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Friday, May 20, 2011

More Inspiration...

From the Missoulian:

MISSOULA, Mont. - Lu Haas didn't get the message that school was canceled one day last winter after a frigid, bitter snowstorm blasted the Missoula Valley.

So as usual, he arrived at Cold Springs Elementary, expecting to lead the daily lessons for his fifth-graders, just as he'd done every day for the past 26 years.

"Well, then I looked at my phone and there were two calls from Webb," said Haas, referring to his principal Webb Harrington. "She said, Lu, school's been canceled.' "

It's a long commute back to Haas' home halfway up the Rattlesnake - 6 1/2 miles through town. But the teacher was about to reverse course when his boss told him to stay put.

"She was concerned about my safety," said the 67-year-old Haas, who is retiring after the school year. "So she had her husband come pick me up."

Harrington probably figured that riding a bike through the dark in the aftermath of the worst winter storm of the year was not such a good idea.

Haas accepted the ride, but it was a rare sight to see him in the interior of a vehicle on the way home from school. Only a couple of dozen times over his 26 years at Cold Springs had he ever arrived at or left his school in motorized transportation.

For all those years, and even the 17 years prior when he taught in Berkeley, Calif., Lu Haas has been a committed two-wheel teacher.

Over his years in Missoula, Haas has ridden his bike to and from school to the tune of more than 60,000 miles, logging a minimum of 13 miles a day in the commute. That's more than twice around the globe at the equator.

Think globally, bike locally?

Well, maybe. But asked about his motive, Haas mentioned neither the environment nor fitness, though he believes in maintaining both.


He did, however, mention fishing poles.

A teacher's salary isn't exactly exorbitant, so Haas keeps a pretty tight budget. But 60,000 miles in a car with decent gas mileage, at today's gas prices, works out to more than $11,000.
"So when I think about getting a new fishing rod, I say, Hell yeah, I can afford it,' " said the avid fisherman.

Even on those days when Haas opted not to bike, it wasn't because he couldn't handle the weather.
It's because his bike couldn't.

"You can't bike through a foot of snow," he said. "You just can't do it."

But up to half a foot of snow is doable. And decked out with a helmet, warm gear and a mask, so is pretty much any temperature - except maybe 20 below or colder.

"I think I rode once at 15 below," he said. "And I figured that's about my limit."

Besides a few scary moments skidding out of control on ice or snow, Haas has had no real trouble getting across town and back in those years.

"I've been down a couple of times," he said. "But you probably get banged up more playing ice hockey."

Haas always uses both a bike light and a helmet light - especially because he leaves home around 6:30 a.m., so most of the year he's in the dark.

Biking, especially after the work day, is "almost a Zen experience" that allows Haas to steer this thoughts toward his students, lesson plans and other things instead of having to concentrate on driving - which he considers more work.

"If you bike to work, you're done with your job when you get on the bike," he said. "But if you drive to work, you're not done until you get home."

In June, Haas will take his last ride to Cold Springs - at least as a teacher.

An avid cyclist outside of his commute, though, he'll continue to ride every day.

"I'm going to have to get up and make sure I get some sort of ride in," he said.

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