I Ate the Elephant One Bite at a Time!

December 8, 2016 - Richard Cavin kindly submitted this guest blog to Adventure Cycling.

Carolyn Carter with the high-wheel bike she rode over 3,200 miles across the U.S. in 2016.

Carolyn Carter and her husband Steve are avid cyclists and runners from Texas with an interest in antique bicycles, especially high-wheel bicycles. In fact, their interest runs so high, they’ve both ridden their high wheels across the U.S., and Carolyn is the first woman to have accomplished this feat.

When asked what drove her to tackle such a ride, Carolyn noted that no woman had ever done it, and she was retired. Plus, she felt inspired by her husband’s previous cross-country, high-wheel ride.

Steve is a retired firefighter with a full beard and handlebar mustache, looking like a rider from the 1800s. In the 1990s, Steve rode his 50 in. high wheel bike from San Francisco, CA to Boston, MA and set a world record for the fastest male rider to accomplish the feat. His world record was officially recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records

After planning and preparation, on May 28, 2016, Carolyn started her journey on a 46 in. antique, high-wheel bike. She planned to begin her daily ride at dawn, be done by 2:00 pm, and enjoy her ride of 50–60 miles, each and every day. Carolyn had the support of her husband Steve who drove most of the route, providing a support vehicle if needed.

Another shot of Carolyn’s high-wheel bike, circa 1880s

Like her husband Steve, Carolyn chose the same route followed by Thomas Stevens, the first cyclist to ride a bike around the world. Mr. Stevens rode from San Francisco, CA to Boston, MA from April 1884 to August 1884 on a 50 in. Columbia high-wheel bike to begin his globe-encircling journey.

Carolyn said she had very good weather for most of the ride and when asked how she managed on such an uncomfortable bike, she replied that the solid core tires weren’t, “too bad,” and having only one gear on the bike was, “tolerable.” No brakes made the ride tricky at times, she said, and Carolyn walked up and down mountains and hills, when necessary, just to continue her journey. She said the walking gave her time to “smell the roses” and enjoy the scenery.

I asked her if she had any mishaps or mechanical issues. She said she fortunately had only one minor mechanical issue, but she did have an 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 and was able to finish.

That day was July 30, 2016. She felt somewhat relieved and noted the finish was a bit anticlimactic. Her ride from San Francisco, CA to Boston, MA covered 3,294 miles. 

Carolyn Carter, retired real estate agent and school bus driver at the age of 68 rode her antique high-wheel bike with no brakes, one gear, and solid core tires 3,294 miles across the United States. Wow! 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.

When I asked Carolyn how she stayed 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!

If antique bicycles are of interest to you, here’s an organization both Carolyn and Steve are active in: The Wheelmen.

And if you’d like to discuss Carolyn’s ride, use the comments below.

Until next time, be safe and ride on!

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. He can be reached at his email addresswww.rgvrandos.org, and his Facebook group.

Photos courtesy of Richard Cavin.


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Ralph Michaels December 10, 2016, 10:49 AM

Crash - not accident.

Tyson White March 24, 2017, 9:04 AM

True. Funny how calling them accidents became so part of the vocabulary that you don't even have to say "car accident". It's automatically assumed that accident is with a car.

Anyway, truly AMAZING feat this woman did! Awesome!!

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