It was roughly a 1-mile round trip, according to his GPS tracker. Afterward, by way of celebration, he took a selfie that showed him hoisting his carbon fiber road bike next to the sign that marked the Washington County border.
“I took out my cellphone and laid it in the grass,” he said. “It was a happy moment.”
That short ride was the final leg in Stille’s five-and-a half-year quest to ride on every single highway, county road and public street in Washington County. For the record, that’s 31 cities and townships, a total of 7,000 miles.
Kind of an obsession
He began in March 2014 with a ride on Lake Drive near his Woodbury home. He rode an average of 2-3 times per week.
“It really kind of became an obsession,” Stille, 57, said. “I didn’t know how long it would take me. The farther along I got, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I saw it as doing something nobody else has done.”
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As proof, he tracked his odyssey using a running and cycling app called Strava. The app automatically uploaded each ride from his GPS to the Strava website. The routes are overlaid on a composite “heat map” of Washington County.
The GPS also helped him find roads he might otherwise have missed, including those that linked new homes in Cottage Grove, Woodbury and other places.
‘”They’re constantly building new roads and new developments,” he said. “I can say that as of mid-September I’ve covered everything.”
In good company
Call him crazy, but he’s got company. For the past several years, more athletes have undertaken the challenge of riding or running on every road in cities from San Francisco to Amsterdam to Dubai. Those who go the distance post their heat maps on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #everysinglestreet.
“I rode on every road that I could legally go on that wasn’t private property,” he said. “I’ve done dirt roads, cul de sacs, everything that has a public street sign. It was like a game of Pacman.”
Some roads, such as interstates 494, 694 and 94, were off limits. But Stille managed to ride on U.S. Highway 61 and Highway 36.
Brian Lambertz, a coworker of Stille’s and a hardcore cyclist himself, was puzzled when he saw some of the routes Stille had mapped on the Strava website. They appeared to be random.
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Why, he asked himself, was the guy riding into cul de sacs, along frontage roads and up and down dead-end streets?
“It almost looked like he was getting lost,” Lambertz said. “Usually a ride is one continuous loop or an out-and-back route. I said, ‘Why are you tracing the roads?’ He said, ‘I’ve got a mission in mind.'”
That mission got more challenging the farther Stille moved away from his Woodbury home base. He’d ride an average of three days a week, doing 20-30 miles at a time.
“I could do most of southern Washington County from home,” he said. “This year, as I started going further north, it became harder. When I got north of Highway 36 I had to start driving to Forest Lake, Scandia and other places. You have to drive 20-30 miles just to get to where your route starts.”
Stille works full time as a systems analyst for Connexus Energy in Ramsey. He also plays drums for the rock/country band Flight Risk, so he didn’t have a lot of time to hit the road. But he didn’t want to wait another winter to finish his #everysinglestreet challenge. So he increased his rides from three to five per week.
“I don’t think he realized what he had taken on when he started this,” wife Mary Stille said. “But he’s very determined when he sets his mind to something.”
This is the guy, after all, who ran the Twin Cities Marathon after a total hip replacement in 2005. After that he took up cycling.
“It’s my gym,” he said. “I call it my cycle-therapy. You’re out there by yourself. It’s very peaceful, you get a lot of thinking done.
“I was always hoping I’d find a bag of money on the road, the stuff that flies out of the car” he joked. But his only booty was “a couple of nice tools and a Bass Pro Shop baby life vest.”
Dorian Grilley, executive director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, said he’d never heard of a cyclist doing such a thing but lauded Stille for his tenacity.
“I can relate as a cyclist because bicyclists should be able to ride where they want to go,” he said. “I believe that all destinations in Minnesota should be accessible by bicycle. Unfortunately some of them are less safe.”