It is our great privilege to kick off our interview page with Gil Wagner.
We met Gil in Florida while we were crossing the Country on bicycles. He is an adventuring soul, but more than that, a wonderful human being. See for yourself.
FTR – Please introduce yourself to our readers (name, age, former employment):
Gil – Hi, I am Gil Wagner age 66 and twice retired. My first career was spent in the US Navy as a pilot of the P3 Orion Anti-submarine aircraft. After 22 years in the military I retired in ’92 and started on my second career. I spent the next 17 years teaching the NJROTC program in a high school in Southeast Alabama. Having retired from education in 2009 I have been pursuing personal interests to include bicycling touring.
FTR – At age 66, a lot of folks are sitting in a La-Z Boy recliner watching the evening news. Not you. You’re busy planning your next adventure. Can you tell us about your upcoming adventure?
Gil – My next extensive bicycle tour is coming up this summer and I’m embarking on it with my favorite riding partner. My sister Trish and I started riding together 15 years ago crossing a different state each summer. Trish was born in Stuttgart, Germany in 1952. We lived there with our parents complements of the US Army. Never having had the opportunity to return to her birthplace we are flying to Stuttgart this summer and doing some touring. We will start riding in the small town of Villingen in southernmost Germany at the source of the Neckar River. Following the Neckar north we will tour beautiful countryside to Mannheim where the Neckar feeds into the Rhine River. We are following the Rhine to Amsterdam, Netherlands. One of the many side trips along the route will include bicycling up and back down the beautiful Mosel River Valley famous for its wine vineyards to Luxembourg and France.
FTR – You have bicycled across the US twice, and Alaska?
Gil – Almost. In 2005 I crossed the US from Los Angeles, CA to Charleston, SC with a group of 4 other riders. Some specifics of the trip for those who are into stats:
Total dist: 3055 miles
Total days: 47 days including 4 rest/maintenance days
Avg dist per day: 73 miles a day (we had time constraints)
Maintenance issues: surprisingly none other than continual preventive maintenance
In 2007 I celebrated my 60th birthday by riding from Spokane, Washington north through Canada to Anchorage, AK via Tok, Fairbanks, and Denali National Park. It would literally take a book to adequately describe the trip. I will just have to say that 2000 miles of the trip was through some of the most beautiful country in the world… Canada. The 1100 miles through Alaska differs only due to international boundary lines. In 2010 a friend of mine and I started an East to West crossing of the US at St. Augustine, FL headed for San Diego, CA. The trip ended for me after only 800 miles in a quaint little town in western Louisiana. My right knee quit on me. In January of 2013 I had a total knee replacement just in time to rehab and take on the European ride. I will go back to that little town in Louisiana for another bowl of gumbo and finish the 2010 trip in the near future.
FTR – What was Alaska like from the seat of a bicycle?
Gil – I’m afraid there would be another book required here. However, in short, whether it be Alaska or anywhere, you see so much more touring at 10 mph than flying by at 75. In Alaska/Canada I had daily sightings and occasional close encounters with bear, moose, elk, wolves, big horn sheep and all other varieties of wild life. Next, the scenery was almost indescribable. There were the snowcapped mountains with flowing glaciers to the thousands of acres of fireweeds, a beautiful wildflower which is the first thing to grow after devastating forest fires. Without the fireweeds there would otherwise be an entire landscape charred and open to natural destruction from erosion. Then come the many peoples you meet along the way…. from the Native residents to the tourists from all over the world to various types of adventurers…. again another book.
Gil – No for a few reasons. First, I enjoy my “oldies” and country music as well as many of the classics…. but, I am not a music fanatic. I rarely listen to music while driving. Secondly and more importantly is the safety concern. I keep my eyes and ears open to the traffic. But mostly I just love to hear the sounds of the trip…. a great example was out West or through Canada and Alaska… no music can match Mother Nature’s symphony. I can only imagine what awaits me along the rivers in Europe.
FTR – What book are you currently working on?
Gil – You’re going to like this one…. I am into a 300 page restoration manual on old vintage trailers…. another hobby/passion…. restorations of about anything. Quick and dirty on the vintage trailer manual…. While camped on a remote lake shore in Canada’s Yukon Territory on my Alaska trip, I came upon an older man with one leg and his dog Pepper. He was camped in a homemade teardrop trailer traveling the North American continent. I promised myself right then and there that I would be back doing likewise in later years. I don’t know if his one leg and my new knee are a premonition of something…. but I am in the process of restoring a 1955 Comet Canned Ham style travel trailer…. “another book.”
FTR – What book would go with you on an island?
Gil – Robinson Crusoe? Sorry, I read quite a bit… mostly adventure related… but like my music I am not addicted.
FTR – You are obviously a driven person, determined to succeed no matter the undertaking. Tell us about things that have inspired you…
Gil – This is a tough one. Thank you for the kind comment, but I really don’t know how to address it. I don’t necessarily consider myself a driven person… I just do not like to come up short on any undertaking… maybe that is driven, I don’t know.
As far as inspirations and any other insights as to who I am and why…. another book. Basically, I just credit the way I am and who I am to the way I was raised and the time I was raised in. I was raised in a loving extended, hardworking family in the 50’s. I watched Roy Rogers, Hop-a-long Cassidy and Gene Autry on TV. The good guy always did what was right…. no blood was spilled and there was only a proper way to conduct yourself. Elders were to be respected and all others were to be treated with kindness. I guess you throw all that I experienced growing up in a pot and stir it up…. and here I am.
FTR – Everyone should have a story or two about a one-legged man and a dog named Pepper. What advice would you give to the folks on the fence? Those who thus far have only dreamed of those things?
Gil – In my case it started with concern for my physical condition more than a dream. Whatever the reason the basic philosophy is the same…quit putting it off and just start. My touring started as a simple attempt to keep from going downhill physically. I had been teaching for about 3 years and found I was enjoying pizza and accompanying refreshments to my detriment. As a Navy Pilot I had always maintained myself in fairly good condition and knew I had to do something NOW. I had always enjoyed bicycling as a kid, so, for my 50th birthday in Feb 1997 I decided to ride to Panama City Beach about 73 miles from my house. I bought a used old beater 10 speed bike and took off. Some 35 miles later I stopped to take my umpteenth break and literally could not lift my leg to get back on the bike. In complete defeat I called my wife to come get me. I was really upset with myself for being so arrogant as to think that I could pull something like that off without training. I started working out, studying cycling nutrition and bicycling 20 miles round trip to work. That summer I rode to Chattanooga, TN some 465 miles away with a group of riders as a part of my 50th birthday celebration. It has just snowballed from there.
I have been asked a number of times “how in the world do you do it”? My answer to anyone of any age is that you can’t do anything if you don’t start. If you have a dream… quit dreaming and start working toward making it a reality.
Thank you so much Gil for taking time out of your schedule for us!
~The Four The Road Family
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