Metro-East Living

Russian cyclist is blown away by Route 66 hospitality

Lena Faber travels with a big brown bear strapped to the back of her bicycle. “It’s a trophy from Norway,” she said. “People are more likely to welcome me with the bear.” He is a conversation starter.
Lena Faber travels with a big brown bear strapped to the back of her bicycle. “It’s a trophy from Norway,” she said. “People are more likely to welcome me with the bear.” He is a conversation starter. News-Democrat

Look who blew into Edwardsville’s Springers Creek Winery on Sunday.

Lena Faber, a onetime Russian journalist who lives in South Africa — when she’s not bicycling from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif., along old Route 66.

“I was pedaling into a very, very strong wind,” Lena said, during a stop at the News-Democrat with her new friends, winery owners Colette Andre and Sam Markler. “I was absolutely exhausted. So I went into the winery. I saw a nice big chair, so I asked ‘Can I sit?’ Ooh, it felt so-o-o-o good!”

Despite winds gusting up to 20 mph outside, there just happened to be a 60th birthday party going on for one of Colette and Sam’s friends. They invited Lena to join in the fun.

“All of a sudden, I was a guest at a birthday party with people I don’t know. But I do now.”

Colette said Lena fit right in. “We gave her food and, since there was a storm coming, we offered to let her sleep in our house.”

Lena was blown away by their hospitality.

“One lady (Kathy Malone, of Belleville) offered to drive me to St. Louis to show me what areas are safe and where I should not be riding,” she said in nearly perfect English, with a Russian accent. “Then I will come back and bicycle the route.”

Red-haired Lena is a native of Russia, where she worked as a journalist until five years ago. She and some friends decided they wanted to see the Kalahari desert in South Africa. She worked in South Africa and was a lecturer at the University of South Africa until “I became a trail runner. Last year, I hiked the Appalachian Trail. Now, I’m cycling Route 66.”

Why? “I’ve always been fascinated by the ’60s culture and hippies,” Lena said. “When I lived in Russia, I was not allowed to go to other countries. Now I do.”

How old is Lena? “It depends on who I am with,” she joked. “If I am with young trail runners, 35. With other cyclists, 45. With older hikers, 55.”

She has two grown children, a daughter who lives in London and a son in Moscow. Does she ever want to go back to Russia? “No,” she said emphatically. Case closed.

Lena started her ride in Chicago and planned to ride 18 miles a day, finishing up in October. She rents out a home she has in London to help pay for expenses. She usually sleeps in a tent she carries with her.

“But I stop everywhere when I meet nice people who treat me like a guest,” said Lena, who now averages 50 miles a day between stops. “I am amazed at their hospitality.”

Like the man in Pontiac who took her to an old log cabin where she could stay for as long as she wanted. “He gave me food from his restaurant, but would not let me pay for it. I gave him a good compliment on my website”

In another town, she passed a pub with a nice backyard. She asked if she could put up her tent there for the night. People at the pub offered to let her sleep in spare bedrooms. One man let her sleep in his house, then left while she was still sleeping. He left food and a note. She left a note thanking him.

Lena is gathering her Route 66 stories for a travelogue and possibly a book. She is asking people she meets to send her a paragraph or two “about what their lives were like on Route 66” in its heyday. If you have a story about living along Route 66 or old photos, you can send it to her through her website or email

Sam and Colette took Lena to Belleville on Monday when they had business in town.

“We thought it would be nice to stop at the newspaper since she is a journalist,” Colette said. “She has such interesting stories. We really enjoy having her around.”