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Edmonton octogenarian on quest to break Guinness World Record

Bob Fletcher's Octogenarian Odyssey will see him ride over 13,500 kilometres since leaving North Pole last month.

A retired educator and cycling enthusiast from Edmonton is riding 13,500 kilometers over 155 days to break a world record, and he made a quick stop in Richmond this week.

Bob Fletcher set off on the “Octogenarian Odyssey,” as he calls it, on July 4, 2022 from North Pole, Alaska (yes, there’s a city called North Pole). He aims to break the Guinness World Record for the longest journey on a motorized bike, and he has just ridden 3,550 kilometers, putting him a quarter of the way in his journey.

The idea for this epic journey came to Fletcher when he was thinking of ways to celebrate his 80th birthday, which is coming up on August 19.

“I started thinking of different types of adventures that I could do until I watched the series on Apple TV called ‘Long Way Around’ with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. In the last (episode) they rode an electric motorcycle from the bottom of Argentina to Los Angeles.

“I said, ‘I can do that,’” Fletcher explained.

While his initial goal was just to celebrate his birthday with an adventure, he has since added a couple more goals to his checklist.

“I want to draw attention to all the people that are doing incredible adventures but are not pro-athletes and not Olympians,” he said.

“And I wanted to motivate people of all generations to be active, to get out there to do something, to get out of your comfort zone.”

Finally, Fletcher wanted to show the world you can live “a productive and active life” after retirement.

At the suggestion of his hosts in Fairbanks and Panama, Corrine Leistikow and Nina Tartakoff, Fletcher is also in the process of fundraising for Christmas presents for children in Panama. (With a starting point of North Pole, he’s sounding a lot like a certain jolly and red-coated someone.)

Getting the ball rolling

Before I spoke to Fletcher, I had imagined the preparation for his trip would involve rigorous training. As it turns out, it was mostly business as usual.

“I ride at least five days a week, anyway. I just keep in shape and there’s nothing special,” he said.

Although, Fletcher is no stranger to long-distance international bike rides, having ridden in 22 different countries. His longest ride so far was 10,400 kilometers from Anchorage, Alaska to Mexico City in 2015.

What makes this quest different, however, is that he’s not going with a travel agency but is planning the trip himself.

“Planning the roads, the accommodation, getting sponsors – things like that took a lot of time,” Fletcher explained.

One of Fletcher’s sponsors is Airbnb, which he reached out to because he wanted to stay within local communities.

Fletcher also put together his own support team, which includes long-time friend Wayne Grover, and other companions such as Kim Voogsgeerd and Yiota Georgakopoulou, whom he recruited from Facebook.

Facing the headwind – head on

One of Fletcher’s most memorable moments on the quest so far is the day he rode in Yukon. It was six Celsius, and he was battling a strong headwind in the pouring rain.

Weather has been the biggest challenges of the trip, said Fletcher.

“[A strong headwind] is not my favourite thing, at all,” he said.

But he tells himself: “Just put your head down, let’s get it done. We turn the corner and the headwind becomes a tailwind.”

Fletcher is also facing an additional challenge in his attempt to break the Guinness World Record. Although the current record is around 8,200 kilometers, just a week ago a couple finished a potentially record-breaking ride of around 11,500 kilometers from Florida across the northern part of the U.S.

“When I started I only had to get to Mazatlán, Mexico. Now I’m going to have to get to Antigua, Guatemala to break the new record once it gets established,” he said.

Despite all the challenges, Fletcher remains staunchly dedicated to cycling.

“It’s because of the incredible people all along the way, especially when you have established friends all over the world. I can travel to any continent and there’s somebody there that I’ve ridden with,” he said. Just this week, Fletcher met a couple from Germany who made him lunch.

Another reason he enjoys cycling is that it’s humbling.

“My very first long international ride after my wife passed away, I showed up thinking I was a real hotshot rider,” he said. He quickly realized that other rides had a plethora of experiences as well.

Although his time in Richmond was brief, Fletcher managed to enjoy a hearty seafood dinner in Steveston under the sunset on Tuesday evening. Today, he crossed the border to the U.S. to continue on the next leg of his journey.

Next up is one deadline he cannot miss – his 80th birthday party on August 19 that he’s hosting along his route.

And family and friends are travelling from across Canada and other places to come to the party.

“So I gotta be there,” he said.

With the help of his support team, Fletcher is documenting his journey on Facebook, Instagram, and his website. He is also in the process of writing a book about the journey – talk about a productive life after retirement!

Vikki Hui

About the Author: Vikki Hui

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