“I blame it all on my son, “says Mike Farmer as he trains, at age 70, for his second cross-country bike ride. “I’m sitting at my desk, 17 years ago, two years before retirement. My son calls. ‘Dad,” he says. “You’re getting old. We need to have an adventure.'” Mike laughed and replied, “Okay, pick any golf course in the world and we’ll go.” ‘Golf?” his son howled. “I said an adventure — we’re going to climb Mt. Rainier.”
Mike trained for the Mt. Rainier climb by walking the dirt trails near Amherst, Virginia, where he and his wife Georgie ran a bed and breakfast. He eventually managed to carry a 40-pound pack. When he flew into Seattle he was shocked to see the scale of Mt. Rainier. To stay safe on the treacherous snow-filled ascent, Mike had to trust Robert’s guidance completely. “He became the father and I the son,” Mike remembers. “Climbing that mountain was the hardest thing I’d ever done,” he says, “but afterwards it was a really fun thing. It changed my life — my son gave me the adventure bug.”
Always strong, but not a super-athlete, Mike shifted gears from his “sedate, old grandfather,” trajectory to become an avid bicyclist. “Walking was too slow. Didn’t have a motorcycle. And flying was too fast.” He celebrated his 55th birthday by riding his bicycle across the country.
“When he told me what he wanted to do,” wife Georgie said, “I thought he was nuts.” But she dutifully became the SAG, or Support and Gear driver, and followed him in an RV. They had a ball — saw things they never would have seen, met lots of wonderful people, challenged themselves every day. For a couple that had fallen in love decades before, they got even closer. “I had so much fun, I missed it when it was over,” Mike admits.
The adventure bug grew. Globally. In the years that followed, Mike cycled in New Zealand, Burma, Vietnam, France, Portugal, Hungary and Turkey.
Flash forward: Daughter Jenny and her twin girls moved to Asheville, soon followed by son Robert and his family. “Nicest thing my kids ever did for me was move to Asheville,” Mike says. Ten years ago he and Georgie transplanted to Old Fort. “Close by,” Mike laughs, “but not so close for babysitting duty.”
Mike and Georgie, who now reside in Flat Rock, volunteer full-time for three charities: Kenmure Fights Cancer, a Flat Rock community effort that raises money for local hospitals to purchase cancer fighting equipment, and St. Gerard House, the primary resource center in WNC for families experiencing autism. And, for 19 years the couple has trained guide dogs for the Guide Dog Foundation and America’s Vet Dogs. They are currently training their 12th dog, a lively puppy named Quincy.
This year, Mike wanted to mark his 70th birthday with a super-adventure — so he decided to make another Trans-America trip and this time it would be a fundraiser for his charities. Georgie will reprise her role as SAG driver, this time with a bigger RV, 23 feet long. Outfitted with a computer and cell phones, the Farmers can keep in touch with friends and family all along the way. Blogging about their experiences should encourage donations. While Georgie now is busy planning meals, and imagining possible problems so she can avoid them, Mike works up his physical strength on the bike and in the gym.
Mike will take two bikes — a Giant (“very comfortable to ride”) and a Klein for back-up. The trip will start officially on June 1 in Bar Harbor, Maine and end about 90 days later in Anacortes, Washington, a total of 4,285 miles, through 11 states, with about 70 days of biking — all along the incredibly beautiful landscape of the northern tier route, near the Canadian border. Up and down hills, across the plains, visiting old friends, meeting new ones, having a family reunion — all the while pedaling for dollars for his beloved charities.
What part of Mike’ senior citizen body will hurt the most after a day’s ride? “His butt!” Georgie laughs. “I keep thinking about the massages I’ll get when it’s all over,” Mike laughs back at her. “Aw, he’s got it easy,” she teases. “He just rides his bike all day, waving at people and then he comes in the RV door, gets a drink in one hand and a grilled steak in the other.” Georgie does all the cooking, shopping, meet-up arrangements and taking care of rambunctious Quincy. For her fun, she stops “at every historical marker along the way, every single one.”
Fund-raising is paramount to their travel plans. “Mike has his biking outfit on, his tight shorts and his funny top,” Georgie says, “and people always ask what he’s doing — and it gives us a chance to talk about our charities.”
What would Georgie do if something happened and Mike got hurt on the trip? “Oh, I’d tie him to the back of the RV and drag him the rest of the way to Washington,” she laughs.
“Say a prayer,” Mike laughs, “So that we can get my 70-year-old body safely across country.”