I often work with our senior generation with my medical job and when I explain to them my journeys that I embark on with my bicycle, they are floored that it is even possible and stating that they could no longer do that due to their age.
Well, I think that isn't true. I am 29 years old and in the past, I often found myself stating similar things when it came to trying new things that I found impossible for me to do. Then I conquered those negative thoughts and started to take leaps of faith and conquer the unknown. I think that's the biggest mindset that makes people do the things they never thought they could ever do. It's literally to just do it. Take the steps to make it happen and just go with it.
After talking to an older cyclist couple at a party, we found that they often assumed they are unable to bikepack or go on a journey because their age is the biggest factor and they feel too old to push their body to try something new.
That conversation left me feeling sad that they believe they can't start a journey because of their age. I feel we have to start somewhere and nothing should get in your way.
Afterwards, I set out to search a few Facebook groups every so often and found a 70 year old cyclist named Gail to share her story with me and maybe to inspire more people to understand that age is literally a number, you're alive and you can achieve more than you lead yourself to believe.
"I got my first bicycle for my 4th birthday from my older sister. Since I turn 70 on my next birthday, that means I’ve been riding for almost 66 years. I was the youngest of 4 girls in my family and all my older sisters (ages, 10, 17, and 21) rode a bicycle. I was so excited when I got it, I jumped on and took off. I rode it the very first time (no training wheels); however, I didn’t know how to stop, so I rode right into the bushes. My sisters explained “stopping” to me, and I was off again.
I grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania in the country and didn’t have any neighbors close by and my sisters were so much older than me so, my bicycle was my independence. It allowed me to visit my friends, go to a store, or just ride for enjoyment. When I was an older teenager, it wasn’t always “cool” to ride a bicycle, but I still rode…just when my friends weren’t looking. I got married young and my husband and I bought our first “ten-speed” bikes. At that time we lived in a small town and we both worked, but on weekends, we rode everywhere - to the store, to visit friends, etc. Once my first child was born and old enough to sit up by himself, I got a baby seat for the back of my bike. I was no longer working and we were a “one-car” family, so once again, my bicycle was my main source of transportation. My second child was born and once she was old enough to sit up, another baby seat was put on the front of the bike. I continued to ride only now I had a baby on the front and a toddler on the back. By the time my third (and final) child was born, the first one was old enough to ride his own two-wheeler. Like me, he was riding at age four.
Moving ahead a few years, we had moved to the Adirondack Mountains of New York for a business opportunity. The kids were ages 5, 8, and 10. We lived just 3 miles outside of a small town on a lake and once again used our bicycles to get into town to shop and go to the town beach. I started working part time then in a neighboring town about 7 miles from our house, and I would use my bicycle to commute most days during the summer months. Riding a bicycle in the winter in the Adirondacks isn’t advisable, especially back then (the early 80s) when the winters meant a lot more snow than now.
Time moved on and my job and some other issues made it more and more difficult for me to ride as much as I enjoyed, but whenever I could, I’d still try to get in a bike ride.
Eventually my children married and left home one by one and once again, I was able to spend more time on “me.” I took a job 10 miles from our home and commuted every day that it wasn’t pouring down raining or there wasn’t ice or snow on the roads. I was in my 50s, and it was then that I bought my first really expensive “road bike.” The ride was like going from driving a pick-up truck to a Mercedes! I rode to work every day and started riding every weekend as well. I found new routes that would add mileage to my daily commute and I would leave an hour earlier than normal so I could enjoy a nice long morning ride on my way to work. I bought books showing good bike rides in the area and started riding them all one by one. Sometimes my husband would ride with me, but most of the time he was my “roadie.” He would drop me off somewhere, sometimes meet me half way for lunch or a snack, and then pick me up at the end. My “routine” rides grew from 20 miles, to 30, then 40 miles. I did my first century when I was 60 and when I was 66 I rode in the “2016 Cycle Adirondack” ride around the 6 million acre Adirondack Park. This was a 6 day, 460 mile ride. We rode approximately 50 to 70 miles a day and slept in tents at night along the way. It was wonderful. Last year, at age 69, my daughter (who lives in Finland) and I did a 3 day, 160 mile ride through the archipelago on the east coast of Finland. Another amazing experience.
Two years ago my husband and I moved back to Pennsylvania to be closer to our son and his wife and our only grandchildren. We live in a semi-rural area in southeastern Pennsylvania in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. We are completely retired now, so I can ride as much as I want. I usually get up early and ride as soon as it’s light out. I have several routes that I’ve mapped out, ranging from 18 to 25 miles and will ride one of them. Sometimes I just “follow my bike” and I have no idea where I’m going or where I will end up. (I do have a GPS on my bike, so I can always figure out how to get home again!) In the summer I average between 100-150 miles a week and in the winter, depending on how cold a winter it is, about half that. However, I also have a stationary bike in my basement that I ride every day during the real cold months.
I did purchase a mountain or trail bike a few years ago. I decided I’d like to try some trail riding; however, once I did, I found I didn’t really enjoy it. I felt closed in on the trails surrounded by trees, I couldn’t really enjoy the view and I didn’t always feel safe. I ended up giving that bike to my granddaughter and I continue to ride on the road. My routes are planned around back roads, farm roads, seldom used roads, but always paved roads. I stay off of highways or main roads except to cross or ride only a mile or so to get to another back road. I wear bright colors, I have lights on the front and back of my bike and on my helmet. I follow all traffic laws and ride as if every car on the road is trying to kill me. (LOL) I’m not interested in racing or “shaving my time.” Some days I take my time and ride slow, enjoying the view, and stopping to take pictures of the sunrise, the baby calfs or the flowers by the side of the road. Other days I’m focused and ride hard. It’s always whatever I need on that particular day.
Riding provides many benefits for an older rider. I ride for the pure joy of riding. I ride because it makes me happy. And, I ride, because it keeps my old bones and joints limber and moving. And right now, in these crazy and depressing times, it keeps me from focusing on the negative and from getting depressed. Many times I get up in the morning and look at the news and start to get depressed, so I know the one thing that always helps is to go for a ride!
As far as advice for people as they age, I’d say just keep moving! I’ve done yoga since I was 19 years old and I now have a 15-minute set of yoga stretches that I do every morning. I also do 100 “tummy crunches” over my exercise ball every evening to strengthen my core. But, I think whatever works for YOU is what you should do. Make it something you enjoy and you’ll stick with it. I didn’t have any problems going through menopause (I went through at age 50). I had no hot flashes or other issues and I really think that eating a healthy diet (mostly plant based) and exercise played a big part in that. Over the years I did have some times where I battled depression, but those were also the times that I couldn’t ride or exercise for one reason or another. As you probably know, exercise has been proven to be one of the best remedies for depression. When I start to feel “down,” I remind myself how good I’ll feel once I finish a ride, and then…I go for a ride!"