June 22, 2005 - It's not like George Ledbetter has set off on a cycling marathon to Canada. Not really. Rather, the Marana resident is taking pleasant bike rides in the morning, when the air is still cool, as he always does.

Only this time, he's heading north.

The 71-year-old retiree may be able to trick himself out of feeling the enormity of his trip from Nogales, Mex., to America's northern border, but either way, the result is bound to be the same.

"You put enough of those days together," he said, "and you end up in Canada."

Ledbetter is cycling north to raise money for the American Diabetes Association in memory of his daughter Michele, who died from juvenile diabetes 18 years ago at age 31.

He's hoping for $1 million, though his main strategy is simply to ask people to contribute through the association's link on his Web site, www.fightrider.com. The Ledbetters are covering their own expenses for the trip.

"It doesn't cost any more to think big," he said.

Ledbetter's whole trip may seem like an exercise in thinking big, and for a man who had a hip replaced four years ago, it may even seem like an eccentric fund-raising plan.

But neither Ledbetter nor his spouse, Sue, who will be accompanying him by camper on his non-marathon to Canada, is averse to eccentricity. Before moving to Tucson, after all, they lived off the coast of Washington for nine years on a sailboat.

And a touch of eccentric planning is appropriate for a trip memorializing Michele, who never thought quite inside the box.

Michele, when she was 9, told her dad one day that she wasn't going to eat her peas because she was full.

He speculated about how, then, she was going to manage dessert, and she took him by surprise with her quick response.

"Well you realize that we have two stomachs," he remembered her asserting. "One is for food, and one is for dessert. My dessert stomach is not full."

Later, this daughter landed a job at Pike Place Market in Seattle, working for an artist who created hand-painted T-shirts, but Michele didn't sell shirts. She sold chest art.

Ledbetter bought a crazy hat at that market that has adorned his head at the conclusions of all of his ambitious adventures.

It's been to the top of Mt. Rainier, twice. It's on its way, now, to Canada.

Ledbetter headed north out of Nogales on June 12, his wife's birthday. He intends to cross America's northern border before Aug. 15, Michele's birthday.

Sue is an integral part of this northward series of morning bike rides, because she'll be moving the couple's camper to a more northern camping spot every three days.

Late every morning, she'll retrace her route or drive farther north until she finds the cyclist, and then she'll drive him to the home base for a leisurely afternoon. In the morning, she'll drop him off where she found him the previous day.

"You do that enough times and you will be in Canada," Ledbetter said. "Then I'll say, 'Oh my god, I'm in Canada.'"

His trail will take him along main roads through Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. When he nears steep climbs, he'll take alternate routes.

At home in Marana, he bikes 25 to 65 miles three times a week. As he heads north, he expects to bike 40 to 60 miles each day, but he's uncertain about when he'll arrive at his destination.

He expects to have Michele on his mind much of the time, though, since that's been his experience since he's started.

"I've had the pleasure of connecting with some memories that were really beautiful and emotional," he said. "It's been quite an experience."

Ledbetter said his explanations about why he's biking up north have pulled Michele into his everyday conversations with people. That has triggered memories, which have triggered emotions.

"I probably would never have experienced those feelings if not for this," he said.

As for Sue, she has easier access to Michele time.

"Michele and I both loved gardening," she said. "I can't touch a plant without thinking of her. The difference with George is that she didn't ride bikes with him."

The trip is also significant for Sue, though, for its connection to her daughter.

"What it means for me is always continuing to find ways to make her life of importance," she said.

The Ledbetters don't know how long they'll linger in Canada once their day-to-day trips add up to the big border sighting. But Ledbetter knows just what he'll do when he gets there.

He'll put on his Pike's Place Mark-et hat.

To keep up with the Ledbetters' travels as they progress, or to make a donation or get in touch with them, visit www.fightrider.com.

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