Seventy-one-year-old Grover Everett has not missed Lawrence’s renowned Octoginta bicycle ride in 37 years, and he’s not about to miss this year’s Oct. 14 event either.
Heat, cold, wind and rain haven’t deterred him from participating in the 80-mile event. Not even quintuple coronary artery bypass surgery or knee replacement could stop him.
“I’ve just been lucky to not be sick or injured at time the Octogintas have come up each year,” he said.
Everett, a retired Kansas University chemistry professor, was a runner before he was a bicyclist. He earned an athletic scholarship at the University of North Carolina for track and cross country, and he won Atlantic Coast Conference championships in both.
He picked up bicycling while pursing a doctorate at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. He said he bought an old, three-speed English bicycle that he used to “get around town.” Then, he brought the bicycle with him to KU in 1966 and used it for his approximately 2-mile commute to work in Malott Hall.
In 1975, he said he purchased his first “good bike,” a 10-speed, and that’s when he decided to participate in his first Octoginta, which had been around five years at that time. He was hooked.
“It’s always a fun event, and there are hundreds of bicyclists — some fast riders and some slow riders — and most of the time there’s a blue sky and it’s fairly warm.”
And then there’s the food: a full-fledged breakfast, snacks and a lunch that includes a traditional minestrone soup.
“They feed you really well. They put on a splendid breakfast after about the first 15 miles, and so a lot of people just ride to the breakfast and then go home,” he said.
But not him.
He’s always opted to complete the longest of the two routes offered during the Octoginta. Each year, the ride takes a different route, and the route is kept a secret until the day before the event. Everett said the ride has taken him north, south, east and west of Lawrence, and he’s enjoyed the scenery and meeting new people along the ride.
Over the years, he recalled the Octoginta only being canceled once at the halfway point because of approaching thunderstorms. Another year, he said it was delayed about an hour because of thick fog.
“There has been rain. There has been wind. It has been cold, and it has been hot, but generally I think there has been pretty good weather,” he said.
When he rode in his first Octoginta, he was 34 years old, didn’t know anyone and rode along with the front of the pack.
“I was kind of the odd man out,” he said. “I was amused that they all had very expensive, fancy bikes and was amused at the way they behaved. They were very hyper about things. They would bike very fast down a long hill, and I didn’t like to go that fast, so I would catch up with them going up the next hill,” he said with a chuckle.
He also recalled the changes in clothes, shoes and helmets. When he first started riding, bicyclists didn’t wear helmets, and then a company came out with a funny-looking helmet that resembled an inverted bowl, he said. Everett said he used to wear a T-shirt, floppy hat to protect him from the sun and running shoes.
Nowadays, he sports a helmet, bicycling shorts, a jersey and clipless shoes, which are shoes that snap into the pedals.
Over the years, Everett has participated in other long bicycle rides, including several 100-mile rides. He’s even done the Flint Hills Death Ride three times. It was an approximately 80-mile route on gravel and dirt roads that only about 70 percent of the participants finished. He completed that ride with his neighbor and longtime friend Joe Douglas.
“He really enjoys being on the bike and does long rides,” Douglas said of Everett. “He’s not in it for the competition. He enjoys the experience.”
Everett said he wore out his 10-speed bicycle about 15 years ago and now he has a 27-speed bicycle. He typically takes three 40-miles rides a week and on the other days, he swims laps. He had to give up running about 10 years ago because of his bad knees. He had joint replacement in one knee about one year ago, but that recovery wasn’t as difficult as his heart surgery four years ago.
“I had no symptoms and was bicycling at the same level that I am now,” he said. A stress test detected that he had clogged arteries, and doctors had him in the operating room in less than a week. Everett believes hereditary factors played a role in his heart condition because his father died from a sudden heart attack at age 66.
“My father never had any symptoms, either,” he said. “That may have happened to me if I hadn’t had those tests done.”
Everett was determined to get back to exercising, and he was walking several miles a day within a couple of weeks. He was back on his bike in three months.
He said he enjoys riding south and southwest of Lawrence near the towns of Edgerton, Baldwin City, Pomona and Overbrook. “There’s less traffic and nice roads and nice hills,” he said. “I really like to work the hills. Most people don’t like hills, but it’s good exercise.” Sometimes, he will pick out a hill and then just ride up and down to build strength.
Everett not only exercises his body, but his mind. Since retiring in 1999, he has purchased used textbooks and studied subjects that he has been interested in. So far, he has worked through textbooks on geology, astronomy, meteorology, biology, physics and anthropology. He even took a geology field trip several summers ago with KU students. Now, he’s learning about evolution and picking up a new language: Spanish.
“Exercise always gives you a good feeling,” he said. “ I am just happy to be able to do it at my age.”
Saturday, Oct. 13:
• 7 a.m.-8:15 a.m. — Registration for the 6.2-mile time trial race, which is a USA Cycling sanctioned event. Riders will start at one-minute intervals beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the KDOT material lot, two miles east of Lawrence at the intersection of East 1750 and North 1400 roads. Cost is $20, except ages 10-18, which are free.
• 9:30 a.m. — Tour de County, a 30-mile ride, departs from South Park, 12th and Massachusetts streets. Cost is $5, and there’s a SAG — support and gear — station at the halfway point.
• 2 p.m. — Swap meet, South Park, where people can trade and/or sell bicycles and bicycle gear.
• 8 a.m.-4 p.m. — Preregistration for Sunday’s Octoginta ride, South Park.
Sunday, Oct. 14:
• 7 a.m. — Octoginta registration and check-in at South Park with rides starting at 8:30 a.m. There will be an 80-mile route and a 50-mile route. Cost is $35. There will be SAG stations throughout the ride, and a lunch served at the finish.