CALEDONIA — When Dick Iselin started biking, it was just a way to get out and exercise.
It escalated quickly. By the time he finished his final trip in October, Iselin had biked some 187,000 miles all over the United States.
“He used to be a jogger and then his knees didn’t work so well,” explained his wife, Marilyn.
“He decided to take up biking and he was hooked.”
Iselin, 85, died Nov. 14 after a battle with blood cancer. Funeral services were held earlier this month.
Iselin began bicycling around the time of his 1991 retirement from a 37-year career at Wisconsin Natural Gas Company, which later became part of We Energies.
Over the next two decades, a ritual developed: Iselin left the house about 6 a.m. and traveled around the area, meeting old friends and making new ones, often returning by lunch.
Iselin took meticulous notes on his rides in a journal, tracking how many miles he did each day and other highlights, like the weather.
He rode about 9,000 to 10,000 miles a year. Iselin slowed down a little in his final months, but not much — he still made his way around the neighborhood for 10 miles or so, with his last ride coming Oct. 6. If the weather was bad, he’d put his bike on a stand and pedal stationary.
The bike rides served as exercises that were at once physical, mental and social.
“He just thoroughly enjoyed it,” Marilyn said.
One of his regular stops was at Racine Cyclery, 4615 Washington Ave., where he came in for bicycle tweaks and to shoot the breeze.
“He was a welcome presence,” said former owner Perry Oksiuta, whose family closed the shop last year after almost 60 years in business. “When he’d come in, it made your day not so much work. He was a friendly guy, always willing to share his stories on his bike. We’d talk about things other than bikes, too — he was one of those types of guys.”
Iselin’s travels went far beyond Racine.
With a few dozen others, Iselin took a trip across America in 1998. The ride started with his back wheel in the Pacific Ocean in southern California and ended in Georgia with his front wheel in the Atlantic Ocean.
He sent Marilyn postcards each day and took plenty of photos — all of which are carefully kept in albums in their Caledonia home.
Other rides took Iselin from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, and on the Natchez Trace, from Nashville to Natchez, Miss. He biked across Minnesota and Wisconsin countless times.
The friendships he made on those trips lasted the rest of his life.
“He met so many people and he made many friends,” Marilyn said.
To friends and family, Iselin was known as a man who always lent a helping hand. Mark Hertzberg, who regularly joined Iselin on his morning rides, said Iselin for years helped chaperone a Walden III Middle School bike trip to the Richard Bong State Recreation Area in Brighton, even though he was not affiliated with the school.
“He had no connection to the school other than our friendship, but he did this year after year,” said Hertzberg, a former Journal Times photographer. “Some years he would bike out with the kids to Bong, ride back home, and then by 7 the next morning when we were breaking camp, he’d have ridden back out there to help the kids bike back to school.”
Marilyn and Dick Iselin were married 63 years, with four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Iselin served in the Korean War as a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant, operating radios from Greenland. He was interred with full military honors at Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Dover.
In September, Iselin went to Washington, D.C., as part of an Honor Flight and was met by a large cheering crowd when he got back.
While they didn’t know it at the time, it turned out to be a fitting end to a great life.
“That was his last hurrah,” Marilyn said. “That was just the icing on the cake.”