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Saltwater Portrait

Jay Kirby: He wants to ride his bicycle – a lot

Cyclist going strong after 100,000 miles
September 1, 2015

“Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like”

 

That 1978 Queen song should be Jay Kirby's anthem. He's ridden his bicycle more than 100,000 miles.

Anyone who is a serious cyclist knows that stands alone as an outstanding accomplishment for a lifetime of cycling. But when you consider that the 75-year-old Kirby has reached that goal in 20 years, it borders on amazing.

And this year, he expects to ride at least 8,000 miles, which will be the most he's ever done in one year. When most people are slowing down, Kirby is literally getting into gear. And don't question his figures; he's fanatical about keeping track of his mileage.

Kirby can recall most of his rides and how many miles he pedaled. “Some people say I'm obsessed, but I really don't know why I keep track. Once I got started, I have to keep doing it. I've never thought why,” he said.

Now, he lets a Garmin record his mileage, and he downloads it onto his computer. Many of those miles come as a lead rider for organized Sussex Cyclists rides. Kirby has led cyclists on most of the backroads of Sussex County.

In 1994 – the only year he did not keep track of his mileage – he started riding on a cheap Huffy bicycle. “I was huffing and puffing after three-tenths of a mile; I did not enjoy that first ride,” he said.

It didn't take long for Kirby to discover the joys and benefits of cycling, and he started commuting by bike, 17 miles each way from his home in Georgetown to his work at a TV repair shop in Milford. Kirby later was a partner and then full owner of Fisher Appliance store in Milford. The ex-smoker said he stopped the habit years before he started cycling, but he wishes he had never started.

“I was motivated to lose weight because at the time I weighed 220 pounds,” he said. “I dropped weight quickly.”

Kirby, who started out as a lone-wolf rider two decades ago, says he is overwhelmed how many people are now cycling. “It's growing by leaps and bounds. It's amazing how many bicycles are out there,” he said.

A self-professed roadie, Kirby does ride trails from time to time. He also prefers to ride with groups.

He also doesn't let a little cold weather get in the way of riding during the winter. He bought an indoor trainer, but after one year was back outside. “I hated it so bad. I would rather be on the road and be cold than be sweating inside,” he said.

Born in Fremont, N.C., he's lived in Georgetown since 1973.

A solo cross-country trek

In 2000, at the insistence of his wife, Pat, he did a solo ride across the country from Yorktown, Va., to Astoria, Ore., a total of 4,451 miles. “It was the first thing on my bucket list,” he says.

At the time, his wife had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He said the doctor told them if they had any plans, they had better get busy. His wife passed away two years ago.

He retired and the couple spent as much together as possible. She met him in St. Louis, Mo., and they spent 10 days together visiting one of Kirby's Navy buddies. They also toured the West Coast when he finished the ride.

“I felt guilty taking time away from her, but she insisted I do it. She provided so much support,” he said.

Living in flat Sussex County, he had no way to train for riding hills. “When I reached the Appalachian Mountains, I kept asking myself what have I got myself into,” he said.

During his cross-country ride in Kansas, he met up with Joe Ollinger from Salisbury, Md., who bought his bike at the same bike shop that Kirby purchased his Cannondale touring bike. The two crossed paths many times as they followed the same route using the Trans-America Trail and Adventure Cycling maps. Kirby camped out while Ollinger stayed in hotels.

Kirby was loaded down with camping equipment – which he pulled in a small trailer – that weighed about 65 pounds. Averaging 53 miles per day, he camped out 70 of the 80 days he was on his trek.

“I was a little apprehensive because I was not a camper,” he said. “But once I got into a routine, there was nothing to it.”

Near the end of his journey, Kirby left his fanny pack in a bathroom in Sisters, Ore. “I realized it a minute later, but it was too late because someone had stolen it,” he said.

The pack contained his important papers and all of his money. His friend's wife was able to get him some money, and he found out later that some forest rangers had taken up a collection for him.

“Out on the road you realize what the people of the United States are like. There are some really good people out there,” he said.

So far this year, Kirby has ridden more than 5,000 miles, which is his average per year over the past decade. Last year, he logged 7,745 miles, his highest total to date. That was even more than the 7,275 miles he logged in 2000, the year of his cross-country ride.

He doesn't sit still for long. In August, he put in some miles in New York City and is planning a ride this fall from North Carolina to Key West, Fla. He will also ride the upcoming Tour de Sussex on Saturday, Sept. 19, and as many other area bike tours he can fit in.

So why does he do it? “Obviously, it's a big plus for my health, but I also enjoy it,” he says. “It also helps to keep your mind straight.”