Judy Cureton has been all over the world and enjoyed the view - from her bicycle

Monday, July 2, 2012
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Cape Girardeau resident Judy Cureton has bicycled all over the world. (Adam Vogler)

Not many can say they spent a birthday biking through the mountains of Bhutan, but that's exactly what Judy Cureton did in April, when she turned 74. In fact, the trip to Bhutan completed her goal of biking on every continent not covered by ice.

"When I heard about this ride in Bhutan I checked it out and decided that was my Asia tour. We were there about 10 days and rode on seven of those days," says Cureton, including her actual birthday, which she celebrated with dinner and a cake with a giant "74" on top. Cureton's friend and neighbor Renata DeBlois accompanied her on the trip, and they flew to Asia a few days early so they could explore Bangkok, before hitting the bike trails in Bhutan.

"It is a beautiful country in the mountains and the people are very friendly and peaceful," says Cureton.

In the past 36 years, Cureton has taken bike tours in South Africa, Brazil, Germany, England and Wales, Canada and the United States, including more than half of the states. Every place is unique and beautiful, she says, and biking is one of the best ways to travel.

"It's a good way to see things. You get to interact with people, hear the sounds, smell the smells and feel the wind on your face. ... I like to look at the scenery," says Cureton. "I like the leg exercise and the pedalling. I'm out in the air and the wind. I like being outside, and it feels so good."

Cureton's love for biking goes back to age 9 or 10, when she got her first bicycle. Other kids eventually moved on to other interests, but Cureton never got tired of her bicycle. Later, as an adult with a young daughter and no car, Cureton used her bicycle -- with a basket on the front -- to go shopping and run errands.

In 1976, she saw an ad for the Bikecentennial, a cross-country tour to celebrate the United States' 200th birthday.

"I thought, by golly, I'd like to do that, so I did," she says. "I bought a good bike and some equipment. I had no clue what I was doing."

Cureton was assigned a touring group and flew to Oregon to meet up with them and start the ride. She biked 3,000 miles that summer, including through the Rocky Mountains.

"I had already been riding quite a bit," she says, so her first trip wasn't overwhelming physically. "And I was quite a bit younger in 1976," she adds.

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After that, she was hooked. She dreamed of bicycling in New Zealand, and when she retired, she was in New Zealand three months later on a bike tour with five others.

"I was there for two months and I'd just as soon have not come home," she says. She biked on both islands, but wants to go back so she can ride them both end to end. "It's beautiful, friendly and very much accommodating to hikers and bicyclists," says Cureton. "And it's not overdeveloped, so it's still a beautiful country. If I didn't have family here, I would probably try to live there."

As a retired art teacher, she also hopes to tour the cities once home to the artistic greats. "My dream place is Florence, Italy, and Venice, too. I've been to Rome but I would like to go back, and I'd like to take my grandkids," she says. She's also like to bike in Cuba, but says she has no interest in visiting her seventh continent: Antarctica.

"I don't think I need to go there. I'm OK," she laughs, wondering aloud if it's even possible to ride a bike in Antarctica.

Cureton has four grandchildren -- ages 29, 19, 18 and 13 -- who enjoy biking and sometimes take trips with her. In late June, Cureton took three of them to the annual N.I.T.E. Ride in Indianapolis.

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Cureton also bikes at least four days a week in and around Cape Girardeau, and sometimes across the bridge into Southern Illinois. Once in awhile, for variety, she does a "remote start" by driving somewhere new and biking in that area.

"Twenty to 50 miles is a nice day of riding," she says. "The most I've ever ridden in one day was 200 miles. I did it once, and I'm glad I did it, but I never want to do it again." She's also done a lot of "centuries," or 100-mile rides.

Even 20 miles sounds like a lot to a non-biker, but Cureton is modest, insisting she's a slow rider. Whether she's biking in Asia or Southeast Missouri, she likes to take her time to enjoy the ride and her surroundings.

In Bhutan, she recalls, there was a young man on the trip who rode faster than everyone else, rarely stopping, and was in his sleeping bag by the time the rest of the group got back.

"He would have saved a lot of money if he had just stayed home and ridden around the block. He was not looking at the things around him," says Cureton. "What's the point of bike touring? I'm not a racer, I'm a tourist."

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