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Cycling to better health

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CROSSLAKE – When Dennis Swan steps up onto his bike pedals, ready to ride, his mind is no longer focused on work or anything that may have been plaguing him that day.

Instead, it’s just him, his bike, the woods, occasional wildlife encounters and the country roads ahead that wrap around some of the Brainerd lakes area’s most beautiful lakes.

Oh, and that cup of coffee that’s waiting for him in the next town along his ride.

Sometimes his bicycle will take him from his Crosslake home to Lakes Latte in Pequot Lakes, Stonehouse Coffee and Roastery in Nisswa or Aunt Bea’s Pantry in Crosslake.

Swan, 50, has discovered that bicycling is not only a great mental release, but it has helped him lose and maintain a 50-pound weight loss during the past three years.

Swan, who moved from Omaha, Neb., to Crosslake a year ago with his wife, Connie, bought a bike and started riding back in 1999.

“I thought 10 miles was a long way,” Swan said with a smile.

By 2004 Swan began pushing himself a bit more, starting to ride about 15-20 miles on a ride. About five years ago he began going on Saturday group rides with some coworkers back in Omaha. It gave him the confidence that he could bike even further.

Biking also gave Swan the encouragement to lose weight. He didn’t follow a diet plan, but became more aware of what he was eating. He used a mobile app on his phone to track his food and exercise. It allowed him to calculate how many calories he could eat and balance that with how many calories he would burn while cycling.

During a six-month period the winter of 2010, Swan lost 40 pounds and has since maintained a 50-pound weight loss. He would exercise in the winter by riding his bike on a bicycle stand. He developed his own interval training program by exercising during his favorite shows.

For example, he would bike at a slower pace while watching a TV show. When the commercials came on, he would pedal as hard as he could until the commercial break was over. He’d often log 15-16 miles on the bike per one-hour show. He would burn anywhere from 500 to 1,000 calories, depending on whether it was a 30-minute or 60-minute television program.

“My goal was to try to ride for an hour,” he explained. “As long as you’re pushing yourself for an hour, you get a good workout.”

Since then Swan has been riding 30-40 miles at a stretch, usually on Saturdays and Sundays. The Swans’ move to Crosslake last year gave him new roadways to explore and new bike routes to create.

What he calls his Pequot loop is an approximately 35-mile route from Crosslake along County Road 16 to Pequot Lakes, then County Road 11 through Breezy Point and back to Crosslake on County Road 3.

His Whitefish loop is about a 40-mile route, taking him from County Road 66 in Crosslake to Highway 1, then County Road 15 to Jenkins then back to Crosslake along County Road 16. Sometimes he’ll add a trip to Pequot Lakes to make it a longer ride. This loop includes biking along all the lakes in the Whitefish Chain of Lakes except Cross, Daggett and Little Pine, he said.

His entire Whitefish Chain loop is about a 50-52-mile ride for him. This includes riding along the entire Whitefish Chain with an extra side trip to Fifty Lakes and back to Crosslake.

“It’s my quiet time,” Swan said, of biking. “Connie says I’m always in a better mood when I ride.”

While his longer bike rides are accomplished on the weekends, Swan tries to ride for an hour two to three evenings during the week.

Last year Swan logged in more than 3,000 road miles; this year he’s up to about 1,600 miles. His longest ride so far has been 72 miles, which took about 4-1/2 hours.

During September, Swan is planning to bike from Crosslake to Bemidji, his first 100-mile, or a century ride. He’ll mostly be riding on the Paul Bunyan Trail.

“It’s just one of those things on a cyclist’s bucket list,” Swan said, of a century ride. “Runners want to run a marathon; cyclists want to ride a century.”

Besides, Swan hasn’t ridden north of Pine River yet. He’s looking forward to the new scenery along the way. He is dedicating his first century ride to friends and family who have and are battling cancer.

Swan has had some interesting adventures on his bike. A few months ago he rode up behind a black bear sitting between the woods and the side of the road.

“You think, pedal faster and keep going,” Swan said with a laugh.

He’s startled a few birds in the ditches who have flown into his chest, flapping their wings trying to get away. Fortunately his multiple bike vs. bird collisions haven’t caused any crashes or injuries.

In August he had his first harrowing encounter with a vehicle. He was biking along County Road 3 in Fifty Lakes when a vehicle’s side mirror struck him in the shoulder. It pushed him off the road but he was able to keep control of the bike and stop. The driver didn’t stop.

“It was a close call,” he said.

Swan is in project management and business analysis for OptumRx, owned by United Health Group, and works out of his office in Crosslake. While he often travels to California for work, he will sometimes go biking there, too.

Swan said he would love to find other bicyclists who are interested in weekend group rides around the lakes.

■ JODIE TWEED, a former Brainerd Dispatch reporter, is a freelance writer living in Pequot Lakes with her husband, Nels Norquist, and three daughters.