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Proof you can ride a bicycle across the country at any age

By Staff | Oct 6, 2008

I have a bicycle. I used to ride it, but not a lot.

I once dreamed of riding across the country. Almost every summer many bicyclists would come through Minnesota travelling on Highway 14 on their way across the U.S. The major route was popular with those who crossed from west to east.

In fact, “The Big Ride Across America,” a fundraiser for the American Lung Association, had dozens of bikers travelling through each year. Several invited me to come along.

I thought it would be fun to try. However, reality set in rather quickly when I would tire out riding my bike 10 blocks around town.

After passing the age of 50, I knew for sure riding across the country was no longer an option. Riding across town was hardly a viable possibility.

Or is it?

On Wednesday morning I got a call from the Blue Earth City Hall about a photo and story opportunity for this week.

Someone was biking across the states and had stopped in Blue Earth overnight. Would I be interested in taking a picture and visiting with them, Sue Hauskins at city hall asked.

Sure, I said.

I wondered who it might be, and what their story was, hoping it was something different from what I have heard in the past.

Boy, was it!

This was a couple from Italy, who spent the night in Blue Earth. Their names are Alberto and Gabriella Sala.

They are bicycling from Colorado, up to North Dakota, down through Minnesota and Iowa, and over to Chicago.

The amazing thing is, Alberto is 71 years old, and Gabriella is 66.

This is not their first time on a bicycle trip in the U.S. They have been here five times before.

In 1991 they went across the whole U.S., from New York to San Francisco. In 1993 it was Anchorage (yes, Alaska!) to Seattle. Then in 1995 it was a short trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

The next year, 1996, they made up for the short trip by biking from Los Angeles to New York – with a side trip to Maine.

The year 2001 brought another big trip, from Calgary in Canada down to Miami.

They don’t just bike in America, either. They have traveled all over Europe and a lot of the rest of the world as well.

When Alberto retired from the banking business 16 years ago, he wanted to do something unusual.

“I wanted to travel, stay fit, and see the world close up,” he said. “So I decided to bike around the world.”

He has put on so many miles since then he has lost track. Gabriella has been with him on most of the treks.

They both loved the outdoors through the years, and enjoyed hiking and skiing in the Alps.

Gabriella competed in kayaking in the 1960 Olympics in Italy.

They wanted to explore the U.S. because of American movies and culture.

“We wanted to see what this American dream was all about,” the Salas said.

They usually campout at night, but stay in a motel once in a while, if the weather is bad or they just need a break. Wednesday night they stayed at the Super 8 Motel here.

They carry a tent, sleeping bags, clothes and even a kitchen of sorts – all in packs attached to the bikes.

“It is about 50 pounds of gear on each bike,” Alberto said. “The kitchen equipment is on Gabriella’s bike.”

They have met hundreds of interesting people along the way, and have grown to love the American people.

“They are all so friendly,” Gabriella said. The couple has been invited to stay in homes of people they just met, and once police officers put them up in a fire hall when a storm raged through their campground.

“We have treated it as an adventure, and it has truly been one,” Alberto said.

The reason for this year’s trip?

“We had never been to North Dakota or Iowa on our trips, so we wanted to visit those two states,” Alberto explained. “We try to go to some new areas every time we come here to ride.”

Now the couple can say they have been to Blue Earth, home of the Green Giant.

“We are happy to have visited here, it is very nice,” Alberto said.

I wonder how many times he has said those words.

I also wonder how many other 71 year-olds are off biking around the world.

Maybe there is still hope for some of the rest of us…