Inspired by an article in BikeReport (the precursor to Adventure Cyclist), Fran Stagg embarked on her first long-distance bike ride — Wisconsin’s Elroy-Sparta Trail — but a few miles in she found herself in the dark at the mouth of a tunnel, the sound of running water all around her. “I hadn’t remembered reading anything about bringing lights,” Fran said.
Determined to continue, she inched her way along. “That first tunnel was nearly a mile long. I kept thinking ‘I’m going to take another step and drown.’” When she rounded the tunnel’s final corner, she was greeted not by the sun but by the bright flashlight beams of a Boy Scout troop.
Fran learned early on how to deal with less-than-ideal cycling conditions while growing up in rural Price, Utah. Without a bike of her own, she resorted to borrowing her older brother’s. “I’m really short,” she said. “I used a sawhorse to get on the bike.” Once on the bike, she could reach the pedals, but getting off proved more problematic. “I’d get both feet on one side, jump off, and let the bike go crashing.” The following Christmas, a shiny new girl’s Schwinn was under the tree. “My brother had some influence in my getting a bike. I was trashing his.”
Since that Schwinn, Fran always had a bike during her college and Navy years. In the early 1980s, a friend lent her a few issues of BikeReport where she discovered a whole community of cycling enthusiasts. “I’ve been a member ever since,” she said. Fran served 24 years in the Navy, a career she described by saying, “my first 10 years I was told what to do; for the next 14 I did the telling.” Afterward, she started a civilian career as an accountant and began bike touring around the same time.
For her first tour, Fran cycled for a week around Washington’s San Juan Islands. She joined Salt Lake City’s Bonneville Cycling Club and served as treasurer until the time commitment began cutting into her riding. At 63, she was the oldest woman in a group of 30 who rode from Los Angeles to Boston. “Cycling has made me more confident. Before that cross-country tour, I was positive I couldn’t climb mountains, but I did. You do things you didn’t think you could do.”
When two riders voiced apprehension about the next day’s mileage during a recent Adventure Cycling Great Lakes tour, Fran coached them through it. For her, the best part of bike touring is “meeting new people and proving what you can do if you put your mind to it.”
In 2013, Fran decided to become a Life Member and thus solved the hassle of renewing her membership every year. She recently decided to further support the organization’s mission by putting Adventure Cycling in her will. “I wanted to leave my money to those who make me the happiest. That’s Adventure Cycling.”
This story originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine.