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CAMPUS NEWS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 16, 2004

Balancing Books and Bikes
by freelance writer Beverly Knight

Dr. Susan Boger-Wakeman’s life has been a journey: from Manchester, England, to Indiana, Wisconsin, Kansas and finally South Carolina.

But in June she took a different kind of journey. Boger-Wakeman, dean of basic sciences at Sherman, completed a grueling 700-mile mountain bike trip through the Canadian Rockies with her husband Jon Wakeman, an environmental engineer, and another biker from California.

Riding 60 to 70 miles a day, 80 on a really good day, and pulling a BOB (beast of burden) trailer that held all the supplies needed for the trip, they pedaled through some of the most breathtaking scenery on the continent. The backdrop — soaring, snow-capped mountain peaks, crashing waterfalls and sparkling glaciers — helped take their minds off screaming muscles as they labored up steep mountain roads and pulled the BOB around precipitous switchbacks.

Even though Susan Boger-Wakeman works out with weights year-round and trained for the trip on her Cannondale bike for months by pulling 50-pound bags of mulch up and down the mountains that surround their Polk County, NC, home, some of the stretches in the Canadian Rockies still tested her limits.

The threesome left Whitefish, Montana, on June 14. On June 25 they arrived, exhausted, in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada, just a few miles from Fort St. John, British Columbia, where Susan and her husband boarded a plane for home and their traveling companion continued alone toward Alaska.

Topography maps published by Adventure Cycling magazine helped the cyclists chart the legs of the trip, though the maps didn’t take them all the way to Grande Prairie, leaving them with only conventional maps for a stretch of road that often held surprising challenges.

And coping with the wilderness environment was challenge enough, even when the maps helped them anticipate hard climbs.

“One of the first things we learned was to go nowhere alone,” Susan said, “even into the woods for a bathroom trip. And near the end of the trip, we pushed hard all day to get to a marked campground only to find it abandoned. Even though we were tired, we decided to push on 18 miles to the next campground and found it was closed too.”

They were carrying food — oatmeal, dried milk powder, raisins, canned tuna and salmon, Lipton’s dry noodles — in the BOB, but when there was no fresh water, they knew they had a problem. Fortunately, another traveler came along and shared enough to get them to the next available water. That part of the trip, Susan said, proved taxing, especially for their traveling companion, who was not as conditioned for the long days as they were.

Even though the route followed roads, there was plenty of wildlife, and not all of it friendly. One day, just after a rain, they saw fresh mountain lion tracks near their camp. And “bear bagging” was a routine that they practiced faithfully.

“When we stopped each night to rest we packed all our food, anything with a scent, and took it a good distance from the campsite. Then we’d hang the bag 15 feet up in a tree,” said Susan of the lengths to which they went to keep marauding bears out of their campsite.

But traveling at bike speed gave them plenty of opportunity to take in the magnificent scenery, perhaps the most memorable of which was the Columbia Ice Fields. Cool breezes off the massive plateau of ice that straddles the Continental Divide and stretches for 125 miles, produced temperatures as low as 38 degrees.

“The edge of the glacier was so close, and it was so bright with a high UV index,” Susan said of traveling alongside the ice fields. At that latitude, the days began with sunrise at 4:15 in the morning and didn’t end until 10:30 at night, though the weary riders seldom waited until dark before collapsing.

“Even though I wore sunscreen, I got sunburn on my lips and I’m still shedding skin,” Susan said of the experience.

It’s not surprising that the couple, who were married this past Christmas, have taken to extreme vacations, because it was their mutual love of the outdoors and biking that brought them together in the first place.

“I met Jon four years ago at the gym where we both worked out in Columbia (SC),” Susan said. “Jon, like myself, is an outdoor enthusiast, and he had just finished a 2,000-mile trek along the Appalachian Trail. We knew right away that we had a lot in common, because I am definitely not an inside person.”

In fact, this is not their first long bike trip. Two years ago, they joined a three other individuals for a 1,200-mile off-road trip along the Western Continental Divide. And closer to home they often participate in organized bike rides.

When they’re not riding, they’re working on their house that nestles between Miller and Tryon Peaks. When they bought the house, it was “nearly finished.” And as if completing the house weren’t strenuous enough work, they also installed a pond and waterfall on the property. In fact, Susan’s idea of “resting” her muscles from the trip through the Canadian Rockies was working at home for two weeks after they returned.

Staying busy seems to suit this mother of two — Paul, 33, an 11-year veteran of the Navy now stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Base in Illinois, and Colin, 30, who works in the construction business in Indiana.

She grew up in England, her mother a native of Great Britain and her father an American sailor who stayed there when World War II ended. Her parents and three younger siblings relocated to the United States when Susan was 20, but she didn’t decide to join them in Indiana until three years later when her father’s health was failing. Ironically, she arrived in the States the day after her father died, but she stayed to pursue a career in banking and healthcare services management until, at the age of 37, she returned to college for the education she needed to teach.

Three degrees later — a B.S. in dietetics from Purdue University, an M.S. in food science and nutrition from the University of Wisconsin-Stout and a Ph.D. in food science and nutrition from Kansas State University — she began her career in higher education. That career eventually brought her to South Carolina and a job as associate professor and graduate program advisor for the Nutritional Science Program at South Carolina State University.

In her current position at Sherman, she supervises the departments of anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry and public health and teaches Biochemistry I and II and Nutrition.

“I love the environment at Sherman and the emphasis on disease prevention and health promotion. But what I enjoy most is getting an average student to do well in the classroom. It’s so rewarding to see them grow,” Susan said, pointing out that chiropractic’s emphasis on health and wellness parallels her own desire to keep her life balanced, or as she put it, “balancing books and bikes.”

She also has the opportunity to counsel 25 to 30 students a quarter, helping them with personal dietary and nutritional issues. On top of that, the certified dietician and gerontologist volunteers through a national web site, providing free nutritional counseling by phone or e-mail.

Susan and her husband have already planned their next adventure, a trip on horseback and bike through the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, where the mountains rise to over 9,000 feet and the valley floors average 4,000 feet in elevation. But first she has to make a trip to New Hampshire to be fitted for a pair of handmade hiking boots. She’s been on Peter Limmer’s waiting list for three years and her time has come.

“Jon got a pair 25 years ago and he’s still wearing them,” she said of the coveted footwear that owners feel is worth every penny of the upward of $500 price tag.

Though Susan sports the lean body of a trained athlete, she professes that, at 51, she “can’t do what I used to.” Nonetheless, getting away from people and the demands of everyday life, she said, helps to rejuvenate her. “It lets me know that I can achieve many of my objectives and gives me motivation to come back with a renewed sense of commitment.”

And she can’t imagine living life any other way. “I want to die with my boots on,” she said.

The Peter Limmers should be well broken in by then.

Photo gallery of the bike trip.



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