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Ohio native David Robinson, 26, is on a 120-day, 4,700 mile solo bicycle trek across the United States. His is a "Ride for a Reason."

Robinson, who arrived in Salt Lake City Wednesday, is riding from Miami to Seattle to combat Alzheimer's disease.The ride is dedicated to the memory of his mother, Marilyn Robinson, who died of Alzheimer's at age 60 in November 1987, after suffering for nine years.

"After living with my mother's illness for nine years, I finally felt strongly enough inside to do my part to combat this terrible disease," he said. "It seems to me that an encounter with Alzheimer's helps one realize what's important in life, and to want to do something about it."

Robinson's goal is to inform people of the enormity of the problem, "and more importantly, if someone is encountering Alzheimer's, let them know how they can get help."

"With this disease it is so easy to feel isolated and lonely and desperate," he said.

Alzheimer's disease afflicts nearly 3 million Americans - 14,500 Utahns - and is taking an ever-increasing toll on the physical, emotional and financial resources of people in every community across the nation.

Current projections forecast that if a cure is not found, there will be a 60 percent increase in severe dementia victims by year 2000. This translates into one in three families with at least one parent succumbing to the disease.

Susan Kauffman, president of the Northern Utah Chapter of the Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Association Inc., said Alzheimer's knows no social or economic boundaries and affects men and women almost equally. Most victims are over age 65. Most are cared for at home, partly because the disease isn't covered by insurance, including Medicare.

Alzheimer's, called "the disease of the century," is devastating for both victims and their families.

No one knows that better than Sophie Arambula, who is caring for her 79-year-old husband. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's following a seizure at age 76.

The proud, kind gentleman she knew and loved turned into a forgetful, mean and verbally abusive man - unable to dress, shave or shower himself.

Arambula, who cares for him 24 hours a day, has come to the conclusion, "There are so many things worse than death."

"I am not wishing him dead, but my children tell me every time we talk, `Mom, if he knew the way he was, he would not want to live.' He was too proud a man to have me do the things I am doing for him."

Of great benefit to Arambula has been her participation in the local Alzheimer's chapter. Salt Lake has three chapters that meet monthly - balancing information with sharing and caring.

"People find other people who are going through the same kind of thing," Kauffman said. "It's really hard to explain or ask someone how you diaper your husband, or keep him from driving the car, or what you did when he wouldn't let you get in bed because he thought you were a stranger.

"To have friends to share these concerns with is half the battle," Kauffman said.

Robinson said that without fail, people have been kind and generous to him in his cross-country ride. He's had only four flat tires - one, appropriately, at Starvation Reservoir.

Thursday, 20 seniors from the Bonneville Bicycle Touring Club joined the Ohio State student as he left Salt Lake City en route to Ogden, where he'll meet another group of cyclists at the mouth of Weber Canyon.

When he concludes his ride Aug. 13, he'll have visited 24 cities with local Alzheimer's disease chapters.