This article first appeared as the Cyclist of the Month column in the April 2012 issue of the Cascade Courier, our membership newsletter.
Cyclist of the Month: KEITH BOARD
Occupation: Chief Editor, NW Cable News
Wheels: Bianchi Coast to Coast bicycle; Nimbus commuter unicycle
Keith Board has ridden a unicycle since 1974. But as it turns out, his story begins in 2006, on two wheels, not one.
The first time Keith pedaled the two miles between King Street Station and King 5’s offices on Dexter St., where he worked, he wasn’t sure he would make it. “Sweat was pouring off of me,” he said. “I wanted to vomit. I thought, ‘I’m only 43 years old. I’ve got to fix this.’”
He had been given an Orca pass by his workplace to commute by train and bus from his home in Buckley, Wash., but it was slow and inconvenient. Then, on Feb. 22, 2006, the man sitting next to him on the bus wet himself.
It was the final straw. “I told my wife, ‘I’m done with the bus.’” From there, it was a numbers game. Driving to work would cost the family $18 per day. He weighed 255 pounds. “I bought a bike for $45, and my life changed dramatically,” he said.
Within months, he had lost 15 pounds. Seeing Keith’s transformation, his wife decided to join him. “I told her, ‘You’re going to have to catch up.’”
The first bike ride they went on together was only five miles long, and her experience was similar to what his had been: she lay on the couch recovering for hours afterward.
Slowly but surely, they increased their mileage – and a year after they started riding together, in 2007, they pedaled all 206 miles of the Group Health STP. “Riding together helped us solve family problems,” he told me. “I also lost 75 pounds.”
He added, jovially, “I’ve learned not to say how much my wife has lost. So let’s just say that she lost weight, too.”
Cascade rides have been at the center of their journey together. Keith also rode Chilly Hilly and High Pass Challenge in 2007. “That first HPC was miserable,” he said. But he finished in seven hours and 57 minutes – just in time to receive a gold medal. “They might as well have handed me treasure from King Tut,” he said.
In 2008, he rode HPC with his youngest son, Kasey, who was just 13 years old at the time. In 2009, he and his older son, Jake, rode the STP in one day, on Jake’s 17th birthday.
As a family, they’ve embraced bicycling for transportation as well as recreation. “We’re like born-again Christians,” he said. “We’ve had this life-changing experience, and we’re thinking, ‘How could we have missed out on this for so long?’”
Bicycling has not only increased their quality of life – it has also become a “family financial decision.” “We carpool in our Prius to the train station.” he said. With a chuckle, he added, “That’s how I justify my immorally-priced bicycles.”
And it’s true, there are some pretty expensive bikes in Keith’s garage. His first carbon-fiber bicycle was a Bianchi, which he bought for $2,700 before his first Chilly Hilly. It was stolen shortly thereafter, and Keith couldn’t afford another.
“I called my mom, and she told me to go to a bike shop and buy a replacement, and that she would pay for it.” She didn’t want anything to stand between Keith and the changes he was making.
“I’ve had wonderful support from the women in my life to keep going,” he said.
On Valentine’s Day this year, with support from both those women, he brought home the most recent addition to his fleet: a unicycle. For the next phase of his journey, he’ll be dropping the so-called “training wheel.”
Returning to unicycling has meant a return to childhood joy for Keith. “I get to have recess,” he told me. “It is so much fun, my 20 minutes on a unicycle every day.”
His new unicycle has a 36-inch wheel, handlebars and hydraulic brakes, making it easier for him to travel longer distances. It also garners quite a lot of attention. But, he says, “I’m used to being stared at because I ride a unicycle.”
It’s a challenge being one of only a few people who ride a unicycle in the city, since you have to straddle the worlds of bicyclists and pedestrians. “I appreciate the unicycle ramps the city has put in on the sidewalks,” he joked. “I’ve noticed that some of our friends in four-wheeled vehicles are using them also.”
“People always say ‘what happened to your other wheel?’ thinking it’s the first time I’ve heard that one. I like to say, ‘I took my training wheel off, you should try it,’” he said.
Keith embraces these interactions. He’s also committed to being a good steward for bicyclists and unicyclists alike, and he’s decided that he’s going to share his new unicycle whenever he can. “I’m going to wreck it and run it into the ground and buy a new one, because I want to share what it’s brought to me,” he said.
He’ll be turning 50 next September, and he’s thinking about training to ride the STP on a unicycle, just to see whether he can do it. Though, he said, “I might find out before I actually do it.”
Whether on wheel or two, on steel or carbon-fiber, reclined or upright, he’s going to keep riding. “I’m going to do this for as long as I can, even if I have to ride one of those funny-looking bicycles with a seat close to the ground,” he said.
“People ask me why I ride so much. I tell them there’s a little guy with a pitchfork and horns that’s chasing me,” he said. “I’ve found salvation on the seat of a bike.”