On May 3, she and a group of 29 other women — all over 50 — will start peddling in New Orleans, and they won't stop until they arrive in Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi, about 180 miles south of the Canadian border.
The trip, which spans the United States from one of its southernmost points to one of its most northern, will be the longest ride the soon-to-be septuagenarian has ever made — one she hopes may prove inspiring to other women her age.
"I think people would be interested in my ride," said Perkins, who will be blogging her adventures at pamsmississippiride.blogspot.com.
Perkins said she loves reading adventure stories and travel articles, as they sow seeds of inspiration for trips she hopes to take in the future. "I think we make a lot of changes in our lives, because we are inspired by other people. Maybe by others reading my story, they might have a seed planted."
Perkins says that one of the biggest shifts in her life came when she and her previous husband were divorced. It is an episode she credits as a blessing in disguise, because it pushed her to live more adventurously and "be freer."
"I think when you go through a major change in your life, you do an evaluation of where you've been and where you're going," she said. As a person who had always enjoyed fitness — swimming in particular — Perkins decided to push her athleticism a bit. She dusted off her old bike and began riding, eventually trading in the old cycle for a series of newer, faster machines.
Along the way she married her current husband, Bruce Berger, who she lovingly refers to as Phileas Fogg — the name of the main character in Jules Verne's famous novel, Around the World in Eighty Days — due to his love of traveling. The two of them have been all over the globe since marrying 2001.
Further change came for Perkins when she retired from her career at Stanford in 2002 and really "ramped up her cycling."
In 2009 she did her first "epic" ride. Organized by Woman Tours — the same company she will be riding with along the Mississippi — she rode from Oregon, through Idaho and then into Washington in one big 1,500-mile loop over 30 days. The tour company charges riders a fixed fee for accommodations, breakfast, dinner and the peace of mind that comes from knowing a crew in a van is not far away in case of an accident or emergency.
It was on her first Woman Tours ride that Perkins met Penny Bradley — a woman she looks to for inspiration and points to when other women wonder how she can do what she does at her age. Bradley is 72 and has long been active in tests of endurance such as the upcoming Mississippi ride, Perkins said. She looks forward to riding along with Bradley, whom Perkins now counts as a good friend.
Nowadays some of Perkins' best friends are the women she has met through cycling. "The thing about this company is that they really don't have to advertise," she said. "After we finish this ride we all say to each other, 'What's the next ride we're going to do,' and it proliferates."
It's addictive she said. "I love it!"
Perkins says she is close to being in the best shape she has ever been, and though she is a bit nervous about the upcoming ride, she knows all she has to do is go for it and all her anxieties will fall away, like the road behind her tires. "Once I get there and get on the bike, I'll be fine."