More than a year ago, Hanna Elshoff, 72 left Chatfield, Minn., and started pedaling a solar-powered trike around the country.
She’s still going, we learned today.
For much of her life, she wanted to hit the road and see what and whom she’d find. When she reached her 70s and after she had a stroke, she figured she was “footloose and fancy free” and might as well go. So she did what so many of us are afraid to do: She went.
She’s in Ashland, Virginia this week, where, like every other place she’s been, families take her in.
She’s riding on behalf of the Lions Club, a service organization, and Ashland turned out to be an appropriate stop. Its Lions Club is about to fold and she’s trying to convince people that there’s value in community service organizations.
But the purpose of finding America, she says, is to thank Americans.
“I arrived here in 1961, 18 years old, speaking no English,” she told a South Carolina newspaper. “Not only did Americans save my life, but I had the privilege of coming here to this country and enjoy living among the greatest and kindest people in the world.”
She was barely 3 years old when the U.S. Army marched into the tiny village in northern Germany where her family lived.
Elshoff was too young to know it then, but later learned just how deeply in danger her family was. Her neighbor was a member of Hitler’s SS; on his deathbed, he would tell Elshoff’s father, many years later, how he had received orders to load the family on a truck, most likely to be shipped to a concentration camp, but the American Army liberated the town before it could happen.
“We were not Jewish, but we belonged to an independent Lutheran church, we said prayers at the table, and my father would not salute the Nazi flag,” she said. “If the Americans had not come when they did, we would have likely been killed — they saved my life, literally.”
Elshoff said she had long dreamed of making a trip to meet people and thank them for her wonderful life. Thus far, she’s ridden through nearly a dozen states doing exactly that, she said.
She travels about 40 miles a day, inspired, she writes, by Doris Haddock, the New Hampshire woman who put her sneakers on when she was in her 80s and walked across the country to advocate for campaign finance reform.
Elshoff is documenting her ride on her Facebook page, Hanna’s Dream Ride.