This article is part of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Trail Moments initiative—to elevate new and tried-and-true trail voices around the country, and how trails impact the lives of Americans. Learn more at trailmoments.org and #TrailMoments on social media. Share your story, or view a collection of trail moments stories.
Janine Brobst has always been competitive, cruising ahead of her husband John during their bike rides together—even uphill. Today, at 91, she still beats her husband, six years her junior, and keeps up with her daughter who’s a spry 69. John pedals behind on his recumbent and they all meet up together at designated points along the route.
“We love to bike,” enthused 85-year-old John Brobst. “That’s when we feel best: on the days we bike.”
John credits their frequent bike outings—they each ride more than 60 miles a week—to improving their physical and mental well-being. “I’m one of five kids, and all of my siblings have died much earlier than my age. We came from the same parents with the same genes, so what made the difference? I think it’s my exercise.”
Although their blissful, half-century relationship seems an almost preordained thing now, it was a chance encounter that led to a second chance at love for the couple, who were both in their thirties and freshly divorced when they met. That fateful summer of 1969, John—who was born and raised in Ohio, and lived there still—ventured out for a vacation to Ocracoke, a charming village in the coastal Outer Banks of North Carolina, and set up camp. Serendipitously, Janine had arrived from Pittsburgh with four kids in tow for a beach vacation, and arranged the family in tents nearby.
Although John wasn't sure if he and his neighbor at the campsite would get along, much less hit it off—her car had a bumper sticker that said, ‘We believe in fairies’—he said that, "after talking to her, I realized, ‘Holy mackerel! This gal has brains and a lot of education.’”
Right away, they were smitten with each other. The business manager from Ohio and the music teacher from Pittsburgh began living together in Pennsylvania and married about a year later in a simple civil ceremony. “We have been in love for 53 years and it has grown and not diminished,” said John.
A new shared passion soon emerged that would continue to strengthen their relationship. After gaining a bit of weight early in their marriage, the couple decided to try biking for exercise and fell in love again—this time with the Great Allegheny Passage (gaptrail.org), an incredibly scenic rail-trail spanning 150 miles from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland.
“The Great Allegheny Passage is the best trail that we’ve done,” said John. “It climbs mountains and goes through tunnels, and it’s just marvelous.”
But one of their first long-distance forays was an on-road ride to visit relatives in Dover, Ohio, more than 100 miles from their Pittsburgh suburb—an ambitious idea that Janine had one spring.
“She scoped out all of the back roads that we could take where there were hardly any cars on them, and that’s how we got started,” explained John, noting that the first few times they made the journey, they would spend the night in a motel about midway, but later, as they gained strength and skill, they would pedal the route all in a day.
By 1976, they felt ready to join a Bikecentennial ride, touring across several states in an event commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The biking bug had bitten and, since then, they’ve ridden in more than 20 states.
Today, they live in Beaufort, North Carolina, not far from their beloved Ocracoke, where they first met, and you can often find them pedaling the trails of neighboring Morehead City. Although his younger self enjoyed mountain biking, John prefers “a good paved trail” these days. “It’s all level here, so you can bicycle easily to everything in town.”
The adventurous spirit still burns brightly, and the octogenarian is looking forward to taking North Carolina’s Coastal Ride with his granddaughter, noting, “Exercise is the key to health and longevity, and I think I'm proof of it!”
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