By RICK WATSON
At a time in life when most women her age are busy scrapbooking and chasing grandchildren, Janet Holloway of Homewood got on a bicycle and set out on a quest to see America—not the asphalt and concrete America that most people see from the interstate but back-roads America with animals, birds, flowers, and scenery that takes your breath away.
“I got a chance to see the America that I remember from my youth,” Holloway said.
On May 21, a few days before she turned 60, Holloway dipped the rear wheels of her Trek 520 Touring bicycle in the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean at Yorktown, Va. and headed west. Eighty-three days and 4,200 miles later she and eight others touched their front wheels into the Pacific Ocean at Florence, Ore.
Planned by Adventure Cycling Organization, the route took her along parts of the same path Daniel Boone traveled when the pioneers crossed the Appalachians and some of the track that Lewis and Clark took during their celebrated expedition.
A mobile art teacher for the Birmingham School System, Holloway kept a sketch journal of her trip across America filled with vibrant watercolors of barns, churches, flowers and sunsets.
In her journal she describes the day they first saw the Pacific: “When we reached the Pacific Ocean on August 12, we all joined hands and thrust them triumphantly skyward and shouted, ‘We did it!’ We’d used our legs, hearts and minds to achieve an amazing feat… We crossed rivers, deserts, plains, and pastures—weathering heat, rain, lightning, cold, mosquitoes, and gorgeous days.”
For Holloway, the most touching part of the journey, time and again, were the people in the small communities across America who welcomed the cyclists with open arms, offering them food, shelter, and water along the way.
Holloway also found the scenery incredible. She saw stars she never knew existed, blazing sunsets, elk, deer, rabbits, goats, a wolf, foxes and too many different birds to name. The group rescued turtles from certain death on roadways across the country.
The hardest part of the trip for her was Kansas. “That part was my least favorite, because the state is long, flat and was very hot as we passed through,” she said.
But once the group crossed over into Colorado, the temperature began to change, and the nights were cooler.
Three days into her journey she had to push her bike up some of the steeper passes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but by the time she reached the Rockies and increased in altitude, she had gotten strong enough to ride her bike through the mountains without having to walk. Even the 12,000-foot Hoover Pass in Colorado gave her no breathing problems.
One of her favorite spots on the journey was Breckenridge, Colo., which she said looked like a Swiss village.
Why take an ambitious trip at this point in her life? “You reach a point when you realize there’s more time behind you than there is ahead of you,” Holloway said. “You’d better do the things you want to do; otherwise, you might not get the chance.”
In fact, she said, taking three months to travel across America on a bicycle is not something she could have done when she was younger. She and her husband John have two children, Joanna and Johnny, who are now grown. John, who is also a cyclist, understood that couples have individual dreams, and he helped her celebrate hers.
“As we age,” she said, “it’s too easy to become comfortable with our surroundings, our routines and our lives in general. I learned what it means to persevere and how big things can be accomplished little by little if you’re patient with yourself and others.”
When asked if she would do it again, her eyes sparkle and she replies, “There’s a trip from Canada to Key West that looks like it might be fun.”