Embry’s Bike Shop gets lots of interesting visitors, according to owners Rick and Joyce Embry, but this Wednesday an especially unique cyclist peddled her way into the Embry’s lives and their shop.
Hanna Elshoff found herself in need of a repair on her Elf Solar Tricycle – a covered and partially solar-powered alternative to a regular bike – as she came through Grayson County on her tour of the U.S.
Elshoff, who began her journey near her hometown of Chatfield, Minnesota on May 1, is not your stereotypical cross-country cyclist. While she shares a sense of adventure and whimsy with so many others who set off on similar journeys, she stands out from the crowd for a number of reasons – the most obvious of which being the almost-73-year-old’s age.
When asked to share the story of her journey, Elshoff said, “Let me start at the beginning,” and she did – at the very beginning.
“I was born in Germany in 1942,” she said. “The middle of World War II.”
Elshoff’s lifelong romance with America began when U.S. soldiers rode into her small West Germany village to rid the area of Nazis. She reminisced, “I still remember the soldiers coming to my parent’s house.”
At the age of 18, Elshoff made the bold decision to move to the United States, leaving behind her family and home country to stay with a sponsor family in Iowa.
After a time, Elshoff made connections in Texas and decided to move. She told her sponsor family that she wanted to ride her bicycle from Iowa to Texas.
The idea to cycle hundreds of miles did not go over well, and in the end, Elshoff said, “I arrived in Texas, but not on my bike.”
“I said that some day, when I was foot-loose and fancy-free again, I would do it. I said, ‘Maybe when I’m 80.’”
The decades flew by, and Elshoff raised her children and cared for foster children along the way as well. When she turned 70, she felt that she was close to being able to reach the goal she had set so long ago.
Elshoff moved up her start date, and at 72, she set off to see her dream come true.
The meandering trail she is blazing across the country is not simply for her own enjoyment, though. Elshoff is traveling with a purpose. That purpose is to say ‘thank you.’
Years after she immigrated to the U.S., Elshoff said her father was called to the bedside of a dying neighbor. “He lived four houses down from us,” she explained, “and we didn’t know it at the time, but he was a Nazi SS man. They were the most dangerous ones, and he never got caught.”
The former Nazi made a deathbed confession to Elshoff’s father, telling him that the family was lucky the American soldiers came to their home when they did. The orders had already been set in place for the Elshoff family to be taken away by the Nazis.
“I want to give back,” Elshoff said as she sat at a back table in Embry’s Bike Shop this week. “I want to say thank you.”
Embry’s journey will take her southward as she enters her fourth month of solo cycling. She plans to take a brief break over the holidays, flying home to Minnesota to see her family before returning to where she left off and setting out again.
Along the way, she has endeavored to connect with Lions Clubs and Toastmasters Clubs across the country. The long-time member of both organizations said, “America saved my life; Toastmasters saved my essence of self; and the Lions gave me purpose.”
She has met many fellow members and all varieties of other people throughout her trip. “All the people I’ve met have been wonderful,” Elshoff gushed.
“I’ve encountered quite a few interesting obstacles along the way, and dealt with it. People have helped.”
“You have to see everything in humor,” She said, retelling stories of having to push the elf car for miles or of peddling through shin-deep water.
“There’s no way everything goes smoothly. It’s part of the journey; it makes it fun! I smile and I say, ‘I made it through that one!’”
To learn more about Elshoff or to follow her journey from start to finish, visit her Facebook page for Hanna’s Dream Ride.
Reach Brittany Wise at 270-259-9622 ext. 2014.