Celebrating each year one mile at a time
A trail ride that started as a lark in 1995 has turned into an annual, family tradition spanning nearly two decades for Logan County's Ken Doss, his sons Alan and Jeff, and dozens of friends.
For Doss' 62nd birthday, just after his retirement from the coal industry, his sons suggested the three of them ride their bicycles 62 miles on the Greenbrier River Trail.
"It was on a whim," said Alan Doss. "I don't even know whose idea it was, but nobody realized it would turn into 18 years."
"We didn't ride bikes that much," he continued. "We just thought, 'let's go out and ride 62 miles.'"
Every year since, on the Saturday closest to Ken's August 7 birthday, his family and friends have gathered for the ride, adding a mile for each year.
"I'm going to try to do it until I'm 80," said Ken. "That's my goal. Right now, I'm fine. There's nothing the matter with me now, but it gets harder every year."
His secret to staying in shape for each year's trek?
"Just ride," he said.
The Greenbrier River Trail hasn't always been the home trail for the ride. Some years the ride moved to the New River Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail. But Ken said the Pocahontas County rail trail is his favorite.
"We love the river," said Ken. "All our people are up here, and we just enjoy it. It's a great place to come to. We're true West Virginian's-we just love West Virginia."
And Doss has deep Pocahontas County roots; his grandfather owned the farm that is now home to the Gesundheit! Institute. The Dorman side of his family ran the post office at Beard.
As the family decided to make the ride in subsequent years, just a handful of people joined in the trek, said Alan. But as word spread of what his father was doing, more riders have joined in the event. Some years, the Dosses have been joined by as many as 30 fellow cyclists.
The trek is non-competitive, and cyclists ride as much as they want while keeping it fun for themselves.
"Now we have a group of people that we have sort of randomly met-people we might only see once a year," said Alan. "They're not serious riders. They're just average people who suffer through seven or eight hours."
"About 12 to 15 will do the whole ride," he added. "Then about eight or 10 will break it off and do 50 miles. Then there's another four or five that do 20 or 30 miles."
Some complete the ride in less than five hours, others take a more leisurely eight-hour pace, said Alan.
Just to see how fast they could ride, Alan and his brother have made the 70-plus mile ride in four hours and 47 minutes, averaging around 17 miles per hour on the mostly-level rail trail.
Ken's best time was 5:17 in 2007, when he was 74.
Ken himself is no stranger to covering long distances under his own power. Well before that first birthday ride in 1995, he competed in marathon and 100-mile runs on a regular basis. His running even took him to the most grueling 100-miler, Utah's Wasatch Front 100 Endurance Run. As running took its toll on his knees, Doss switched to cycling and hiking. Some of his favorite hiking trails are in Watoga State Park.
As a young boy, Ken said, he smoked cigarettes. That changed in 1965, when he decided he wanted to compete in a race.
"I used to play a little pick-up basketball." he said. "We always had a goal in the yard. It was in the days they had the Charleston Distance Run. One of my neighbors was playing with me, and I said, 'boy, I'd like to run that sometime.' He said, 'you couldn't run that.' So, I did."
Doss would continue to run the Charleston Distance Run for the next decade.
"The best thing I'd ever done was quit smoking," he said.
"I never fished a day in my life," added Ken. "I don't hunt. I won't kill a snake. This is what I like to do. It's a competition against yourself."
Ken said he thinks more people in the Mountain State should follow suit and reverse the trend of negative health and obesity statistics
"West Virginians can take better care of themselves," he said. "You can help yourself a lot by staying active."
As he gets ready for his 79-mile ride for his 79th birthday this August, Ken Doss and his sons are an example of just how much a person can do for his own health-and have fun in the process.