Meet Tom & Isla: The Observer & The Chatterbox
This three part series will introduce some of the riders on the 2022 North American Epic. Sarah Fonger, our Content Creator, will look at how they got into cycling, their past and who they are as people.
Tom Perlmutter “The Observer” – Tuktoyaktuk to Panama City
Four years ago Tom got a call from a friend who urged him to come with him on an eight day biking tour of Patagonia. Tom was resistant but eventually agreed, mostly so that his friend would stop bothering him about it. He had no idea that what he had just signed up for would be the start of a new obsession. Even though Tom had a really difficult time, got lost, missed a ferry and wanted to fly back home part way through the trip, something switched on inside of him and a love for bike touring developed. On that Patagonia trip one of his fellow riders was talking about TDA Global Cycling’s Tour D’Afrique Expedition. Tom thought he was way too old to embark on this as he was approaching 70. However, he began to talk to others and was eventually convinced by TDA alumni that he might be able to do it. Since then Tom has cycled the Tour D’Afrique (2019), the Great American RoadTrip (2021) and now the North American Epic (2022).
Tom likes bike touring because it allows him to see the world in a different way. He loves to meet and engage with those around him and hear their stories. Tom shares his adventures by writing articles for Cycling Magazine and by posting entries on his blog – The Continental Cyclist. He enjoys writing about his experiences, the people he meets and social issues that he comes across while travelling. By reading his articles you can tell that he cares deeply for the people that he encounters and the places where they live.
Tom has written a lot about First Nations and immigrant issues through the eyes of those he meets and the places that he travels to. He also has a couple blog posts solely dedicated to celebrating his fellow female riders and how much respect he has for them. Tom is very interested in the current immigration crisis and by cycling through the Mexican border was able to see first hand the effects of the current environment on those looking to travel to a better life. Tom is dedicated to giving minorities a voice and the way he tells stories is engaging and very educational.
In Tom’s earlier professional life he was a documentary filmmaker. He was head of the National Film Board of Canada which produced many documentaries; some being nominated and winning Oscar and Webby Awards. While head of the film board he prided himself for being experimental and pushing the boundaries of digital mediums. For one project, Tom produced a short film shot by an up and coming Hollywood director on a flip phone. The film was then blown up to the big screen and shown at the Toronto International Film Festival. When talking to Tom you would have no idea about any of these accomplishments. He is not boastful or arrogant and is much more interested in learning about others and creating human connection than talking about himself. You can tell that he is genuinely passionate about learning about others and telling their stories.
On tour, Tom is part of what the staff like to call “the Trio,” three cyclists over 70 who are very strong and rarely ride in staff vehicles. The staff and riders are consistently impressed with their attitudes, strength and youthful outlook on life. We have a lot to learn from Tom, who has accomplished so much in his life but is so incredibly humble. He is not just cycling from point A to point B. He is using this trip to not only to expand his world view, but to teach others and give those a voice who would otherwise not have one. You can tell that Tom is incredibly open minded just by the way he talks and writes. His writing is all about learning new perspectives and educating others. It’s about lifting people up and celebrating who they are. If you happen to cross paths with Tom, you are truly lucky.
Isla Mccoll “Little Miss Chatterbox” – Tuktoyaktuk to Panama City
Isla is one of the most outgoing, genuine and friendly riders on tour. She is always asking how everyone is doing and striking up a conversation with whoever is nearby. You can tell that she genuinely cares about how you are feeling and loves to engage and listen to people’s experiences and stories. When I nervously asked her to be a part of this blog (being new to the tour) her face immediately lit up with a smile and she said, “I’m going to be famous! I’m going to be a superstar!” Just being around Isla makes one feel cared about, happy and ready to take life by the horns.
Her fellow riders have given her the nickname, ‘Little Miss Chatterbox,’ inspired by a book with the same title in the famous children’s picture book series, ‘Mr. Men.’ The riders even went so far as to make Isla her own picture book titled – Little Miss Chatterbox and Her Big Bicycle Adventure. The hilarious book follows the title character as she gets ready for the tour and makes new friends along the way. Little Miss Chatterbox encounters bugs, hard days and the fear of bears but she never lets it impact her positive attitude. She can speak four languages so Little Miss Chatterbox can sing, speak and write poems to all of her fellow riders.
Isla got into bikepacking very gradually. She had always used her bike for commuting but had never really thought about using it to go on longer rides. When she met her now partner she started going on long day rides with him that eventually ended up spanning multiple days. In 2016 Isla decided that she needed a reset so she quit her job and cycled from her parents house in Scotland to where she lives in Switzerland. The trip took 2.5 months and Isla believed that there was a very clear before and after. Since then Isla has fallen in love with the slow travel that bike touring allows and wants ride her bike everyday. The North American Epic is Isla’s first supported bike tour. She chose to join the tour because of her desire to travel to remote places but she didn’t believe that she had sufficient experience to do it on her own.
Recently on tour, Isla had gotten a few flats and had to quit cycling quite early on in the day. You could tell that she was bummed but in typical Isla fashion she remained her happy, smiley self. The next day Isla recalls that when she got on the bike and started riding she had this moment of just feeling so happy and giddy. She said that if she still felt that way after riding her bike for 5 months then she must really love it. You can sense that from her. She is so happy to be here doing this and she is not taking it for granted. She is trying to soak it up the best she can and spread her joyful spirit to the others in the group. We are all truly lucky to have gotten to know Isla over these last few months and we’ve all learned a lot just by being around her.
Stayed tuned for the next two parts of this three part series on riders of the 2022 North American Epic.
North American Epic
Cycling from the Arctic Ocean to Panama City will take you through 9 countries and countless variations in landscape, culture, language, cuisine and...