Celebrating milestones in the age of COVID-19 calls for a measure of creativity. But local organic farmer Tom Elmore took a road far less traveled when he decided to mark his 70th birthday with a 700-mile bike ride.
A former environmental engineer and city planner for both Brevard and Asheville, Elmore has been cycling since his 20s, when he began commuting by bicycle during stints living in Washington, D.C., and Denver. Many long touring rides have since followed, including some with his wife, Karen Thatcher.
In 1980, after recovering from knee-replacement surgery, Elmore rode from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Tijuana, Mexico. And in 1985, before moving from Colorado to Western North Carolina, he and Thatcher spent several months cycling Europe from Athens to London. “Some of my vacations, I’d throw the bike on a plane and just go someplace and ride from one city to another and fly back,” he says.
For his 70th birthday tour, Elmore had originally intended to ride 700 miles in one stretch, following the route from Greensboro through the Cumberland Gap to Boonesborough, Ky., taken by his ancestors as they settled central Kentucky. “But when COVID arrived, it sounded like hanging around in a bunch of motels was not the wisest thing to do,” he says.
Instead, he rode a variety of routes around Leicester and north Buncombe County, beginning and ending at his own doorstep at Thatchmore Farm in Leicester. “It started off pretty slow — maybe 30 miles a week — and worked up to over 100 miles a week,” Elmore says, noting that he ended the tour with a 100-mile day.
At that point, Elmore observes, he was as aerobically fit as he’d ever been in his life. He’d like to keep it that way. “I still feel like I’m 30, but the clock keeps ticking, and when I look in the mirror, I see a 70-year-old guy,” he says. “So I’d like to stay in as good a physical shape as I can as I get older.”
This article is part of COVID Conversations, a series of short features based on interviews with members of our community during the coronavirus pandemic in Western North Carolina. If you or someone you know has a unique story you think should be featured in a future issue of Xpress, please let us know at email@example.com.