Since she received her first bike for Christmas at age 6, Laurie Cullen, ND (’98), has been taking bicycling to the extreme.
“My older sister, Jodie, and I both got bikes for Christmas that year,” says Dr. Cullen, a faculty member at Bastyr University who supervises student clinicians at Bastyr Center for Natural Health. “By the end of the day my bicycle had been trashed, but Jodie’s was still sitting in the living room all pretty with a bow still on it.”
Now she’s taking her passion to the next extreme by bicycling across the country via the TransAmerica Trail. Her goal is to cycle 80 to 90 miles each day along the eight- to nine-week route.
“I’ve wanted to do this my whole life,” says Dr. Cullen, who will be taking leave summer quarter (June 27-Sept. 17) to complete this journey. She outlines her path in her blog, LauriesBikeAdventure.blogspot.com, which she says she will be updating daily when the journey begins.
Even before Dr. Cullen received her first bike, she tells a story on her blog about taking off on her sister’s bike:
At 4 years old I got on my sister’s bike, picked it up off the ground, jumped on and took off. Gone in a flash. Jodie was dismayed that I could do this while she struggled to pedal and stay upright. Nonetheless, my life with bicycles started.
She continued riding through grade school and started doing longer rides in high school, then landed a job at Gregg’s Cycles when she moved to Seattle to pursue her Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University.
“I loved working at that bike shop,” Dr. Cullen adds. “It gave me a nice diversion from the rigor of the naturopathic program.”
Since then, she’s done several long bike rides including completing the Seattle to Portland ride in one day, but nothing this long, she says. “I’ve always wanted to do it, but I’ve never been able to coordinate it with the timing.”
Even though Dr. Cullen will be cycling alone, she won’t be traveling alone.
She and her sister and fellow Bastyr graduate Tamara Evans, ND (’99), who supervises the Bastyr external pediatric shift at Naturopathic Family Medicine in Seattle, started talking more seriously about taking this journey together in Christmas 2014.
Dr. Evans and her husband, Loren Evans, will be tagging along for the cross-country trip in the family van carrying supplies and overnight gear, and most importantly Dr. Cullen’s dog and adventure partner, Apollo.
Finally, the timing works for everybody and marks several milestones, including the six-year anniversary of when Dr. Cullen crashed on her bike and broke her neck.
“This is a message that even after getting a broken neck, you can still ride your bike,” she says with a laugh.
Her nephew and Dr. Evans’ son, Max, is also graduating the day before the journey is set to begin on June 18, giving them the joy of watching another member of the family embark on his own journey.
The timing also works out for Bastyr, for which Dr. Cullen is thankful to Jane Guiltinan, ND (’86), dean of the School of Naturopathic Medicine. “She’s been really supportive of allowing me to take the summer off and come back and work in the fall,” says Dr. Cullen, who teaches Advanced Gynecology at Bastyr University in addition to her clinical training at Bastyr Center.
“I am very excited for Laurie,” Dr. Guiltinan says. “She has been planning this trip for years and I'm certain it will be one of the top adventures of her lifetime. I plan to track her progress and cheer her on all the way to Washington, DC. I can't wait to see the photos and hear her stories!"
In addition to fulfilling a dream of bicycling across the country, Dr. Cullen is also hoping to raise awareness and money for the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of family members who have died from the disease, including her mom.
“There’s a strong sense of importance in Alzheimer’s research in our family based on family history,” she says.
She’s raising money via GoFundMe and has already surpassed her $4,000 goal to pay for travel expenses, including gas for the van, campgrounds and other lodging, and food for the journey.
“We just threw out a number and expected $1,000 maybe,” Dr. Cullen said about the GoFundMe page. “We just thought it would be helpful because money is going to be really tight. But people have already donated so much, it really blew our socks off.”
Since the fundraiser has already reached its initial financial goal, additional donations beyond the needs of the trip will be given to the Alzheimer's Association in honor of Dr. Cullen’s and Dr. Evans’ mother, Linda Cullen.
“We’re so excited that this trip is finally here,” Dr. Cullen says, “we can hardly stand it.”