Posted: Tuesday, November 13th 2012 at 6:33pm
'Old and gray and still pedaling away'
By Ken Stanford Staff
GAINESVILLE – Most of us have ridden a bicycle. Most of us probably started when we were kids but how many of us still ride as adults? Lots of people do, but probably limit themselves to just a trip around the neighborhood every now and then.
Then there are those like Phil Loveless of Gainesville. Loveless, 67, is a long-distance bicyclist, who frequently takes weekly trips of 35 and 40 miles, over all kinds of north Georgia terrain – and is planning a Georgia-to-California ride after he retires early next year.
Loveless, an underwriter for Summit Consulting, says he got his first bike at age six.
“I had graduated from a tricycle which has a funny story attached about me pitching a fit to go ride it after a heavy snow. Needless to say, I did not get far. I guess I could be considered one of the original dirt road and trail cyclists since the roads in east Texas were mostly dirt. We also rode the cow trails on the family farm of some 150 acres.“
He says he really began to devote a lot of time, energy and money to bicycling in 2004. This was after “about 13 or 14” years coaching and refereeing soccer during which he had gotten out of the habit of casual bike riding. “(I) had seen something about that BRAG (Bicycle Ride Across Georgia) thing and thought that would be fun to do.”
But first there was the matter of his physical condition.
“At that time I weighed in at about 265 pounds,” Loveless said. “I started training in the gym and got into shape before taking my first ride in 14 years from the Clermont gym sometime in December 2004. I rode 9 ½ miles on a 12-speed steel frame bike that weighed about 40 pounds and thought I was going to die!”
A year later, he participated in his first BRAG, which that year started in Columbus and ended on St. Simons Island.
As his interest in the sport grew and he sought more and more challenges, he sought out better and better equipment. First, he ditched the 12-speed for a Giant Cypress hybrid, and later moved on to a Giant OCR2 road bike which he still uses today.
“I still ride the hybrid when I am pulling the Trail-a-Bike which allowed my granddaughter Kayla to start riding BRAG when she was 6.”
Loveless says ideally he would ride about 100 miles a week but sometimes the weather and other factors “get in the way.”
“I will ride if the temp is 45 or above and do not ride in the rain if I can help it…no riding in stormy weather. Was on BRAG a couple of years ago and had a storm come up. Nothing like having lightning strike a quarter mile away or so to make you get down in the ditch….had a friend (who was injured when he was) struck by lightning while riding a bicycle when he was 14.”
Loveless say he prefers hilly routes rather than flat ones.
“My favorite is rolling hills which gives some climbing exercise but allows the legs to rest as you coast down the other side. (With) flat rides…you never get to coast much.”
Just how serious is Loveless about all this? Well, in addition to his high-tech bike, he also has equipment that monitors his rides – including not only the impact on the bicycle but his body as well.
The 800 also has a feature called Virtual Training Partner which allows one to set an average miles-per-hour to ride against and then watch the screen to see if you are ahead or behind the rider on the bike on the screen. Only thing I don’t have is a power meter attachment that would show how much energy in watts that I am using. The heart rate monitor has been most interesting in seeing the resting heart rate decrease by 20 or so beats per minute plus seeing my average heart rate come down over the years.“
When it comes to a favorite route, the bottom line with Loveless is food.
“Believe it or not, my favorite route is one that goes somewhere to eat. I have a Jeannie’s Café in Gillsville ride, a ride to Creekside Deli in Cleveland, and a ride from my house to Athens to eat at Sweet Peppers Deli which is 50 miles if you go through Gillsville, Maysville, Jefferson, Arcade and down U.S. 129 (wide shoulder part south of Arcade).“
Loveless says in all the miles he had ridden over the years he has never been injured in one of his crashes because they have usually occurred at very low speed or while he was stopped.
“I do have dog attacks occasionally but for the most part, they are not a real issue. I have a puppy repellant (and use it) when necessary and that is usually when they are near my ankle, teeth bared, and growling and snapping. Have had friends that dogs have taken down by running under the tires and that can cause severe injuries.“
Loveless says he has few problems with motorists because he stays over as far as possible to the right and rides single file if he is in a group and a car approaches from behind.
“…Have been yelled at a few times and had someone act like they were trying to hit me by opening a door. I looked at them in the car and told them ‘You really did not want to do that.’ They stopped up the road a couple of hundred yards as if waiting for me to get there. Amazing (though) how pulling out a cell phone and acting like you are dialing 911 causes cars to accelerate at a high rate of speed and disappear.”
He says he does think there needs to be more education about Georgia’s new three-foot rule (a new law that requires motorists to give three feet of space between them and any bicyclist they are overtaking). Loveless would also like to see more signage in Georgia reminding motorists of the rule and cautioning them to be on the lookout for bicyclists.
Loveless has a collection of “road kill,” as he refers to it – stuffed animals and other figurines he has collected from the road side, some in pretty good condition, some not so good.
“I have found an action figure or two but gave those away. I have a turtle, a duck, a skunk… a cartoon character with a baseball head which I can never remember what the name is. Interestingly about it, it is a double amputee above the knees and was found in front of the funeral home in Clermont. Go figure.”
Loveless doesn’t just leave his collection sitting on a shelf at home or stacked in the corner of a room or the garage gathering dust. He’s found a use for it outside the home involving groups of children.
“I have given a children’s sermon at church using these animals and relating it to how Jesus picks us up and cleans us up when we have fallen into the ditch or gotten off the road.”
What advice does he have for anyone thinking of taking up the sport?
“Get a decent bicycle and start slowly. Ride on the back roads where there is little traffic until you get used to cars coming by. If you have friends that are riders, get them to go with you.”
Loveless says he expects to keep this up “until my legs won’t rotate the pedals. Will be traveling more after retirement and taking the bicycle with me so I can ride in exotic places like The Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, etc.”
But that’s small stuff compared to what his ultimate goal is: “…to ride across the U.S. from Savannah to my home town in Texas and then finishing up eventually in San Francisco with a ride across the Golden Gate.“
Loveless expects the cross-country trip to take “about 70 to 90 days,” with about six days on the road each week and a day for rest. He won’t be out there alone. There’ll be a SAG (Support And Gear) vehicle and driver to help with many of the logistics of the ride, such as food and shelter.
“A lot of folks go self-contained which means they pull a trailer, have panniers (bags or boxes that fit over the bike’s rear wheel), so forth, and camp. I will have my professional SAG driver following or leading as the case may be and we will probably, by that time, have a small camper or camper trailer.”
He already has a route in mind and would like to begin the journey in April.
“Route at this time is planned for Savannah to here (Gainesville) to Pittsburg, Texas (his hometown) to somewhere in northeast New Mexico and have not finalized the rest yet. Have considered taking Historic Route 66 from Tucumcari, New Mexico, out to California and visiting along that route. Also, towns on it are about 25 miles apart for the most part – due to the old wagon train days, which was about as far as one could go in a day. Would probably cut north after Flagstaff and go up through the Grand Canyon and then north to pick up the route called the Western Express. Don’t want to miss all the mountains!” he said with a chuckle.
Loveless says one work colleague has described him as "old and gray and still pedaling away" - all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge if he has his way.
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