When his weight tipped the scales at 560 pounds and his marriage collapsed last summer, Indiana-based artist Eric Hites knew something had to change. He settled on pursuing one drastic measure that would prove to his wife he could take his health seriously: riding his bike across the country to lose weight.
Hites’ goal quickly went viral on Facebook—and after a few weeks on the road, his wife was so impressed by his commitment to making a lifestyle change that his newfound riding obsession actually saved their marriage.
Many thought he’d quit after getting some publicity, but Hites is still riding five months later. We caught up with Hites—currently in Tallahassee, Florida—before his daily ride to learn about what keeps him going.
Bicycling: How did you end up in Florida after starting on Martha’s Vineyard?
Eric Hites: We got that first big freeze when I was in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. All my supporters kept saying to go south, and so we decided to get to the coast of Florida and take the Southern-tier route to have better weather. But it’s still been stormy and rainy, warm and muggy!
Did you expect your story to garner so much attention?
I was so surprised. I was trying to get a bit of press so I could write a book after and my agent would be able to sell it a bit better, but I never expected this much attention at all. And now, my wife is going to help write the book with me!
Does that mean your marriage is back on track?
Absolutely. I got her back within the first month of riding, before it ever went viral. When she found out that I was actually doing what I said I would do, it won her over.
What made you decide to use the bike to get across the country rather than walking or running?
I couldn’t even walk from the car into Wal-Mart without needing a break. It hurt my feet, hurt my legs, and I was getting so heavy, I was getting scared. I knew I had to follow through with something to make a big change. I always thought a cross-country trip would be cool, to do it and write a book about it. I always thought I would drive it but I thought, if I ride from the East to West Coast, I’m bound to lose weight and get healthier—and prove to my wife that I would fight, and that I love her. I figured I might as well give it a shot!
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How many miles have you logged so far?
I have no idea! I don’t really keep track. It’s not about the miles—a lot of people don’t get that. It’s about the journey. But when I look at the first month of riding, I could do that mileage in a week now!
What does a day look like for you?
I get up and pack my stuff back in my trailer—everything explodes after you get where you’re staying for the night. Sometimes I stay in a hotel, but a lot of the time, I camp, just behind churches and stuff. The weather hasn’t been great, and neither have the places to camp, but I’m still camping a lot. Then I have some kind of protein-heavy breakfast and head out.
I have to take a lot of breaks throughout the day—I pedal as long as I can, then take a quick break, but on those breaks, I’m moving forward, just moving really slowly. I’ll walk—as long as I stay away from benches. I stay moving; benches are evil!
What are the physical changes you’ve seen so far?
Last time I weighed in, I’d lost around 80 pounds, but that was a while ago. So I might be plateaued, but I think I’m losing more. Where I was big and solid before, now I’m big and kind of jiggly! It’s hard to get that across on the Internet. People don’t know what I’m talking about, but I jiggle now.
Heading into 2016, do you have any new resolutions?
Head West, that’s the main goal. Keep moving forward!
When would you like to be done?
We’ve talked about May, but I’m hoping it’s a lot quicker. I’m picking up miles—but I have my trailer to pull and the wind has been brutal.
What advice would you give other big guys who want to start riding?
Get a good bike and good wheels if possible. Honestly, though, just get out there and ride whatever bicycle you can get your hands on. You can find a bike for $20 or $30 on Craigslist and just keep running those until they break and get new ones, and keep going with that as you lose weight. Eventually you’ll get there. If you can afford a good one in the beginning, great. But use what you can get and start moving forward.
Start losing the weight, start feeling better. Pick a spot in the distance and don’t stop pedaling or pushing the bike until you get there. Then, take a break, and pick another spot. It could be 50 feet away. That’s how it was for me in the beginning: I’d pedal for 30 seconds and need a break, but I did that over and over again and got to where I am now.
Want to commit to riding more, but not ready for a cross-country trip? Join our 21-Day #RideStreak Challenge for daily motivation, training tips, and life hacks to help you get on the bike consistently.