Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Handicapped Senior Citizen Bicycles Cross-Country … on Oxygen

story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

Frequently, seniors with emphysema from smoking, who constantly need oxygen, hobble around town dragging an oxygen tank and with tubes in their nose, acting like they have one foot in the grave.

But a 65-year-old Wyoming retired historian/photographer who regularly needs oxygen is proving that morbid scene is not necessary.

Mark Junge of Cheyenne has white hair, but on August 12 he appeared as fit as a teenager in San Diego’s Embarcadero Park behind the Convention Center with his specially equipped $6,000 bicycle.

Junge had just completed a 650-mile ride from San Francisco to the Tijuana border, clocking nearly 7,200 miles on four, long-distance trips in four years.

“I went from San Francisco to New York City, a 3,500 mile trip in 2004.

“The next ride we (including his wife, Ardath) went from Times Square, followed the New England coast into the maritime provinces and ended at Cape Spear, Newfoundland; the furthest point east on the North American continent for 1,785 miles,” he explained in an interview.

His wife drives a support vehicle, but doesn’t accompany Junge on the road. She arranges motels, publicity, does laundry, etc.

“Last year, we went from San Francisco to Vancouver for 1,250 miles under the same idea, to bring awareness to COPD” (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, frequently brought on by smoking). The American Lung Association (ALA) says 21 million Americans have chronic lung diseases (COPD), with 34 million expected in five years, according to updated figures from Ross Porter, the ALA’s Director of Communications in San Diego.

“This year, we went 650 miles from San Francisco to Tijuana,” he reported.

The trip cost about $6,000 and was sponsored by SeQual Technologies of San Diego. They pro-vided the senior-citizen bicyclist with a portable “concentrator” device, which was strapped to the rear luggage carrier of his bicycle.

Unlike tanks of oxygen that have a limited life and have to be replaced, the SeQual “concentrator” chemically takes in air (79 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen) and converts it into a supply of en-riched oxygen using a small portable battery.

The “concentrator” can be taken aboard airplanes, but oxygen tanks cannot. Depending on a doctor’s prescription, the SeQual “concentrator” is covered by Medicare, according to the company’s founding principal, Jim Bixby.

The San Diego-manufactured SeQual concentrator “is portable and allows people to remove themselves from their assisted-living quarters and get out and reclaim their lives,” Junge explained.

“I met so many of the most interesting people (on his four rides), and that makes these trips so fantastic. For example, at the beach in Santa Barbara, I talked with one homeless man who is an ex-CBS news correspondent who had worked with Dan Rather. He was making money by (artistically) burning designs onto logs (found on the beach) with a powerful magnifying glass and the sun and welder’s goggles. He was very articulate,” the retired Wyoming historian with five published books on Wyoming history and photography said.

He rides a “Trek” touring bike made out of steel to go long distances, with specialized “Arma-dillo” tires that are extra tough. “I’ve gone 3,500 miles on those,” he said.

He is disabled because of blood clots in his lungs, which prevent them from taking oxygen from the air and putting it into his bloodstream. That’s why he needs to breathe pure oxygen.

But he rides his bicycle to stay lively.

“If you give your heart and lungs a workout, the rest of your body – including your brain – are going to function much better,” he explained.

He thinks assisted-living homes should add rigorous workouts to their facilities.

“If you had an assisted-living facility with real workout equipment, including weight training, a pool, a hot tub and a sauna they could tell their residents, ‘We will give you a break on your rent each month if you simply take our exercise program.’

“The retirement home benefits because they have permanent residents for a longer period of time. There’s such a large turnover (as inactive seniors rapidly die off). One of the reasons they die is be-cause they are not active,” he added.

More information about COPD is available at or by calling (619) 549-2793. World cyclist Junge can be reached at

For comment, contact Leo Laurence at, or at (619) 757-4909. Additional material by Leo E. Laurence is available online at