The Olympic Discovery Trail has been Ian Mackay’s escape, solace and access to the beauty and landscape of the North Olympic Peninsula. It also became the training ground for a record-setting ride that proved to be one of the most challenging experiences in his life.
Starting on June 21, the summer solstice, Mackay rode 184.4 miles in 24 hours in 15 laps on Sauvie Island near Portland, Ore., to set a Guinness World Record for longest distance traveled in a mouth-controlled motorized wheelchair.
Mackay, who lives in Agnew, broke the previous record held by South Korea’s Chang-Hyun Choi, who traveled 173.98 miles in 24 hours in April 2017.
A spinal cord injury Mackay suffered at 26 in a bicycle crash in 2008 left him a quadriplegic. He controls his powered wheelchair using a sip-and-puff device that sends signals to the chair using air pressure: hard puff to move forward; hard sip to move backward; light puff to turn right; light sip to turn left.
Mackay is accustomed to long-distance rides, but racing 24 hours against the clock and an unseen competitor was entirely new.
His first distance attempt came in 2016 when he rode 335 miles across Washington in 11 days. Two years later, he took 13 days, including sleep breaks, to cover the nearly 500 miles from Coeur D’Alene to Agnew. His annual Sea to Sound ride to raise awareness and funds for the nonprofit Ian’s Ride covers 74 miles over three days.
Mackay said anything worth doing is going to be a challenge.
“You want to keep pushing yourself — that’s what life is all about,” Mackay said. “The only limits are the ones you put on yourself.”
He was already putting in 30 to 50 miles a day on the ODT as part of his daily routine, but he and his team of friends and family organized a 12-hour practice ride in California last October to see how his body would respond and how his chair would hold up over an extended period of time.
It went well, but the breaks he took every few hours wouldn’t be possible if he was going to break the world record; it would be 24 hours straight in the wheelchair.
Some of the most time-consuming elements of his preparation involved applying to Guinness World Records to be able to break the record and then adhering to its strict monitoring guidelines during the ride.
Mackay completed his application and waited. And waited. And waited.
He ended up paying $800 to expedite his application.
He also had to enlist independent timekeepers and witnesses who could work not more than four hours at a time to record the times and distances.
To provide the 24-hour video evidence Guinness demanded, Mackay attached two GoPros to his wheelchair to record his progress.
“They make things really challenging,” Mackay said.
Sauvie Island required Mackay to obtain a permit to hold his event as well as provide a vehicle to follow him on his route to ensure his safety — particularly at night.
The ride for the record was a team effort. From cycling alongside him the entire 24 hours, providing him with water when he was thirsty and switching out the batteries on his wheelchair like a NASCAR pit crew, they made sure Mackay got what he needed to succeed.
“I was surrounded by the most wonderful friends and family,” Mackay said. “This is a community that makes me feel I can do anything.”
Mackay is now in the process of organizing all of the materials collected during his ride so they can be submitted to Guinness World Records for verification.
“You cross your fingers and hope,” Mackay said.
But if his name is entered into the record book, he is not particularly worried if someone comes along and breaks it.
In fact, it would mean somebody else set a goal and pushed past limits.
“I’m really proud of what we did and the record I achieved,” Mackay said. “But I hope that anyone can beat me.”