Caldwell student Ashley Laws prepares cross-country ride for American Heart Association

Mar. 14, 2013 @ 01:30 AM

If she has to write an essay this fall in school about what she did this summer, Ashley Laws will have a doozie.

The 18-year-old Caldwell Early College High School student is going to cycle 3,500 miles across the United States, from Astoria Ore., to Zacata, Va., which is near the Potomac River between Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Va. She will begin her trip on May 24 and will spend five weeks atop her steel-framed Trek 520 touring bike raising money for the American Heart Association to promote fitness and helmet safety.

“I just finished my Girl Scout gold project on helmet safety,” Laws said from her Granite Falls home. “The ride is an extension of that. Fitness and getting in shape is what the AHA is all about. That affects your heart.”

She figures expenses for the trip will run around $8,000. Anything she raises above that amount goes to the heart association, and she said she doesn't want to settle for anything less than raising $12,000.

Laws is no stranger to long bike rides. As a fourth-grader, she rode her first Cycle North Carolina event, a cross-state bicycle tour sponsored in part by the N.C. Division of Tourism and N.C. Amateur Sports that has attracted participants from all 50 states and at least eight countries. The first trip was on a tandem bike with her father at the helm. The next two years, she rode solo, averaging 65 miles per day.

She practices on long rides near her neighborhood on Grace Chapel Road wearing her cycling shorts and brightly-colored polyester shirt. Both bear reflective material in the fabric and are tight-fitting for less wind resistance.

Her dad, Rick Laws, also is an avid biker and often joins her on long rides. He has often talked about embarking on a cross-country trip but never found the time.

“I stole his dream,” Ashley Laws said.

But her father will ride part of the way with her, sharing duties with her godfather, David Wray, also a bicycle enthusiast. Laws and her support team, which also will include her 15-year-old sister, Megan, will ride in a van to Oregon.

The bike route was carefully planned. Go too far south and you tangle with the Rocky Mountains. Crossing the heartland would take too long. They settled on a route that will take her through parts of Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and finally Virginia. They hope to reach their destination June 25 or 26.

While Ashley Laws rides, the rest will drive ahead, scout campsites, prepare her meals and perform any necessary bicycle repairs.

Laws will carry about 20 pounds of supplies with her while she rides, including a walkie-talkie and cellphone. Of course, there will be plenty of energy bars and food loaded with carbohydrates. A concoction of baked beans, cheese, eggs and sausage will be her sustenance. She will wash it down with Gatorade and water.

Her mother, Karen, worries a little.

“I’m always concerned about safety while she’s on the road,” she said. “We’ve had several friends who have been injured in bicycle accidents. But if you don’t take the chances, you won’t get very far.”

Her parents also know she is head-strong and determined. And prepared.

“She’s ready for a trip like this,” Rick said. “The sum of her riding accomplishments gives her this determination. We’ve always tried to give her opportunities. She’s known what she’s wanted to do for a long time.”

Ashley Laws also is no stranger to injury. A member of the ski patrol, she is used to danger on the slopes. Recently, she suffered two concussions, once while snowboarding and another while skiing.

Laws will graduate next year with an associate's degree and a high school diploma. She hopes to enroll in a pre-med program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and then attend Harvard Medical School.

“She’s a special and unique person,” Karen Laws adds. “She will do whatever she sets her mind to do.”

Ashley Laws will be blogging during her trip at atozacrossamerica.webs.com. Anyone wishing to donate can do so online at www.gofundme.com/28nnvs, or email atozacrossamericabybicycle@gmail.com for information.