Cycling from Yorktown, VA to Washington State began as a fund-raiser for my non-profit organization, the Senior Retirement Project which provides in-home mental health counseling to seniors and their adult care givers. Emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, or feelings of being overwhelmed are not related to aging itself, rather, as one age’s challenging life situations can come in rapid succession leading to changes in mood.
Three of us, all women ages 58, 60, and 61 began this journey in the spring of 2014. We shipped our bikes to the east coast, hopped on a plane, and on May 3rd began the fundraising trek across America. For me this journey quickly became much more than a fundraiser, it became a rite of passage, a personal challenge, an exploration of self, and a survey of how aging seniors perceive physical activity and exercise.
I am not a novice. I have cycle-toured in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and Idaho fitting in shorter tours on vacation or long weekends. Now, I would ride for 11 weeks across America’s most beautiful mountain ranges, the Appalachians, Ozarks, and Rocky Mountains. I would dip into her valleys, marshes, and desert terrains ultimately covering over three-thousand miles.
Being sixty-years old it never crossed my mind that I should consider the rigors of such a journey. After all, 60 is the new 40 right? My “steed”, a 30-pound Surly touring bike carried my gear in four panniers (saddlebags) weighing in at 50 lbs. Much of the weight came from food and my electronics (netbook computer, camera, and cords). I generally carried two days of snacks and meals as I am gluten-free and don’t eat red meat so my choices would be limited in biscuits and gravy country. Within 5 days of our journey one in our group called it quits. The daily challenges and roughing it became too much. We bid her farewell; we were now down to two.
Traveling through Virginia and Kentucky, on the TransAmerica Trail which routes cyclists off the major highways, I was captivated by the history of the area. I gazed upon the open battlefields of the Revolutionary and Civil wars where thousands fought and died. I reflected on how these wars were fought among the homesteads and the corn fields of civilians, I can only image the horror of seeing soldiers bearing down on one’s home and family, something very real in many parts of the world today.
Physically, the Appalachians were the most challenging to ride with grades averaging between 14% and 20%. On more than one occasion we had to get off our bikes and walk the top portions of the hills when the grades were too steep. We met many other cycle-tourists on the road and saved numerous turtles as they basked on the road too close to passing motorists.
Eventually we crossed the Ohio River by ferry and entered Missouri. There, we explored a fascinating cave in the town of Cave-in-Rock. The natural cave was once home to thieves, pirates, and scoundrels in the late 1800’s. We had hoped for flatter terrain but Missouri kept us climbing. Moving through Missouri and the southern tip of Illinois we were fortunate to avoid tornados however, we were not able to dodge numerous thunderstorms.
In every state we met scores of people who were interested in our travels and were invited to spend the night at some retirement communities. We had a wonderful time engaging with the residents and sharing our adventures.