COVINGTON, Ga. — It’s a Friday afternoon in September and Jeremy Van Dyke is sprinting down a path on his bicycle.
He reaches the bottom of a hill and stops to check his watch. He sees he shaved a few seconds off his time, prompting a ride to the top for another attempt. He races back down the strip of concrete.
Even his behavior is cyclical.
Van Dyke finds himself on Cricket Frog Trail on this particular Friday afternoon for a scheduled photo shoot with The Covington News following a milestone achievement. But right now, he’s not thinking about getting his picture taken for the newspaper. In fact, he’s not thinking about much of anything other than competing against himself to beat his personal record on that slope.
It’s not that he doesn’t value other things in life; when Van Dyke mounts his bicycle, he simply allows everything else to melt away. The lens through which he sees the world suddenly shrinks to the size of the reflective sunglasses he’s wearing as his wheels spin along the pavement.
This is his escape.
On Aug. 22, Van Dyke set out from his house on his black and white Trek Bontrager at 5:30 p.m. with the hopes of accomplishing a 24-hour triple century. In a feat of notable strength and endurance, he pulled it off. He pedaled 309.3 miles, with 11,108 feet of elevation climbing, in 23 hours and 58 minutes.
Van Dyke, a member of the Covington-Conyers Cycling Club, shared the details of his journey with his fellow club members. But, while proud of his accomplishment, he exuded humility — almost to a fault. And in the weeks that followed, he repeatedly downplayed the significance of what he did.
Why? You don’t have to spend much time around Van Dyke to learn the answer.
No matter how many miles he logs, he will always prioritize the way cycling makes him feel over what he’s accomplished on a bike. It’s never been about shattering world records or garnering fame. So, his response when asked by the media about the ride comes naturally.
“I’m just out here riding my bike,” he says with a sheepish grin.
Van Dyke chuckles after the statement, and admits that it’s been slightly rehearsed. That’s his go-to answer for anyone who asks him about his cycling excursions.
“People are like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you’ve done that!’ I tell them I’m just out here riding my bike. And if it encourages other people to get out, move around, get active, that’s all I can hope for,” he said. “I think cycling’s an excellent way to keep mental health and physical health on the up and up, so I try to encourage that whenever I can.”
The sport demands a certain level of fitness, but Van Dyke has no interest in squeezing into the cookie-cutter mold of the stereotypical cyclist. Standing at 6 feet, 4 inches, and weighing 260 pounds, he’s trending more toward Brian Urlacher than Eddy Merckx. He’s OK with that.
Van Dyke has clocked more than 7,300 miles on his Trek bike in 2020. He’s completed 11 centuries, which are rides of at least 100 miles; five double-metrics, approximated at 124 miles apiece; and one double century, a 200-mile excursion; in addition to his recent 300-mile journey.
His physique may not be conducive with most who’ve accomplished what he’s done on a bike, but he’s proven himself to be the exception to the standard.
“Most people look at me and say, ‘You did what?’ Van Dyke said with a laugh, recalling countless anecdotes of peers who were misled by his size and structure.
I was inclined to ask the same thing.
He explained to me, as he does to others who inquire about his 24-hour triple century, that the key is pacing. If you take the ride one mile at a time, then everything begins to slow down.
“It’s just like walking,” he said. “You can go out there and walk for a long time, but if you start running, you’re gonna wear down quicker. The biggest thing is to go out there and find that pace that you can hold.”
As he biked a spider-webbed route that took him from Newborn up to Good Hope, stretching as far west as Social Circle and far east as Madison, Van Dyke maintained a pace of roughly 16.5 miles per hour.
He spent 17 hours, four minutes and 50 seconds of his 23-hour, 58-minute adventure on the back of his bicycle. Roughly one hour was dedicated to dozing off. The other five hours consisted of breaks for food, hydration and conversation with his wife — and one-woman support group — Annie.
Spending 17 hours on a bike involves excess amounts of isolation, but that part has never bothered Van Dyke. He’s been riding for more than two decades now, and has learned to utilize his alone time to reach maximum zen.
“Cycling is like my Narnia. You get out there and you just kind of zone out,” he said, in reference to the fictional land in C.S. Lewis’ books. “I’ve gone out there and ridden for five hours, and it feels like I’ve been gone 30 minutes. I don’t know if that’s unique to me, or just how it works, but that’s how I always feel.”
Van Dyke learned to ride a bicycle when he was 14 years old. He turned 36 earlier this month. Fittingly, he celebrated by going on a 36-mile bike ride with Annie, with a hearty meal sandwiched in the middle.
Once the photo shoot is over, Van Dyke expresses his gratitude for the opportunity. He chats with Annie before sliding his sunglasses back onto his face and grappling his bike. He then turns his back and begins climbing up the hill.
The cycle continues.