From April 2013 “Tips & Tales” Therapy for Troubled Seniors?

In 1964, a college football coach (and former All-American college fullback) Bob Davenport came up with the idea of using physically and mentally challenging experiences to help troubled teenagers mature. In 1966 he started taking groups of teens on long bicycle rides, crossing the United States from coast to coast.

He used his personal faith to make it clear that "Christians weren't wimps", and to strengthen young people’s understanding of God’s place in their lives. His hope was to help cement their growing faith in Christ, somewhat in the spirit of the Outward Bound program. (In some cases, judges would offer a troubled teen the choice of taking a bike ride with "Coach" or going to juvenile court.)

The program had considerable success. Dozens of kids got their lives redirected to a path leading to a productive future. Over time, other riders, both young and old, expressed interest in taking these rides. Coach started making the experience available to others who simply wanted the physical adventure and companionship of fellow cyclists.

Thus was born "Wandering Wheels" as we know it today (see, which has made 68 coast-to-coast trips with over 3,000 riders. Rides have also been conducted in New Zealand, Russia, Canada, Israel, China, and central Europe. I made a coast-to-coast ride in 1996 with them, from San Diego, CA to Brunswick, GA.

A truck carried the luggage and towed a field kitchen that provided some of the meals when camping or sleeping on the floor of cooperating churches or schools along the way. So when I learned that Wandering Wheels offered a ride from Cocoa Beach, FL to Key West in January and February, I jumped at the chance in 2013. We rode 438 miles in nine days in wonderfully warm weather while snow and sleet ruled here at home!

We were riding on Sunday, February 3, so Coach held an impromptu service after breakfast in our campground. It included a reading, a couple of hymns, and a short homily before the group of 36 riders set out for the day. Let's just say this group no longer included teenagers, troubled or not!! Moreover, this group of no-longer-teenagers was surprisingly physically fit.

Coach himself is now 81, and has had surgery on his left knee. The median age of this group was mid-sixties; there was at least one other rider over 80, and quite a few - like myself - in their late seventies. They were also relatively mentally sharp as well; many of the riders carried smartphones to keep in touch with family and weather and news, and they knew how to use them!

So, with 36 adults including quite a few true seniors, riding an average of 45 miles a day for nine days, it was clear that Wandering Wheels was still accomplishing its goals of promoting physical, mental, and spiritual health. Maybe it's evolved into a program for "troubled seniors" out for a life-reaffirming experience!

--Jim Kellett

Jim still rides his recumbent bicycle three to four times per week for exercise, often riding 18-25 miles in a circuit out to Port Republic and around to Grottoes and back to Sunnyside . Once a month, he takes a longer trip out to Timberville and New Market and back. In October, he’ll participate in the Sea Gull Century, a 100-mile circuit ride that attracts thousands of pedaling bikers every year to Salisbury, Md. Meanwhile, the Wandering Wheels organization still holds two events per year, this year both in Indiana. --Galen