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Biking to school come rain, shine, snow, sleet, record-low temperatures

MAYVILLE-PORTLAND, N.D. -- Phil Murphy pedaled his bicycle through clouds of car exhaust from parents dropping their children off at school. "You're crazy, Mr. Murphy," was the assessment of two students heading to the front door on this sub-zero...

MAYVILLE-PORTLAND, N.D. -- Phil Murphy pedaled his bicycle through clouds of car exhaust from parents dropping their children off at school.

"You're crazy, Mr. Murphy," was the assessment of two students heading to the front door on this sub-zero morning.

Crazy? Probably. Determined? You bet.

Murphy, a 54-year-old social studies teacher at MayPort-C-G High School, is closing in on nine consecutive years of riding his bike the 1½ miles to work from his home on the west edge of Portland. Rain or shine, hot or frigid, daylight or dark, he has used pedal power for the three-mile round trip.

There have been a few exceptions when his bike was in disrepair or the snow on N.D. Highway 200 was too deep. On those days, he walked.

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The public's near-unanimous assessment of Murphy being loony is reserved for the winter days such as the ones we've experienced lately, like Monday. On his morning commute, it took several minutes to get the bike's frozen gears to engage -- and his own gears, too. He wore two layers of chopper gloves. And he gave his bomber hat a one-third turn to protect his face, meaning he navigated with one eye.

It qualified as a day for wearing a snowsuit "and looking like a kindergarten kid."

But there was at least one frostier ride. "I knew it was cold because I had to pedal down the hill," he said.

Familiar sight

After almost nine years, locals have grown accustomed to Murphy riding his bike on the highway -- or the bike path when it isn't covered with snow. But, on the frigid days, they still stop to offer him a ride.

"A lot of people think I've lost my driver's license," he said.

He hasn't. He could hop aboard two other family vehicles that make the identical trip every morning.

Instead, it's about keeping the streak alive. He's so dedicated that, on days when he needs to drive one of his three children to a medical appointment, he still rides the bike to work. Then he pedals home to pick up his car at lunch.

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His crusade began at a conference for teachers that promoted fitness. Unhappy that he was getting "rounder and rounder," he made his no-drive-to-work pledge.

"I am as surprised as anyone else that I'm still at it because I can't stick to a diet or a fitness program," he said. "It would take a pretty big reason for me to break my promise to myself now."

Laugh with him

Besides, he enjoys the harassment from others. Often told that his cheeks are red upon arriving at school, he replies, "Yeah, all four of them."

When asked if his bike tires are studded, he replies, "There's only one stud on this bike."

Who can argue? He's negotiated more than 4,500 miles making the three-mile round trip, which takes about 15 minutes a day via pedal power.

"That's a lot of miles," he said. "On the other hand, it's also only one oil change."

He has fond memories of his commutes, witnessing the likes of sunrises and sunsets, flocks of geese and even the crystalized air of winter.

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"It can be so idyllic or it can be so hellish," Murphy said. "I find it both ways."

There was no reason to ask where he cataloged Monday's ride.

Bakken reports on local news and writes a column. Reach him at 780-1125, (800) 477-6572 ext. 125 or rbakken@gfherald.com .

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