It is my first ride with the Utah Velo Club. Vélo is the French word for bicycle. The group on this Thursday morning meets at Highland Glen Park in Highland, near the base of looming Mount Timpanogos. The planned ride will take us on the backside of the mountain over the Alpine Loop — a 45-mile round trip that includes more than 3,800 feet of elevation gain, most of it over a nine-mile stretch.

At the gathering spot, I meet Jeff, Tom, D just D, Dave, Jenny and Stan. We pick up Kat with a K a few miles down the road. I don’t catch all their last names but I know Stan’s last name is Swallow. Most people in the local biking community know him.

Stan pulls up on his Specialized S-Works Tarmac on this unusually cool late June morning wearing a long-sleeved Utah Velo Club jersey with blue and white horizontal stripes and full-fingered black gloves. His glowing brown muscular wires for legs are exposed between his black cycling shorts and white crew socks. A black helmet with a tiny mirror is strapped to his head and rose-tinted Oakley lenses cover his eyes. He founded the club and is its leader.

“For those of you who haven’t met me, you need to know that I’m not some young speedy bike racer,” he wrote on the club’s website where he is listed as its coordinator. “I’m over 70 and retired but love to ride, race, and stay fit.”

He must have written that years ago. He is 83.

Cyclist Stan Swallow, 83 years old, laughs during a break while riding with friends in Provo on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Stan is on the quiet side when it comes to his accomplishments — and everything else, for that matter. His pedal strokes do the talking. His cycling friends say he’s an animal on the bike, without adding “for his age.”

Truth is Stan is a bike racer and he is speedy. He has won six national road race or time trial championships in his age group, the first one coming when he was 72. He’s headed to Idaho in a couple of weeks for a race — five races over three days actually, including a hairy, often crash-laden criterium, which consists of laps around a closed circuit.

Stan doesn’t really train in the true sense but he puts in a lot of time on the saddle — about 10,000 miles a year. He used to ride every day. Now it’s every other day with the club. These are not joy rides, especially Saturdays when riders put the hammer down over 60, 80, 100 miles. Stan typically is close to the front of the group. He gets discouraged if he’s not. Still, he can hang with, if not beat, cyclists decades younger. On the “off” days, he takes a hike. It’s no picnic, either. He trades hiking boots for snowshoes in the winter.

“Is he fast? Yes. Is he old? Yes,” says D Warnock.

The club ride rolls along the flat Murdock Canal Trail toward Provo Canyon at a comfortable 18 mph clip. I’m chatting with Stan as the path splits and we’re supposed to go right but I haven’t given him enough space. We narrowly miss a gravel-filled median, him veering left, me right. Not a good way to endear yourself to someone you’d like to write about. I apologize as we converge down the road. He seems unbothered by my near-disastrous faux pas.

A brisk headwind greets us at the mouth of the canyon as the path takes a slight incline. The swollen Provo River has flooded parts of the trail, forcing us to U.S. 189 where speeding cars and rumbling 18-wheelers barrel past our single-file line. We hit the turnoff to Alpine Loop in a couple of miles. This is where the climb really begins.

The first two miles toward Sundance Resort are the steepest. The usually babbling creek next to the road is a foamy torrent, the result of record snowpack. But the canyon is peaceful, and the wind is gone. Stan immediately drops back to stay with a slower and younger rider. The rest of us grind ahead.

The group comes together and splinters over the next seven miles to the 8,060-foot summit. Patches of snow still sprawl across the backside of Timp as we pedal on shady switchbacks through an aspen forest. Stan churns along at his own pace talking effortlessly with whoever is next to him. He is not 83, is he? Food comes up. Stan allows that he “fell off the wagon” on Father’s Day. He ate cake and ice cream.

Cyclist Stan Swallow, 83 years old, laughs during a break while riding with friends in Provo on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“No wonder you’re only a buck thirty,” I say to him, just guessing his weight.

“135,” he says, adding he tries to stay between there and 140.

Except for a little weight around the middle, he has the build of a bike racer. Age has taken 212 inches off his once 5-foot-8 height. He tells me he’s on the keto diet — high fat, low carb. He doesn’t eat before a ride. He doesn’t eat during a ride. He just drinks an energy concoction. He relies on ketones — a type of chemical that the liver produces when it breaks down fats — to get him through. He says he feels better this year than he has the past couple of years.

The eight of us unite at the top. We rest for a few minutes before Stan leads what turns out to be a sketchy descent to American Fork Canyon. The road, which was not yet open to motorists between Aspen Grove and Pine Hollow after the big winter, is covered with dirt, rocks and tree branches — easy to lose a back wheel at high speed. We encounter tractors and a dump truck clearing the debris.

We reach the gate and a concrete barrier at Pine Hollow. We hoist our bikes over the wall and continue downhill on clear roads.

We diverge for a gentle two-mile climb to Tibble Fork Reservoir. Bonus miles. The sandy shore is filled with people out for a day on the water. Paddle boards and canoes dot the little lake that is filled to the brim with spring runoff.

Back on the main canyon road, the speed really picks up. Stan and Jeff are out front. I settle in behind them. Strava, a popular fitness app, tells me afterward that my top speed was 43.7 mph. I check Stan’s Strava: 45.3.

Most of the group — some have headed home in other directions — arrive back at Highland Glen. I ask Stan about setting up a time for a sit-down interview. As we pedal a few more miles before I peel off for home, he invites me to hike Mahogany Mountain with him the next morning. I should have known that he is a man who doesn’t sit down.

Stan Swallow stops and poses for a photo while hiking near Cedar Hills.
Stan Swallow, 83, stops and poses for a photo while hiking on Mahogany Mountain in Utah County on Friday, June 23, 2023. | Dennis Romboy, Deseret News

Friday comes quickly. I meet Stan and his friend Mike in Cedar Hills at the base of the 9,001-foot peak. Stan’s Morkie named Archie — a Maltese and Yorkshire terrier mix with a teddy bear face — tags along. Because he didn’t plan on scrambling to the top today, Stan’s wearing khaki shorts and a sky blue Utah Velo Club T-shirt. A weathered Huntsman World Senior Games cap sits on his head. He holds a set of hiking poles in his gloved hands — the same pair he wore on the bike ride.

For the next five hours, we hike up and down steep terrain covered with loose rock and old tree branches, scale rock walls and bushwhack through scratchy brush. Sometimes there’s a trail. The pokies draw blood in a couple of places on Stan’s legs. Mine are scratched too. I lose my footing and land on my rear several times. He never does.

Near the top, I ask if I can take his picture. It’ll cost you, he says. The price? A bike ride. Of course.

We hike and talk, passing purple and yellow wildflowers. His steps aren’t fast but they’re not slow. They’re controlled and unassuming, like him.

Stan grew up on a farm in the central Utah town of Fillmore. He ran track and wrestled in high school. After studying electronics at the trade school that eventually became Utah Valley University, he earned a degree in engineering and applied science at UCLA. He worked for the Federal Aviation Administration for 36 years, including stints in Chicago, Denver and Green Bay. He was into running during that time and finished a dozen marathons. He had a bike but didn’t ride it much.

He and his wife, Sharon, who he has been married to for 60 years, moved back to Utah when he retired in 1995. They have two children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He started riding with a much younger neighbor. When he discovered he could ride faster thanks to a lighter bike his friend loaned him, he thought he might have a future in road racing.

And he has competed — and won — all over the place now, including the Huntsman World Senior Games and the USA Cycling National Championships. He can recall details of races with clarity and shares stories about how he beat this guy or lost to that guy.

He has a hard time answering a question about the source of his late-in-life competitive drive. “I like the feeling of winning,” he says.

How does he do it at his age? Consistency, he says, and taking advice from a biking friend with Parkinson’s disease who scours the internet for ways to stave off the dreaded illness. He turned Stan on to the keto diet, cold-as-the-tap-can-go showers and a foam to combat post-ride leg cramps. Stan even attended a seminar on the Wim Hof method. Known as The Iceman, Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete noted for his ability to withstand low temperatures. Stan prefers a cold shower to an ice bath. He also has a one-person sauna in his basement next to his indoor bike trainer.

Stan started the Utah Velo Club in 2002 at the request of a local bike shop in American Fork where he lives. He told them he’d do it as long as there were no dues and he didn’t have to handle money. He created and manages the website. He chooses the rides. The club is free and open to all abilities. About 1,000 people have registered over the years, some as young as 13. He remains the oldest.

Mark McLean has ridden with Stan for about 20 years. He sums him up in a word: inspirational.

“And we don’t wait for him. He’s a strong rider,” he said. “We’ll have 10 or 30 people, he’ll drop back and say hello to everybody. At one point or another throughout the ride, he’ll just show up next to you, ask you how you’re doing, thank you for being there. ... And he makes everybody feel like they’re the only people he’s riding with that day.”

Club members watch out for each other on and off the bike. Last year, Stan’s 8-year-old Morkie, Syd, went missing on one of his Mahogany hikes. He and some fellow riders searched for three days to no avail. Later, club members chipped in to give him $1,000 for a new dog, the one he has now, though he suspects most of it came from one woman.

Walking and talking causes us to miss a return trail, sending us much farther south than planned. No matter. We tromp through more brush in a battering wind before Stan gets us back on track. Not everyone who wanders is lost. His cellphone rings. It’s Sharon. He has his GPS set up so she can track his hikes and rides on a computer at home, but she often doesn’t look at it. We’re about 30 minutes out, he tells her.

We eventually make our way back to the trailhead (Archie too), having covered 7.7 miles with 3,376 feet of elevation gain — nearly as much uphill as we’d ridden on the Alpine Loop the day before. I can tell my calves and quads will be sore in the morning. If Stan is spent, he doesn’t show it.

With the next day being Saturday, Stan has a 66-mile club ride planned. As we shake hands and part ways, he asks, “Are you coming?”