meet along the way: Judy Cureton

Women do incredible things. This section features the stories of women who are a part of the Southeast Missouri community by way of living here, being from here or passing through. We hope these stories inspire you to connect with others and that they encourage you to be who you are in the world. We need you and your unique gifts.

This story first appeared in the November 2019 issue of The Best Years (TBY).

Judy Cureton, cyclist and resident of Cape Girardeau, has cycled on all six continents that are not covered in ice.

It’s an impressive feat, incorporating a passion Cureton doesn’t keep to herself: she uses her love of cycling as an excuse to open her home to cycling tourists riding through the area who need a place to stay for the night and for whom a warm shower might be just what they need to unwind after a long day of cycling.

Cureton says she learned to ride a bicycle when she was eight years old, after receiving a bike she had asked for on her birthday wish list. Throughout high school and college, she didn’t ride as much as she did during childhood; she picked the pastime back up again when she had a child of her own, putting a seat on the back of her bicycle for her daughter to ride along in. She also put a basket on the front, so she and her daughter could do their grocery shopping and go places on the bike.

With her renewed interest in biking, it was in 1975 that Cureton decided she would ride the Bikecentennial the next year, a cross-country ride in celebration of America’s birthday.

“I had no clue about any of that stuff, but I had just gotten my 10-speed. I thought I was really uptown,” Cureton recalls. “But I decided I was gonna do it, so I started working towards it.”

Since then, she has ridden on bike tours in Germany, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Bhutan and other states in the U.S.

And it’s not only something she’s done in the past: as a lung cancer survivor, Cureton still rides 15 to 25 miles most days. She also does weight machines and plays pickleball. It’s all because she loves to stay active, and specifically, because she loves cycling.

“There’s just a real freedom there with a bike. And I enjoy the pedaling,” Cureton says. “And it’s a good way to tour. It’s a good way to see the place; if you’re going to go somewhere, you’ll see it. You’ll feel it, you’ll smell it, you’ll get rained on, you’ll see it.”

Cureton opens up her home in downtown Cape Girardeau to cyclists who are biking through Cape through the Warm Showers program. While cyclists are staying with her, she often does their laundry for them, offers them a beer and helps them with any mechanical help they need for their bike in her basement mini bike shop — she learned to work on bicycles by taking her bike apart and putting it back together during her early days of riding with the help of a book; then, after she retired from teaching high school art in Kelly, Missouri, she worked part-time at Cape Bicycle. In the morning, she cooks breakfast for the Warm Showers riders and sometimes rides out of Cape with them, to show them the way.

Cureton’s home is a cool place for cyclists to stay for the night: known locally as the J. Maple and Grace Senne Wilson house, Cureton’s home has been on the National Register of Historic Places since August 2015. Built in 1904, the home features a central staircase skylight designed by Cureton’s grandmother, Grace Senne, to act as air conditioning in the home. The island in the kitchen was designed for Senne, a shorter woman, so the countertop is two to three inches lower than the average height. Family heirlooms from the early 1900s decorate the house, from a pump teapot to her grandmother’s doll to a mustache cup — a teacup with a protective cover over the drinking area so as not to wet one’s mustache. In addition, Cureton has a master’s degree in art, and her work hangs throughout the home; for her master’s show, she made prints of her Bikecentennial ride.

Cureton has been hosting cyclists at her home since she came back from that ride in 1976 and began getting more involved in the League of American Wheelmen, now known as the League of American Bicyclists. Cyclists contact her online when they will be coming through the area and need a place to stay; she hosts approximately a dozen people each year.

“Having been a bicycle tourist and enjoying bike riding, you always enjoy other bicyclists,” Cureton says of why she enjoys hosting bicyclists at her home. “You like to hear about their tales and their adventures and where they’re going and where they came from and what they’re doing and all about ‘em. So it’s a common interest that you enjoy knowing about.”

It’s a feeling shared by Sherry and Cliff Cantrell, from just outside of Huntsville, Alabama, who stop at Cureton’s house in Cape Girardeau for the Warm Showers program, as they cycle from Surrey, British Columbia, to Key West, Florida, in 100 days. Sherry says all their hosts through Warm Showers — 30 in all — have been gracious, “salt of the earth” people.

The Cantrells are looking forward to swimming with manatees, staying on a boat with a Warm Showers host who is a boat captain and taking an airboat ride. And of course, dipping their bicycle tires “on both sides of the rock in Key West:” in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

“This is my fifth crossing of the U.S., and it’s always about the people. The people you meet. The interchange between them,” says Cliff, who is 79. “You meet some incredible people. It’s not the people you read about in the news. It’s the people who go out and go to work and take care of the family and take care of their kids. They’re not out to get rich or change the world; they just are the world. That is pretty amazing to talk to people like that everyday.”

Sherry, for whom the trip is her first cross-country cycling tour, although she has cycled the Katy Trail across Missouri and cycled from San Francisco to St. Louis, also learns from the people she meets along the way.

“We stopped at a Warm Showers in Lewiston, Idaho, and we got to talking about it, and our hostess said, ‘Well, I never think about it as I’m going to be there in 41 days. Every day is a new day trip, and when I’m done, I’ve got 41 day trips,’” Sherry recalled. “So now, I’m building 100 day trips. And it really helps, because there’s some days you’re like ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ And there’s some days where you say, ‘OK, today’s not going to be like yesterday, and it’s not going to be like tomorrow, so this is my day trip.’ And so I’m going to have compiled 100 day trips.”

Sherry is also encouraged by Cureton.

“I’m inspired by this lady right here,” Sherry says, gesturing towards Cureton. “She’s done some amazing things.”

Cureton doesn’t miss a beat. “Well, you just do stuff,” she says.

Between meeting cyclists by opening her home through the Warm Showers program and her own local cycling and cycle touring, Sherry is right — the “stuff” Cureton chooses to do is pretty amazing.