Along for the Ride: Forest Cyclists on the Go
Residents of The Forest at Duke are nothing if not active. Whether hiking, dancing, running, or perfecting yoga asanas, each one is redefining retirement in their own way.
It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that there are quite a few cyclists residing – and often riding – on campus. Among others, Walton Smith, Katherine Shelburne, Melissa McLeod, Nell Barlow, Ann and Larry Inderbitzin, Ellen Barrett, Dennis Blair, and Joanne Ferguson enjoy some form of cycling, each for their own special reasons, each with unique goals, and all with varying levels of experience.
Resident Walton Smith, who moved onto campus in June 2019 with his wife, Susan, found his love for bicycles early in life, learning to ride at age 6. He continued off and on with this mode of transportation and vessel of fulfillment all of his life. In grammar and junior high schools, he rode a Schwinn Phantom, and later an English-made three-speed bicycle during his sophomore year at Dartmouth. Of the latter, he says, “An unexpected snowstorm caught it in an outdoor bike rack, where it was frozen until spring.”
Years later still, Walton commuted by bicycle from his home in Cleveland Park – a neighborhood in the nation’s capital – to offices in Washington’s L’Enfant Plaza and DuPont Circle.
In 1992, when his sister suggested that he go on the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia with her, he resumed riding once again.
Today, Walton rides around Durham on a Trek Domane SL5 Gravel bike, while enjoying a Trek FX7500 at the Smiths’ second home in Ashe County, North Carolina. He cites the many health benefits of cycling as one of the chief reasons he has made it such a central part of his life, especially now in retirement. The visually appealing, occasionally rolling landscape of Durham County is another factor.
“Cycling is excellent aerobic exercise and is the best thing I can do to control my weight,” he explains. “Around here, there are lots of beautiful exurban roads with modest hills to add interest.”
Recognizing that cycling is a mostly solitary activity, he does enjoy riding with others and sees doing so as an extra element of safety.
In his life at The Forest, Walton especially enjoys the people – both residents and staff – as well as the outstanding services and great location.
Having ridden virtually all of her life, resident Katherine Shelburne got into this leisure activity and form of exercise as a child. She most enjoys the wind and the exhilarating feeling of coasting downhill.
Her two cycles include a five-decades-old Schwinn and a Goji red ELF 2FR. Developed and manufactured by Organic Transit in Durham, the zero-emissions ELF (Electric, Light, Fun) is a bicycle-car hybrid, boasting an enclosed cab, solar panel, three wheels, pedals, and a carrier in the back. It does not run on gasoline, but rather operates on a rechargeable battery and the rider’s pedal power. With solar power alone, the vehicle can move riders up to 20 miles per hour.
Katherine prefers to ride alone and typically cycles around The Forest, where her favorite things are the trees, the people, and the food. She sees her home as “a place to spend the rest of my life” and has pitched in quite a bit to help and serve her fellow residents since the pandemic hit earlier this year. Each day, she drives her white Hello Kitty pickup truck to the Community Center portico, where she loads the bed with meals to serve her many neighbors on Fountain View Lane – the same place where she hangs her hat and parks her ELF.
Forest resident Melissa McLeod, who moved onto campus last October, received her first bicycle when she was five years old. Her passion ignited right there and then.
“I never needed training wheels,” she remembers. “I just hopped on and took off!”
Years later, Melissa rode a bicycle as her main form of transportation in graduate school and eventually began participating in duathlons. She has a road bike and a hybrid, both of which she uses on the American Tobacco Trail – a 23-mile path winding from Apex through Wake, Chatham, and Durham Counties on its way to downtown Durham. Riding gives her a sense of freedom that she wholly embraces, and it also makes way for free, easy parking in the heart of the city. Melissa rides her bike about three times in any given week, typically clocking 30-40 miles each time.
Like Walton Smith, Melissa prefers riding with friends – not only for the social aspect, but because it lends a feeling of added safety. An avid hiker, too, she’s enjoyed an active lifestyle for many years. As part of an independent group of 6-10 hikers here at The Forest, she often treks from campus to the Al Buehler Trail or Sandy Creek Park, even sometimes driving out to the trails at Duke Forest along NC-751.
The Forest at Duke initially attracted Melissa with its location near her family in town, its diverse offering of activities, and its gym and saline pool. “The people here are genuinely friendly and welcoming,” she adds.
Along with her fellow hikers and bicyclists, Melissa hopes to see even more active people join The Forest community.
“I have loved riding a bicycle since I first learned how, at age 8, when I had to beg or borrow from friends,” Forest resident Nell Barlow recalls. “I was grown and married before owning my own bicycle.”
When she finally got her own set of wheels and spokes, she and her husband were graduate students living in Scotland. They had no car and virtually no money, so their primary means of recreation and transportation was bicycling.
Today she’s been riding for over 80 years, usually on solo adventures since “socializing can be difficult while pedaling.” She tries to venture out on her bike every single day, typically going a mile or two, primarily in the parking lot at The Forest because it is the most level spot on campus. Recently she put her old tried-and-true bicycle into storage and invested in a new DeSota Classic tricycle – a three-wheeler with five gears, which offers more stability and goes at a slower pace. “It may not be as much fun, but it’s safer,” Nell says.
“I know it is good exercise and that it helps to control my weight,” she says of riding. “It is very satisfying to cover some miles without polluting the atmosphere! And, oddly, it gives me a great feeling of freedom and resourcefulness.”
Nell appreciates a great many things about life at The Forest at Duke, including the proximity to excellent medical facilities, good universities, and friendly neighbors.
“At long last you are free to live at your own pace, primarily choosing things you want to do, rather than having them prescribed for you,” she shares. “It is an attractive and comfortable place, and both the staff and residents are generally congenial and intelligent.”
Such amiability and intellect certainly include Nell herself!
Ann and Larry Inderbitzin
Residents Ann and Larry Inderbitzin were initially drawn to The Forest at Duke by the people, cottages, and convenient distance from neighborhood stores. They also appreciated the mostly quiet, secluded atmosphere and pleasant weather, “although it does get a little hot,” Ann adds. She and Larry also enjoy being around friendly fellow residents and team members.
Ann began bicycling when she was about five years old. She remembers always having had a bike as a child and often riding it to school.
“We didn’t have a lot of traffic where I lived and I would ride for miles to look for asparagus and flowers, go to the stables and ride horses, ride anywhere I felt like it,” she describes. “It was wonderful freedom.”
Ann rode often as the years passed. When she was 58 years old, she purchased her last true bicycle – a baby blue Cannondale hybrid. Soon thereafter she participated in two AIDS rides, one from San Francisco to Los Angeles, the other in Hawaii. In order to participate in AIDS rides, she says, you first had to collect $2,500 from friends as a donation to help those suffering from AIDS. For the first of the two rides, Ann collected $4,000 in donations and racked up 2,000 miles of serious training ahead of time. Larry also biked in the Hawaiian AIDS ride, as did the couple’s son and his wife.
“The most wonderful part of the ride was the spirit of the participants and the volunteers who took care of us,” she declares. “I have never been part of such a large group where everyone seemed to care about you and thought you were pretty wonderful. It was like an army moving down the coast, spreading love and kindness.”
Ann stopped riding for a little while, once she and Larry moved to the mountains of Pennsylvania; there she says it was too hard and too dangerous to bicycle. She was about 65 at the time. Too passionate about riding to stay away, it wasn’t long before she picked it back up again.
At 80, she and Larry decided that two-wheel biking was “an accident waiting to happen,” so they sold their bikes and bought a three-wheel recumbent tricycle. While she says it’s very hard to pedal, she and Larry try to ride the trike every day (so long as it isn’t too hot), taking it around the one-mile Forest at Duke Drive loop up to three consecutive times. Larry is more consistent on the tricycle and is often seen zipping by the Community Center.
With no preference between solitary and partnered riding excursions, Ann enjoys a great many things about her time on the recumbent trike. She sees the value in cycling alone and with company, though recognizes the independent experience that occurs regardless of the riding arrangement: “You are all alone, making your machine go where you want to go. You are going slow enough to see everything, and fast enough to have the thrill of speed and wind in your face.”
“I have ridden a bicycle for as long as I can remember,” resident Ellen Barrett reveals. “In my early life, it allowed me to visit friends. In my college years, it was my only mode of transportation. And in my retired years, I especially enjoy riding it around the Pawleys Island area, because the terrain is so flat.”
Whenever she is on the South Carolina coast, Ellen typically rides her red beach bike an average of about 6 miles each and every day she is there. She rides around The Forest a bit, too, but prefers walking for exercise while on campus.
Here in the community, she and her husband, Ken, enjoy life in their spacious cottage, being so close to all that Duke University has to offer, and meeting the many fascinating neighbors who also call The Forest home. Moreover, Ellen totally enjoys not having to cook! Perhaps the greatest perk of living at The Forest at Duke is its close proximity to one of the Barretts’ four daughters and two of their eight grandchildren who live in the Morrisville/Cary area.
As for riding her apple red beach bike, Ellen acknowledges it as a fun way to exercise but also to “quickly cover some miles while exploring new areas.”
Resident Dennis Blair discovered the joy of bicycles about three years ago, when he and his wife, Diane, lived in Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley. A neighbor who had cycled for a long time asked him to go along for a ride, and off they went!
“I enjoyed it so much, I bought his second-best bicycle so he could buy a newer and fancier model,” Dennis explains. “When [Diane and I] moved to The Forest at Duke in 2018, I found that it was a cycling hotbed, with many excellent nearby routes.”
The Blairs’ search for the right CCRC didn’t pose too much of a challenge. Their daughter had already lived in Durham for a long time, knew about The Forest, and recommended that her parents visit. When they did, Dennis says, he and Diane got the feeling that it was just the right fit for them. “And so it has been.” He further indicates that what has most impressed him and his wife is the friendliness of everyone in the Forest community, including residents and team members. “It does not take long at all to feel at home,” he adds.
Riding a Salsa he bought secondhand from the friend who introduced him to cycling, Dennis tries to cycle twice a week, 15-25 miles each time, so long as he doesn’t have other pressing commitments. He tends to ride by himself, since it’s generally easier to get up and go for a spin whenever he wishes, but he also enjoys riding with Walton Smith when the two are able to coordinate their schedules.
“[Riding] gives plenty of exercise to different muscles, is good for the heart, and is always interesting, as I look around while riding new routes, or see new things I had not noticed on previous rides on familiar routes,” Dennis affirms.
“I didn’t have a bicycle before I came to The Forest,” 90-year-old resident Joanne Ferguson reminisces. “We couldn’t afford one when I was young, because I was born at the beginning of the Depression.”
Having lived in Durham since 1957, Joanne and her now-late husband, Oliver, seemed to naturally gravitate toward The Forest. The Fergusons moved into the community in 2006, and Joanne – a retired Duke University Press editor-in-chief – was soon recruited to serve as Managing Editor of The Forester, the monthly for-residents, by-residents newsletter. Oliver was himself retired from the English faculty at Duke, and the Fergusons already had many friends at The Forest as a result of their tenure at the university.
Joanne remained editor of The Forester for 10 years, far longer than anyone else had. Because of her experience at the University Press, her natural abilities to interview, write, revise, and manage made her an excellent person to fill the role of overseeing the publication process.
In 2019, she began working with Betsy Szczypinski, a physical therapist from Legacy Healthcare Services, Inc., contracted to work at The Forest at Duke. Under Betsy’s guidance, Joanne engaged in physical therapy, endeavoring to gain strength and maintain her health. Soon after their working relationship began, a close and trusting friendship also blossomed.
As it happens, Rose Leavenworth, a Forest resident who passed away in 2017, left behind a candy apple red Trailmate Desoto Classic trike, which her loved ones donated to The Forest for others to use. The tricycle was passed along to the therapy department, much to Joanne Ferguson’s eventual benefit and pleasure.
“It was here when I came, and my son blew up the tires,” Joanne remembers. “I thought it was part of the décor until he blew up the tires and it worked as a tricycle!”
For the past year, nearly every day except on the weekends, Betsy has walked or jogged behind Joanne as she winds her way around campus on Rose’s tricycle. Together, the two women venture about a mile and a quarter each time.
“I have seen a remarkable difference from the first time I met Joanne after she had a stay in the hospital,” Betsy boasts of her friend. “[At the time] she was having a hard time catching her breath, taking only a few steps, and it really has been a pretty incredible transformation.”
Betsy further adds that the biggest affirmation both for Joanne and for her as a therapist is that so many others – including residents who have known Joanne a long time – also see the extraordinary metamorphosis in Joanne’s physical strength and abilities.
Joanne’s almost daily rides around The Forest at Duke bring much joy to team members and residents looking on. Plenty of people ask to hop into the trike’s basket for a ride, but Joanne – spunky as ever – politely declines and pedals on past with a vivacious grin!
On their outings together, Joanne often shares memories of her time on The Forester staff with Betsy, introducing her to other residents and passing along some of their stories that she still vividly remembers.
“It’s been a lovely way to learn more about the people here and the history of things – their careers and lives and so forth,” Betsy describes. “She has a wealth of knowledge from having interviewed so many residents.”
Many on campus are inspired by Joanne’s active lifestyle, recognizing the way her therapeutic rides have bolstered not only her energy and physical strength, but her spirit as well.
“[Riding] makes me feel better,” she says with a smile. “I keep thinking I don’t want to get up and start, but then it’s wonderful when I do.”
—Lauren Young, Marketing Specialist