Eric Shekter was a relatively youthful 34 years old when he began a hobby that he insists helped him fend off an early death.
That was about the time when a colleague bought him a mountain bike as a token of appreciation for his help on the job while working as PBX telephone technician in Idaho. It wasn’t long before Shekter had an epiphany of sorts. His father, a dentist, died at 42 years old following a battle with cancer, and Shekter was convinced he was in line to follow a similar path.
With that in mind, Shekter decided he would dedicate himself to riding as a way to alter his perceived fate. The endeavor began with training for the Leadville (Colorado) 100, which includes a climb of more than 3,000 feet and a total elevation gain of 11,000 feet.
“As I got nearer to 42, I wanted to do something that was like the opposite of dying,” Shekter said.
After two years of preparation, Shekter completed the race. More importantly, he found a lifelong pursuit – one that he insists has extended his life by decades.
“I feel like every day now is a bonus for me,” said Shekter, who will turn 64 this month.
Over time, Shekter’s riding focus changed – primarily out of necessity – but his dedication has never waned. He doesn’t do the marathon races anymore, though he still logs plenty of distance. Ironically, a health issue called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) cut down on the mileage and the difficulty of his rides.
“So, my lungs are crap. I can’t breathe anymore,” Shekter said. “Even lately the last few months, they got me a prescription for an oxygen concentrator because I live (at) 7,600 feet in Tijeras.”
Remarkably, Shekter has managed to surpass another milestone in spite of that condition. On Aug. 11, he completed his 200th consecutive monthly ride from his home to the top of the Sandia Mountains and back.
“This ride to the Sandia Crest is more than 61 miles round trip, and it’s 7,000 feet of climbing. In doing that 200 times, some of the time I lived in Albuquerque, so the mileage is even more, but the climbing is the same. But altogether it’s over 12,000 miles in 200 trips to the crest and more than 1.4 million feet of climbing. That’s a lot,” Shekter said with a laugh.
Over the years, Shekter has endured inclement weather, extreme fatigue and even the occasional bear encounter, and the duration generally ranges between 6½-to-8 hours. Each experience is documented on his blog, cooldust.com.
These days, Shekter follows a dedicated regimen that includes 10 sets of 14 reps of both burpees and leg raises with sit-ups to keep him in shape for his rides. He’ll follow that routine 10 times per month to help maintain the fitness level needed to keep the streak alive. Shekter knows that his lungs won’t allow him to do the ride for much longer, however. He estimates that he has a few more runs to the top of the crest in the warmer fall months before he calls it quits for good.
“I’m gonna take it one month at a time after October and just see where I’m at,” he said. “I’m really sad. I’m happy to reach this point, but sad I know my body is telling me I have to shut it down.”
It’s an impressive feat in itself that Shekter has made it this far, but at this point, it’s almost become as essential as breathing. After completing his 200th ride, Shekter shared some thoughts on the achievement.
“As for why I do this? Perhaps it’s as simple as, because it’s there, and because I enjoy a good challenge,” he wrote via email.
“It makes me feel alive!”