Rev. Dwight Haynes: One bike, 80 years, and 35,000+ miles
May 30, 2017
The Rev. Dwight Haynes didn’t learn to ride a bike until he was 13 – no training wheels in those days, he points out.
But he’s made up for that slow start: At age 80, Rev. Haynes has ridden more than 35,000 miles, and he has no plans to hang up his helmet any time soon.
In fact, he hopes to log another 1,000 miles before he turns 81 next January. (At this writing, he’d gone about 450).
“I ride year-round,” said Rev. Haynes, who lives in Concord, NH. Though he’s not “compulsive about it,” he says, and will exercise indoors when it’s too cold or snowy.
But he tries to get in three 10-mile rides each week along routes he’s established near his home. His longest single ride to date was 70 miles.
Rev. Haynes is retired now, but he estimates that when he was serving a local church, about a third of his mileage was church related.
“At the end of the year, I'd give the church treasurer how many miles I cycled and how much money I saved the church. That went over big with the Finance Committee,” he said. “They were impressed with that.”
In addition to the savings, “another thing that motivates me: I'm not polluting the environment,” he said.
From 1995 until his retirement in 2002, Rev. Haynes served First UMC in Manchester, NH. It was a member of the congregation there, Ed Zlotec, who inspired him to keep cycling in retirement. Zlotec rode his bike until he was 80; he’s going to be 97, and still living on his own, Rev. Haynes said.
“It's good to have role models, people who inspire you,” Rev. Haynes said. “Maybe I can be an inspiration to someone else, if they're willing.”
Particularly he’d like to motivate his clergy colleagues to get more exercise. Pastors do a lot of sitting, and that can contribute to weight gain, he said. For himself, cycling helps reduce “chair-itus.”
“The body was made to move. If we don't exercise, we're in trouble,” he said. “I like the feeling of moving forward, like a butterfly. It's almost like dancing when you're moving forward on a bike.”
Even if that doesn’t sound appealing, Rev. Haynes urges clergy “to find some kind of exercise you find reasonably enjoyable and do it – and be disciplined in doing it. And if you keep track, that will help your motivation.”
Rev. Haynes started tracking his mileage in his Cokesbury datebook in 1974. It was then, when he was 37, that his parents bought him an English three-speed Raleigh bicycle.
“The best Christmas gift they ever gave me,” he said.
He’s logged every ride since – through an aromatic eucalyptus forest around the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii and past maple trees with 13-inch leaves in Oregon’s Colombia River Gorge. Closer to home, he rode the 62 miles around Lake Winnipesaukee.
“I like to say 100 kilometers; it sounds more impressive,” he said, and he notes with a laugh: “Only half of the hills go down; the rest go up.”
When he retired, he traversed the entire state of New Hampshire (207 miles in four days).
“I didn’t break any speed records,” Rev. Haynes said of that trip, but then speed isn’t the goal.
“With limited lung capacity, I can't go as fast as I used to,” he said. “Then one day, I was out cycling –about a year ago – when I had this inspiration: At 79 I don't have to do what I did at 39 or even 59. I'm 79; I'm thankful I can keep going. I don't have to go as fast I did 40 years ago.”
In 1991, he set his first significant lifetime mileage goal: 24,912 miles. “That’s the distance around the Equator,” he said. “Then I could say I was a world traveler.”
His granddaughter urged him to increase his goal to 30,000, then 35,000 miles.
“’No sweat’ she told me. I said, ‘I'm getting old, and I sweat. It's tough,’” Rev. Haynes said.
But Rev. Haynes is tough, too. He hasn’t let being injured in a fall or even being hit by a car keep him off his bike.
The driver was blinded by the sun, panicked, and hit the accelerator instead of the brake. Rev. Haynes was pitched head first off his bike. “The police officer said, ‘If you hadn't had a helmet, you wouldn't be talking to me,’” Rev. Haynes recalled.
He used that gouged helmet to illustrate a children’s message at church. “Even the adults were aghast when they saw it,” he said.
It wasn’t easy, but he knew it was important to get back on his bike.
“I worried about that, but I thought if I don't do it now, if I keep putting it off, I'll never get back,” he said, and he added: “I didn't want to spoil my record keeping.”
He sustained more serious injury four years ago when he slipped on carpeted steps and severed the tendons in both knees. He spent six days in the hospital and four and half weeks recovering in a nursing home.
Doctors told him with physical therapy they thought he could be back on his bike in six months.
“I made it by one day,” he said.
Since then, Rev. Haynes has been riding regularly and is well on his way to reaching his next annual 1,000-mile goal, but it’s not all about miles and speed.
He described the ride he took the day of this interview:
“Today, there was just enough breeze, I could smell the scent of the lilacs and the apple blossoms; it was just wonderful. In addition to the warmth of the sun, there was the sight of the flowers, the sound of the cardinals, and other song birds: It's a feast for the senses,” he said. “Sometimes I feel a kinship with God's continuing creation, and for me that's a spiritual experience, that sense of awe and wonder.”