Pedaling cross-country on a 10-week, 3,000-mile cross-country cycling endeavor is nothing new for breast cancer survivor Carol Zemola Garsee. This is her second cross-country ride, the first through the northern states and this one through the southern states with Navasota as one of the pit-stops.
Garsee, along with a group of cyclists all of whom are at least 68-years of age, embarked on their journey from St. Augustine, Florida, and will bike to San Diego, California.
“Age is just a number,” stated Garsee. “How you feel is about attitude and I’ve always been positive.”
Garsee said that her love of cycling stems from her mom, who rode until she was 75, but lost her life to lung cancer at the age of 76.
“My mom has always inspired me,” explained Gar-see. “I always remember her cycling even though she didn’t do the same type of advanced cycling that I do. It wasn’t until she passed and my children were older that I started doing long distance riding.”
Her mom passed-away approximately 25-years ago and Garsee began training for her first long-distance ride entitled “Bicycle Across the Magnificent Miles of Illinois,” a 500-mile week long ride.
“My husband was not a real big supporter and kept saying you’ll never make it,” explained Garsee. “That was a good incentive, because while I was out there riding, I would say I’m going to show him, and I did. That was the tipoff for these kinds of rides.”
Garsee said she has ridden through at least 20 other states a week at a time. Her first trek cross-country was 13 years ago, and she admits this ride has her nervous.
“I was a little concerned about my age because I’m 13-years older than when I did the first cross-country trip in 2006,” she said.
The trip Friday to Navasota from Coldspring had her beginning to doubt herself.
“Today, I felt a little like, oh my God, am I going to be able to do this? The ride organizer likes to have all riders in by 4 p.m. I had to call and let her know I was going to be late because the wind was blowing at me, the hills were horrendous, and the surface of the road is a real key factor here,” Garsee said.
She said she counted 50 hills on the ride to Navasota and finally got frustrated and quit counting.
“When facing a big hill, I have to remind myself to pedal one foot at a time and, so far, I’ve made it to the top of every hill I’ve faced,” said Garsee.
Garsee said it wasn’t until they got into Texas that they began to experience chip seal on the shoulders of the road.
“I normally ride between 12-14 miles-per-hour,” said Garsee. “Today, I was riding 7 mph. Part of that was the wind, but it just makes you slow down and work harder. So, when I called and said I was going to be late, I was told not to worry, because I was not the only one that was late. Everyone else was having a hard time too, so that sort of built my confidence again.”
To date, Garsee said her most memorable ride was in Italy but has always dreamed of riding through Texas for the sheer size alone. She is the eldest lady on this trip and would be eligible for the world record for being the eldest to cross the United States. However, the documentation required during the ride is extensive and she said she’d rather enjoy the ride instead of making the record books. The current record holder is 66-years-old.
The lifelong Chicago resident trains rigorously, biking 100 miles a week, attending Zumba classes and power-walking 4 miles a day. She said she likes to see the world on a bike, because it provides a different experience that you can’t see in a vehicle.
“Yes, I’m tired and, yes, I was fatigued out there, there’s no doubt about it,” stated Gar-see. “I know cows are cows and horses are horses, but I love seeing them. I love seeing goats and green grass and wide-open spaces. In a car you might miss seeing a snake slither in the grass or other forms of wildlife that you’d normally speed past. I’ve been in Chicago for 77 years and big cities are alike. You get out here and this is God’s land and I’m spiritually closer to God when I’m out here. I pray a lot because He’s so close and I really need Him.”
Garsee stated she especially needs God in places where there aren’t any shoulders and trucks are zooming by at 75-80 mph.
“I’m like, oh my God, please be with us,” she said.
Unlike her first cross-country ride, where she used her cycling to raise money for breast cancer, this go around she’s riding to inspire a healthy lifestyle.
“It’s important to me to show that it’s never too late to start and maintain a healthy routine with a balanced diet and exercise. There are endless benefits to being fit at any age,” explained Garsee.
Garsee urges others to not be discouraged when beginning to exercise, because it takes a while to build endurance. She said she didn’t just start riding, she’s been riding since she was eight.
“People have very high expectations,” said Garsee. “I urge them to start slow and build slowly toward their goals.”
One of the greatest joys for Garsee is flying down hills.
“I love it and when it happens, I wee - I go wee all the way down,” said Garsee. “The fastest I’ve gone down a hill on this trip is 27 mph and I was just loving it.”
Garsee said a couple in their 30s joined them briefly on this trip and the young lady was terrified to go down the hill and refused to go down fast.
“I just couldn’t understand that,” chuckled Garsee. “I’m 77 and I love it and she’s only 35, why doesn’t she love it? It is scary though. That’s a lot of highway coming at you at high speed but it’s exhilarating.”
Safety is key for Garsee, and she said that she’s been blessed that the most serious injury she’s ever sustained happened about a month before this trip. She was on a recumbent stationary bike and her foot slipped out of the stirrup and cut her leg. The injury is still in the process of healing.
“One thing I do daily is write in my journal and thank God for keeping me safe another day,” said the grandmother.
Anyone wanting to contribute to the ride for the grandmother of four can do so at GoFundMe.com by searching for “Senior Bikes Across US Fundraiser.” Garsee said the trip is expensive and this will help offset the cost. Any extra money raised will be split between several other charities, including breast cancer research.