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Sheldon Holland caught me peeking at the sky as we started a bike ride on the Legacy Trail.
“It’s not going to rain,” he said. “You have to think positive.”
Holland ought to know. He’s a 90-year-old cyclist who pedals 100 miles a week. I was just tagging along for one day.
And he was right -- for a while -- as the sun broke through the clouds and we rode south across the beautiful trestle bridge on Dona Bay. Then he was wrong -- emphatically wrong -- as sheets of rain swept over the trail for our return trip to Sarasota.
At one point, Holland asked if I wanted to turn back or keep riding to the next shelter.
“It’s only half a mile,” he said, laughing. “Of course, you can get really wet in half a mile.”
Regulars on the trail know Holland by his faded red Biria bicycle. It features what is called a step-through design; the low frame makes it easier for older riders to climb on and start pedaling.
Not that Holland needs much help.
“He’s in good shape,” said Mike Gippert, president of the Friends of the Legacy Trail. “You really don’t notice how old he is.”
People do notice how friendly Holland is, how he likes to joke around, and how much he cares about the trail. Last week, his family donated a park bench in his name, which only gives him more comedy material.
“He already says he’s going to put a toll on his bench,” Gippert said. “If people don’t pay, he’s going to put in an ejector seat.”
For our 20-mile bike ride, I met Holland at The Fountains retirement community where he lives. His wife Adele died four years ago, but he’s still going strong.
Two years ago, while riding down McIntosh Road on his bike, Holland collided with a car pulling out of a driveway. The impact knocked him out, briefly, but he escaped with just a few stitches.
After we rode on the Legacy Trail for a while, talking about our families, we stopped for a water break. Holland told me this great joke.
When he and his wife first retired to Sarasota, they told one of her friends that they wanted to savor their time together. Every day, they wanted to swim, bike, play tennis and have sex.
After a year in Florida, the woman asked how retirement was treating them. Had they kept up their daily routine?
“Well,” Adele replied, “some days it’s too cold to swim.”
Best of the trail
We got drenched on our bike ride, but Holland laughed off a little Florida rainstorm.
He moved to Sarasota from Hinsdale, Ill., a Chicago suburb, where he owned a small hardware store. He was a bicycle commuter before bicycle commuting was cool.
Now he alternates bike riding days and tennis playing days.
Holland enjoys the camaraderie of cyclists on the Legacy Trail. He waves to people and talks to people and jokes with people.
When they respond, as a young woman did on our ride, well, that makes his day.
“That’s the best of the trail right there,” Holland said. “Did you see the smile she gave me?”