Cross-country trip redefines

Charlotte cheers after completing her cross country bike trip on May 9, 2008.

As Baby Boomers start to retire they’re asking themselves “Where do I go from here?” Charlotte McGowan decided to explore that question in a unique way-- by biking cross-country. Charlotte moved to Cleveland Heights from Athens Ohio ten years ago with her husband Terry. Before retiring, she was an educator with a Presbyterian church in Lyndhurst and enjoyed doing weeklong bike tours with the Wandering Wheels, a group that helps promote biking. The idea of biking cross-country, though, was something she had thought about but never really felt she could accomplish. As motivation, she decided to use her cross-country trip to raise money for Heifer International, an organization that works towards sustainable development in poor areas globally and nationally. Her goal was to raise $5,000.

Charlotte started preparing for her trip by increasing her riding, taking more challenging routes and using her inside bike trainer during the winter. On March 28, 2008 Charlotte joined 43 other riders, including her 81 year old uncle, and dipped the back wheel of her bike in the Pacific Ocean at Carlsbad, California. The group stayed in churches and periodically a hotel as they biked through desserts and mountains, next to trucks along Highway 60 and through a sandstorm. Charlotte had her first 100-mile day in New Mexico and on May 9, she completed her journey by dipping her front wheels in the Atlantic Ocean at St. Simon’s Island, Georgia.

The trip affirmed what Charlotte always believed about the U.S. “We have a pretty good country, vast and complex in geography. It was good to take in the scenery and talk to ordinary people in every small town along the way.” The long trip also gave Charlotte plenty of time to think about what she wanted her retirement to look like. “Retirement is what you make it,” Charlotte says, “and I want to become more involved in my community.” Charlotte wants to do volunteer work that builds on her knowledge of the education process and has started volunteering at the MOSAIC Experience, one of the five small schools at Heights High School. She will work with the principal, teacher leader, parents and other community members to develop a tutoring project to support incoming 9th graders. She also plans on being one of the tutors.

“This trip taught me that if you dream it, you can do it. Sometimes you may not have a clear idea of what that dream is and then an opportunity presents itself. That is what keeps you alive.” She describes life as an adventure of hills and valleys. “Along the way we’ve got to try new things. If we fail, so what –you keep learning along the way.” Charlotte now sees her retirement as reorienting to a new life of challenges and accomplishments. “They didn’t think I would finish the bike trip but in the end I received an award for most improved cyclist,” says Charlotte.

For more information about the work of Heifer International visit their website at For more information about the Wandering Wheels program visit their web site at

Lita Gonzalez, a long time community volunteer, lives in Cleveland Heights with her husband Mark. Both her daughters are Heights High graduates.

Read More on Seniors
Volume 1, Issue 4, Posted 4:18 PM, 06.16.2008