Logging the miles

JEWELL – In case you’re wondering, Gary Nagell bicycled some 6,628 miles in 2012, all of it in the south end of Hamilton County. He’s probably the guy you’ve noticed pedaling along Highway 175 on his way from his Jewell home to Stanhope and back. Or maybe you noticed him on his Stratford circuit or on his round trip to Webster City. You’ll see Nagell out most every day, for he says that the only weather that keeps him at home is ice on the roads or temperatures somewhere below the mid 30s.

This summer’s heat hasn’t been too kind to him, though. So far for the year he’s logged a mere 2,580 miles on his bike. But then that’s not bad for a 72-year-old who started his bicycling odyssey as a way “to fill my time.”

Nagell says that bicycling is something that he has always enjoyed. And it turns out that the active hobby has loved him back, offering not only physical benefits but also the opportunity to just think. “I think about how I’m doing,” he says during a break from the bike seat at the home he shares with Arlene, his wife of 41 years. “I think about the future and the past. There’s always lots to think about.”

And pedaling 25-30 miles daily at what he says is an average speed of 43 miles per hour offers the toned, compact senior plenty of opportunity to ponder life from a bike seat. “On a sweet day I enjoy every pedal,” he insists. “I always try to be friendly and have a good spirit out there. I give courtesy. I want to continue to have the same spirit that I do.”

That’s why the only highway he travels is state highway 175. “Forget (highway) 17,” he insists. “Those trucks have no respect for others at all.” You’ll also see him pedaling along county roads between Jewell, Stratford, and Kamrar. He doesn’t do bike trails, and RAGBRAI doesn’t interest him, either, because “it’s not a true challenge. Too many people. When I ride, I’m just responsible for me.”

Still, Iowa weather being what it is, there’s a challenge to putting in the miles that for him average 25 to 30 per day. Nagell is up for it, though. “In the heat I do it because you have to put yourself out there if you want to stay in shape. I never say ‘it’s just too hot today,'” he remarks. “And there have been times I have actually enjoyed 37-degree weather.”

Although in his younger days Nagell loved his cars and owned a small fleet, he’s downsized to just one automobile now. Instead, he owns 8 to 10 bikes, all of them clean and shiny, simple bikes that are probably more basic than expected for someone who puts in as many miles as the Jewell man.

The condition of his bikes probably reflects on Nagell’s career at Benson Motors in Ames, where he was employed for 38 years detailing cars until the dealership closed in October, 2009. He is also a veteran of four years in the Marines. He and Arlene have two grown daughters and five grandchildren.

He’s proud of that, too, along with the miles on a bike he has accumulated the past several years. In 2011 his mileage was 5,674.

“Another thing I’m proud of is being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Nagell points out, referring to being the lead singer for the band Surfinks, a popular local group in the 1960s. The band was inducted into the hall of fame in 2009.

Although the avid bicyclist has had both hips replaced at the VA Hospital in Des Moines, that certainly hasn’t slowed him down yet, and he doesn’t plan on that happening any time soon. “I’ll be doing this as long as the VA is in Des Moines,” Nagell says of how he sees his future. “I love it and what biking offers me-the chance to think. Not everyone my age is as lucky as I am.

“Health has been my reward in life for being active.”