Cyclist continues Tour de Lifetime

Danny Chew climbing early on at mile 226  Credit: Courtesy of Race Across America
For many Race Across America (RAAM) participants, making it to the far side of the country is the achievement of a lifetime.

For Danny Chew, completing RAAM is only a drop in the bucket toward his lifelong goal, which perhaps takes the sting out of his runner-up finish in Junes 2,975-mile RAAM.

Chew finished almost a full day behind winner Wolfgang Fasching, missing out on tying the most RAAM victories (three) held by Rob Kish.

Three victories would be nice, but Chew, a two-time winner (1996 and 1999), has a much bigger goal than the once-a-year ride across country hes aiming for 1 million lifetime bicycle miles.

Chew emphatically calls himself The Million Mile Man. Its a statement that at first glance sounds flamboyant, a bit like labeling oneself the Million Dollar Man, but hes got the numbers to back up his claim.

Since 1978, Chew has logged over 470,000 miles on two wheels. Each year, Chews mileage has gone up, to a high of 14,744 miles in 1999. Many of those miles have come in long-distance races RAAM is but one of the many ultra-marathon bike races he enters each year. Many more miles are logged during off-season training.

My mission is to log 1 million miles on a bicycle during my lifetime, says Chew, 38, showing a single-minded determination for such a mind-boggling goal. To breach the magical seventh figure, Chew expects to be riding well into older age.

"I hope to hit it by the time I'm 70 or 80, Chew matter-of-factly told a Pittsburgh News reporter last year.

The million-mile dream started in 1972.

Natives of Pittsburgh, the Chew family took part in the Midwest Double Century, a 200-mile bike tour. No one knew if the 10-year-old Chew would finish the ride, but he did, beating the 24-hour cut-off by 30 minutes aboard a battered Sears Free Spirit 10-speed. From there, it was on to more long-distance events.

Chew and a group of friends started the Dirty Dozen, a Pittsburgh ride that encompassed all the steepest hills in the city. The tough ride was made even harder by the unwritten standard that called for no lower than a 42x24 gear. Chew holds the record for winning the ride using the lowest gearing a truly leg-straining 42x23 in 1988.

Before he started racing RAAM, Chew was a free agent professional racer in the 1980s. He was good enough to compete in the CoreStates USPRO Championship, still the biggest one-day professional race in the country. He rode four times, finishing as high as 12th in 1985.

RAAM officially started in 1982, but Chew didnt enter the race until 1994. By then, he had already racked up a ton of miles.

Ironically, not all the miles have been recorded on a cycling odometer, because he started counting before there was such a thing. He started using a cycling computer in 1985.

I didn't keep track of yearly mileage totals till 1978, the year I pledged to ride 1 million miles in my lifetime, Chew says. Before the modern age of cycling computers I used to measure my mileage by setting a divider to one mile on the map scale, and counting off the distance on the map.

Chew proved to be a natural in his first RAAM, taking fourth place with a time of nine days, 29 minutes. The stunning first-time ride earned him RAAM rookie-of-the-year honors; it would prove to be the perfect event to keep him on track toward the million-mile figure.

"I've known Danny Chew for well over 20 years and I've rarely seen a more dedicated and committed athlete, said Davis Phinney, a two-time Tour de France stage winner and USPRO Champion in 1991. He is a mega-mileage cycling ambassador, who shows us all how far and fast it is possible to travel by bike. He turns what many would consider grueling endurance tests into exciting high speed races."

In 1993, Outside Magazine ranked RAAM as "the world's toughest race," beating out such noted tough-guy events as the Hawaii Ironman, Vendee Globe Around-the-World Sailing Race, Iditarod Sled Dog Race and U.S. Army Best Ranger Competition. RAAM is so tough, both mentally and physically that over half its entrants routinely fail to finish.

While racing the world's longest continuous, nonstop bicycle road race, Chew averages only three hours of sleep per night, fighting off every kind of body pain, the ticking clock, paranoia, and widely varying mood swings with the help of a dedicated support crew to help keep him motivated. Seven consecutive top-five finishes make him a star.

Besides cycling throughout the year, Chews winter training regimen includes climbing the stairs of the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning Building. But not just once. Chew set the record for the 36-story stair climb with 86 consecutive run-ups over a period of 12 hours.

While there have been times when Chew said he was weary of his "marriage to the bike," he was quick to admit, "I'm not quite ready for a divorce."

Chew will appear live on the Howard Stern Radio Show in New York City on July 27.

Part two: Is RAAM World's toughest race?

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