They were wrong.
Following months of training, years of recreational bicycling and a lifetime of self-motivation, Loa Fair completed his adventure. He began his ride on May 21, 2011, and successfully completed it on May 29. Along the way, he posted his thoughts on Facebook as “Super 70 Rider.”
Fair, who lives with his wife Ruth at Westminster Village of the Mid-South retirement community in Blytheville, Ark., found the journey gave him insight not only into the Delta, but also into how some react when older adults tackle challenges — and why a stubborn determination to succeed can make all the difference.
In a week I’ll be on the road. Looking forward to seeing the country at a slow pace. Plans falling into place. I’ve learned a lot and feel physically fit. I’m not racing against time. Remember the word retired. Being actively retired … .
It all began when Loa Fair turned 70 in February of this year and contemplated bicycling from Blytheville to Little Rock. “But once I looked at the traffic volume, I changed my mind,” he said. Instead, Fair considered the Great River Road — a National Scenic Byway — deciding to ride the segment that stretches from the historic arch on Highway 61 at the Arkansas/Missouri state line to the Arkansas/Louisiana state line. Loa’s son, Chris, planned to follow along in a pickup truck with supplies and check on his father every five miles.
Fair’s family was both excited and cautious. “Ruth was a bit worried, but my kids said, ‘Go, Dad, go!’ And really, she’s very used to me doing all kinds of things.”
Next, Loa needed a starting date. “I chose May. It wasn’t too hot, just windy. The first three days, it averaged 35 to 45 miles per hour, with gusts of 50 to 60. It forced me to take a day off when I reached Helena. But that freed us to tour the areas hit so hard by the floods. It really made me appreciate living in Blytheville because so many of the bad storms move around us.”
Thinking that the high water might be a hindrance at St. Charles, Loa had his son drive him to the Louisiana border so he could bike back to Helena and continue from there. Instead, he found clear roads and put in a 55-mile day to Arkansas City, then a 76-mile day to St. Charles (a personal best) and then a 51-mile day to Helena.
As well as marking a major item off his bucket list, Loa also rode to raise funds for the Delta Gateway Museum. Located in the historic Kress building in downtown Blytheville, the Delta Gateway Museum collects, stores, maintains and regularly exhibits historic and cultural objects, artifacts, photographs, works of art, printed materials and audio-visual materials that relate to and emphasize the history, heritage and culture of northeast Arkansas and the Arkansas Delta.
It is a rewarding thought being able to accomplish riding the Arkansas Delta. Met great folks, had my eyes opened to how people perceive the ride and what the area I live in is really like.
Loa never got sore … just tired from fighting the wind. “I had the proper touring bicycle, and the seven gears really came in handy. I wore polyester shorts that kept me dry; no cotton,” he said. “All my planning was right for my age; it took me about three months to gather everything I needed.”
Being prepared is nothing new for Fair. “I’m very self-motivated, which comes from both my military career and time as a building superintendent.” Fair spent 20 years in the United States military, serving two tours in Vietnam and one in Okinawa. He also was active in the 2010-11 Blytheville Leadership Institute.
Fair’s regular daily regimen also helped. Every day at 5:30 a.m., he walks two and one-half miles, then rides his bike another 10 miles around Westminster Village. “I began biking about 15 years ago. I had developed osteoporosis and thought bicycling would be a good low-impact exercise. I really enjoyed it. About eight years ago, I went to a bike shop and got a much nicer bike, the one I used for this tour. I’ve been riding it ever since.”
Loa and Ruth have lived at Westminster Village of the Mid-South, located on the grounds of the former Eaker Air Force Base, for almost four years. They like the way the community offers the privacy of a home with none of the upkeep, and neighbors close by for socializing. In addition, Westminster Village is a rental retirement community with no large entrance fee. In addition to three- and four-bedroom homes, Westminster Village features a library, swimming pool, bowling center, the Ramey activity center, craft hut, woodworking shop, beauty salon and computer lab.
The Village’s wide streets and quiet ambiance make it perfect for biking, says Loa. “Biking enthusiasts from Blytheville regularly come to The Village to ride. They love its quiet neighborhood feel and the lack of traffic.”
He’s also helped start a resident bicycling group. “It’s great seeing some of these people ride again after many years. I enjoy helping them get their bikes in shape.”
The active Westminster Village environment is key to staying healthy, Fair says. “There are many programs here to keep people busy. I like staying active and Westminster Village is great for that.”
What’s next on the Fair bucket list?
Says Fair, “Well, this was my first bicycle tour, and it was a supported tour, with my son helping. Some day I’d like to do a self-supported tour, where I could camp or stop along the way.
“It’s all worth it. I think some Westminster Village residents feel better knowing I did this; it gives them hope. One 67-year-old lady in Texas following my Facebook page even posted that I inspired her to want to do things. That really makes it worthwhile.”
LINDA O’GUIN is executive director of Westminster Village of the Mid-South.