From coast to coast at ground level Cyclist, 73, tours country

July 18, 1993|By Victor Paul Alvarez | Victor Paul Alvarez,Staff Writer

Sweating and pedaling his way up the hills of Arizona, with 600 miles of road behind him, Lester Marks longed for home.

Two weeks into a 3,400-mile bicycle trip across America, he decided he had had enough. That night, he got a call in his hotel room from a buddy back home in Harford County, who talked him into climbing the next hill instead of turning away from it.

So at 73, Mr. Marks, of Joppatowne, pedaled countless other hills -- and completed the 43-day journey from Los Angeles to Boston.

He had declared before leaving in May that the best way to see America is on a bike at 15 mph.

Traveling with 70 members of the League of American Wheelmen, a national cyclists group, he took it slowly and savored his country -- both the simple and the majestic.

Steaming cups of coffee awaited in Kansas diners. Sunsets painted the Grand Canyon a kaleidoscope of colors. Smelly stockyards lined Illinois roadsides. Cornstalks stretched endlessly in Missouri. American flags fluttered all over the Midwest.

"I stopped and smelled the roses, took my time," Mr. Marks says over coffee and an omelet at a Joppatowne restaurant. "All the fast ones saw was the ground. I got to see the country."

A stroke six months ago almost kept him off the road. Three years ago, he fell from his bike trying to avoid a dog, breaking his hip, but soon resumed cycling. Until seven years ago, he says, he never bothered much with exercise and didn't even own a bicycle.

Then, after a 1986 heart attack, heeding a doctor's advice, he bought a cheap bike and started riding. Now he pedals 20 to 30 miles a day in warmer months and trains at the Holiday Spa the rest of the year.

Not bad for an "Old Geezer" -- the affectionate name younger riders bestowed upon Mr. Marks and three others in their 70s.

"We were a stubborn bunch, always trying to outdo each other," he says of the geezers, "even though we were the slowest of the group."

A retired Navy admiral would pack his knees in ice every night. Another man nursed wounds caused by a dog that leaped from %% a car and knocked him from his bike.

Mr. Marks took a nasty fall that cut his arms and hands. He missed a day before returning to the road.

But Mr. Marks, a retired military photographer who suffered three war wounds and whose legs still carry shrapnel from World War II and Korea, wasn't about to let a few cuts and bruises stop him.

TH Still, after the first few weeks of the journey, he found himself at

the back of the pack. He thought of cutting the trip short.

"But when I got ready to go home, they all convinced me not to," he says. "They were there for me, to help me, so I stayed."

Now, Mr. Marks is toying with his idea for a new adventure, a new challenge -- a chance to soar through the sky at breakneck speed instead of pedaling across America at 15 mph.

Lester Marks wants to go bungee jumping.

"Oh, I'd love to try it. I've talked to a few people about it," he says.

"But I'm not ready for all that yet."

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