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Arbor Vitae resident Debby Wilson has found a love of exploring on two wheels, whether it’s a Northwoods fundraiser ride in Eagle River or a bike and barge tour from Paris to Bruges, Belgium.

“As a child, I remember clipping playing cards to my bike to make that ‘motor’ noise,” says Debby Wilson. “After moving to the country, I had friends who were horse fanatics, then my ‘bike’ had reins and ate oats for a while.”

Later, Debby and her husband had their own youngsters in Neenah, and bike riding became a family activity. “We all had bikes and red, white and blue helmets. My husband insisted that we all wear helmets. At that time some thought that was uncool, but my kids knew they needed a helmet when riding.”

“Over the years I started biking more,” Debby says. “Eventually I moved to Marshfield, and I started riding with friends after work and on weekends. When I retired, I looked forward to having more time to bike here in the Northwoods where I live now.

“I’m in a silent sports club that’s mostly fellow retirees and near retirees. We ski in the winter and kayak, hike and bike in the summer. When I joined the club, I started biking more regularly. Then I joined a spinoff of that group, the Farther/Faster group, but it’s probably a little less of both as we’ve aged over the seven years I’ve been riding with the group!” Debby adds with a chuckle.

“I like how much exercise I get, and I like the socialization of group rides. We have wonderful places to ride here! I really enjoy it,” Debby says.

“The Farther/Faster group decided to do one longer ride every summer,” Debby explains. “When the idea came up, some people in the group were turning 60, so they planned to do a 60-mile ride and then add a mile each year. The group worked up to a 65-mile ride and decided that was enough. Now we do an annual 65-mile ride and call it the Medicare ride!”

One cycling pursuit Debby is enthusiastic about is tours overseas. “I love international group bike tours. My first ride was in Spain riding from Seville to Granada. We stayed in motels and the tour team brought along our luggage.”

Spain was one of the nations Debby has explored with fellow bike tour members (yellow jacket, 2017)

On that tour Debby met some people who wanted to take a bike tour in Israel and Jordan. “I said, ‘Sure!’ That ride was hilly but enjoyable. Then a friend wanted to do a tour of Slovakia and Hungary, so we did that.”

Next up Debby wanted to try a bike and barge tour. “We went from Paris to Bruges, Belgium, biking a total of 400 miles over the course of two weeks — spending nights on the barge, our floating motel. We’d bike ride to the next town while the barge went up the river to the next stop. I really enjoyed that because you don’t have to pack and move your stuff,” Debby explains.

2019 bike tour ride from Paris to Bruges, Belgium. One of Debby’s international travel highlights (2nd fr/left)

Debby is now heading out on another bike and barge tour. “I’ve wanted to visit southern France. The one-week trip I’m planning starts in Avignon, France, and goes down the Rhone River to the Mediterranean,” Debby says. “I didn’t want to fly all that way for just a week, so I found another bike tour that’s scheduled the week before the tour that leaves from Avignon. The second tour I found is a motel-stay tour, but it starts the week before my Avignon tour and ends in Avignon the day that my bike and barge tour starts! So, I’m taking two back-to-back bike tours.”

The ancient Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard was one of Debby’s stops on her recent bike/barge tour of the South of France (2023)

Debby explains her love of bike tours: “They’re a wonderful way to see a country because you’re riding through all these little towns. The Paris to Bruges trip took us to a lot of WWI landmarks that were very interesting.”

“I like the Bike Fed’s efforts to publicly advocate for cycling. I like what the organization does to promote safe cycling for children and teaching bike safety rules. I’ve been a member for a while now so I can support their efforts.”

Debby Wilson, Bike Fed member since 2018

Another of Debby’s cycling pursuits is being a Cycling without Age pilot. Cycling without Age allows people who may not be able to ride a bike to comfortably ride a piloted trishaw and enjoy the benefits of cycling. “I love it and passengers seem to really like it,” says Debby. “They typically chat and notice so many things that I wouldn’t have noticed. I thought if I can make such a difference by just taking someone on a little bike ride, that’s wonderful! When you combine your enjoyment of cycling with being able to take someone out, that’s really nice!”

– By Doug Freeman, Bike Fed volunteer writer of the “Wisconsin Cycling Lives” series and retired radio broadcaster and communications professional at UnitedHealthcare, Associated Bank and Advocate Aurora Health. Doug looks forward to chatting with more members for future profiles.

Featured image at top of story: Debby is a volunteer trishaw pilot for the Cycling Without Age program!