This article first appeared as the Cyclist of the Month column in the March 2012 issue of the Cascade Courier, our membership newsletter.
Cyclist of the Month: JOHN WELLER
Wheels: Cannondale Synapse
Occupation: Retired (“Every day is Saturday.”)
John Weller began his bicycling career during the summer of ’97, on three-speed Raleigh from ’73. It was pure happenstance. “The gym was closed for a week,” he said. “I couldn’t run anymore because it hurt. I told my son, ‘Let’s go ride on the Burke.’”
A habit was born. From his start on the Burke-Gilman Trail, he became a regular bike commuter. And instead of parking his bicycle when he arrived at work, he pedaled it on the range roads of his “60,000-acre office.”
John was a range officer for the military, and he bicycled to visit his “customers” – military units training for maneuvers and artillery firing. “There I was, working in an environmentally destructive field, and my carbon footprint was a size 11,” he told me, delivering the joke with such austerity that I didn’t catch on for several seconds.
I wondered whether showing up on a bicycle might undercut his authority among gun-wielding military types. Instead, his bicycle – combined with his quick wit, hardened demeanor and a whole host of ribbons and buttons – had the opposite effect.
“The army is a physical fitness culture,” he told me. “My going to see the officers and sergeants by bike got better reviews than driving.”
Bicycling also helped him deliver news that officers didn’t want – and see things that they might not want him to see. “It’s amazing what you can see on a bicycle that you can’t see from a Ford Explorer,” he told me.
In spite of all those hours in the saddle, John wasn’t getting enough. His search for more places to go and people to ride with brought him to the Cascade Training Series in 2006 – but it wasn’t what you would call love at first ride.
“I found a bunch of people who didn’t look like me at all,” he said. On his big-tired mountain bike with flat pedals, wearing baggy bike shorts from L.L. Bean, a shirt from Mountain Hardwear and Rayban sunglasses, he stuck out in a “sea of Lycra.”
“I rode in circles at the edge of the parking lot, thinking, ‘I should just go home.’ But then I thought, ‘It’s cold, it’s dank, you came all the way down here, do it once.”
He decided to ride with them. “And the hook was in,” he said.
John bought a road bike, finished out CTS, rode the STP and didn’t go back. “STP led to another CTS, which led to another STP, which led to becoming a Ride Leader and going on Regional Tours.
When he retired in 2009, Don Volta (a current Cascade board member) recruited him to the Rides Committee. “I swore I wouldn’t commit to anything my first year as I retiree, but I decided to join.” Ever since, he’s been a dedicated committee member.
John’s philosophy from his military days – “let no soldier leave Fort Lewis untrained and help those soldiers’ leaders use their brains” – applies to his duties here as well, wrangling ride leaders and riders alike.
“Leading rides is all about taking people out and showing them things they haven’t seen in ways they haven’t seen them. It’s about getting people onto bicycles, and keeping them on bicycles.”
He makes a point of asking people who show up for his rides whether they’re Cascade members, telling them about opportunities for activism and of taking all the “teaching possibilities” that the ride affords.
The best thing about leading rides? “I like seeing what I’m about to run over,” he told me.
It’s clear (in spite of frequent jokes and jabs) that John really is committed to making Cascade’s rides program great.
He wants Cascade members to know that he would love for them to become Cascade Ride Leaders. “All it takes is a desire to show other people places and routes. You get to pick the route, time and day. And you get to see almost everything first.
John shows up at Cascade’s Sand Point office fairly frequently. When I asked him what he does there, he told me, “I’m homeless, and it’s warm.”
But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find the real answer. “After retirement, I needed a new weekday family,” he told me. “Cascade is at the core of what I had to do to replace a 27-year ride at Fort Lewis. Thanks to cycling and Cascade, there was a place to go.”
Homeless or not, John has found a home with Cascade – and we’re happy to have him.