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Global goal: East Grand Forks woman bicycles the equivalent of earth's circumference

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Dozens of Naomi Dunavan's friends cheer her on as she completes mile number 24,901 on the Greenway in East Grand Forks. Accompanying her on the final leg of the trip is Nathan Mertens. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 3
Nichole Shotwell, bike manager at Scheels, presents Naomi Dunavan with a certificate and merchandise at a celebration following Dunavan's completion of riding her bicycle 24,901 miles on the Greenway trails since 2011. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald3 / 3

Naomi Dunavan of East Grand Forks has ridden her bicycle around the world—well, the equivalent distance anyway—all without leaving town.

Dunavan reached her goal of 24,901 miles recently on a bike path that's become very familiar to her, behind the VFW Arena in East Grand Forks.

Crossing the makeshift finish line, she was greeted with cheers and applause from friends who had gathered to celebrate the milestone with her.

Reaching the goal she set about eight years ago "is very rewarding—to think, 24,901 miles, I can't hardly believe it myself," Dunavan said.

"It's a big accomplishment for me; it means a lot to me. And I did it all on the bike paths and streets of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks—these beautiful bike paths."

When she began bike-riding eight years ago, she didn't start out to try to reach that goal, she said. "It just sort of happened."

Back in 2010, while her son, Dean, was home for a visit home, "he said, 'we're going to get your bike down and you're going to ride,' " Naomi remembered.

"On my first ride, I came over that hill and plop," she said Tuesday, pointing to the rise she had just biked over. "I fell on the grass; I didn't get hurt."

Took years to achieve

Dunavan started recording her miles on bike in 2010.

She set her round-the-world-in-miles goal a few years ago, after she mentioned to her son Troy how many miles she'd ridden.

"He said, 'Isn't that about half of the earth's circumference?' " she said.

Sure enough, it was.

Since then, she's kept careful records.

"Everything is written down. It's all very accurate, starting from '10 on up," she said. "I've done the math a million times."

To reach her goal, Dunavan said, "I try to do 25 miles a day. Sometimes, on the weekend, I'll do 12 on Saturday and 13 on Sunday."

On hot days, she's up and out of the house at 6 a.m. to cycle the first 15 miles. Then it's home for breakfast with her husband, Jim, and after sending him off to work, she's back out for 10 more miles.

Dunavan bikes nearly year-round, she said. "I've ridden in January; I've ridden in December."

Her bike's tires "are bigger, so I don't mind going on a little bit of snow."

She aims to prove to "our Tennessee relatives—who think we live in the tundra—that we can ride very month of the year," she said.

But it hasn't always been smooth cycling.

"I've gone down in the mud; I've gone down in the rain. I've been bitten by a dog and dive-bombed by a bird," she said.

She's had equipment problems, such as "a big bulge in the front tire, so that messed up my odometer," she said.

She started out with a used Schwinn, purchased for $25 in the late 1960s.

That bike was retired because "the banana seat was starting to get to me," she said.

"Now I have a Trek 2, 2012 model, that my husband bought for me."

Both bikes are "cruisers," she said. "They have no gears. But they are not tougher to ride, not for me."

Safety first

For the first five years, Dunavan didn't wear a helmet on her daily excursions.

"My family was really after me" to wear one, she said.

Then a friend, Pat Guthmiller, who was then working as nurse at Altru Health System, said, "You know, Naomi, a helmet is much more becoming than a brain injury," said Dunavan, who immediately heeded her advice.

"The very next week, I went down and hit my head on James Avenue."

Dunavan set and reached her goal, not so she could submit it to any organization for recognition, but "for my own satisfaction," she said.

The effect on her health has been significant, said Dunavan, 76.

"Riding bike has kept me really healthy—and I don't want to let loose of that."

Another benefit is "that my family is really proud of me," she said.

And there have other soul-satisfying moments.

"I've seen a lot of things," she said. "I've seen muskrats and huge turtle that must've come up from the river."

"I've had eagles fly with me."


When she crossed the finish line Tuesday, she received a few floral bouquets and lots of congratulations.

And a few other surprises.

Mark Dragich, recreation supervisor with the East Grand Forks Parks and Recreation Department, announced that a sign, commemorating Dunavan's achievement, will be placed on the bike path.

Nichole Shotwell, bike manager of Scheels sporting goods store, presented her with a certificate for two free annual bike tune-ups at the store, "to help keep you on the road," she said.

Not satisfied to rest on her laurels, Dunavan said she has set her sights on another goal.

"I'm thinking about riding the circumference of the moon, 6,786 miles," she said. "I might start today."

Dunavan's biking miles by year

2010: 2,040

2011: 2,485

2012: 3,000

2013: 3,035

2014: 3,120

2015: 3,220

2016: 3,230

2017: 3,005

2018: 1,766