Premier Member Highlight – Bonnie Wright and Lonnie Draper
Lonnie and Bonnie are twin siblings with a serious dedication to health and wellness. Every year, they push their fitness limits with an adventurous tradition of completing some kind of major physical feat for their birthday, like hiking up a mountain or swimming a relay race around the entire island of Key West (which Bonnie completed in just over 6 hours in 2018). Lonnie was inspired to incorporate his love for cycling into their most recent adventure. He decided that this year, for their 64th birthday, they would take the relay trip of a lifetime – the Southern Tier route. The Southern Tier is a very famous and well-traveled cycling route across the southern United States starting on the west coast in San Diego, CA and ending on the east coast of north Florida near Jacksonville. Lonnie Draper, Bonnie Wright, Robert Draper (Lonnie’s son), Brendan Draper (Lonnie and Bonnie’s nephew), Bella Banka, and Jeremy Kuder cycled the entire 3092 miles as a team this February in 7 days and 5 hours. I had the chance to speak with most of them about the experience.
Learning about the logistics of this trip was like learning the details of a successful bank heist – very complex and quite exciting. In order to travel over 3000 miles in a week, there must be shifts. This tour was done in a relay style with support vehicles, which means the team split up into two groups of three people with one support vehicle (van or trailer) with each group. There is only one person riding at a time, but there is also always one person riding, barring bathroom breaks or emergencies. Each cyclist rides for two hours and then switches off with someone in their group. The two others in the group are riding close by in a van with extra bike parts, food, water, and other necessities. This group rides for twelve hours while the other group drives ahead about 240 miles and rests while they wait for the first group to catch up to them. Then, they switch. When I asked Lonnie what the most difficult aspect of this trip was for him, he admitted that it was the logistics of organizing everything – mapping out their travels, finding the safest routes, having the right amount of extra gear, etc. This is coming from an emergency room physician and solar energy engineer – in other words, a man who definitely deals with complicated logistics on a daily basis.
He also admits that it was pretty difficult to convince five other people to join him on such an adventure and that he had several people turn him down, understandably. Luckily, the group of cyclists that stepped up to the challenge were apparently the most perfect people for the job. Every cyclist I spoke to on the team said that one of the most positive aspects of the trip was the fact that their fellow riders were so amazing. They all raved about the natural camaraderie among them and commended the others for their positivity and fortitude. Lonnie described his team as “cohesive, emotionally intelligent, supportive” and said that they were all “willing to laugh through all the adversities”, which were apparently plentiful. He recalls a night in which he had to wake up Bella at 3am for her shift on the bike, even though she had only been sleeping for less than 2 hours. He then reluctantly informed her that it is 42 degrees Fahrenheit and raining outside, there is no coffee left or warm food for her, and they are in the middle of rural Mississippi… where it is flooding. She, of course, took it like a champ.
Bonnie recalls her most difficult ride that week, which happened to be her first. She was riding through Arizona in over 4000ft of elevation. It was cold and very windy, the air was thin, and she was under-dressed. She had to call her team to pick her up before she could finish her two hours, which was discouraging, but with the support of her team and excitement for the adventure as a whole, she was able to tell herself “This is not a failure. I will make this up.” Which she definitely did.
Bonnie is more of a swimmer than a cyclist. She swims at Premier several times a week, actually. She claims that she is not the kind of cyclist that her brother is, and in fact, she is not as hard-core into cycling as the rest of the team, but she knew she would be able to complete this challenge. As a lifetime athlete and a woman who clearly has pretty strong willpower (recall the 6 hour 17 minute swim around Key West), she did not doubt her ability in this feat. Pretty soon after the leg in Arizona, Bonnie rode through her favorite section of the trip – New Mexico. She said that at roughly every 40 miles, the topography would morph around her until she was in a completely different environment, which felt surreal. She also really enjoyed riding at night because while it was a bit eerie cycling alone in the sunless desert, it was also beautiful, quiet, and serene.
As 8 year old children, Bonnie and Lonnie used to bike between towns in England where they lived, exploring the world around them in any way they could. It only makes sense that they carry that whimsical spirit into their birthday tradition each year. When I expressed that what they did is pretty amazing, Lonnie remarked “We don’t want it to be amazing; we want it to be reasonable”. Lonnie understands that riding 3000+ miles on a bicycle in one week is not something most people would consider “reasonable”, but he does think that in general, riding a bicycle is not difficult. As an avid environmentalist, he wanted to show people that if he and a group of five others can cycle across the country, then anyone should be able to ride a bike to work or to the store, or even just for their health.
Both siblings were clearly very satisfied with the overall experience. There really isn’t a question of whether they would do another cycling tour together again, but rather when and where. You can most likely catch them training here at Premier for their next big adventure, whatever it may be.