How cycling changed an Oakdale man’s life

A group of friends and family greeted Pete Mogren (wearing the helmet) in downtown Stillwater July 2 to celebrate him reaching the halfway point of a planned 4,250-mile fundraiser. Mogren, of Oakdale, took a few days to rest before continuing his journey. (Submitted photo)
A group of friends and family greeted Pete Mogren (wearing the helmet) in downtown Stillwater July 2 to celebrate him reaching the halfway point of a planned 4,250-mile fundraiser. Mogren, of Oakdale, took a few days to rest before continuing his journey. (Submitted photo)
Pete Mogren, accompanied by his wife, Angel, and a group of supporters, arrived in downtown Stillwater July 2. The group joined him at Pine Point Regional Park and rode with him on the new Brown’s Creek State Trail to the St. Croix River. Mogren had already biked some 2,100 miles since leaving Anacortes, WA, in June on his cross-country fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  (Submitted photo)
Pete Mogren, accompanied by his wife, Angel, and a group of supporters, arrived in downtown Stillwater July 2. The group joined him at Pine Point Regional Park and rode with him on the new Brown’s Creek State Trail to the St. Croix River. Mogren had already biked some 2,100 miles since leaving Anacortes, WA, in June on his cross-country fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. (Submitted photo)
Pete and Angel Mogren take a breather and check out the scenery in Sandpoint, Idaho. (Submitted photo)
Pete and Angel Mogren take a breather and check out the scenery in Sandpoint, Idaho. (Submitted photo)

Pete Mogren rides 3,000 miles to raise funds for MS

It’s been over a month since Oakdale cyclist Pete Mogren dipped the back tire of his bicycle in the chilly Pacific waters off Washington State and embarked on a cross-country adventure he hoped would take him to the opposite coast in northern New England.

As of July 16, Pete, an Oakdale resident, had completed over 70 percent of his 4,250-mile ride from the town of Anacortes, Washington, to Bar Harbor, Maine, to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

With the help of a few friends and his wife, Angel, following him at alternating times in a support vehicle, he traveled 3,000 miles under his own power on two wheels, making it to the eastern edge of Indiana, near the Ohio border -- where he had to make a difficult decision to pull the plug on his arduous journey across America.

Pete at first decided to skip over the state of Ohio, and continue the last leg of his trip from Horseshoe Falls (the Canadian side of Niagara) after a few days rest, but the pain he was experiencing from a neck injury proved to be too much.

“I’m sorry to say our fun has come to an end. I have sustained an injury to my neck that I just can’t overcome,” Pete said in a video blog post a few days later. “I took a few days off, and it’s just not getting better. I don’t want to aggravate it any worse. I’ve had quite a few neck surgeries and I don’t want to have another one. Nerves are something you don’t really want to mess with.”

Cycling was a lifesaver

The 51-year-old business owner recalls being in a bad place just a handful of years ago. He became addicted to strong opiate painkillers after sustaining severe injuries from a collision with a drunken driver.

Over the next four years he underwent three neck fusions and a half dozen neck and back surgeries. He admits he was in rough shape and in copious amounts of pain.

“Things took a turn for the worse in my life, and I knew things needed to change,” he recalls.

Pete reached out to his doctor, who recommended exercise to help lessen the pain he was experiencing.

He started off with daily walks, and then took to riding a bicycle a few days a week.

Pete, who admits to having an addictive personality, soon committed to cycling as much as he could - averaging an impressive 6,000 miles during the warm months, and eight to 10 hours per week of cardio workouts at the gym in the winter to stay in shape.

“I decided I might as well do something that’s good for my body. ... It really has been a cathartic thing for me. It’s been key to staying healthy,” he says.

Pete’s friend Alan Wyman, who attends St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in North St. Paul, where Pete has been a lifelong member, says Pete has always been a determined guy who has a “go big or go home” attitude about everything he does.

“I’ve really noticed a great change in him since he’s biked,” Wyman says.

Wyman provided web updates and GPS coordinates during Pete’s cross-country ride online at msbikeacrossamerica.com.

Pete says he wants people to know it’s possible to overcome a dependency on painkillers.

“They are not a long-term solution. They will ruin your life,” he says. “You don’t have to wait until the end of a 30-year marriage to work with your doctor. I’m living proof.”

In addition to getting clean, and embracing health and fitness, his ordeal has had another upside.

“Four years ago I met the love of my life,” he says of Angel.

Love on two wheels

Pete and Angel were married just over a year ago, and both say the cross-country trek has brought them closer together.

Since she’s a schoolteacher, Angel has the summer off from work. She accompanied her husband on much of the journey and was able to get some miles in on her bike as well.

“He’s showed me a lot of things I’ve never seen that we got to experience together. It’s been really fun for us to see the U.S.,” she says.

Angel and Pete say a favorite memory of the trip was traveling through Sandpoint, Idaho, in the scenic northern panhandle of the state.

“It was so beautiful and calm near Sand Point with perfect weather and riding conditions,” Angel recalls.

Pete remembers riding down a mountain road on that beautiful day, encountering no one else for nearly three hours.

“It was just me and the wilderness. I remember hearing a crash in the woods while on the bike and looked over to see a mama moose and her baby. It was so serene.”

A tough journey

But many days weren’t so easy, Pete admits. There were days with fierce head winds, bad weather and searing heat, while traversing the continent, from the fir and spruce-lined Cascade’s of the Pacific Northwest, and steep Rocky Mountain passes, over the Continental Divide, to the formidable sea of grass covering the Great Plains and towering cornfields of the Midwest.

There was the time Pete hit a pothole, wiped out, and cracked a few ribs, and there was the white-knuckle ride through much of North Dakota, biking on a narrow shoulder along the interstate with semi-trucks speeding by at 75 mph.

“You better hold on with all of your might or the wash brings you straight in,” he says.

Pete says staying mentally and physically sharp is paramount on such a long journey. Despite the ride’s precarious moments, Pete says 50 percent of the time it’s “just you and the open road.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge, he says, was leaving his job and family for several weeks. Pete owns ROC Commercial Cleaning in Oakdale and he has two grown sons, who work at the company, as well as two teenage-stepdaughters at home.

“The No. 1 challenge is business and family,” Pete says. “The people in my life have had to step up big time, probably more so than I have. It’s a challenge to not feel guilty,” Pete said while sitting at his desk on a five-day break from his ride July 7.

He had been averaging about 100 miles on his bike a day, and took a few days to rest up before hitting the road again July 8.  

A group of his supporters biked with him from Pine Point Regional Park in Washington County to the western bank of the St. Croix River in downtown Stillwater July 2, to celebrate his reaching the halfway point of his journey. Family and friends welcomed him with a cake at the end of the trail that day.

Pete’s mother, Betty Beane, says she’s proud of him. “He’s always been energetic and very task-oriented. His mantra is, ‘why do when you can overdo?’”

She admits there were times during her son’s trip when she was worried, “especially all across North Dakota where he rode on the shoulder of the freeway. It’s legal there. That made me nervous,” she says in a serious tone.

An eye-opening ride

Pete says riding cross-country on his bike was an eye-opening experience that gave him a unique look at human nature.

He met a lot of people along the way, some eagerly donated to the MS Society, without him asking, while others chose not to donate.

He recalls a humbling experience while encountering a homeless man in eastern Washington, who approached him while chugging a 40-oz. bottle of malt liquor.

“We were in this valley in Washington. We had a hard day. Angel had fallen down [from her bike] and we had taken a break in town,” Pete says. “And here comes this homeless guy with his dog, drinking a 40, who sat down to talk with us.”

Pete says the man was genuinely interested in the cross-country ride he was doing for charity.

“He was very nice, very respectful. At the end he emptied out his pockets and gave about 95 cents toward MS.”

In contrast, the next day he had a long conversation with three couples in Glacier National Park. The group was traveling in three mint-condition Austin Healey sports cars that Pete estimates were worth about $250,000 apiece.

“You know how much they gave? Nothing.” Pete says. “I didn’t ask any of them for money, but that dichotomy was just interesting to me. That was really an ‘aha moment.’... It reminds me not to pre-judge people.”

Pete says he has seen similar examples of human nature while doing mission work in India, but his experiences Stateside on his bike “brings it all home.”

“Human nature is the same wherever you go. Some give with all their hearts and some don’t. It’s taught me not to pre-judge anyone. Some people will surprise you with how giving they can be.”

While Pete came up short of his goal of completing a 4,250-mile ride across the widest part of the continental U.S., he was successful in doing something most of us could never accomplish.

He rode a distance of 3,000 miles in 31 days -- about the same distance as flying from New York City to Dublin, Ireland -- and raised $7,000 for the National MS Society.

For more perspective, the MS cross-country ride from St. Augustine, Fla., to San Diego, Calif., is also about 3,000 miles.

In Pete’s last blog post he thanked all his supporters.

“I had an amazing adventure and a hell of a time. I want to thank everyone for their support... thanks for all you have done and for following me and I wish you all the best of luck.”

To learn more about Pete’s bike ride across America, or to make a donation to the National MS Society visit msbikeacrossamerica.com.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.

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