Retirement is a time to enjoy life's simpler pleasures. For Ron and Elizabeth Zell, one those pleasures was taking a bike trip across America.
Ron, 69, and Elizabeth, 63, returned earlier this month from a 72-day, 3,900-mile, cross-country bicycling trip, starting in San Francisco and ending in Virginia.
"We met because of our interest in cycling," Elizabeth said. "When we got married, one of our dreams was to do a cross-country trip together."
The Zells moved to Ashland in 2006, a year after their wedding. Both avid cyclists, they started preparing for the trip as soon as they moved in. "It's nice every now and then to grab on to a role that's bigger than you are, and do what's necessary in your mind to prepare for it," Ron said.
They picked their route carefully, based on common paths that had been traveled before, ones interspersed with sleeping quarters and food stops. The route they settled on zig-zagged through America's central states, and added nearly 1,000 miles to the distance by road. But the path was designed to keep them away from heavy traffic.
"It's a different feeling when you know you just have each other to depend on," Elizabeth said. "It removes you from your everyday life." The Zells took off in May, leaving those everyday lives well behind.
Still ahead were thunderstorm and tornado alerts. But nothing was worse than the triple-digit heat that gripped them as they headed through Missouri. Elizabeth said days like those pushed her to her physical limit.
"You really had to connect with yourself deep down to get through it."
But they did get through it. And in the process, they were treated to some of the country's richest landscapes: Utah's Capital Reef and Kentucky's Amish settlements among them. It was not until pedaling into Virginia, however, that the couple began to feel the weight of their achievement — and the sadness of having to leave it behind.
"There was a feeling of conquering this challenge," Ron said. "At the same time, there was this emptiness."
"It had the feeling of very mixed emotions. We were so sorry to be ending this," Elizabeth added.
In Yorktown, they arrived at Victory Monument, a 98-foot commemoration to the site of the Revolutionary War's last battle. Their adventure was over.
"We went up to (the monument) and we kind of looked at each other and hugged each other and cried," Elizabeth said.
They returned to Ashland — by air — two weeks ago. Sitting in their home, they admit now to feeling restless. Though glad to be back, they are already thinking about their next adventure.
"We have a different balance to our life than when we left," Ron said.
They battled some extreme elements on their trip. But the greatest of those may have been the notion that an adventure like this was too tough for someone their age. Throughout the trip they would pull in to gas stations, loading up on food and drinks. People would ask where they were headed, and would not believe the answer they were given. Elizabeth said the 72-day odyssey through the heart of America should serve as proof that people do not have to give up on their dreams as they age.
"We were really the 'oldsters' going across the country," she said. "There's a sense of pride knowing that we're able to do this type of stuff."