It must take a certain kind of crazy to bike from Austin, Texas to Denver, Colorado, right? That's exactly what the founder of a charity that advocates for prostate health was hoping you'd think.
Davis Tucker is owner of North By Northwest Restaurant and Brewery in Austin and founder of 1400 Miles, a charity aptly named for the distance between his hometown and Colorado's capitol city. Every year since 2013, Tucker has made the trek by bike from Austin to the Great American Beer Festival, which runs Thursday, Oct. 6 to Saturday, Oct. 8 at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver.
His mission: To raise awareness about the dangers of prostate cancer and promote the indicative exams that will help get out in front of the disease. His mantra: "Don't fear the finger."
"The whole idea behind 'don't fear the finger' is being humorous to get guys comfortable talking about this stuff," Tucker, 54, says.
"Our job," he adds, "is getting attention and eyeballs on the problem."
Prostate cancer is the leading form of cancer among men, affecting 1 in every 7 in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. It is the second most common form of cancer among Americans, ranking only behind female breast cancer, and is also the second leading cause of death among cancers in men, according to the Center for Disease Control. The year Tucker made his first ride, more than 176,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer and 27,681 died from it, according to the CDC.
What motivated Tucker to put rubber to road, however, was much more personal.
Tucker met brewer and North Texas native Don Thompson in 1987. At the time, Thompson was one of the only people in Texas making craft beer at his Plano brewery called Reinheitsgebot Brewing Co., which opened in 1982. Tucker had just moved back to Texas to upstart an original beer called Pecan St. Lager, so naturally he met with Thompson to figure out how to get started. The two began a long friendship that would see Thompson moving to Austin as head of brewing operations for North By Northwest brewpub, which Tucker opened in 1999.
But in the early 2000s, Thompson nearly lost his life to prostate cancer.
"He's sort of my brewing mentor, father/brother figure," Tucker says of Thompson. "I wanted to do something to honor him."
Tucker admits he had no idea what he was getting into when he rolled out solo from Austin that first year, looking at 1,400 miles of adventure ahead. He'd been long-distance cycling and bike racing for more than 20 years, how hard could it be?
"The Big Ride," as its colloquially called, consists of five legs -- one from Austin to Lubbock, the next from Lubbock to Santa Fe, the following from Santa Fe to Pagosa Spring, Colo., another from there to Leadville, Colo., and the final all the way to Denver. Riders average 100 to 150 miles per day for two weeks, and are followed by "sprinter cars" that deliver snacks and bottled water so they don't have to stop. They eat sandwiches and meals prepared by a chef on Tucker's Beerliner, a road bus outfitted with a commercial kitchen and kegerator, and usually end each day at a brewery and with a good night's sleep in a hotel bed.
Still, the journey can prove a test of both physical and mental endurance.
Tucker recalls times trudging through the middle of nowhere Texas or New Mexico beneath a blazing sun, looking miles ahead at nothing but open road.
"There's a lot of time to be in your head and notice how tired you are and notice the headwind and notice how hot it is and notice all those things that are so difficult; that can sort of mess with your desire to continue," Tucker says. "I realized I just have to keep going ... just don't quit, just keep pushing yourself."
His efforts have convinced others to join the ride. In 2013, Tucker rode to Albuquerque, New Mexico alone, with only one other person joining him to finish the trip to Denver. This year, 16 bikers rolled out of Austin and a group of seven made the full trek to Great American Beer Festival.
"It's definitely by no means an easy ride," says John Sikes, sales representative for Independence Brewing Co., who completed the full 1,400 miles for the first time this year. "It definitely pushes your body to the limit."
Tucker emphasizes the Big Ride is simply a means to grab attention. At Great American Beer Festival, 1400 Miles, which will officially change its name to Don't Fear the Finger in 2017, and partnering organizations Pints for Prostates and the Prostate Conditions Education Council (PCEC) are hosting the Brewers Health Initiative, a mini beer festival featuring Texas suds and prostate cancer education.
PCEC is onsite providing free blood tests including the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, which is one indicator of men's prostate health. Pints for Prostates is also there to discuss the importance of talking to doctors about those results and getting a Digital Rectal Exam, or DRE. Entry to the event, which runs through Oct. 8, costs $10 and benefits both nonprofits. Proceeds from the Big Ride also benefit the charities; Tucker hopes to donate $20,000 between the two causes by the end of the year.
Despite the perceived benefits, many medical organizations, including the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and American Academy of Family Physicians, have advised against doing mass PSA screenings in recent years due to the potential harms that outweigh the benefits. Experts point to studies that found preventive tests have not proven to save lives and often times cause more harm than good by having men get unnecessary procedures, which can put a strain on their lives and the healthcare system. PSA tests can also produce false-positives, according to the AAFP.
Still, Rick Lyke, founder of Pints for Prostates, which aims to reach men through the universal language of beer, believes men can't make decisions about their health until they're informed. Lyke got a PSA test at age 47 after being prodded by a coworker. Though he had no family history of the disease, he ended up testing positive for prostate cancer. After surgery in 2008, Lyke is cancer-free.
Lyke says men's concerns about the risks of becoming impotent and or incontinent are valid, but that early action will be their best advantage against the disease.
"I was given a second chance," says Lyke.
"Guys are coming here to have a good time at GABF. If we can take five minutes of their time to take a blood sample ... they're actually doing something good for themselves while they're here."