“My tombstone will not be engraved with ‘she kept a perfect house’. I love a big challenge, but don’t ask me to clean my house. That’s just impossible.”
Lynn Salvo’s clear blue eyes are fixed on me, but her fingers are fidgeting. I’ve just asked her what she’s had to give up in order to get what she wants. But what she wants, right now, is to finish our interview so she can leave this warm coffee shop for the gray winter mist outside. There, she’ll tuck strands of her silver ponytail up into a rain-proof hoodie, pull on her padded gloves, adjust the tiny rear-view mirror clipped to her glasses, and then slip easily into traffic on her tricked-out Cannondale. She has a training ride with a cycling buddy to get to.
Biking in traffic, training rides, and gear adjustments are nothing new for Lynn. In five months, she'll break down the entire bike--wrench off the handlebars, unscrew the pedals, empty the saddlebag and secure the aerobars--and pack it all into a very ordinary, unremarkable cardboard box. At Dulles International Airport, she'll turn it over to a baggage handler, who will barely glance at the box before going back to his interrupted conversation. And then Lynn will fly to Nordkapp, Norway, where she'll set a Guinness World Record.
She’ll be 71. The Guinness World Record will be her third.
Lynn Salvo plans to leave Norway by bike in early summer 2020 and make her way to to Tarifa, Spain. A friend will cycle with her, sharing SAG duties (that's the support-and-gear car) with another dozen or so friends who'll join in on various parts of the route.
Per the Guinness rules for distance cycling records, she can ride with others, but she can't draft (ride behind another to reduce wind resistance) nor take any ferries, and she must document her ride daily with video and photographic evidence, as well as a detailed log, her bike files, and witness statements.
From Norway, the record-setting ride heads south through Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, France, and, finally, into Spain.
Lynn, the soon-to-be-named oldest woman to cycle across Europe, has arranged for all of this to wrap up on her birthday, give or take a few days.
Her starting point in Norway--just to set the scene--is so far north that the sun never completely sets in summer. Tarifa, Spain is at the bottom tip of Europe, really just a long stone’s throw from Africa. The route itself is still in flux as Lynn nails everything down, but the distance will be close to 5,000 miles.
It's hard to fathom, a stretch of that magnitude. So think of it this way: Riding across the U.S., from D.C. to Los Angeles, is about half that distance. Lynn's ride--the (vertical) length of Europe--is akin to pedaling the entire coastline of the U.S., from Seattle down to San Diego, and then from Brownsville, Texas over and down to Key West and then back up to little Lubec, Maine-- complete with the sun baking your back, road shoulders that narrow to nothing, and bits of dirt and pebbles raining down like hail from 18-wheelers as they thunder by--for 88 straight days.
* Lynn points out that, "Yes, there will be some 18-wheelers, but I’ve worked hard to find routes on quiet side country roads."
**I find that women who actually do quests tend to be less dramatic than those of us who write about quests.
***On that note, I encourage everyone to watch this video from Lynn's second Guinness Record - her ride across Canada in 2018, particularly around the 35-minute mark, 50-minute mark, etc.
“Two things,” Lynn says. “My 50th birthday was looming, and the Millennium change was coming. I didn’t want to be fifty like “50” means to some people, so I got up one morning, it was Halloween, it was dark. I just had sneakers on. We live in a flat cul-de-sac at the bottom of a hill. I ran to the top of the hill and said OMG I’m so thirsty, and thinking this is awful.
“Up to that point, I was sedentary,” she says. “I was not a runner. I was raising kids, I was an educator. But six weeks later I was running five miles.”
After Lynn’s deep dive into physical activity when she was approaching 50, her evolution looked like this:
Running from 1999-2003. *Lynne ran the Boston Marathon in 2003.
Triathlons from 2003-2009.
“Casual” cycling from 2009-2014. *Including several 100-mile “century” rides.
Lynn retired in 2014, and the following spring joined a cycling club, getting up to 300 miles a week in training, with a goal of completing a group cross-country ride.
“I wasn’t planning to ride cross-county until the following year,” she says, but when she heard that a friend was planning to do one in just a few months, “I knew I was ready. So I went from never having done an overnight on a bike to riding cross country, which involved camping, setting up and taking down tents, cooking. At home, my husband’s the cook!”
“I owe a huge debt of gratitude to a friend of mine named Marie, who, with her husband, just one day locked their door, rode their bikes down to the C&O Canal [in Virginia], and cycled to Oregon. They didn’t even have a support car. I thought, Well, if Marie can do it, maybe I can. I feel like I’m paying forward what she did for me. She gave me equal parts inspiration and confidence.”
I asked Lynn how she gets herself off the couch, into her cycling clothes, and out onto the bike path. “Ninety-percent is I have great cycling buddies,” she says. “Yesterday it was cold and drizzling, and two friends met me for a 40-mile ride.”
“Being on a huge bike ride is a lifestyle. That’s your job.”
REFLECTIONS UPON COMPLETION:
“My feelings are definitely mixed. I remember finishing the 2016 ride across the U.S., my first record. I wanted to finish to know I’d made it and would be safe. But I didn’t want it to be over. My other thought is always of my mom. She already lost one child [Lynn’s brother, in the Vietnam War]. I don’t want her to lose another.” [Lynn’s mom is 95.]
“I’m kind of finding out who I really am. I’m a person who could easily sit on the couch and read books all day, or write. Cycling balances that. It saves me from myself. Prevents me from being a couch potato. I have lots of time for reflection on the bike. That fits my personality. I have 70 years to process.”
Lynn has been cycling segments of a “peace sign” over North America for four years. This is the heart of her cycling, as she rides in remembrance of her brother. On her Europe ride, she'll visit peace sites along the way--monuments built at the conclusion of wars, a refugee shelter in Hungary, a peace trail in Italy, a peace museum in Spain. Her rides support the American Friends Service Committee (afsc.org).
She plans to begin the final segment of her peace sign in 2021.
You can follow Lynn's progress on her blog, Life Is Like a Bike.
Tips for a Cycling Quest:
Gear: “Get a rear-view mirror right away and get used to it,” says Lynn. She also has a bike computer, Garmin GPS, backup battery and the latest iPhone. Cell connections can be spotty, so she relies on printed cue sheets showing turn-by-turn directions. “Pedal clips let you use your full pedal strokes and increase endurance. Spend the money on a good bike fit. Take your bike to a bike fitter (not just any bike mechanic) and have them make adjustments. Get padded shorts, but not too padded. Gloves. And plan to use lube for the first week on a ride.”
Lodging: Lynn typically stays in hotels, but also relies on WarmShowers.org, a website that lists free lodging for touring cyclists. Friendly and biking-savvy hosts can be a blessing, but Lynn cautions about keeping your eye on the prize: “Some are great hosts, but you stay up too late talking.”
Riding on a road shoulder: “Traffic isn’t there 100% of the time. I have a light on my helmet and another light on the back of my bike. One is oscillating and one is flashing and they’re both very bright. The mirror tells you when to be concerned and when not.”
Tech: “There’s an app where you can recreate your ride – called Relive. I do that at the end of each ride.”
Riding with Others: “It’s helpful to ride with someone who shares your same pace. For the Europe ride, I’ll need to ride my own pace. If I’m trying to catch up to someone, it affects me mentally and affects my body. If I’m trying to slow my pace, it affects my body position. I plan my rides at 10mph. I cycle faster than that, but I stop a lot and do a lot of sightseeing.”