Chatfield woman plans two-year trip by solar-powered bike
CHATFIELD — Chatfield resident Hanna Elshoff just can't wait any longer.
She biked everywhere as a teenager. Well, everywhere except Texas. Elshoff, born in 1942, emigrated from West Germany to Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1961. She left her parents behind and moved in with a sponsor family. After meeting some friends from Texas, she told her American guardians that she wanted to ride her bike from Iowa to Texas.
"If it took me a year it didn't matter. I was going to live footloose and fancy free," Elshoff, 72, said. "I was going to go from one little town to another and work my way to Texas. But my sponsors said it was too dangerous and they told me I couldn't do it. I've regretted it all my life.
"I always thought, someday I'm going to do it. Maybe when I'm 80, I'll be footloose and fancy free. I'll hit the road and let life take you here, there and everywhere."
At her 70th birthday party, Elshoff decided 75, not 80, was the best age for her trip. So 75 it was — until she saw a motorized bike at Menards. After seeing that bike, Elshoff wondered if solar-powered bikes existed. A quick computer search pulled up a bike dealer in Durham, N.C. She left immediately for North Carolina and after a few test drives, bought a solar-powered tricycle for $7,000.
"While I was in Durham, I thought, I'm not going to wait until I'm 75. My kids and everyone are taken care of. They don't really need me. I'm going to start (in May)."
As she predicted a year ago, the trip will start with a kickoff at 10 a.m. on May 2 at Bethel Lutheran Church in Rochester. The kickoff is sponsored by the Rochester Morning Pride Lions Club.
Since the solar-powered tricycle, called ELF, arrived in Chatfield on July 3, Elshoff, a longtime member of the Lions Club, has been talking with fellow Lions across the country about housing on her two-year trip to not only Texas, but all across the United States.
Elshoff will travel roughly 40 miles a day and try to speak with a Lions Club chapter at each stop. In each town, she will thank the Americans who helped end World War II before she and her German family members were killed. Elshoff will also talk about the Lions' Leader Dog Program, which helps train seeing-eye dogs.
The ELF can travel 30 mph while being run by solar power and can go 30 miles without the rider pedaling. Elshoff said she plans to pedal most of the way, except for the occasional hill, and will limit her daily trip to 40 miles so she can accomplish her goal. The first leg of her two-year tour ends in Plains, Ga., on Nov. 1. She picked Plains because she wants to meet former President Jimmy Carter, who still lives there.
As an adult, Elshoff lived on a farm near Chatfield. One night while listening to the news, she heard Carter say he was a farmer and he was running for president.
"I couldn't believe it, a farmer running for president," she said. "I thought, 'I want to vote for him,' but I couldn't because I was still a German citizen. I decided then to become an American citizen, so I could vote for him. Well, I wasn't able to get it done in time, but I was able to become a citizen in 1978.
"After you take the oath, you get a big envelope welcoming you as an American citizen," she continued. "I open it up. I read everything. And here is a letter from the president, signed not by Jimmy Carter, but Gerald Ford. I was so disappointed. And ever since, I have had a goal. I'm going to get Jimmy Carter's signature."
This November won't be the first time Elshoff has tried to get Carter's signature. She's had some failures, including one attempt when the former president's office verified Carter would be there. Unfortunately for Elshoff, the meeting was going to take place during December and her flight to Plains was canceled.
Jeremy Stevens, head of the Chatfield chapter of the Lions Club, feels confident Elshoff will not only get her signature, but also finish her two-year trip.
"I think she will," Stevens said. "I think it's a neat project. It's a nice project to raise awareness for Leader Dog. It's great."
Elshoff said she has an itinerary finished, but it changes almost by the minute. As word has gotten out about her solar-powered bike trip, several conventions and conferences have invited her to attend. Before leaving on her trip, she will have the ELF at the Eco Fair at 10:15 a.m. Sunday.
"There's been a lot of interest in the bike, and I love talking about it. I'm going to attend as many (conventions) as I can," she said, "but I still need to make it to Plains, Georgia, on time."