I knew I had to do a story on Fraser Cunningham as soon as I met him. But timing was everything. It was the fall, and I figured I should wait until the coldest part of winter hit. So, when forecasters predicted subzero temperatures, I called Fraser. I shot video and wrote the story, then after it ran in The Enquirer and on Cincinnati.com, USA Today and the Associated Press picked it up.
When Fraser Cunningham stepped outside of his Cincinnati home Friday morning, it was still dark.
It was darn cold, too. His Garmin told him it was -10 degrees.
And, just like he's been doing every single morning at 5:30 for more than 18 months, the 56-year-old GE engineer hopped on his bicycle and rode to work.
It was so cold, that his eyes literally froze open during the trek.
"It's better than freezing shut," he said.
Cunningham hasn't missed a day commuting by bicycle since July 22, 2013. Hoping to beat out his personal best continuous streak of one year, eight-and-a-half months, he's been counting every day.
In fact, he's been counting every mile. But that's what you do anyway at a certain point in the ride, when you can no longer feel your toes.
Ten miles to go. Nine miles to go. Halfway there.
His route, which ducks onto side streets and between parking lots to avoid traffic, is 16.5 miles each way. Last year, Cunningham commuted 5,074 miles. This year, it should end up being more since his offices moved to West Chester, a bit further away.
"I think I like winter better than summer in Cincinnati. I can always stay warm in the cold by putting on more layers and pedaling harder."
On somewhat treacherous days, in slush and snow, Cunningham rides his fatbike – a heavier bicycle with tires so wide they look like they belong on a motorbike. In the summer, his ride takes about an hour. But in the winter, that can double to two.
"I'm going to characterize myself as a bit of a stubborn person."
The beard helps. You could say he's on a streak with that, too. It's a good 16 inches long, and hasn't been cut for a year and half. His wife, Kathy, calls it his "chinsulation."
But even with the beard and his layers of technical clothing and the special mitts already mounted to his bike so that his gloved hands can just slide into them, after a while, he says, you just can't stop the cold from creeping in.
"That's when I start thinking about my espresso."
In his mid-40s, those pesky thoughts about aging were getting louder. Choosing to bike to work seemed to be about choosing how to grow old. He's been at it now for 10 years.
But at this point, it's not a choice at all. "It's a lifestyle."
Missing a day because it's raining, or snowing, or windy, would be a slippery slope, he says. It has to be every day.
He and Kathy have two vehicles. She drives one, and the other – an SUV – is only used to haul their camper around.
"Getting in the car (to go to work) is an option, but only in an absolute, dire emergency."
When Cunningham makes it to the office, he peels off his layers. He de-ices in the bathroom sink, running hot water over the icicles that have frozen to his beard.
The next order of business is making a latte with a double-shot of espresso, using the machine that he keeps at his desk.
He's earned that much.
Cunningham says he will bike to work until the day comes that he works no more. And when he retires, he figures that he'll just bike somewhere else instead.