It was one of those moments everyone has.
That moment when an idea clicks, the mental light globe goes on, and you hear yourself saying, “Now why didn’t I think of that before?”
For Kent’s Jerry Schmidt, it might not have been precisely that way back in 1983. But it sure was close. The then-46-year-old Schmidt was getting up and going for a run in the early-morning darkness. That was his daily exercise before heading off to work at Boeing’s Plant 2 in South Seattle.
Then, Schmidt got a new bike — a 12-speed to replace the 3-speed he’d been riding since college.
That’s when the mental light globe flashed to life.
“After I got my bike, I said, ‘Why should I spend my time exercising and take the bus to work?’ So, I started riding my bike.”
What began as a 30-mile round trip between Kent and Seattle eventually grew into a 150,000-mile passion for pedals. This Saturday, Schmidt, now 71 and still living on Kent’s East Hill, will tack another 200 miles or so onto his lifetime log when his two-wheeled rubber hits the road for the annual Seattle to Portland ride.
And while most of the expected 9,000-9,500 participants will go the official 204-mile distance over the course of two days, stopping overnight in the Centralia/Chehalis area, Schmidt — who is making his 16th consecutive STP — is doing it all in one day, along with approximately 2,200 others.
“I’ve done it in one day ever since 2000,” said Schmidt, who was an aerodynamacist (calculating aircraft performance) during his 30 years at Boeing. “(At first), it was, ‘Can I do this? I think I can.’ Then once you get over the Longview bridge, you only have 50 miles to go.”
Schmidt will make the trip on his model year 2000 aluminum-frame Trek — a bike he got as a gift from family and friends that year in honor of his hitting the 100,000-mile mark, all of those on his 1983 Univega.
“When I was commuting, I was going about 6,000 miles a year. Now, it’s about 4,000,” said Schmidt, who still rides 25 miles round trip to West Seattle on Tuesdays to visit daughter Gretchen, and about 50 miles round trip to Seattle on Wednesdays when he volunteers at the Cascade Bicycle Club. “The 1983, I ride that one whenever it isn’t nice weather. After I hit 100,000 miles with that in 2000, I’ve put another 40,000 on it since then, and 10,000 on the new one.”
Among the 140,000 miles on that ’83 was a 2,400-mile trip to Sebewaing, Mich., in August and September of 2004 for his 50-year high school reunion.
It wasn’t one of those “why didn’t I think of that before?” moments. But there was certain inspirational factor involved in his decision.
“One of my acquaintances rode to his reunion in Wisconsin in 2003,” Schmidt said. “He was 69 at the time. I said, ‘He’s older than I am — I can do it.’”
The next year, Schmidt did it. Carrying approximately 35-40 pounds of camping and overnight gear for the journey, (he not only practiced long rides before he left, he also practiced camping to see what he had to have and what he could eliminate from his payload), he allotted 30 days to go from Kent to son Mark’s home at White Bear Lake, Minn.
Traveling mostly along U.S. Highway 2, he covered the 1,900 miles in 20 days, none the worse for the wear except for numerous mosquito bites.
“I spent two weeks in Minnesota with my son, then went the last 500 miles to Michigan,” said Schmidt, who arrived in Sebewaing on the very day of his reunion — Sept. 25, 2004. He was joined for those last 500 revolutions of the odometer by his wife, Maralee, who flew to White Bear Lake, then drove a support vehicle from there to Michigan. (No, Schmidt didn’t bike back home — “I took the train, and they hauled the bike for free,” he said.
About the only time Schmidt doesn’t bike is when it snows. He does have a Honda Civic, which he says he drives about 2,000 miles a year.
No snow is in sight for this weekend’s STP. No work in sight, either, unlike 1987 when Schmidt signed up for what was going to be his first STP — a ride that never materialized for him.
“I found out I had to work that weekend,” Schmidt recalled. “So the next weekend, I went out for a long ride, and I said, ‘When the speedometer hits 100 miles, I’ll turn around.’”
Since then, that speedometer has hit 100 miles way more than a few times. But it seems as if he never turns around.
Jerry Schmidt just keeps cycling forward, with a passion for the pedals that has reached 150,000 miles.
And no end in sight.