Between owning a business and raising a family, 47-year-old Lynn Johnson has to really work to find time to ride her bicycle.
But she does. A stylist and co-owner of The Beehive Salon with two teenage daughters, Johnson returned to cycling last year after more than a decade away.
Now, it’s not the calories she burns or the speed and excitement that she cherishes.
“I don’t know if you remember when you were a kid how much fun it was to ride a bike, especially going down a hill,” Johnson said. “It’s just freeing.”
But there’s also a philanthropic side to that freedom.
Since she returned to the bike last year, Johnson has combined her love of riding the road with fundraising. Last October, spurred by a retired co-worker’s fight against multiple sclerosis, Johnson raised more than $5,000 through riding BikeMS, a two-day, 150-mile event that starts and ends in Hammond.
Next month, she plans to raise another $5,000 for the American Red Cross when she takes on the Tour du Rouge, a 533-mile, six-day ride from Houston to New Orleans.
Out of 80 participants, Johnson is the only Louisiana woman attempting the ride. The trip appears daunting, even to Johnson, but she is approaching it as several shorter rides.
“I’m trying not to think of it being that big,” she said. “I’m trying to think of it as four to five 20-mile rides each day, to mentally break it up. If you think that I’m doing almost a century (a 100-mile ride) every day, it’s crazy.”
Aside from fundraising, motherhood and her everyday career, Johnson is an proponent of safe bicycling. She is on the board of the Baton Rouge Bike Club and promotes the benefits of biking whenever she can.
“I think she’s a great advocate of biking,” said Herbert Sumrall Jr., president of the BRBC. “She enjoys riding as a hobby, but also as a sport.”
For Johnson, the time she spends on the bicycle away from her husband and daughters and her business can feel a little selfish, she said. Her girls and her husband can take care of themselves, but after years of focusing on family, housework and her business, cycling seems “very me-oriented,” she said.
Riding for charity, rather than competing in races, adds a selfless aspect.
“I like being able to be a little selfish and enjoy my time on the bike and still somehow end up giving back,” she said.
Growing up in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York, Johnson rode her bike everywhere, even to the mall as a teenager. Her father regularly commuted by bike to his factory job, and her parents loved to ride for fun when they retired to Florida.
“They weren’t fitness junkies,” Johnson said. “They just loved to ride bikes. That’s the way we all were.”
In her 20s, Johnson would ride long distances as often as possible. She was never competitive and didn’t consider herself athletic. She just loved to ride and see the countryside.
When her daughters were young, she stopped riding. Then, during Hurricane Katrina, a tree blew over on her garage and damaged her old bike.
About two years ago, her aunt gave her a 1960s stationary exercise bike, and she began working out.
“I couldn’t even ride a mile,” Johnson said. “I used to ride so much — it was disconcerting.”
She worked to regain her fitness, and after she could ride 10 miles, she bought a new, fast, sleek bicycle for the road and started riding with the Baton Rouge Bike Club.
“That muscle memory comes back eventually,” Johnson said. “It was nice. I’m still not going to say my butt doesn’t hurt.”
After her time away from riding the open road, Johnson appreciates everything she sees on her rides — wildlife and houses and flowers.
“On a bike, if you ride 60 to 70 miles, what you see and smell are amazing,” she said. “Or not amazing. I love the flowers blooming this time of year.”
While Johnson doesn’t necessarily bicycle for exercise, she has enjoyed the benefits. Since she started riding again, she said she has lost 20 pounds. Training for the Tour du Rouge, sometimes she can barely keep up with the nutritional demands after burning 4,000 calories on one long ride.
So when she hears women her age complain about health or feeling tired, she always has one thought: “Get on a bike. You’ll feel so much better.”