Biking On The Road To Good Health

Robert Harrison
January 10, 2017

While I’ve long been a bicyclist, and have taken many bicycle-centric vacations, the summer of 2016 would prove my longest and most challenging ride yet. There have been many changes in my life in the past several years – a hip replacement and an intentional weight loss of over one hundred pounds – so I was anxious to see if these positive changes would help me meet a real challenge.

The challenge:  Bicycling 800 miles across three states in under two weeks to attend my 40th high school reunion in Shorewood, Wisconsin. I’d been lucky enough to be in on the planning of the reunion and told my classmates that if we held it on the first weekend of August, I’d bicycle from the Missouri River to Lake Michigan. This they had to see, and the game was on.

The first week of my journey was done in conjunction with 15,000 of my closest friends as I once again rode in Iowa’s RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. This group ride has been going on for 44 years and attracts riders the world over. The goal:  Spend seven days on Iowa back roads, camping overnight in designated towns, and having a lot of fun as little towns, some with just a few hundred residents, put out the red carpet. I’d done this ride twice before, though those times I was a hundred pounds heavier.

(At left:  A week before the big ride, I stopped off in Colorado to put down some miles there, too!)

If you are wondering if weight affects bicycling, you can stop wondering. It does. I was a good cyclist, capable of riding fifty to a hundred miles a day for several days before the weight loss, but it was now much easier. Much. I didn’t scrimp on fun or stops at interesting sites, but I rode each day much less tired and ready to go have fun in each host town rather than just wanting to shower and rest.

But RAGBRAI was only half the challenge. Having ridden from the Missouri to the Mississippi across Iowa, I still had to complete my journey across Illinois and Wisconsin. Instead of being with thousands of other cyclists and enjoying a carnival atmosphere as I passed through small towns, I’d be on my own. For safety’s sake, I was in touch several times a day with friends who knew where I was. Further, the route I’d planned was big on bike paths and light on trafficked roads, so I had few concerns about sharing the road. The real challenge wasn’t going to be the route, it was going to be me. I’d ridden across Iowa before, but I’d never pressed on for another six days, and I did have a deadline, the opening events of our 40th reunion.

I’m happy to report that the solo ride was great. My training before the ride, my hip replacement, and my weight loss worked together to see that I was able to make the distance while enjoying myself. After all, there’s no point to a vacation if it isn’t fun. I made my goal and even had the energy to have a great time with my old high school friends who were, as you might imagine, a wee bit impressed. Me too.

(At right:  Made it to the Mississippi River!)

At age 58, I proved to myself that with an eye toward taking care of myself, diet and exercise, training, and a plan, I can do things beyond what I dreamt possible just a couple of years ago! Where am I going next? Your guess is as good as mine, but I’ll bet I have fun!

(All photos provided courtesy of Robert Harrison)

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