Concord cyclist, 80, still pedaling 1,000 miles a year

  • Dwight Haynes, a retired minister, poses outside his home at Havenwood Heritage Heights in Concord on Aug. 16, 2016, after reaching his goal of cycling 35,000 miles before he turned 80. NICK REID / Monitor staff

  • Dwight Haynes, a retired minister, stores his bike outside his home at Havenwood Heritage Heights in Concord at the end of a 10-mile ride Aug. 16, 2016, after reaching his goal of cycling 35,000 miles before his 80th birthday. NICK REID—Monitor staff

  • Dwight Haynes displays a notebook, where he logs all his cycling mileage. He’s hoping to reach 36,000 miles by his 81st birthday. NICK REID—Monitor staff

  • Dwight Haynes rides along a Concord path in August, logging the final few miles before reaching his goal of 35,000. NICK REID photos / Monitor staff

  • The bell attached to Dwight Haynes's bicycle is nearly 100 years old. Given to him by his uncle, it depicts the likeness of Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts. NICK REID—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/21/2017 11:30:11 PM

On a mid-August morning last year, as Dwight Haynes pulled into the driveway of his Concord retirement community, he positioned his left hand on the old bell fixed to his bicycle’s handlebars and sounded its cheerful bring-bring.

With that flick of his thumb, he marked a milestone decades in the making. 

Haynes, a retired pastor, had just crossed into his 35,000th mile since he began keeping track in the 1970s – reaching a goal he hoped to achieve before his 80th birthday. He blows out the candles today, and he’ll set a new mark of 36,000 miles for next year.

Throughout his life, Haynes’s bicycles have brought him freedom, health and savings, he said, which is why he intends to keep peddling on his 10-mile jaunts.

But there were bumps along the way, too. Haynes has been hit by a car, he’s recovered from a double knee surgery, and the disabilities that plagued him as a child in Haverhill, Mass., threatened to keep him off the bike seat from the beginning.

“I was actually deaf and dumb as a kid. The children’s hospital gave up on me,” he said, explaining that he was sent home after a 10-day stay at the renowned Boston Children’s Hospital with the prognosis that he might die.

He overcame his illness, but his vision and hearing remained impaired. In spite of his competitive spirit, these setbacks meant that he could never keep pace athletically with his peers, he said.

But as a second-grader in the 1940s, his motivation shined through when he won a contest among the local primary schools to collect tin cans for the war effort. Haynes traveled around the neighborhood and collected 2,650 cans, enough to beat out students nearly twice his age.

“Collecting tin cans was something I could do,” he said. “I was competitive, even though I was not an athlete who likes to knock people down. I had to find ways that I could compete in my own way.”

These days, part of what motivates Haynes to ride 1,000 miles a year is the competition he creates against himself. But despite his best efforts, with his father running alongside him to keep the bike steady, it took him until he was 13 for him to learn to ride.

“As soon as he’d let go, I’d fall,” Haynes said. “It was just very deflating for my already weak ego, but I persisted and finally in the seventh grade – I’m 13 now – I finally learned how to keep my balance.”

That was a life-changing moment, he said.

“I was cycling (instead of walking) 2 miles to school each way, and I didn’t have to leave home so early because I could get there faster, and I could avoid the neighborhood bully, who just scared the heck out of me,” he recalled.

After his studies at Bates College in Maine, Haynes began a 40-year career serving as a pastor at several United Methodist churches. He continued to ride his bicycle to church and to visit parishioners, estimating that about a third of his average 1,000 miles a year was on church business.

“I saved the church money. I saved myself money. A bike tune-up doesn’t cost nearly as much as a car tune-up does,” he said, adding that he also learned his way around and enjoyed the trip better at slower speeds.

Although his age hasn’t stopped him from riding, there have been a few moments that have tested him. When he was living in Manchester in 1997, he was hit by a car whose driver didn’t see him while making a left-hand turn. She was blinded by the sun and panicked when she realized he was there, hitting the gas instead of the brake, he said.

“She smacks me, pitches me head first,” he said. “My friend told me the police said if you hadn’t worn your helmet you wouldn’t be talking.”

Then, about four years ago, he slipped while walking inside a church and severed tendons in both his knees.

“I heard snap, crack, pop, pop. As I lay there, I could put my fingers inside my knees,” he said. “I thought ‘I’ll never cycle again, I’ll be lucky if I walk.’ ”

But after the doctor performed a double knee surgery, it wasn’t long before Haynes was in rehabilitation. He cruised around the facility late at night in his wheelchair as fast as he could, he said, to make sure he kept building his strength.

“After 9 o’clock at night, when they dim the lights, I was timing myself,” he said. “I did it in 18 minutes, 17, 14. . . . The nurse said, ‘You’re so strange.’ I said, ‘Do you think I’m a little compulsive?’ She said, ‘Well, I wasn’t going to say that, but you are.’ ”

This compulsion has been helpful, however, to keep him in his best possible shape, he said. Compared with the days when he lagged behind his peers at school athletically, now he stands out in his community at Havenwood Heritage Heights.

“I’ve had parishioners 20 years younger than I am in terrible health, but they don’t exercise, they don’t eat right, they watch too much television,” he said. “I know the body was made to move.”

He added: “I’ve got my wife who makes me eat right, and I’ve got this conscience that says keep moving.”

So that’s what he plans to do, taking his Trek bike  – with a low crossbar for easier mounting since his surgery – out for trips averaging 10 miles, usually around East Side Drive and surrounding neighborhoods. He’s easily spotted by his bright orange reflective vest.

Or heard. Bring-bring.


(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)

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