Eight years and four months ago, cycling enthusiast Tom Parsons got into the habit of heading out for at least one 100-mile bike jaunt every month. And as the months and years slid by, he began to formulate the idea of creating a near-herculean challenge for himself.
Parsons had ridden 100 miles a month for “one year, two years, maybe three years,” he said, when the idea hit him to raise the bar and transition into another goal: “I decided that I was going to do a 100-mile ride a month for 100 months.”
And there he was on his bike at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 6, at the intersection of Ardath Drive and Highway 1. It was the 100th month since he began doing the 100-mile trek, and he was poised to fulfill his titanic personal pledge by launching yet another 100-mile journey, this time to Oceano and back.
Riding with him for the entire 100-mile jaunt were Jim Pitton, Jim Rogers, Glenn Baldwin and Mat Clevenger. Bill Cook, Aaron Linn, Zale Schuster, Jim Covello, Mike Barnes, Bert Maxted, Brian Wright and Patrick Hampton rode with him as far as Morro Bay.
Interviewed on the second-story deck of a coffee house in the West Village on April 8, the 68-year-old Parsons said he usually rides five days a week and racks up about 800 miles monthly, but those 100-mile rides were separate events.
Noting that Parsons volunteers to support local charitable groups, fellow Slabtown Roller rider Jim Rogers calls Parsons “the communicator.”
“For years he has been the person who lets us know when and where rides are scheduled,” Rogers said.
The 6-foot, 4-inch Parsons has served as president of the Rollers for several years.
Sharon Jordan-Evans also rides with the Rollers and refers to Parsons as “not only an excellent cyclist, he’s an inspirational leader and a genuinely great guy!”
Sharon’s husband, Mike, praised Parsons’ leadership as the Rollers were battling Caltrans over the chip-seal debacle on Highway 1. Cyclists were upset with the highway’s rough surface after a 25-mile stretch was chip-sealed in 2012. Parsons led the effort in urging Caltrans to improve the road surface with “tenacity and good cheer,” Mike Jordan-Evans commented.
Art Chapman, another Roller rider, said Parsons “has been the stalwart leader, the linchpin of our biking group. He is the most dedicated, almost obsessed” rider in the group.
What makes Parsons’ long rides more impressive and challenging is the fact that he is a Type 1 diabetic. Only 5 percent of people with diabetes are Type 1, meaning their bodies typically produce little or no insulin.
Parsons uses a diabetes pump — which is an alternative to injecting insulin.
“What’s nice about the pump is I can adjust my insulin. When I’m riding my bike, my body produces insulin. What happens sometimes is I get too much insulin, so with the pump, I can adjust the amount of insulin I am getting.
“The way I feel, diabetes doesn’t control me — I control it.”
What a diabetic worries about, Parsons explained, is “blood sugar going low.” If allowed to go too low, you get “cold sweats, and it’s almost like losing the function of your muscles. You get real weak.”
He recalled dealing with those cold sweats a couple of times around 2001, when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
While in high school in Long Beach, Parsons played baseball and basketball, but he didn’t start riding bikes “seriously” until he moved to Cambria in 1984. Once here, he got into the habit of riding his bike to his teaching job (history and math) at Laguna Middle School in San Luis Obispo.
Four or five days a week, he would drive to Cayucos or Morro Bay, park his car, and ride into San Luis Obispo — a minimum of 40 miles a day from Cayucos and 30 miles from Morro Bay.
Closer to his retirement in 2006, Parsons actually rode his bike to and from his teaching job from Cambria, a distance of about 70 miles.
He rides three different bikes: a carbon-fiber bike (Kestrel), a titanium bike (Merlin) and a single-speed bike made by John Cutter of San Luis Obispo. Parsons is about to be gifted a new carbon-fiber bike from his wife, a reward for his 100-mile, 100-month achievement.
What’s next? Parsons said that immediately after his 100-mile effort on April 6 his thought was, “Maybe that’s it. But now, the more I’m thinking about it, I’m going to continue to do the 100-mile rides as long as my body will allow me to do it.
“No, there won’t be a goal. It’ll be just to do it. If I do it for another 100 months I’ll be 76,” he added with a laugh.
But humor aside, if Parsons’ fitness at 76 is anything close to his present physical condition, a 100-mile ride won’t be out of the question.
After all, it’s only eight years from now.
Piece of cake.
Special to The Cambrian.