A Guinness World Record in Sight?

When I rode across the US with RideToAwareness in Fall 2015, I loved the adventure and the challenge, the team that emerged, and unexpectedly, the combination of riding and writing.

Within 5 minutes of learning about that ride in June 2015, I applied. Within two more days, I was welcomed to join the ride. And quickly, I wondered if I might set a Guinness World Record (GWR) by doing it. In my immediate sphere of women cyclists, Babes on Bikes, I didn’t know anyone older than myself who had done it. I inquired with Adventure Cycling Association and Terry Bicycles, founded by a woman, Georgena Terry, and explored  Women on Wheels, a website about women from all over the world who have cycled in many of the world’s countries. I followed leads I found. The closest I came to an answer was Anne Mustoe, an Englishwoman who traveled around the world on a bicycle and wrote A Bike Ride and Lone Traveller, One Woman, Two Wheels, and the World. I don’t know how old she was when she crossed the US or whether she ever took lifts or ferries, either of which would not have met the Guinness’s stringent rules, though her travels were fantastic.

Without a definitive answer, I searched the GWR site. It turns out I had to apply to set a record to find out. An expedited answer cost money while a slow answer was free so I waited. A month into my RTA trip and shortly after my 66th birthday, I received an email from GWR. Should I wish to do the ride when I turned 67, I could set a record. At that point, I had no intention of doing it again, so I let the thought go.

However, once I had returned from my trip and my mind had settled down, I thought I’d check into the GWR record to put my mind to rest on the point. I was told that Celeste Callahan set the record of age 66 on the 2008 Race Across America. When I looked into her record, I found that she rode on a relay team, not solo. That’s still really impressive for such a rigorous race! When I pointed out Celeste’s relay team status to my contact person at GWR, she agreed and found Janet Christiansen to hold the age record at 51 for the same race in 2012.

Was there really no woman who had crossed the country riding every inch of it after age 51?

• My friend, Marie, who crossed the country with her husband in her 60s, would have raised the record age but may not have thought about it being a record.

• Georgia Glashauser, in Bicycle from Sea to Shining Sea, wrote that Shirl Kenney was 67 when they rode together on a Southern tier crossing. Again, I don’t know if she completed the entire crossing on her own or whether she realized it might have been a record.

• We met a German grandma riding self-supported on our same route during RideToAwareness. However, I don’t know how old she was.

• If you know of a woman who has completed this journey at age 67 or older, please let me know and I will give her credit in this blog.

While there may be a woman older than me who has crossed the US on a bicycle, she has not applied to and been approved by GWR, and then done it and turned in the documentation that GWR requires. If I were to cross the country at age 67 and meet the rules, I would set a GWR. Seriously? I’m an unlikely candidate. For the ten years after my friend, Linda, was hit by a car when cycling, I rode only on trails. I only resumed road riding in June 2015. My Babes on Bikes friends probably laughed when I would drive my bike and myself to a ride start on a trail. Before September 2015, I had never done a multi-day bike trip.

How to do it
I needed a support person and a route. The route was easy. To compare apples to apples, I’d do the Race Across America route where the previous record was set. Then came the absolutely critical support person. I knew just the one – my friend of about 40 years, Susie Schmitt. I sent Susie an email with my proposal and she was on board in minutes. Yippee! My friend, Joanie McMullan, will give Susie a break for the middle two weeks.

The Race Across America has a section they describe as the hardest, measured in elevation gain per mile, from Cumberland, MD to Hancock, MD. Susie has friends in Cumberland. We arranged to meet and attempt this section. I would find out if I was up to the challenge and Susie would find out if she could embrace the role of checking on me as I inched along and everything else a sag (support and gear) person does.

On April 16, 2016, we drove to Cumberland, driving the fear-inducing 37-mile portion of the route in reverse. It crossed five steep long mountains. The first we drove would be the last I’d ride the following day. I peered at the road as it dropped before my eyes. I was not sure I’d be able to cycle up that incline. The next day, heart in my throat, we set out. One by one, I climbed the first four ascents, but Sideling Hill, the steepest, was still ahead. I rounded the corner and started up the hill. All the way down in my granny gear, I cycled slowly but surely as Susie cheered me on at each place she was able to pull over safely. Finally I summited! Hooray! I would be able to meet the challenge and Susie enjoyed seeing the countryside at a slow pace and cheering on a friend.

When to do it
We were going to do it! Next task was to set the date. One option was to begin in late May after mom’s 92nd birthday. Another was to start late summer. Susie, a weather buff, suggested the weather in the plains could include tornados in late spring to early summer. The other consideration was my birthday. If I were to do more than half the ride after my 67th birthday, I would set the record at 67. We set the start date as August 26, 2016, from Oceanside, CA.

Thoughts
How a woman older than myself, much less older than the current record of 51, has not set a record baffles me. One guess is that I am still in the generation of women who hesitates to toot our own horns. It was only in 1967, my final year of high school, that Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston marathon, masqueraded as a man. Also, I went to college before Title 9, before athleticism in women was encouraged through legislation.

I aim to set a bar that I am sure can be surpassed. I ride with women fully capable of completing this journey. I know there are women outside my circle who can do it. I believe women can do so much more and much later than we thought. Women are breaking barriers in politics, the military, and other male-dominated careers. Why not in cycling?

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40 thoughts on “A Guinness World Record in Sight?

  1. I’m sending well wishes beginning NOW and am looking forward to keeping track of your progress thru your blog. You’re amazing!!

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  2. Lynn, you’re organized and you’re prepared–both physically and mentally. Now go and have a good time. And remember to look around; soak up the experience.

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  3. Good luck Brenda! You’ve encourage me to keep riding. (Not at your level). I know you’ll do it! Can’t wsit to read the blog, enjoyed it so much before.

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  4. Following your great adventure with much admiration, reading every heartfelt word you write, wanting you to stay safe and have fun (in that order!), and cheering you on with gusto the whole way, Wonder Woman!

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  5. I am looking forward to following your journey across the country. You will do a wonderful job. Have fun and enjoy the sights!

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    1. Great to hear from you, Annabel! I was just getting in touch with a few folks from the ship and realized I didn’t have your contact info. I’m glad you had the blog address. Thanks so much for following!

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  6. It’s exciting and beautiful – a beautiful energy you’re in. Be well, and know we are gaining the energy, too, as you go! – Love ya.

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  7. A shout out to the support van driver! You are correct, Lynn-Susie is the perfect person to share the journey. Webster, NY ( Susan B. Anthony territory) will be cheering you both on to victory!

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  8. Why do you have to do the Race Across America route? The section from Cumberland to Hancock Maryland along the C&O Canal and Western MD Rail-Trail is beside the Potomac River so flat and in fact slightly down hill since you are going with the river flow. Why can’t you do that route?

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    1. The previous record was set on the RAAM route. RAAM describes the Cumberland to Hancock segment as the hardest of the whole route based on elevation gain per mile. I used it as a test. If I could do it, it would give me confidence that I could do the whole route. I did it on April 17, 2016. My friend, Susie, drove SAG to see if she’d like that role as well.
      Overall, I’m sticking to the RAAM route with tiny modifications. For example, I’m going to skip dropping down to Annapolis and extend it east to Delaware to end on the Atlantic Ocean.

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  9. My friends and I rode cross country in 2014. At that time, we were 45 (me), 57 (Kathy Langlotz, Deb Barton (65) and Jane Adams (65). Jane had to take a few weeks off but Deb road coast to coast from San Fracisco to Yorktown, VA. We were self supported and covered the 3,994 miles in 88 days. You can find our public Facebook page, An Amerivsn Bicycling Adventure. We tried to get our group, Girls with Grit., on the Ellen show but never heard back. Too bad! I think society needs to know about tha amazing things being done by older adults these days. You and Deb are changing the narrative for what this looks like!

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  10. i am excited for you. i am 65 and LOVE riding my bicycle. In 2000..my sister rode 2000 miles with me. i was only 49 then and strong. then i rode cross America when i was 60 or 61 from Seattle to D.C. , THE BIG RIDE with the American lung assc. great team of riders. we raised excess of 350,000.00 and had a paraplegic on a hand crank. the support team was BAD… we were basically on our own and deserted by the people hired to sag us leaving us with some of the riders spouses to watch over us. We did great. One fella was in his eighty…I was the oldest battling with a thyroid disease that wasn’t regulating my body temp. so I battled fatigue and heat stroke. we camped and ate a lot of put butter. I am so glad I did it. my cycling partners were beyond awesome and by the time I got home I was riding centuries everyday with my buddies. also spent a month in china cycling…Changed my life forever. My next jaunt will be with my 86 year old mother and my golden mix retriever Yikes as my sag. thinking of Florida to nova Scotia.probably next spring. looking forward to that with my SUPER MOM. she quit riding at 80 but thinking of getting a tandem and her back in the saddle. have fun and be safe P>S> my mom knits my cycling socks for me…NOTHING compares…yup…spoiled rotten.

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  11. Lynn, did you receive the package that was sent to Kansas? Also I have a picture to share with you from Denmark.
    Can I have your email? Geni Hart

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  12. Just came across your blog. This is amazing what you’re doing ! You’re an inspiration. Best of luck as you get closer to your goal.
    Penny Sierra

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