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Washington grandmother

pedals bike 4,500 miles

By JAINE TREADWELL

Features Editor

Nov. 18, 1999, 10 PM

The highways of this country are also the byways of life for many.

A surprisingly large number of vagabonds make their away along life’s highways on journeys that are far off the beaten path.

Perhaps, none more "off" than the journey of Ruth Thomas.

After Thomas retired from teaching and cut the apron strings of eight children, her husband became very ill and she cared from him until his death three years ago.

One day she woke up, heard the birds singing and decided, "It’s time to do something for myself."

Thomas sold her house, car and most of her worldly possessions, slug the money over her back and pedaled off from Spokane, Wash. on an incredible journey – A journey made even more incredible by the fact that Thomas was 72 years old and a "dude" on a bicycle.

"No, I’m not a biker and I didn’t train in any way for the journey," Thomas said, laughing while stopping for a short rest on Highway 231 in Troy. "I just got on the bicycle and took off."

The first day, Thomas made nine miles to the home of a friend.

"I was so exhausted and in so much pain, I called my friend on my cell phone from her front yard and she came out and helped me in the house."

At that early point in the journey, Thomas thought she had embarked on a fool’s venture, but not one to give up, she "lived to pedal another day."

In order for the journey to have some rhyme and reason, Thomas’ goal was to visit the smallest incorporated city in every state.

"Where that came from, I don’t know," she said. "Probably from the same place that the idea to do such a thing came from."

As of Saturday, Thomas had chugged and whizzed through 14 states and logged 4,495 miles. She has no idea how many more miles before the journey is completed.

"I don’t think about that," she said. "If I did, I might throw in the towel. I just take it one mile at a time and, if I can’t make another mile, I stop. I don’t push myself. This has been an enjoyable journey and I intend to keep it that way. If it stops being fun, I’ll hop on a plane and say ‘well done and done.’"

Thomas started her journey in June 1998 and has interrupted it a come of times to fly home "because of family." The last time, she flew back to Washington to welcome a new great-grandson into the family.

"My children and grandchildren worry about me, I’m sure," Thomas said, "but they didn’t try to stop me because they knew my mind was made up. I just wanted to see this great country of ours and I wanted to do it my way. I didn’t want anyone along to tell me what to do or where to go. I’m out here on my own and loving every minute of it."

Thomas mixes her nights. Sometimes she camps and eats wieners and beans from a can. Sometimes she finds a cozy motel with a restaurant and wallows in the lap of luxury.

Which is better?

"Well, nothing can compare with the beauty and solitude of Mother Nature," she said. "But, there’s also a lot to be said for a ‘feather’ bed, a hot shower and a roof over your head."

Thomas is keeping a journal of her travels but said there is no way words can describe the experience. Memories are what she will hold to for the rest of her life.

From North Dakota to lower Alabama, Thomas has found her countrymen to be friendly, obliging and concerned.

"I was in Wetumpka and a young patrolman stopped me and told me I couldn’t be on the interstate," she said. "I told him that, yes, I could. I had a right to be there. He called in on his radio and, after some time, he came back and said, ‘Ma’am, you do have a right to be here – but you don’t need to be here.’ He was concerned about me and I appreciated that."

Thomas said many of her acquaintances along the way have been with law enforcement officers.

"I have met an officer in every town," she said, laughing. "You can’t hold a bicycle steady on the road with traffic wind tossing you like a rag doll. More than once, I’ve been stopped for drinking and pedaling. I was swerving in the wind but I’ve never been drunk in my life."

Thomas has now turned another year and she is looking forward to being on the road when the calendar flips to Y2K.

"

There’s nothing about Y2K that is going to affect me," she said, laughing. "I’ll just keep rolling along."

Just how many more states Thomas will visit, she doesn’t know. Her plans are to visit all 50 but she knows she may not be able to or even want to do that. What she does know is that the journey has been the adventure of a lifetime.

And what will she do when the journey is over and she can’t go home again?

"What do I need with a house," Thomas said. "I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail!"