Keep on pedaling

Rachael Keating/Clinton Herald99-year-old Joe Flies rides his bike near his home in Fulton, Illinois, on Wednesday. Flies rides around 20 miles each day and has a goal to ride 3,500 miles by the end of the year.

FULTON, Ill. — Anytime in the morning hours, Fulton residents may see a three-wheel bicycle cruising through town.

"Here comes Joe with his bike, they say," said Joe Flies, the man with the bicycle.

He rides 20 miles a day, through town, to his favorite spots on the dike — favoring 15th Avenue for the low traffic. The 99-year-old thinks he has ridden more than 80,000 miles since taking on the hobby.

His first memory on a bike that he referred to was on an "old two-wheel" that his neighbor owned. But his riding quickly intensified once he was a teenager.

Joe worked on a farm somewhere near Kellogg, Minnesota when he was 16 — the same year he met his bride to-be. Every day he would bike the 17 miles to the farm and 17 miles home, until his boss bought him a 1937 Willys — a classic car for a classic man.

Joe is bright, in personality and in dress, and not much taller than 5 feet. He's a happy man, and describes himself as such.

When he was 53 — and a restauranteur in Savanna/Hanover — the doctors told him to exercise more.

"'You gotta get out and walk or bike, (something),'" Joe remembers the doctor saying. "I'll take the bike, I told him."

When he was 78, he said he really fell into biking. In his decades of riding, he's owned about four bikes that have taken his thousands of miles. Joe pointed over to two tricycles in his garage on 12th Street, on a Sun Trike that currently clocked in at 10,418 miles so far.

"It's the best bike I've ever owned," he said.

On his three-hour excursions, he thinks about his wife, children, what he will do for the rest of the day, and his dear friend — the person that "gives me something to live for" — Carrol Snider. Joe lives for Snider's two small dogs, but he is the father of four; a very proud father.

The success of his children, and the lives they lead, are important to Joe — and he'll tell you every memory with them as they come. He has a daughter and three sons, one of whom died at the age of 49.

He thinks as he rides. It starts off as a leisure ride, but usually quickly turns into Joe pushing himself to do more — Go another mile.

He's also been hit twice.

The most recent accident, several years ago, featured Joe passing through the four-way intersection near Fulton High School. He looked into his rearview and noticed the car behind him was coming up on him, and fast. In a successful attempt to save himself, he thrusted himself over the handlebars to lessen the impact.

"The bike went up in the air," he remembers. "I don't know if God was watching over me... but I just got a few scratches."

The man that has lived so many lives, got lucky and knew it when he realized he was on the concrete. The first time he was hit by a car, it was a drunk driver. From that accident, he got a 4-inch rod in his leg, pins in his knee, a new hip and three broken ribs. He was "off the bike for awhile," but not long.

Joe was in the army during World War II. When the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, he was on a ship, near coast, on his way to Japan. Not thinking he was going to make it home, Joe remembers holding onto a letter to be sent back to Betty Murphy, his beloved wife and only woman he's ever loved.

He remembers the bomb. He remembers the cloud. He remembers all the fellow soldiers that lost their lives, and he remembers the hate. Joe Flies, who can only be described with welcoming and warm adjectives, couldn't shake the hate between countries after the war — the racist tension that arose after. This is an inner battle he still fights with himself.

Joe is not a man to give up on much it would seem. Pushing himself away from those thoughts, clocking more miles on the bikes each year — and also, with a fan favorite, his cooking.

Joe has a coleslaw that nobody will get their hands on — even McDonald's no matter how hard they try. His garden wraps around his yellow garage, filled with fall vegetables.

"I have the best coleslaw," Joe said with a smile.