TELLURIDE – If you don’t find Stephen Allen getting bike grease under his fingernails at Telluride Sports where he’s a mechanic, then you might find him frantically hawking his worldly possessions on e-Bay trying to get money together for the bike trip around the world on which he’s about to depart.
Mountain bikes figure among those items destined for the highest bidder, as is the laptop his parents, long-time locals George and Susan Allen, gave him as a graduation present.
“They were not too happy about [the impending sale of the computer],” he admitted.
But this isn’t just any road trip, and Allen isn’t just any twenty-something with visions of exotic destinations and time to kill. Instead, its the kick-off project for the nonprofit organization he recently founded, Seize The World Foundation, Inc., with the purpose of raising awareness, and funding, for a disease with which he has personal experience.
Allen was 15 when he discovered that he counted among the estimated three million Americans affected by epilepsy and seizures. He was walking down the hallway at Telluride High School, from which he graduated in 2002, when his vision began to blur and he started seeing double. He fell sideways, and that’s the last he remembers.
When he regained consciousness he found himself laying on the floor and he learned from witnesses that he had had a seizure.
“It took a day or two to get my energy back,” he remembered.
A decade later, Allen said that although his condition is getting a little worse with age, it is still considered minor. His most recent seizure took place 18 months ago.
“As long as I’m well-fed and well-rested I’m OK.”
Epilepsy is caused when the brain’s electrical system malfunctions to act like a miniature electrical storm. Rather than discharging electrical energy in a controlled manner, the brain cells keep firing. The effects can vary from mild distraction to unconsciousness and muscle contractions, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.
In about seven out of 10 people, excluding very young children and the elderly, the cause of the brain malfunction is usually unknown. For the rest, the cause can be any number of things including head injuries, lack of oxygen at birth, brain tumors, genetic conditions, and lead poisoning.
The issue is so important to Allen that he has even been willing to part with items of deep sentimental value like his high school trumpet.
“When you get something you’re this passionate about it becomes easy to sell your things,” he said.
Allen, who graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2006 with a degree in history and a minor in geology, has been gearing up for the adventure over the past year, and he’s scheduled to take off on his 2008 Surly Crosscheck mid-month en route to Santa Fe.
The plan to circumnavigate the world through pedal power is particularly meaningful to Allen, whose initial diagnosis led him to question his future and what, if anything, he would have to change about his lifestyle to accommodate the danger of a seizure happening at any time, anywhere.
Luckily he had doctors who encouraged him, he said.
“They told me, ‘Put on a harness and get on the ski lift.’”
So he did.
Allen’s mission for the STWF is twofold. First he wants to spread the message that an active lifestyle needn’t cease with a diagnosis of epilepsy.
“If [epileptics] have been feeling handicapped by seizures, it doesn’t have to be that way,” he explained. “It is still possible to lead an active life.”
Secondly, he hopes to raise money for epilepsy research.
“Huge strides in research have been made in the last 10 years in surgery and medicines,” he explained.
Allen’s world tour didn’t begin as such; at first he planned only to visit India and China. But the more he thought about it, the more he began to believe that he could generate more support for his cause by beginning his trip closer to home.
To that end, he recruited five college friends to form the STWF Board of Directors, and they will help him get his message out by lining up slideshow presentations and interviews as he travels the country and the world.
In fact, as a warm-up, his first presentation will take place as part of the Telluride Adventure Series at the Wilkinson Library on Monday, Oct. 13.
The U.S. leg of Allen’s trip will begin two days later Oct. 15 as he heads to New Mexico. He plans on cycling 40 to 60 miles a day at first, which could increase as he gets in better shape, he said.
“I’m much more interested in enjoying the scenery and talking to people,” he said.
He plans to get by on modest means by camping.
“I’m traveling as cheaply as possible.
With no set agenda, Allen’s only commitment is to be in Charleston, S.C. by Dec. 8 when his one-way ticket to Lisbon, Portugal departs. From there he plans to travel the Mediterranean coast to Cairo, later heading northeast across China to Tokyo, Japan and then Seattle, Wash.
“I’d love to be out there a couple years riding,” he said.
His itinerary will be necessarily flexible to accommodate changing political climates.
“If I see there are lots of bombings in Egypt I might change my route,” he explained.
Although Allen plans to travel alone, he has already heard from a number of friends who have said they would like to join him for different segments of his trip, he said.
True to the philanthropic nature of his quest, Allen has been hurriedly completing paperwork to ensure that donations to the STWF are tax-deductible, and planning his upcoming fundraiser at the Bubble Lounge on Saturday, Oct. 11.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be really successful,” he said of the event, which will feature a cycling slideshow, live music from the Boulder band Neshamah (described by Allen as having a Middle Eastern/world music feel with vocals), food from Fat Alley, drink specials, and door prizes – all for the price of a $20 ticket.
And when he leaves the San Miguel County Courthouse at 9 a.m. next Wednesday, Allen is hoping he’ll have a little company.
So here’s a shout out to anyone in the cycling community looking to tackle Lawson Hill with him. Extra credit will not be offered, however.
“I think it would be fun to have some people riding out of Telluride with me,” he said. “Just some food for thought.”
Allen hopes that his ride will be just the first in a line of projects that will help people with epilepsy lead full lives. He is thinking about producing specialized books on rock climbing or bicycling and hopes that the STWF will one day have the funds to give grants to others who, like him, might want to embark on an around-the-world cycling trip.
“I really want to get to the [Egyptian] Pyramids,” he said. “If I make it there I’ll be really happy.”