CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Wyoming County clerk David "Bugs" Stover rode his mountain bike about 85 miles this weekend, from Mullens to Charleston, to attend the West Virginia Association of Counties' "Healthy Counties" conference that starts Monday.
"I'm 57 years old, carrying a bunch of extra pounds, but I'm still plugging away and enjoying myself," he said. "I'm coming to a Healthy Counties conference, so why not come in a healthy way?"
He covered the hard part of his trip Friday. Pedaling up a steep Wyoming County mountainside on narrow, winding Route 54, he sometimes had the road to himself, sometimes not. Often he hugged the edge as logging trucks, FedEx trucks, coal trucks and SUVs whizzed by.
"The law says I have the right to occupy the lane, same road, same rights, but I'm not crazy, and I'm not unreasonable," he said. "I let cars and trucks go by in a friendly way. But that often makes it hard to ride."
Off the hard road, he has to contend with rocks, holes and the ditch and loses uphill momentum. "A professional mountain biker might not be bothered by that, but I'm just a middle-aged guy trying to stay fit," he said.
There's a point to be made here, he said. "As we try to encourage West Virginians like me to get more healthy and fit, to fight our obesity epidemic, biking is a natural possibility. It's a good way to get around every day. It's cheap. It keeps you in shape. The ride's often beautiful. And we can encourage that as we plan roads."
If West Virginia is to lower its high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and obesity numbers, he said, "we've got to think ahead in many areas of life, including roadways." He knows the state is creating a state biking plan, but so far, not much planned for the coalfields. In many areas, he knows, bikers can avoid roads entirely by riding on former railroad beds. West Virginia now has more than 375 miles of rail trails, and it's possible, for instance, to bike from Parkersburg to Clarksburg or Elkins to Parsons on them. "We're hoping to get something like that in the coalfields," he said, "but railroads are tough to negotiate with."
"A few years back, Joe Manchin had the Department of Transportation pave roads from guardrail to guardrail. That was great for bikes," he said. "If they keep doing that, it could cure 80 percent of the biking problems in the state.
"I don't know if Manchin was thinking about bikes when he did it, but now Wyoming County has 18 beautiful miles between Pineville and Twin Falls State Park that are safe to bike."
Stover rode those 18 miles daily for months earlier this year while working on a Twin Falls project. He has five heart stents, "and I'm knocking on the door of diabetes, so I've changed my lifestyle," he said. "I spent 30 years being around 140 pounds, then spent the last 27 trying to get under 200 pounds after I maxed out at 273."
"My doctors told me, 'You have heart trouble. The more you exercise, the better it is. It will keep you from getting diabetes. But don't be an idiot. Pace yourself.' So I take frequent breaks as I ride."
A teacher for 28 years and a local historian, volunteer, and storyteller, he is the first Republican to be elected to Wyoming County public office in 30 years. "Republican or Democrat, we have to be concerned about this epidemic of weight and diabetes," he said. "As an elected official, I try to set an example. People see me struggle with my weight. They see me riding my bike."
Stover is no stranger to expressing himself by walking or biking. Last year, he protested the Legislature's redistricting plan by walking to Charleston. He walked from Wyoming County to Washington to protest the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty. "Bad for coal," he said.