Injured Wash. cyclist was too determined to quit
Marc Fairbanks shouldn't be here today.
Marc Fairbanks shouldn't be here today.
If the doctors had been right, Fairbanks shouldn't be walking, even breathing - let alone riding his mountain bike on trails across the state. A scholarship in his name shouldn't exist, nor his comprehensive guide on biking trails in Washington.
Fairbanks just needed to be brought to within an inch of his life before he realized he wanted to change the lives of others.
"You think about things in life you'd like to accomplish," Fairbanks said. "As I was laying there, I thought, 'I want to have a scholarship. I want to give something back."
The result was the Marc Fairbanks Excellence in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Cartography Scholarship, awarded annually by the Central Washington University geography department.
The scholarship, however, wouldn't exist without Fairbanks' dedication to mapping trails in the region. Nearly a decade of work went into compiling information for and writing "The Taneum and Manastash Trail Systems: Mountain Biking in Kittitas County, Washington," a guidebook to area mountain biking trails. When he teamed up with Ben Sainsbury who created a Web site with three-dimensional maps of trails across the country - the result was one of the most comprehensive and ambitious projects of its kind.
Of course, none of this would have come to exist had Fairbanks not nearly lost his life in 1998.
On that day, Fairbanks, who was in Lake Stevens at the time, was out gathering firewood with a friend and his dog when a tree began to topple. Fairbanks was able to get his dog out of the way, but he couldn't save himself.
For a time, Fairbanks was legally dead. His friend was able to resuscitate him, but his skull was shattered. He was airlifted to Harborview Hospital, and the doctors were able to save his life. But the outlook was not good.
"I was in Harborview for a month," Fairbanks said, where he was told he would never walk again. "It was a pretty dire prognosis. Technically, I wasn't supposed to walk again or think abstractly, which is odd because those are the things I excel at."
Fairbanks didn't want to believe the news, so he fought it, and he fought it successfully. Doctors started to rehabilitate him, to reintroduce him to writing and basic cognitive skills. They stuck with their prognosis, but Fairbanks knew they were wrong.
"I begged my psychiatrist to take me outside," Fairbanks said. "I told him I'm not used to being cooped up inside. So they took me out in the rain, we talked, and he said, 'There's absolutely nothing wrong with you, and I'm going to leave you out here until you want to come in.'"
Fairbanks never wanted to go back inside. Even though his left side was temporarily paralyzed, he eventually got back on a mountain bike and started riding trails with one functional arm and leg. And by 1999, he'd already started on his cartography project.
Fairbanks had plenty of experience in cartography. He'd finished an AutoCAD map of regional trails in 1996, but it wasn't as comprehensive as it could have been. He wanted maps, information and history all in one place.
Fairbanks enrolled at Central Washington University in 2000, and, with funding help from geography professor Bob Hickey, he compiled information from the Department of Natural Resources, GPS maps and other state and federal levels to write his book. And Hickey also helped with the funding of his first scholarship at CWU.
The guidebook, however, was just the first piece of the puzzle. When he joined the CWU resource management program in 2005 and met Sainsbury, everything else came into focus.
"Marc has been an excellent resource on local trails," said Sainsbury, who was born on the West Side and grew up in the Southwest. "A lot of times, I just draw a line. Yeah, the line shows where the trail is at, but without local people like Marc, it's not very useful. He's been very helpful, figuring out what trails are what, how things interconnect and how to ride them."
Sainsbury's site is programmed to work in conjunction with Microsoft Virtual Earth to create a three-dimensional interactive trail map. According to Sainsbury, the site currently gets about 100,000 hits every month.
However, both Sainsbury and Fairbanks believe the site has much untapped potential. The site is ad-free and brings in no revenue. They would like to keep it both free to access and unmarred by ads, but if they could find a way to make money off the site, they could donate toward trail maintenance.
"There have been some massive trail maintenance cuts in Cle Elum," Sainsbury said. "The Shoestring Lake trail is in pretty sorry shape. Riding those trails, it hit me that you need to take care of your resources. My site has all these pretty colors, but the reality is these trails (go bad) if no one takes care of them."
Plus, Fairbanks and Sainsbury know, as it stands, they can't do this for a living. As CWU graduate students, they have to balance GIS time with actual study time. But they can't imagine leaving their project behind.
"Every effort to extract ourselves would be met with equal force keeping us in it," Fairbanks said with a laugh. "Which is why, after all these years, we haven't been able to distance ourselves from it."
Information from: Daily Record, http://www.kvnews.com
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