Peg Rabe, 70, bikes across the United States

She and her sister-in-law traveled the nearly 3,000 miles in two months

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

Peg Rabe from Lincoln, and her sister-in-law, Janice Erickson, from Redwood Falls, biked across the United States this spring. With the help of Peg’s husband, Adolph, as support staff, the two made the trip in two months.

Rabe is 70 and Erickson is 67.

“We have biked a lot in the past 15-20 years, doing many organized rides,” said Rabe. “We also talked to many people who had experienced the ride. It has been on both our minds for a long time.”

While planning this “Great Adventure,” Rabe and Erickson wanted a cause, a reason for the ride. They decided to support senior health.

“Just because you’re a senior citizen, it doesn’t mean you can’t do what you dream of,” said Peg. They weren’t on a fundraising trip, but spoke with many people along the way about senior health.

The two women started this hobby when Erickson brought her bike to Rabe’s home and they decided to ride to the Dairy Queen in Motley. When they returned, they thought they were ready for The Ride Across Minnesota, a fundraiser for multiple sclerosis. They did that 300-mile ride for nine years. For the next three years, they did the Great Ride Across Iowa, that one for fun.

Seventy-year-old Peg Rabe, left, of Lincoln, biked across the southern United States from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean with her sister-in-law, Janice Erickson, 67. They are pictured on the Continental Divide near Silver City, New Mexico.
Seventy-year-old Peg Rabe, left, of Lincoln, biked across the southern United States from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean with her sister-in-law, Janice Erickson, 67. They are pictured on the Continental Divide near Silver City, New Mexico.

“We talked about riding across the United States, but I knew I couldn’t do it until I retired,” said Erickson. “I really never thought it would happen. But when Peg bought the Airstream trailer, I knew I had to do it.”

Erickson retired Feb. 14, and the three left for San Diego Feb. 15. The journey began Feb. 22.

The group followed bike maps from Adventure Cycling, going on the southern route through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The maps gave them an idea where restaurants, restrooms and camping could be found.

“We took mostly back roads, but there were several legs on freeways. Nothing more than 10 miles, though,” said Rabe.

Texas was the scariest, she said.

“On their two-lane roads, traffic travels at 75 miles per hour with only about 18 inches of shoulder to ride on,” said Rabe. “The wind from the semis was tough at first, but we got used to it. If a road felt too dangerous, with no shoulders and lots of traffic, we took alternative roads.”

That was also the worst part for Erickson.

“I never got used to those semis,” she said.

Rabe said the worst part, for her, was riding across the Rocky Mountains.

“It was terrible. We walked a lot, once for four miles,” she said. “It was just as hard going down the other side. The grades were very steep.”

Erickson and Rabe’s adventure consisted of three plans: To have fun; to be safe; and to make it across the United States.

“This was the best thing I ever did,” said Erickson. “There was so much freedom to my days, and so much fun. I could have turned around in Florida and ridden back to California.”

Rabe said Texas, which they were in for nearly half the trip, was the most interesting of all the states.

“The western portion has been in a drought for seven-eight years. There were towns listed on the map which had been abandoned,” she said. “Everyone was gone; they were ghost towns.”

From Austin to San Antonio Rabe said the Texas sky was as big as people say.

“We felt closer to the stars at night,” she said. “There are no trees, just brush and cactus and big sky.”

Eastern Texas seemed to be more prosperous, prettier and more populated, said Rabe. But throughout the trip she was surprised at the number of homeless people she saw.

“The people in Texas were so very friendly. Everyone we talked to asked us about our trip, why we were doing it, then told us their life story,” she said.

The two women hated the logging trucks with bark flying from them through the state of Louisiana. They then went through a small portion of Mississippi and thought it was very pretty but very poor.

The weather throughout the trip was cooler than they expected. What surprised them was the wind coming mostly from the east and not, as they planned, from the west.

“If we knew that, we would have started in Florida,” said Rabe.

Rabe and Erickson rode the entire length of the Florida panhandle and ended in St. Augustine, April 24. From there they rode seven miles on the beach to Daytona Beach, Fla.

Rabe said she will remember the people the best and how open and friendly they were. Many would want their pictures taken with the women.

There were a few dangerous moments. One when they had to go through a tunnel through the mountains with only a 12-inch ledge to walk on. They stayed on the ledge while they wheeled the bikes on the road.

Another time, Erickson and Rabe met border patrols in Texas who were looking for two guys walking. While they never said why, the women were told not to approach the men if they saw them and to leave the area as soon as possible.

“I thought going across the up-to-two-mile-long bridges, like over the bayous in Louisiana, was scary,” said Erickson. “When the wind blew, I thought I would be blown off. I rode in the middle of the bridge when possible.”

The best part of the trip for Erickson was having no responsibility except to ride her bike.

“I didn’t have to put on makeup, I didn’t have to impress anyone,” she said. “And in bad weather, we went shopping.”

During the trip, the women averaged about 50 miles a day and they felt that was plenty.

“We could not have done the trip without Adolph,” said Rabe. “He did the cooking, changed our 15 flat tires, maintained the bikes and got us campsites to stay each night.”

Adolph would drive ahead 15 miles and wait. He would get his lawn chair out of the camper and read a book while he waited. He also made sure the women had plenty of water.

“Our original thought was to get a hotel about once a week, but we found it easier to stay in the camper,” said Rabe.

They did not push themselves at all. If there was something they wanted to see, they would stop. They read every historical marker they rode by.

“We came across the largest flea market and antique show in the southwest while in Texas,” Rabe said. “It was spread throughout six or seven towns. We stopped for that and did some shopping.”

If asked, the two say that the most important thing to remember is to have fun. Don’t make the trip work.

“We met some women who were doing the same thing we were, only were riding 100 miles each day. They were ready to quit. Do it slowly, stop when you want, don’t make it exhausting.”

Erickson added that safety is a must. When crossing railroad tracks that weren’t perpendicular to the road, the two women would get off and walk across.

“If one of us got hurt, it would end the trip for all,” she said.

Erickson said that if she does a long trip again, she will go into it less fearful than she did for their ride across America.

“I know I can get up a hill, and down a hill. I found I can do it all,” she said. “And, since I dislike training, I don’t think I will train any more than I did.”

In contrast, if Rabe does something like this again, the only thing she would change is to train harder before leaving.

“Janice and I are toying with other trips, but probably not as long as this one. Maybe a ride on the Mississippi Trail next time.”