, was diagnosed with it at 8 months old.
“I knew I wanted to do this as a fundraiser,” he said. “It was a really easy choice.”
His plan is to average 65 to 70 miles per day, so about 50 days of riding. How long it will take to travel across the United States is dependent on a number of factors, including weather.
He won’t be alone. His wife, Tish, 57, will drive ahead in their van with extra supplies and bicycles. The plan is for them to meet up most nights, with Tish Wussler taking a few side trips to visit friends when her husband is in the “middle-of-nowhere” portions of the route.
Their goal is to raise $15,000 on his website, rwbikeusa.com. As of Monday, $8,645 was raised mostly from former co-workers and family. The amount includes $2,000 the couple put in plus another $2,000 in matching funds.
“It has grown faster than we thought,” Randy Wussler said, adding only a small group was told of the trip. The initial goal was $10,000, but they raised it after seeing the response.
“It blew me away how generous people have been,” Tish Wussler said.
Their daughter, Lexie Jarnagin, married last year and lives in Oregon.
“I am forever grateful to the people who have donated so far, and I am grateful for all the people who will or are planning to donate,” Jarnagin said. “I’m thankful for the people who aren’t in the place to donate financially, but are cheering him on. Anyone who contributes care, time, energy and/or money to this cause should know how much this means to me.
“Living every day with this disease is so incredibly hard,” she said. “It’s a silent battle that many people don’t get to see that leaves scars both physically and mentally. It’s not something I would wish on anyone.”
A daughter’s challenge
Wussler said he and his wife had no idea their daughter, adopted at birth, had a genetic background that could lead to her developing diabetes as an infant. She also has a biological half-sister who was diagnosed with it as an adult, he said.
“It was horrible, awful,” he said, recalling when their baby daughter became ill. “She is 25 now and in good health, but there have been complications.”
It was so unlikely for an infant to develop Type 1 diabetes that Wussler said Lexie’s pediatrician ran the blood test “on a lark.” It is more common for a toddler or child to develop the disease, which is caused by the pancreas producing little or no insulin, he said.
Early in their journey, the family found JDRF to be a good resource. For 10 years Lexie went to its camp so she could bond with children learning how to live with the disease.
“It has not been easy for (Lexie), but she’s getting it … she is accepting her disease,” Tish Wussler said.
In a video Jarnagin made for her father’s website, she describes how difficult it is to live with Type 1 diabetes.
Each day begins with testing her blood sugar and taking an insulin shot. Over a day Jarnagin said she needs five to seven shots. Variables include stress; amount of sleep and exercise; what she has eaten, including carbs, sugars and proteins. Caffeine consumption and even a hot bath can spike her blood sugar.
“It really affects my life in every way,” she said.
“Everyone is a little different and there is no one-size-fits-all for any one diabetic,” she said. “Which makes us all unique, but also makes management (challenging). … There is no guide book for any one diabetic to manage their diabetes.”
Growing up with diabetes is difficult because something as routine as cupcakes to celebrate a classmate’s birthday could mean a trip to the nurse’s office for an insulin injection, she said.
“As a child it is kind of difficult to process because you feel different and alienated from everyone else,” Jarnagin said. “No one likes to feel like the odd one out.”
She said diabetes is a “stigmatized” disease. For Type 1 there is a genetic cause, while lifestyle choices can be a factor in developing Type 2. Even though she had no control in what happened, people have told her it is her fault or she “doesn’t look diabetic.” Hearing those comments is “very difficult,” she said.
Some may assume the worst part of the disease is the insulin shots, Jarnagin said. For her, “the worst part is the time, the effort, the stress, the math that goes into managing this disease. It’s a whole lot of guesswork.”
Living with diabetes is “an everyday battle that I have no choice but to fight,” she said.
An unexpected athlete
“I was never an athlete,” Wussler said. “I played sports in junior high. As an adult, my wife and I did a lot of hiking.”
A work promotion changed that.
“I had a really high-stress job running a (research) company,” Wussler said. “I thought it was my dream job, but one month in it was a nightmare. I put on weight and was stressed.”
One day, the career analyst who spent his days reading and compiling data to determine trends decided to get on the elliptical stepper in their garage and work out a half-hour before work. He didn’t feel as stressed out after that.
So he started swimming and decided to ride a bike to his Sorrento Mesa office.
“Two years later, I had dropped 25 pounds and wondered if could drop another 25. I did,” he said.
He continued his bicycle commutes even after changing companies years later to an office in Mira Mesa. His latest job was in Newport Beach. He tried biking there once, but said he quickly realized that was not going to work out.
However, for the past two years Wussler has been working from home due to the pandemic. He said he set his schedule so he could start work early, take a couple hours break mid-day to get in a bike trip around the area or out to the coast, then continue working into the evening.
“We have so many great hills,” he said about his bicycle rides around the Westwood neighborhood where the family has lived since 1992. “That’s where my endurance was built up.”
One night Wussler had a dream that he was competing in a marathon.
“I hate running,” he said. “But I did 15 minutes out and back. … That’s really when I got into intense type of exercise. Now I love running and marathons, though I do not do as much as I used to due to wear and tear on my body.”
Wussler said he has never worked with a trainer.
“I’ve done it on my own, for better or worse, with no serious injuries,” he said.
When working Wussler biked around 100 miles a week and estimates bicycling around 6,000 miles last year. Since retiring two weeks ago he started covering 200 to 250 miles per week to prepare for the daily treks during his cross-country trip.
“I’m feeling good about my preparedness,” he said.
To support Randy Wussler’s fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or to read his trip blog, visit his website rwbikeusa.com.
His family’s reaction
“When my dad told me he was going to bike across the country, I honestly wasn’t surprised,” Jarnagin said. “It might sound crazy, but I have watched my dad achieve goal after crazy goal; his first half marathon, his first marathon, his first Ironman.
“I know he’s going to succeed because that’s just the way he is,” she said.
Jarnagin said she wasn’t surprised he was doing the trip to fundraise for Type 1 diabetes.
“That’s the kind of man he is,” she said. “I’m proud to have him as my father and I am thankful for this and everything he has done for me.”
At first, Tish Wussler, a retired rocket scientist, thought the trip sounded intimidating.
“I was nervous for him to do this,” she said. “I still am, because anything can happen. … But it is going to be a fun adventure and I love traveling.”
Tish Wussler said driving across the US is fine with her since she did it alone when Lexie was 10 and son, Bailey, was 9. Bailey will house-sit for his parents for the next few months and has been the technical consultant for the trip and website.
The journey ahead
Wussler’s route is based on advice from the Adventure Cycling Association. It will focus on back roads and small towns as much as possible. It will also provide rest days in places the couple wants to visit, including the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forrest, Santa Fe, St. Louis, Mammoth Cave and Charlottesville. It will also include visits to relatives and friends in Washington, DC; Philadelphia and New Jersey.
Wussler said the most physically difficult portion due to the climb in elevation will be at the start, when leaving San Diego. In all, he estimates the total elevation gain to be around 90,000 feet.
The couple plans to camp, sometimes stay at off-the-beaten-path motels. Wussler said he will be on his own for about 20 nights when he is in the “middle-of-nowhere.” At these times his wife will take side trips to Dallas and South Carolina. The small towns where he will stay are places where it is common for bicyclists to camp on the lawn of a fire station, church, library or other community amenity, he said.
Wussler will be riding two bicycles. His road bike is a 2019 Specialized Roubaix Expert called “Smoke,” which he referred to as a quick bike for the days when he and Tish will meet up in the evening.
When he is on his own, he will need to carry food and bike repair supplies plus his camping gear. That is when he will ride his touring bike, a 2015 Surly Disc Trucker called “Miles.”
On their return home, the couple will have a leisurely drive, stopping at places they want to see.
“We’ve never been to the Dakotas, want to see some national parks and visit family and friends. We both went to Penn State. We’ll spend about three weeks going back home,” he said.
While the bike ride is a personal goal, Wussler said the reason behind it is to help those like his daughter.
“She’s as brave as anyone I know, and I’m so incredibly proud of her,” he wrote on his website. “I’m riding my bike across the US to honor her and to help find a cure. There have been tremendous advances in the treatment of Type 1 diabetes, but there’s still no cure.”