By Tonya McGue
Dare to Dream Big
Jan Lewis wants to do an epic bike ride for her 75th birthday next year. What will that be? She’s already ridden 3,400 miles over 45 days from Los Angeles to Boston, twice. She’s clocked tens of thousands of miles in many states in addition to France, Spain, Mallorca, Belgium and Switzerland. She’s done several organized rides like the Assault on the Carolinas, the Apple Cider Century and the Mountains to Coast ride. This week, she pedaled 200 miles in three days, one in drenching rain, through mountains and rolling hills from Black Mountain to Archdale in North Carolina.
To say the least, Jan is an endurance rider. Her passion for riding started about 10 years ago when she was 65. At that time, she retired from her position as a contract computer consultant for IBM. “The constant traveling from South Carolina to California and high stress finally got to me,” she said. “I like challenges and wanted a goal after retirement. I remembered hearing a story about someone who rode across the country. I thought that sounded like fun, so I researched and found Crossroads Cycling Adventures.”
She signed up for the trip, hired a coach through Carmichael Training Systems and trained for a year before the ride. She and 17 other cyclists trekked their way across the country averaging 80 miles a day through wind, rain, scorching sun, quiet roads and crowded city streets. She liked it so much, she did it again three years later. Since then, she’s done the coast to coast trip four more times from 2014 to 2017 as a support member and part-time rider. She’s also ridden with Crossroads from Portland, Maine to Daytona Beach, Florida.
If you’ve driven on the backroads of the Lowcountry, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Jan, a Summerville resident, on her trusted and beloved Trek Silque. Her sleek blue bike is loaded with a power meter that records her heart rate and speed, a Garmin that keeps track of her route, electronic gear shifting and a superlight carbon frame. She rides five to six times a week for one to five hours a day. For several years in a row, she’s clocked 5,000 miles annually. Jan’s favorite places to ride are Awendaw, Hollywood and Meggett.
In the past 10 years, she’s had very little bike accidents. Her worst was last year when she was 73 and doing a training ride in North Carolina. Jan was descending through hairpin mountain turns at 20-35 miles an hour when she lost control and crashed. She hit the ground hard and had blood dripping from her head. Her riding buddies called an ambulance and she was taken to an emergency room. After a thorough exam, the doctors “couldn’t believe they didn’t find anything broken,” Jan said. “I was lucky because I landed in a wet, soft grassy area.” She skipped the next day of riding but was back on the saddle a couple days later.
Jan has many reasons for being an endurance rider, including she likes being outside, staying in shape and meeting a lot of people. She also enjoys the solitude and says she “would probably weigh 300 pounds if I didn’t ride.” In addition to riding, Jan attends a yoga class at the YMCA two to three times a week and does a weight lifting class two times a week.
Jan encourages older people, especially women, to stay active. “A lot of people tell me I’m crazy, but a lot of people say they wish they could exercise more,” she said. “There’s nothing magical about me. I was not an athlete. It’s about deciding you want to do something and then doing it. It’s about dedication and putting in the hours and miles. It’s not easy. Every day, especially on the 8-hour days, I think, ‘Why am I doing this?’, but then I’ll come across some pretty scenery or all of the sudden I’ll feel good.”
Jan, who describes herself as an introvert, said she has no intention of quitting. Riding is too much of who she is. She’s developed a whole community of friends from cycling and meets up with them at cycling events and organized rides.
Although she doesn’t know what it is yet, she said, “I need an epic ride for next year.” Maybe she’ll decide to cycle coast to coast across another continent, like South America or Australia. That would qualify as epic for anyone, especially for a 75th birthday goal.
Photo Credit:? Tonya McGue