By Lynn Thompson
Special to the Weekly
What Would Carl Do? In all but the worst weather, Carl Jones, a self-described “old guy,” would climb on his bike and ride. He’s a regular around Lopez’s south end roads, instantly recognizable: head down, bright yellow paniers to either side, a light orange hoodie, dark orange vest, and red wool socks pulled halfway up his shins. His signature greeting is a raised, reflective glove.
Many on the island know him by sight; some by his first name. Few realize he’s 88 years old.
What keeps Carl going?
“I think I need it,” he said. “My body seizes up if I don’t move.”
Carl sets mileage goals for himself. On Lopez, he typically rides 10 to 15 miles a day, several times a week. He’s toured the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union and New Zealand. He’s cycled Scotland three times. He keeps a detailed log and estimates that over the past twenty years, he’s biked 100,000 miles.
One of his earliest memories is riding a bicycle on a quiet Sunday morning in Hawaii. The date was Dec. 7, 1941. His father, a naval officer, had steamed out of Pearl Harbor the previous day on a destroyer. As Carl pedaled, Japanese attack planes swept in over the treetops and started strafing the U.S. fleet.
“All hell broke loose. There were explosions everywhere. Everything was blowing up. I rode home and told my mother it must be a movie. It couldn’t be a war on such a sunny day.” He and his mother fled to a sugar cane field above the harbor. His father returned to port safely after the battle. The family left Hawaii the following year.
A former documentary film maker, Carl came to Lopez in 1989 seeking a quiet place in which to edit a film about a joint U.S.-Soviet fishing venture in the Bering Sea. On Lopez, he met Cynthia Dilling, his partner of 30 years. Together, they worked on his next documentary, “Siberian Passage,” which chronicled a bike ride across Siberia with four Soviet cyclists and four Americans.
Carl said that both his filmmaking and his bike riding have introduced him to people and places he wouldn’t otherwise have met.
“An old guy on a bike, people want to talk to you. They’re curious. You’re not some guy in a fancy car.”
On Lopez, Carl was an instigator of the Bike Smart! campaign to make the island’s roads safer for cyclists. The group produced maps, posters and buttons and worked with the county to install signs directing riders off busy Center Road.
But cycling isn’t Carl’s only claim to fame. For 20years, he was the chief custodian and interior decorator for the renown Agate Beach outhouse. When he took over the maintenance, he said the county was not taking care of its day parks.
“It stunk. It was dirty a lot of the time. I didn’t think it was presentable.”
Carl orchestrated a makeover that included a neon-green interior with a bright pink vertical stripe behind the pit toilet, a magazine rack that featured New Yorker and Velo magazines and a large bouquet of fresh flowers from Cynthia’s garden that she replaced every few days. A neighbor’s granddaughter called it “The Flower House,” a name that many locals, including Carl, use to this day.
Carl said cycling improves his mental outlook. He quoted a friend who said, “When I bike, it’s a good day.” But biking has taken a physical toll. He once broke a wrist going over the handlebars. He’s broken both femur bones, once skidding on black ice by the Southend Store, another time on a slick rock in his driveway off Cape St. Mary Road. After the latter crash, he had to drape the bad leg over the good one and drag himself, backwards, to his house. He hasn’t biked to the Village for the past two years because of the traffic, both two- and four-wheeled.
After each accident, Carl climbed back on his bike. “I guess I have that ‘Just do it’ attitude,” he said.
Other dedicated cyclists on Lopez have discussed replacing Carl when he retires.