By Doug Snover
To Ralph Heins, Lance Armstrong and the professional bicycle racers at the highest level of the sport are not merely athletes and heroes. They are supermen.
You could say the same about Heins.
At an age when many folks are reluctant to drive even their air-conditioned automobiles long distances on unfamiliar roads, Heins recently saddled up his bike to attempt a cross-country ride to Boston.
As it turned out, he made it as far as Missouri, almost halfway to his destination--which is a heck of lot farther than most of us would have gone pedaling 80 to 100 miles per day on a bottom that was so bruised it looked like “the ends of two purple watermelons,” according to the man himself.
Listen to this: Ten days before the start of his cross-country adventure, Heins was pedaling near Paradise Valley Mall in the north Valley when he was T-boned by a car in a crosswalk. The crash totaled his bicycle and inflicted some serious bruising on his posterior.
“It just picked me up and deposited me on my rear end,” he said. “You can’t believe how black and blue you can get!”
Undaunted, Heins outfitted a backup bicycle and joined the cross-country tour in Flagstaff.
“He cycled four hours the first day by getting off his bike every 15 minutes and jumping up and down in pain,” according to his wife, Ann.
Heins pressed on, riding six to eight hours a day, continually losing ground to the more-healthy riders on the tour until he finally packed it in when he reached St. Joseph, Mo.
“It was painful enough that I decided it wasn’t fun,” he said.
Oh, in case you wondered, Heins will be 74 in October.
Heins rides a recumbent bicycle, one of those laid-back models in which the rider leans back, not forward as in a regular bike. The pedals are toward the front of the bicycle, not directly beneath the rider, as in a normal bike.
He is a big fan of the unusual riding style.
“On a normal bike, you’re sitting on a small saddle, which hurts your butt; you’re bent over, which hurts your back; your weight is on your arms, which hurts your wrists and elbows, and you have to look up, which hurts your neck,” he said.
Bicycling is only one of Ralph Heins’ adventures, however. He was an Arizona Senior Olympics racquetball champion several times in the 1990s, for example.
“I’ve been kind of an athlete in my older time,” he said.
When Wrangler News reached him on his cell phone, Heins was in California, supervising the refitting of a 1952 Chris-Craft wood boat he and Ann recently purchased to use as their California “condo.”
The 55-foot boat sleeps eight. It is being fitted with imported Cambodian rosewood to give it a nice, homey touch.
Home is where you make it for the Heinses, it seems.
At one point in the late 1980s, home was a 50-foot catamaran sailboat in the southern Caribbean, primarily in Venezuelan waters.
Then there was the yearlong tour around South America with their pet Siberian Husky, Tasha. Sadly, Tasha succumbed to an infection during the adventure.
Home for the Heinses in Arizona is The Lakes in Tempe. As co-owners of Keller Williams/East Valley Realty, Ralph and Ann make their living selling homes to other people. Their business card for a long time has shown Ralph and Ann and a pair of Siberian Huskies, along with several cats. Several of those animals have followed Tasha, but the picture has become the Heinses’ logo, according to Ralph.
Ralph Heins isn’t exactly an old salt, despite the boats in his past.
“I find sailing and boating boring,” he said. “You get out to sea a few miles and there is nothing. You can’t see anything but water and waves. And if you get any kind of weather, it’s too exciting.”
He’s the type of man who prefers a nice, leisurely bicycle ride. He did some bicycle racing in his younger days, but nowadays he is more of a touring rider.
“You don’t climb hills well on a recumbent, but going downhill you go like a bullet,” he said.
On flat lands, he cruises along at a nice comfortable 18-19 miles per hour, chatting with his fellow riders or maybe just daydreaming.
No daydreams about challenging Lance Armstrong, however. “I’m twice as old, but Lance Armstrong has got to be the greatest athlete of all time,” he said. “This guy is just an amazing person. An amazing person.”
“I don’t have any delusions. These guys rise well over 30 miles per hour. I can barely go downhill at 30 miles per hour,” he said. “They are supermen. It’s unbelievable.”
Instead, Heins contents himself to pedal through life at his own pace, letting his mind drift and wander.
“The amazing thing is how vacuous my thoughts are (while riding),” he admitted. “There’s nothing profound.”
“You have to pay attention to what you are doing; you may be admiring the scenery or talking to someone. I haven’t solved any philosophical problems while riding.”
And, apparently, he hasn’t given any thought to retiring. He and Ann are among the top producers in their real estate office, Ralph noted. “We have a really interesting business.”