Meet Susan Hanson, Route 106’s Persistent Pedaler
By the third time I’d seen Susan Hanson on her bike cruising up and down Route 106, I wondered if I was in a time warp. Didn’t I see her two hours ago doing this? Didn’t I see her on her bike yesterday? Didn’t I pass her four times in three hours last week?
The answer to all of those questions is yes. And I’m sure if you’ve driven on Route 106, you’ve seen Susan and wondered about her and her devotion to biking. Last week, I left my house around the time I knew she would be cycling her route, stopped her when our paths crossed, and asked if we could talk.
We met last Saturday, on a gorgeous early afternoon at the library. She was with her husband, Bill, and decked out in her biking gear. Speaking with her was easy; she was happy to tell her story.
Susan was born with a traumatic brain injury. She knew at an early age that she was different from other children, but she was not going to let that keep her from being happy. She heeded the advice of her mother to find something she was good at and be successful doing it. So at 11, she began long-distance running. Ten years later, she added long-distance cycling to her repertoire.
“When I bike,” Susan says, “I feel peaceful.”
Over time, and continuing to heed her mother’s advice, she turned what she was successful at into a cause. Her maternal grandfather and great-uncle were both police officers, and her husband is also a retired officer. She cycles to draw attention to officers killed in the line of duty. She does this by wearing different biking jerseys with a tribute to a fallen officer or officers emblazoned on the back.
“My goal,” she says, “is to raise awareness that a police officer dies in the line of duty every 53 hours.”
Delivering this message is not without controversy and is also part of the reason she bikes here in Reading. Susan recalls that in other places around Vermont, passers-by have yelled obscenities at her for her message. Once someone even threw a beer can at her head. She ducked it, and it hit a road sign behind her.
With much delight in her voice, she says the people in Reading have embraced her. She judges this by the amount of acknowledgment she gets while she's biking. "In other places, 20% of people driving by waved," she says. "Here, the number is more like 80%."
While I am driving on Route 106, and I see her, I also see other drivers wave to her, and she waves back with gusto. Even before I knew anything about Susan, I always felt that her hearty wave was a special little treat to those, myself included, who received it.
Susan is also heartened by the waves she gets from bus drivers, Fed Ex and UPS drivers, and the flashing headlights from the Windsor County deputies. She recalls Andy Tanger stopping her on one of his last days delivering mail and offering her words of encouragement and support.
Susan tells me that people have told her if she needs anything, she can come to them. Last year, she blew a tire, and a couple who live on Route 106 drove her to Downer's Corners where she could get it repaired and continue on.
“The community of Reading looks out for you,” she says. “They’d do anything for you.”
If you’re wondering how much biking she does—and I admit it was one of the first questions I asked. It’s 85 miles. Every day. Bill, her husband, drops her off at Keeper’s. From there, Susan bikes to the top of the hill on Route 106, turns around and bikes to the fire station. She does that about nine times and then bikes home to Weathersfield, where she is greeted by the Weathersfield police if they’re around Stoughton Pond, and Bill picks her up.
It takes her around five hours to complete this route. Last week, when I was on my way to the Produce Swap, I saw her as I traveled to Felchville. At 7:15, I saw her on the way back. It was dark by then, and her flashing headlight and bright red taillights provided much-needed visibility. Once we set the clocks back, she'll set out earlier, so she's not biking in the dark for so long. In the winter, she’ll switch to a bike with meatier tires and may do just 60 miles or so. As long as the road is plowed, she will bike.
If it were me, I’d go home after such a long trek, take a hot shower, and be lazy for the rest of the day. Not Susan. Every night, she walks for an hour as well.
As nice as the people along her route are, she is aware of some safety concerns. Susan is alarmed by the number of drivers who are looking at their phone and not the road. She’s also encountered a big black bear several times. She’s been eyed by owls and hawks as she cruises by, and she’s stopped to help countless snakes and turtles across the road they share.
Now that you know about Susan, maybe you'll spot her on Route 106. However, if you don't, or realize you haven't seen her for a few days, no need for alarm. She and Bill will be off to Maine for a few days where she’ll find her peace and make her statement before resuming her ride on Route 106.
n closing, I want to quote something Susan said in an email to me, but it was for all us who acknowledge her. “Thank you for being one of so so many wavers. You all mean more than most will ever know.”
That’s the news from Reading! See you next week!