Introductory note: As my ride-every-day streak neared 8,000 days (as of today, it’s at 8,006), The Ride Journal and my old employer, Bicycling Magazine, asked me to write about streaking. My short essay appears on page 55 in a feature called We Dare You, in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of Bicycling (on newsstands now). You can purchase The Ride Journal at http://theridejournal.com/ (£14.50 worldwide/£10.50 in the UK). Below is the feature article I wrote back in May for Issue 10. The issue was just sent to subscribers.
33.8 miles of sweet Santa Cruz blacktop kissed my skinny tires today, Sunday, May 31, 2015 – my 7,818th consecutive daily ride. That’s 21 years and 5 months. Or, based on an average male’s life expectancy, about 25% of mine should I live to be 80.
My everyday riding began in 1990, as a Bicycling Magazine editor. My boss, Ed Pavelka, was setting cross-state records, preparing for the Race Across America.
I knew I wasn’t of Ed’s caliber, yet I wanted to make my mark. I remembered that in high-school cross-country, we revered British marathoner Ron Hill, who ran twice a day for 20 years, and even once hopped his runs one-legged because of a sprained ankle!
Hill’s habit was called “streak” running. It inspired us to log a few weeks of consecutive runs. I didn’t keep it up, but the idea stuck and came back to me.
Copying Hill, but on 2 wheels, seemed doable. Plus, after a few days of not riding, my 37-year-old legs had started feeling stiff on the bike. I hated that and hoped another benefit of streaking would be always feeling good.
So, near Christmas of 1990, I made a personal pact to streak cycle for an hour a day for 10 years. I told my fellow editors about it. I didn’t record rides, track miles or hours. I just made riding every day my highest priority.
With running you simply head out the door. Cycling requires a bike and riding clothing, plus preparation time and possibly breakdowns or crashes. For trips requiring flying I got a Bike Friday that folds into a suitcase.
As weeks became months, and months years, the fixed anxiety of having to ride became routine, no different from doing the dishes or brushing your teeth. I might have to rise at 4 a.m. to ride without messing up the day’s plans, or do it when the family was in bed, but there was always a way to fit it in. Everyone wastes an hour a day or could give up some sleep.
Near-Misses,Feeling Like an Obligation
There were several nerve-wracking near-misses caused by flight delays. The closest, a trip to Maui that had me duct taping on flashlights and riding from 10:30 to 11:30 p.m. – barely within my 24-hour window. My wife called me crazy. It taught me to always ride before leaving home and to never fly too far. I also never go where it’s not safe to ride.
When I hit the first big milepost, 1,000 days, my officemates jinxed me (keep reading) with a funny certificate for “extreme stubbornness.” Stubbornness is one thing to call streaking. Selfishness fits, too, because it becomes all about you and getting your ride in. It’s your first thought waking up. After every ride, you start planning the next. If your streak continues, this never stops. You have a business trip, you get the stomach flu, you want to go on vacation, you have hernia surgery, and you worry, “How will I ride?”
I like to think that the streak makes me more alive and complete, or at the very least, healthy and happy (in fact, I rarely get sick, but I did suffer that hernia – and rode through it). I prefer being positive to thinking I’ve wasted 15,000-plus hours, though I do sometimes wonder if I could have instead learned Italian or been Steve Jobs?
Five months after the certificate jinx, a crash broke my hip and my first streak. It was infuriating, but it only steeled me to try again. I started my current streak December 30, 1993. I was 40 years old. Now, I’m about to hit 62 and I still haven’t taken a day off. That’s a long time to be doing the same thing every day. My streak has been written about by others and even appeared on a television show, so lots of people know about it today.
While it’s still an obsession and a commitment to me, it’s starting to feel like an obligation, like people are counting on me to keep it going. It’s often the first thing friends ask about. The other day a riding buddy quipped, “When your streak ends, Jim, the earth will fall off its axis.”
An enormous exaggeration, sure, but my earth might fall off its axis, right? I’m haunted by a Twilight Zone episode where a kindly older man is obsessed with keeping a grandfather clock running because if its pendulum stops, he believes his heart will stop, too.
Could this streak be like that clock? Could stopping the streak mean I stop in some way? Or, like that TV character says when his clock finally dies, maybe I’ll “be born again.”
To find out, all I need is the courage to stop.