The story of an amazing cyclist, based on an interview of Carolyn Carter on October 1, 2016 by Richard Cavin.
Every once in a while I get the opportunity to meet other cyclists who have done some amazing things. I recently saw a Facebook posting about a 69 year old female cyclist who crossed the United States on an antique type bike. To tell you the truth I really just thought it was another one of those fake articles you see online. But I was in for a rude awaking!
In early October 2016 I contacted Steve Carter the husband of cyclist Carolyn who rode the bike. He responded and we arranged a time to meet and develop the content for this story.
Steve Carter and Carolyn Carter are retired “Winter Texas” who decided to move permanently to the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) of deep south Texas a few years ago.
Steve and Carolyn are avid cyclists and runners, and have been for a long time. They have been active members and involved in antique cycling and the heritage of such in America. Their main forte or interest is high wheel bicycles (circa 1800s). See the following website for more info on the club they been active in for over 30 years.
Steve is a retired firefighter with a full beard and handlebar mustache that makes him look like a rider from the 1800s. So he looks the part 😉 In the 1990s Steve rode his 50” high wheel bike from San Francisco, CA to Boston, MA and set a world record for the fastest male rider to accomplish that feat. His world record was officially recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records. So yeah, that is something special but how is this related to Carolyn?
His wife, Carolyn Carter, is a retired real estate agent and school bus driver. So why would someone like her decide to ride an antique high wheel bike across the United States? I asked her that question and she basically said she always wanted to because Steve had done it and no woman had ever done it. She had retired so why not? Wow really, you’re retired, most people decide to take it easy!
After planning and prep on May 28th, 2016 Carolyn started her journey on a 46” antique style high wheel bike (see figures 1-2). Her plan was to begin her daily ride at dawn, be done by 2 PM each day and enjoy the ride. Her typical day on the bike was between 50-60 miles each and every day.
The route was to follow the original Thomas Stevens route from 1884. Mr. Stevens rode from San Francisco, CA to Boston, MA from April 1884 to August 1884 on a 50” Columbia High Wheel bike.
This was the route that her husband Steve took and that Carolyn Carter planned to take in 2016. When Carolyn left San Francisco she had the support of her husband Steve who drove most of the route providing a support vehicle if needed.
Being an avid cyclist myself who has done some tours on “normal” bicycles I asked Carolyn all the typical questions, still a bit in disbelief that someone could do this.
So how was the weather, she readily admitted she had very good weather for most of the ride.
So how was the ride on such an uncomfortable bike? Carolyn admitted that the essentially solid core tires were not “too bad”, having only one gear on the bike was “tolerable” and no brakes made the ride tricky so times. Most people would not even consider riding a bike like that across the USA! Can you imagine riding a bike cross country up and down mountains with only one gear, no brakes and solid tires? Wow impressive to say the least. In some cases Carolyn walked up and down mountains and hills just to continue her journey. She said it gave her time to “Smell the Roses” or enjoy the scenery.
I asked her if she had any mishaps and mechanical issues on the trip. There was just one minor mechanical issue but nothing major. But Carolyn did have one accident. Only 2.5 miles from the finish in Boston, MA she was clipped by the mirror of a vehicle and went down. Luckily she was OK with only minor issues….just 2.5 miles on a journey of over 3,000 miles, she was still able to finish.
On July 30, 2016 she finished her ride and felt somewhat relieved but anticlimactic. The ride from San Francisco, CA to Boston, MA covered 3,294 miles. She did it, whew!
So let’s summarize this. A retired real estate agent/school bus driver at the age of 68 decides to ride an antique high wheel bike, with no brakes, one gear, solid core tires 3,296 miles across the United States just because no other woman has done that… Wow!
I am often humbled by other people in my life and this is one of those times. Both Carolyn and her husband Steve are in my hall of fame of cycling. I’ve met other cyclists that also fall into that category and they are now part of a select few I admire greatly for their achievements.
A couple of obvious things came out in our conversion. I heard both Carolyn and Steven mention many times “use it or lose it” as they were talking about staying physically active. They are both prime examples of that.
But one thing I did ask Carolyn is just how did you do it and stay focused on such a difficult task? She said “I Ate the Elephant One Bite at a Time”. Guess that sums it up. Carolyn Carter, well said, and well done!
Here is a link that you might enjoy reading about the history of Thomas Stevens.
If you’d like to discuss cycling, have comments on my short article and suggestions send me an email.
Richard Cavin, is a technology professional who lives and works in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) of South Texas and is also an avid cyclist. The tale of an ordinary citizen, a cyclist…..past, present and future. How cycling has enabled me to meet so many interesting people.
Until next time, Be Safe and Ride On!