Everyday Greatness: This 77-Year-Old Woman Biked Across the Country

Twelve years sober, she talked to God while cycling and raised money for several charities.

Posted in , Jul 15, 2019

Carol Zemola Garsee

Who she is: Carol Zemola Garsee is a 77-year-old cyclist. Though biking since childhood, Carol went on her first long-distance ride (500 miles!) in 1994 for the American Lung Association, after her mother—an avid cyclist—died of lung cancer. She loves that biking keeps her in shape, physically and spiritually. Carol started meditating and praying 12 years ago, after joining Alcoholics Anonymous, and distance cycling helps her focus: “I’m praying while riding. I talk to God.”

What she does: Carol joined a group of 13 seniors for a cross-country trip from Florida to California. She was the oldest female member to complete the journey; an 81-year-old man biked partway, and a 75-year-old man completed the ride. “There was one young man,” Carol says. “He was 59.” The group biked 50 to 80 miles a day for 65 days between February and April of 2019. “I didn’t know if I had the stamina for the whole trip,” she says. “But at Mile 1,000, I knew it was a done deal.” Some trip highlights? Mardi Gras in Alabama, where the celebration actually started. Singing “America the Beautiful” on the road. Visiting relatives in Arizona. But nothing beat dipping her tires in the Pacific after 2,757 miles across eight states.

Why she does it: “You never know what you can do unless you try,” says Carol. She’d biked the northern border with the same organizers, Nancy and Ken Wright, in 2006. “I had already done the northern tier, so I wanted to do the southern.” Carol also raised money for several organizations—including breast cancer charities. Some people even handed her money on the road. “I’m a 25-year breast cancer survivor,” Carol says. “It’s going to be a generous donation.”

How she does it: Carol biked 150 miles a week in her hometown of Chicago to train for the ride and brought Boiron Arnicare on the trip for muscle pain. “I was using a lot of new muscles.” She says the journey wouldn’t have been possible without the people who helped along the way. Carol’s friend Dot, another group member, waited for her at crucial turns after Carol’s odometer broke—making it difficult to follow Nancy’s printed directions. “Dot was my guiding light,” Carol says. Another time, Carol and Dot took shelter from the rain on a couple’s front porch. “They insisted that we come inside and warm up at the fireplace,” Carol says. When Carol and Dot explained that they were seniors biking across the country, the couple’s little boy looked up at them cheerfully and said, “We don’t see this every day.”

How you can do it: Make safety your priority. “Invest in a good bike,” says Carol. She recommends getting a fluorescent vest, a comfortable helmet, an odometer and water-bottle cages. Find a local bike route with good signage, and start small. Ride a mile or two a day. Then three or four—keep going! “It has to be slow and fun,” she says. “If it’s not fun, you’re not going to want to do it.”

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