Sunday, May 18, 2008

Pedaling through life: Retired minister preaches a love of bicycles

When Burdett W. Wakeman went to the Army, he took his bicycle.

When he went to Minnesota Bible College, he took his bicycle and rode it to school daily.
Life long bicyclist Burdett Wakeman, 84, takes a ride along the Mississippi River Tuesday in Riverside Park. PETER THOMSON photo

He bought his first bicycle at age 10 for $10 and has had one ever since.

Now 84, Wakeman, a retired minister, doesn’t own a car, and rides his bicycle nearly every day.

“I’d be lost without a bicycle,” Wakeman said. “If somebody stole my bike I’d have one tomorrow.”

His current bicycle is a Bella Vista Next, which he bought for $85 at a department store several years ago.

He used to have a horn, but it’s noise would shock people, he said. Now he has a bell, and as people on sidewalks step aside to his jingle, he thanks them as he passes.

While he no longer works and so isn’t joining cyclists cycling to work this week during Coulee Bike to Work Week, he did enjoy a free cup of coffee Tuesday morning from one of the local coffee shops offering cyclists free coffee this week.

As Wakeman told the story of his bicycles and his life, his Next stood parked on the sidewalk. With six gears, it has five more gears than that first bicycle he owned in Winona, Minn.

“I’ve had a bicycle at every stage of my life,” he said.

His father painted that first bicycle for him. And at the same age he bought it, Wakeman began a church in his parents’ garage, which would draw 20 to 30 kids on a weeknight, he said.

Wakeman delivered the Winona Republican Herald on a bicycle as a teenager.

In a way, his marriage also began with a bicycle.

He’d known his wife Elaine since the two were born, but he hadn’t noticed her beauty, he said, until one day, sitting on his bicycle on the sidewalk, he looked at her, sitting on her bicycle near the front porch, talking to his mother through a screen.

“We got married when we were 19 and have had a love affair ever since,” Wakeman said.

The two kiss every night and sometimes during the day, he said, and she asks him not to cycle when she’s not home and near the telephone.

Wakeman doesn’t want a big belly hanging over, and said cycling keeps his 6-foot 2-inch, 210-pound body trim.

“If people only realized that their bodies reflect their life,” he said. “If they live a life that’s good, their body is good, and if they live a life of drinking and smoking, it breaks down.”

How to be car-free

“Transportation Liberation: How to save money, save your sanity and save the planet by not driving,” is the topic of a multimedia workshop that will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Ward Room at Cartwright Center, 1725 State St., on the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus.

Presenters Obbie and RoZ describe the steps on their trail toward transportation liberation and discuss a multitude of pragmatic ideas about how to make driving optional.

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