• Kyle Munson
  • Thu March 07 2013
  • Posted Mar 7, 2013

Jack Day is a staunch conservative frustrated with the rise of Obamacare. He’s so frustrated that he’s on the verge of his own two-wheeled protest of sorts.

The Windsor Heights retiree, who turns 70 in November, also is disgusted with people 10 or 20 years his junior who “just want to sit around and watch TV.”

Not this bicycling evangelist.

“The biggest reason it costs so much money for health care is that people do not take care of themselves,” he fumes.

If the tax base is going to pay for it, he reasons, he’s not going to sit idly by. He’ll “just get out there and show them by example.”

Day’s example is an extreme one: Later this month he will pedal 7,000 miles around the eastern half of the nation to celebrate his 70th year. He will roll out of his driveway, bike to nearby Colby Park in Windsor Heights and pick up a route that runs southeast of the Des Moines metro on the way to Pella.

“The whole idea of me dong this,” Day says, “is to get people over 50 to be more active.”

So in other words he will serve as his own rolling Blue Zones Project.

“The track of the ’7,000@70' ride is so long because political intervention in our medical coverage compels me to compact more into this year since our new health care system will designate me as a ‘UNIT’ after I turn 70 in November,” Day writes on the website that will chronicle his trip.

It took Day 6 1/2 hours to push his bike up Loveland Pass in 2011 -- and only 11 minutes to coast down. (Special to The Register)

It took Day 6 1/2 hours to push his bike up Loveland Pass in 2011 — and only 11 minutes to coast down. (Special to The Register)

His route is segmented into three legs: He will bike south to Key West, Fla., then north to the Canadian border in Maine, and finally southwest through the Great Lakes Region back home to Iowa.

Day will epitomize self-reliance on his ride by complete lack of a support vehicle. Not so much as a bike trailer.

Day learned his lesson about luggage two years ago when he bicycled 4,000 miles (on a cheap Wal-Mart bike) from the Golden Gate Bridge to Times Square. The trailer he pulled on that journey weighed 114 pounds and was the reason it took him 6 ½ hours to walk his bike up Loveland Pass in Colorado yet only 11 minutes to coast down the other side.

Day originally planned to depart March 15, but the stubborn, frigid wind and snow drifts that have lingered this month convinced him to push it back a week, to March 22.

He’ll bike 40-50 miles per day to give himself plenty of time for sightseeing, with 157 travel days built into his schedule. He also has scheduled lectures along the way.

But “nothing ever goes as planned,” he muses.

On that theme: Day contacted me this week after he had read my column about six fellow Iowa bicyclists, the Southern Tier Comfort Ride team whose bikes were stolen in San Diego at the start of their own cross-country trek. (Happily, those “Tall Dogs” are rolling again on new bikes!) That reminded Day to purchase insurance ($25 per month for up to $250,000 in medical coverage as long as he wears his helmet, plus $20 per month to insure belongings with a $100 deductible).

Day realizes he’s in a unique position to act on his frustrations: His three kids are grown, and he’s a single retiree – nothing hampers him from couch-surfing his way from city to city.

If you thought scheduling a week of overnight stays for The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa each summer was difficult enough, consider this: Through and similar sites, Day has arranged more than 120 home stays with strangers along the way. The head ranger at Acadia National Park in Maine, for instance, has agreed to let him bunk for the night when he reaches the northeast corner of his route.

On his epic 2011 ride, Day’s overnight hosts “turned out to be the most fun part of the trip,” he says.

Day’s triathlete son in Des Moines, Parker, 31, helped convince his dad to get rolling in his golden years.

“Basically I got into bicycling because of him,” Day says, “and he’s been my inspiration – and I just carried it way overboard.”

The 2011 bike trip was the turning point: When Day made it over the Rocky Mountains, Parker and his two sisters realized that their father not only was serious but also had the grit to make it.

“It was kind of a surprise that he wanted to jump that deep into it,” says Parker, currently nursing his own Achilles tendon injury and itching to run again. “We’re proud of him and really supportive of him trying to stay active at an older age and trying to influence others.”

No matter how many members of his generation that Day ultimately is able to lure away from their sofas and TVs, he intends to have fun.

“What I enjoy is getting on the road by myself and meeting people and riding with other people,” he says. “It’s just amazing.”

If nothing else, Day certainly has found his own prescription for happiness.





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