A shared passion for cycling

  • Feeling on top of the world: Ernest and Susan DeCouto at the top of Mont Ventoux in Provence, southern France this summer (Photograph supplied)
  • Feeling on top of the world: Ernest and Susan DeCouto taking a break in their cycle up Mont Ventoux in Provence, France this summer (Photograph supplied)
  • Feeling on top of the world: Susan DeCouto and a guide, paragliding in Annecy, France a year ago (Photograph supplied)

Eighteen years ago, Ernest DeCouto got on a bike, pedalled for about a mile and then gave up, exhausted. His wife, Susan, still laughs at the memory of him falling off while trying to turn the cycle around on Paget’s Bostock Hill.

Her husband, however, was determined.

Cycling is now one of the 76-year-old’s great passions. His wife, 72, is also a fan.

“We love to get out and do things,” Mr DeCouto said. “We are fortunate that this comes automatically to us. I do Dockyard or St George’s almost every day.

“I average between 150 to 200 miles a week on my pedal bike. Susan swims three times a week — rain, blow or shine.

“I have seen hail hitting the window and she’s headed down to Elbow Beach.”

In August, the couple cycled up Mont Ventoux in Provence following part of the Tour de France route.

“There are three routes to the top, including the best known and most demanding route, starting from Bédoin, involving a 21km climb with an average gradient of 7.5 per cent and 1,600m elevation gain,” Mr DeCouto said. “The two other, less difficult routes, set off from the villages of Malaucène and Sault.

“We have done the Bédoin route four times and this year we did the Sault route. The last 7km to the top were the toughest.”

But they were bicycling past much younger cyclists who were walking their bikes up the hill.

When the couple got to the top, a 66-year-old asked their age.

“When I told him he gave me a high five,” Mr DeCouto said.

The couple feel blessed to be in good shape, and also to love the same things.

“We used to jog together and climb mountains,” Mr DeCouto said. “We hiked into the Grand Canyon a few years ago. It was 116F when we went down there.

“When we went to get the permit the man in the office said there is usually a three or four month waiting list, but it is so hot down there, a lot of people had cancelled.”

They were warned not to travel between 10am and 4pm because of the high temperatures.

“He said put an extra water bottle at the bottom of each of your bags, as a matter of life and death,” Mr DeCouto said. “He said once you get to the bottom, by the river, there are tents in there and you can jump in the river; the water was ice cold.

“We loved it so much we spent three days down there. We came up and did a tour through Bryce Canyon. I said, ‘Let’s do the north side’, and we did that for three more days.”

The couple have also been skydiving and paragliding and have led young people on five different Duke of Edinburgh Award expeditions.

Mrs DeCouto is originally from a small, rural village in Suffolk, England.

Her mother, Marie Davies, and grandmother, Ruby Carpenter, both worked as housekeepers in hotels.

Mrs DeCouto started working as a nanny straight out of high school.

“I really wanted to travel,” she said. “I thought I would go somewhere like London.”

When someone told her about a job in Bermuda, she was excited, but really had no idea where the island was and didn’t really bother to do any research.

She kept mixing it up with Burma. She arrived in 1964.

“It was like a fairytale,” she said. “When I had a day off I went to the beach. I had a bike. I didn’t even have a driver’s licence when I left England because I was only 17.

“I didn’t call home for a whole year — in those days it cost $3 a minute to make a phone call.”

She met Mr DeCouto at the Horse & Buggy, a bar on Queen Street, where the Speciality Cinema is today.

She liked to go there with her friends, and he was maître d’.

“I thought he was pretty cool when I met him,” Mrs DeCouto said. “A lot of my friends were also giving him the eye.”

Said her husband: “I can honestly say I fell in love with her right away.”

He wasn’t just drawn to her bright red hair and lively disposition.

“Her eyes were just a little bit off,” he said. “They don’t synchronise. I know now that it’s a family trait.”

Mr DeCouto’s parents, Manuel and Sophia, came to Bermuda from Lomba da Maia in the Azores ninety years ago.

“My family always wanted me to marry a Portuguese girl,” he said. “But when they met Susan, they were overjoyed.”

Six months after they met, the day before she was about to leave for another nanny job in Canada, he invited her to the old Castle Harbour Hotel and proposed.

Halfway through dinner he took her out on a terrace overlooking the pool.

“She said yes,” he said. “Wow, what a relief that was.”

She spent a year in Canada, then returned to the island and married on March 23, 1968.

The DeCoutos have four children: Paul, Kathi, Steven and Sharon.

Mrs DeCouto took care of children after school in their home; Mr DeCouto was a manager in an insurance company for several years before opening Cycle Care with his sons.

“In the early days when we had the children and had a squabble about something I said, ‘If this continues like this, I’m leaving’,” Mrs DeCouto said. “He said, ‘Your mother isn’t going to take you with four children.’

“I said, ‘I’m not going to my mother, I’m going to your mother!’ That broke the ice right there.”

The couple hope their story inspires others their age to get into shape and enjoy life.

“We were in our 50s when we started cycling,” Mr DeCouto said. “Being active doesn’t guarantee you will live for ever, but the quality of your life will change.”

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them