Community Sports

Bellingham woman rides 100-mile Tour de Whatcom after doctors say she can’t run

When Susan Taylor’s orthopedic surgeon told her it was only a matter of time before a full knee replacement would be necessary, she was devastated. An enthusiastic runner, she had to find a new way to stay active that would not be so hard on her body.

The answer came in the form of a road bike her husband bought her as a birthday gift.

“The thing that is going to keep me at it is not feeling sore after a day of biking,” Taylor said. “Running a half marathon would exhaust my body, but biking is just good for you.”

To keep pushing herself into this new hobby, Taylor is riding the 100-mile Tour de Whatcom Century with a team of five family members Saturday, July 18. Last year she completed the 44-mile ride and by the end of the summer had worked her way up to finish a stretch equal to the metric-century, which is 62 miles.

The Tour de Whatcom, dubbed “the Northwest’s most beautiful ride,” begins on Railroad Avenue downtown and continues north by Bellingham Bay, to Birch Bay, across the Nooksack River, alongside Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish and circles back to the starting point. Sights of Mount Baker, from an angle free of interstate traffic glare, accompany farmland and county roads for a view of Whatcom County that is intimate from the saddle.

“I’ve enjoyed seeing more of the country by road biking,” Taylor said. “This ride takes you on all the roads you never go on with beautiful views of Baker.”

Riding with her husband, brother, sister-in-law, brother-in-law and nephew, Taylor’s goal is to complete the ride and have fun doing it. A slow pace, stops to listen to the bands and eating food at all the rest areas are just as looked forward to as the race itself, she said.

“I love that when you are biking you can eat,” Taylor said. “When you run, all you get are gel packs but biking you get actual food. When I saw that at the rest stop I thought, ‘Dang, these bikers know what’s up.’”

Switching over to road biking from running was difficult largely because of the difference in community. Taylor has been very involved in mountain biking, and it was the legendary Galbraith Mountain trails that brought her to Bellingham in the first place, she said. But, she got to know many of her closest friends through running.

“I had to leave my running friends behind, and that’s been hard,” she said. “But little bit by little bit you see them getting injured, too.”

Taylor, 56, simply wants to stay active. She is hooked on biking and wants to keep improving speed and endurance, but her winning goal is health, not a medal.

During the week she bikes three or four days, one on the road and the others on the mountain.

“It is kind of scary riding on the road when you’re used to mountain biking,” Taylor said. “But with these organized rides I can feel safe in numbers.”

To prepare for the Tour de Whatcom, her brother coached her over the phone, advising her to add 10 miles each week. He has been a serious road biker for years and lives in British Columbia. The ride has coincided with a family reunion and aside from the five others riding with her, 20 more are currently staying at her house.

“The team got formed all because we were getting together for a family reunion, and they were all just very supportive of me,” she said.

Cindy Paul, Taylor’s sister-in-law, has been biking for over 30 years. She has only been to Bellingham a handful of times and is excited to see more of the countryside while riding alongside Taylor.

“I love getting anywhere on my own steam,” she said. “Whether it be hiking or biking, it’s a cool way to travel by your own strength.”

Never having gone 100 miles before in a single ride, it’s about the challenge of just going a little bit further and training to do something, Paul said.

Paul, her husband and their 23-year-old son are on the team with Taylor. It will be the first long bike ride they have done with their son.

“It’s really exciting to get the whole group together and have this experience,” Paul said.

Biking is an activity that can become a lifestyle through commuting and staying active. Paul and Taylor agree the community of people who love biking is part of what makes Bellingham so much fun and activities like the Tour de Whatcom special.

As a team of six, half have had serious knee injuries from high-impact sports, but all can still bike.

“My family is very active and very supportive,” Taylor said. “They could be just sitting around the pool drinking margaritas, but they want to ride.”

An ominous doctor’s prognosis will not stop Taylor from being the lifelong athlete she considers herself to be.