Train-chasing trio hits town
Eric's Big Adventure passes through Steamboat
Steamboat Springs — Eric Stephens has a system.
Five days a month he sets his alarm for 6 a.m., so, on an empty stomach, he can choke down a 420-milligram chemotherapy pill.
Stephens, 35, then, falls back to sleep and wakes up at 10 or 11 a.m.
By mid-morning, the nausea has passed, and Stephens can eat, but his diet has changed. The acidity in certain foods has turned Stephens off of former loves such as pizza and lasagna.
“I can drink orange juice, but I can’t eat an orange,” Stephens said Saturday, sitting in an RV trailer at a campground west of Steamboat Springs.
Stephens doesn’t remember every detail of the day he first knew something was wrong, but he remembers enough. He was diagnosed with brain cancer Feb. 18, 2005.
“I had ridden my bike home after flooring. It was like 8 miles. I got home, went back to my bedroom and sat down to relax,” Stephens said. “After a half hour, I tried to stand up and couldn’t. I couldn’t communicate with my left leg, and my left arm gave way. I guess I freaked out and had convulsions for like nine hours.”
Three days later he went to the hospital, but it wasn’t until the second seizure — seven months after the first episode — that a brain tumor approximately the size of a baseball was located.
“I saw the pictures,” Stephens said. “The second time it had doubled in size.”
Now, Stephens has Stage 4 anaplastic glioma. The brain tumor is pressed near his motor cortex. It is inoperable.
“If they did perform surgery, best-case scenario, I’m blind forever,” Stephens said. “Worst-case scenario, brain damage. I’ll be a vegetable.”
His left ankle and the toes on his left foot are paralyzed, and Stephens has limited mobility with his left hand, but none of that has stopped him and close friend Eugene Vicknair, 35, from chasing trains.
On Wednesday, the pair, along with Wendy Holtz, talked about the road trip they are taking in an RV they bought for $600 in San Jose, Calif.
The trip began July 13 in San Jose and is closely following a trail Vicknair and Stephens took in spring 1990.
Originally 22 days and 4,500 miles, the trip, which Vicknair labeled “Eric’s Big Adventure,” will be 23 days because of extra time spent repairing the RV. Mechanical failure also prevented the trio from making several stops, but the group has made several important ones, including one in Steamboat.
They rode passenger trains in Durango and at the Royal Gorge. They also were on the Cumbres and Toltec rail line, which runs from New Mexico to Antonito.
“The steam engine was all powered up, and I got to go sit in the ‘fireman’s seat,'” Stephens said.
The trio also saw an 844 engine, which was parked at Union Station in Denver.
Vicknair and Stephens have volunteered at the Portola Railroad Museum operated by the Feather River Rail Society in Portola, Calif., for a combined 40 years.
The long-time friends are refurbishing Zephyr passenger cars.
“We will give people the experience of riding rail like it was in the 1950s,” Vicknair said.
But the trip isn’t all about trains.
Today, the group is at Dinosaur National Monument.
“We are both dinosaur nuts,” Vicknair said.
What originally started as a reason for Vicknair and Stephens to retrace a road trip from their teenage years has become a reason to raise funds and awareness for the National Brain Tumor Foundation. It also has provided the trio a first-hand look at how western campgrounds have adopted — or not adopted — the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Stephens uses a motorized scooter and a walker.
“I think the biggest thing we are learning is how hard it is to do things if you don’t have full mobility,” Vicknair said.
To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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