|Day 1: March 23, 2007
St. Augustine, Florida to Palatka, Florida
Distance 50.5 miles in 3h 32m
The good news is I was able to fit all of the gear on my bike including camping equipment, sleeping bag, inflatable mattress, tent, and all my clothes and accessories. The bad news is the bike is about as aerodynamic as a brick!
At the beginning of the trip, I am joined by my old friend from high school, Diego Mera. He is an Army veteran and now works for the Navy in Orlando. Diego has taken three days to cycle with me on my trip. My parents drove us in the morning to St. Augustine Beach and we walked right up to the Atlantic ocean. We dipped our toes in the water, but not by choice. I wasn't paying attention to the tides as we were facing away from the water to take a photo. As a result, I started my morning with wet socks and a little bit sandy, too.
From there we rode about 4.5 miles from St. Augustine Beach to the Florida Army National Guard barracks, riding in the old part of St. Augustine. It's one of the oldest buildings continuously in use in St. Augustine. Many thanks to Lt. Col. (Ret.) Greg Moore, member of the West Point Class of '74, Command Historian for the Florida Army National Guard. He allowed us to start the journey from there and we were able to gather a small crowd of well-wishers, including some media coverage.
At the sendoff, we had several old-timers from a few of the veterans' organizations, such as the Disabled American Veterans Chapter in St. Augustine and the American Legion. Korean War Veteran, Col. Ed Taylor, who received the Silver Star for his service in Korea, gave a rousing speech to send us off. To these old-timers who have probably seen some pretty horrendous stuff in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, this means a lot to them. They shook our hands, hugged us, Col. Ed Taylor said a prayer, and they also contributed some funds in the form of sponsorship.
Also at the sendoff today was my old friend, George O'Loughlin. George served in Desert Storm with me. He was a tank loader on the company commander's tank. He had his great kids, Megan and Keegan, there today, who got a few hours off from school to wish us well and spend a little time with us before we left. Of course my parents, Frank and Marie Acevedo, along with friends of the family, Raul and Janet Gandara, were also at hand. And last but not least, we had a reporter and photographer from the St. John's Recorder.
Only 30 minutes into cycling, I got a phone call that I didn't really want to answer because I was preparing to cross US 1, but I figured it might be someone telling me I was missing a wheel or something bad was about to happen. It just happened to be a call from a man in northern Florida who wanted to donate to one of the charities. So I'm already getting some interest in other parts of the state, which is nice. It was also good to get interrupted on the trip by someone who wanted to donate as we started cycling.
At mile 31, we had a small celebration that we completed 1% of the trip. Only have to do that 99 more times!
For the most part, the roads were fairly uneventful. Pretty quiet. We wanted to keep a controlled pace of 10-12 mph, but we wound up going faster than we wanted to. For a lot of the time, we were doing 18-20 mph with little effort due to the winds and pretty good road conditions, so we made very good time for most of the day.
We also really noticed how, by staying on these small roads, it was a great chance to see the real America, as opposed to most of the time we see interstate America like everybody else. It's amazing how once you get off the interstate by a couple of miles, you can see some amazing things. For example, a few miles outside of St. Augustine, we were seeing farms, barns, cows, horses, and other things you don't expect to see anywhere near an interstate. We pulled into Palatka early in the afternoon and decided to call it a day. Didn't want to push our luck; it was a good day.
We checked into a hotel in Palatka and ended the day with a nice seafood dinner overlooking the mighty St. John's River, which by the way is the largest river in Florida and also happens to be one of the few rivers in America that flows north.
Diego has already helped me several times today by noticing things I had left behind, by keeping my bike from falling over, and also noticing that I was riding with my gloves on the rear rack flapping around for about 10 miles. So he has already earned his keep on this trip!
Day 2: March 24, 2007
Palatka, Florida to Gainesville, Florida
Distance 63.3 miles in 4h 40m
Total Distance 114 miles
Got off to a good start this morning. Noticed how southern the towns are compared to the coastal area of Florida. Feels more like southern Georgia than northern Florida. We came across very friendly people with strong southern accents. During one stop at a gas station, we had about 3 or 4 people just come out and ask us questions about how many miles we had on our bikes and where we were going. They were genuinely surprised when I told them I was cycling to California. They in turn would make an announcement in the parking lot to others as they passed by. This afforded me a great opportunity to talk about the bike trip and the sacrifices our veterans have made and continue to make as well as to point out the need to help them. We didn't find any veterans in the crowd, but several took my card and said they would follow along on the website.
The terrain was also surprising on this leg of the journey. It was very hilly around here. I wouldn't call it hilly like West Texas or New Mexico, but something I'm not used to seeing (or feeling) in Florida.
A note about prices. We had a great 'all you can eat' breakfast buffet in Palatka for $3.99, which in the coastal areas like St. Augustine or Jacksonville might get you a not-so- freshly-squeezed glass of orange juice.
These maps from the Adventure Cycling Association that I'm using are pretty good; they keep us off the roads with heavy traffic. Although it doesn't seem that they are the quickest way from A to B, they do keep the trucks away from us.
Towards the end of the cycling day, in the town of Hawthorne, there is a 15-mile bike only trail with a canopy of trees that leads into Gainesville itself. These bike trails are old railroad tracks that were ripped up and paved over so that cyclists and skaters can enjoy them. Just before we got into Gainesville we ran across a cyclist named Antonio from Texas. He is getting ready to do a cycling trip of his own from Gainesville to Massachusetts. He was very helpful with tips on navigating around town without getting killed by any crazy Florida college students. We exchanged some cycling notes and stories and went on our way.
As many people know, Gainesville is home of the University of Florida - "Go Gators!" It's a small town with a large student population. We were pretty tired at the end of the ride, so we stopped at the first hotel we saw. We definitely should have heeded some of the red flags, like the vending machine surrounded by a large metal cage and padlock on the front. To get into the reception area, I had to be buzzed in and the proprietor was behind a barrier that made him look like a bank teller. So we took the room at the Gator Lodge. By this time we were so tired that, as long as the room was clean and close to food, we really didn't care. We took the gear off of our bikes and rode about a quarter mile up the road and stopped at a Chinese restaurant where one of the featured items on the menu was "Communist Soup," which we both tried. It is a specialty of the owner who is from Singapore. Not really sure why it was called Communist Soup, nor do we know how many communists were actually killed to make that soup, but it was pretty tasty and after a day on the road it was nice to eat some good Chinese grub.
This is where day two and day three fuse together. On a course of a journey, you come across a guest house, inn, lodging, or hotel with such a level of charm and ambiance that you have to make special mention of it. The Gator Lodge in Gainesville is NOT one of these places. We were extremely tired when we came back from dinner, but within an hour or two we were talking nonstop until 10PM and our energy seemed to have gotten a boost from somewhere. It was also at around that time that we started noticing how incredibly thin the walls were. We could hear loud conversations between two men and a woman next door. It was also at about this time that the roaches seemed to have woken up and started to make their presence known. I called the proprietor and requested a room change. The desk clerk was surly and indifferent and his Indian accent was so heavy that we could barely understand each other. When I said "roaches" he thought I said "leeches," as if that would be any better! He said he could do nothing about the little critters but would call the room next to us to complain on our behalf! We actually heard the phone ring and a guy pick up and say hello. We could hear the guest promise to keep things quiet and then hang up. About one hour later they were at it again. So now it is 11PM and we are in the dark trying to get some sleep.
You would think that we would have called to complain again or demand a room change. At one point we contemplated initiating a fake LOUD argument over "who ate my pretzels" just to make a point. However, we were cognizant of the fact that there might be other guests next to us that we might disturb. What kept us from calling the clerk back though was that we were already engrossed with several conversations about my combat experience in Gulf War I, West Point, and Diego's time in the Army and OCS. At about 2:30AM, Diego braved a trip to the bathroom and came out saying he had five confirmed roach kills. After that we were totally quiet and trying to sleep but could still hear the NONSTOP arguing next to us until around 3AM at which point Diego busted out laughing. I asked him what was so funny and he said, "You know Ed, if we leave right now we can be at our next stop by 6AM or so." We both were still astonished that we were so wide awake, this had never happened to us before and we talked about how this was going to kick us in the rear later that day.
At about 5AM (by the way, talking from next door had still not stopped), after talking about our families, women in combat, friendly fire incidents, life long friends we have made in the military, and just about everything else, we fell asleep. We woke up at 7AM only to find that the people next door WERE STILL TALKING!!! We never found out if they were running a drug ring or just auditioning for American Idol. So ended day 2.
Day 3: March 25, 2007
Gainesville, Florida to High Springs, Florida
Distance 32.3 miles in 2h 18m
Total Distance 143 miles
After leaving the unforgettable Gator Lodge, we headed to IHOP where we stuffed ourselves silly with omelets and hashbrowns and proceeded northwest out of Gainesville. This was a short day because it was going to be Diego's last day on the trip, as he had to head back home. So our destination for the day was the town of High Springs, Florida, which we reached in a couple of hours. Not too bad of a day, not too rough. One thing we are noticing is the heat; it is a little hotter for Florida this time of the year. It has been in the mid 80's and getting a bit humid, too. Diego took a photo of my arms. After spending hours on an open road, it looked like I had dipped my arms into a vat of red lobster dye. The results were after the application of strong sun block and Aloe Vera to subdue the itching.
With the heat bearing down on us, we were happy to see the sign that said, "Welcome to High Springs, a Nice Place to Be Since 1883." We cycled around the town a little bit before linking up with my parents. I was starting to think, concerning the name High Springs, that there were a couple of things wrong with the name of this place, but upon questioning a local resident I learned that there are in fact springs nearby where people scuba dive, camp, and canoe.
This being a Sunday, there weren't too many places open, but we were able to luck out and find a decent motel with an Elvis style 50's diner across the street. We went there for a victory celebration to see Diego off and ordered a round of Philly cheese steak sandwiches.
My parents brought both their car and Diego's car, and this definitely helped out with logistics. From the first day they got us to the beach and today with getting Diego linked up with his vehicle, it has been great having them as part of the effort.
After Diego got home, he called me and we were still flabbergasted that the total lack of sleep had not affected us in the least. Go figure.
Day 4: March 26, 2007
High Springs, Florida to Live Oak, Florida
Distance 58.1 miles in 4h 3m
Total Distance 204 miles
"Hey, doesn't that waitress look like…the woman from that movie with James Caan, she cut his foot off with an ax. I think it was called 'Misery'?"
I replied, "Exactly. She said she was going to be back in a few minutes, she is probably in the back of the kitchen torturing James, maybe cutting off his other foot while we are out here waiting for our eggs."
Let this be a lesson to you; don't be talking about other people when you have to get through the CURSE of DAY 4. I'm not sure if there really is a curse of day 4, but according to my friend Tom Lavallee, a cyclist who'll be joining up later in the western states, "Days 4 through 10 are most likely going to be your toughest days for a trip like this". So I have in my mind that if anything bad is going to happen, whether it is broken cables, punctured inner tubes, or kidney failure, it is going to happen during these days.
Fact of the day – this region of Florida has more active springs than any other place in the world and there are 600 total active springs in Florida.
After breakfast my parents and I drove over to one of the springs High Springs is famous for and that was definitely worth a visit. Following our visit to the springs, we said our goodbyes before I continued heading west. I started pedaling and most of the roads were quiet back country roads, very few cars, no stores, businesses, or gas stations to disturb the landscape. Just small houses, farms and one Baptist Church after another, with names like Abyssinian Baptist Church, Macedonian Baptist Church, and Egyptian Baptist Church. I'm still trying to figure out what all of these Abyssinians, Macedonians, and Egyptians are doing in Columbia County, Florida.
Since there was such sparse traffic, I decided to break out my iPod, which was generously donated by my good friend, Jorge Sandoval. Jorge had sent me an iPod and GPS for my use, so he has definitely helped me out with some of my electronic gear that I've needed for this trip. I cycled along with few incidents and, as I approached Live Oak, I got a call from an old friend of mine from high school, Stephanie, who I hadn't seen in 20 years. Stephanie and her fiancé offered to put me up for the night. Rather than cycling on to the next town, I accepted, but just as I rolled into Live Oak, Walla! my first flat tire of the trip....the curse had struck on day 4!
The valves I'm using on this bicycle are presta valves. The bike pump I'm using is pretty tricky; it looked so easy in the bike store. So as I'm sitting there covered in chain grease and assorted bicycle parts with an exhausted, bewildered look on my face, up drives Stephanie and her fiancé John. They step out of the car, I stand up completely ignoring my friend that I haven't seen in over 20 years, turn to her fiancé and said with a straight face, "Please tell me you are a bicycle mechanic".
John and I were able to get everything back on, inflate the tire and get everything squared away. John had competed in some biathlons before and had experience as a cyclist. I also found out he was an Air Force veteran, and I tried to rope him into biking along for a while, but no dice. So unfortunately he won't be able to join the team. I am trying to get the involvement from some of the other branches so this doesn't turn into a bunch of Army guys getting flat tires and broken spokes across the highways and small towns of America.
We couldn't figure out where the actual hole in the inner tube was. Luckily I have 3 spares, well make that 2 for now. They didn't actually live in Live Oak, so we had to load the bike on their truck and take it to the town of Mayo, which is about 20 minutes south of Live Oak. I don't consider this cheating because my travel direction is west and they live south of there, so I'll actually be covering the same miles on Day 5. I don't want people to think that I'm starting to cheat this early in the game.
Let this be a lesson to everybody, don't temp the hand of fate by comparing your waitress to Kathy Bates in the movie "Misery."
Day 5: March 27, 2007
Mayo, Florida to Madison, Florida
Distance 33.6 miles in 2h 24m
Total Distance 238 miles
John and Stephanie took me to a nice spot beside the mighty Suwannee River, the same river which is immortalized in Florida's official state song. In this area of Florida, divers come from all over the world to explore the springs and underwater cave network. While walking along the river bank we encountered two divers from Brazil. When you think about all of the things to do and see in Brazil, it is amazing that these guys are here in Suwannee County, Florida, diving 75 feet or so down into the depths of the river and cave network. We enjoyed talking to them about their experiences.
Right before getting on the bicycle, John hooked me up with a valve adapter. I mentioned before that my bike uses Presta valves that are a lot different from the Schrader valves we all grew up with. With this valve adapter I can use any pump to refill my tire. I'm actually surprised that the guys in the bike shop where I bought my gear didn't recommend a valve adapter.
On the way to Madison today, I passed through the town of Lee and right before entering I came across the sign that said, "Welcome to Lee, No Jake Brakes". I had no idea what a Jake brake was, but I came to find out it is a loud air-assisted brake used by truckers to slow down - ha ha, Jake brakes, I thought that was funny.
So, once I got to Lee I had 8.5 miles to go. The reason why I was going to Madison was on the invitation from my West Point classmate, John Paul Maultsby - known to friends and family as JP. He had asked me to be there by 3:30pm. So, I put some water on my face, kicked the tires and headed toward Madison. Even though I haven't seen the movie "The Bridges of Madison County," I can say I've experienced the hills of Madison County, FL and they are a lot bigger than they would seem if you were coming in with an automobile! I did manage to arrive in one piece and JP had arranged a gathering of some of the townspeople to greet me. He also managed to get an article in the newspaper about the "Fallen Heroes Ride" even before I got here. He invited me to spend the night at his house, which I gladly accepted.
JP gave an introductory speech at the monument by the town square and then I followed up with a few words about my cross-country trip. Even the city manager was on hand to give a few words to the audience. I thanked everybody and gave a "Wounded Warrior" pin to all who showed up. It was a great chance to talk about this cause to a supportive audience and I really appreciate what JP did to make it happen.
This gathering took place at the Four Freedom's Monument and is named for President Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union address in which he discussed the four freedoms that describe America's values: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. This speech became one of the early rallying cries of America's participation and entry into World War II. The monument itself is dedicated to the memory of Madison native Colin Kelly, who is the first declared hero of World War II and also a graduate of the West Point Class of 1937. Kelly, the first declared hero of World War II, was killed in the Philippines shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
After the crowd dispersed, we went to JP's house where I met his wife Julie and their little girls, Catherine and Claire. The girls impressed me with their computer abilities. JP and I sat around drinking German beer while Julie prepared a delicious meal. JP is the kind of guy I didn't know at West Point but I wish I had. We had a great time chatting about old times in school and we also had a lot of the same friends, so we brought each other up to date on how everybody was doing. We were both in Germany at about the same time, but since he was in Bavaria, and I was not, his collection of beer mugs is much more impressive than mine is. He had them proudly displayed around the kitchen. It was great that Julie allowed him to do so, because I know some wives would have put their foot down about displaying old beer mugs!
Day 6: March 28, 2007
Madison, Florida to Monticello, Florida
Distance 37.5 miles in 2h 44m
Total Distance 275 miles
My next stop was going to be Tallahassee, FL but I decided not to rush it and instead stretch the trip over two days. At 9am, JP Maultsby and I were interviewed by WMAF, a local radio station in Madison. The interviewer was Mr. Oliver Bradley, the host for the morning radio show, and an active leader in the local veterans' support organization. He asked us how we knew each other and also how JP got involved in supporting the cycling endeavor. This interview with WMAF was a great opportunity to raise awareness and get the word out about the event. Hopefully, opportunities such as this radio interview will help to get people motivated and involved with the cause. Thanks go to JP and Mr. Bradley for making this happen. Shortly after the interview we went over to the Four Freedom's Monument to take a couple more photos before I said goodbye to JP and his wife Julie. JP then grabbed me by the arm and said, "Hey listen, my office is about 15 miles down the road, why don't you stop by for lunch". Of course, never one to pass up a lunch opportunity, I said, "Okay, I'll see you there in about an hour and a half".
ALLERGIES! Yup, allergy season is here folks and pollen is on the cars and in my lungs. Luckily I have an assortment of ammo to fight this, including inhalers and several different types of allergy pills. As soon as I got on the road, I could definitely feel it. The goal was to link up with JP about 15 miles away at his firm in the town of Greenville.
After getting out of the Army, JP came back to his home town of Madison to become part of the management team of his family-owned business, Florida Plywood. He introduced me to the other managers, including his dad and uncle, and gave me a tour of the factory. In the service economy we all live in, it is rather refreshing to see an American company that actually makes something these days. I enjoyed the experience, and immediately afterwards we went down to the Greenville senior citizens' home where we had the chance to speak about the cycling journey and its purpose. The residents asked a lot of questions, and were very supportive and interested in what we had to say. Many of the residents had either served in the military or had family members who did, including one woman with a son still serving in the armed forces. I hope to take advantage of many of these impromptu opportunities on the trip. Just re-emphasizes that fact that it is important for me to stop as much as possible (not just to stretch and drink Gatorade) but also to get others involved.
Greenville interestingly enough was where Ray Charles lived in his youth. By this time it was well into the afternoon. I said my final goodbyes, and I cannot thank JP enough for his efforts and his enthusiasm. It will be great to see him and his wife again at our 20 year reunion in 2008.
Day 7: March 29, 2007
Monticello, Florida to Tallahassee, Florida
Distance 43.2 miles in 3h 22m
Total Distance 319 miles
Started the morning with breakfast at the Huddle House restaurant, "Home of the World's Smallest Barbecued Pork Sandwich." I guess from now on, I'll stick to my beloved Waffle House, because Huddle House just wasn't all that impressive, though they sort of redeemed themselves with their omelet and sweet potato fries.
I've hit some very large hills today and I wanted to take some photos of them, but figured that my friends out in the western states would laugh at these so-called hills. I have to admit that on some of the hills I was almost out of gears. Still in Florida, and I've used up all my gears already?! Scary!
Today's letter of the day would be "W," since on today's ride I cycled through Waukeenah, Wacissa, and Woodville. At Wacissa I had the pleasure to meet Mrs. Walker, the owner of the Walker General Store and gas station in this small town. She told me a little bit about the town and about her husband's military service in World War II, and also how they had established the business in 1948.
I chatted with Mrs. Walker for a while and she enjoyed hearing about my trip. She told me about other cyclists who passed through her town over the years. I showed her my press clipping from the newspaper in Madison, which she was interested to read. She also mentioned that her 95-year-old sister happens to live in Madison.
The last thing she said to me really stuck in my mind: "It's been a wonderful life. I wouldn't trade the memories of the past 60 years for anything."
As I approached Tallahassee, I came across a path exclusively for bicycles - the Saint Mark's Trail - similar to the one Diego and I used on the approach to Gainesville. These paths almost feel like receiving a treat for a job well done. Quite enjoyable, especially at the end of a long day of cycling. You can forget about the vehicle traffic for a while and focus on the pleasant scenery. On this bike trail, I celebrated the 10% completion mark of the trip. (Finishing over 310 miles to date, assuming there are 3,100 miles for the whole trip). I'm enjoying the trip, but it is also good to know that I am 10% done.
In Tallahassee I had a generous food and lodging offer, similar to the ones I received earlier this week in Madison and Mayo. This offer was from David and Anntoinette Rich. David Rich is a graduate of the West Point Class of 1978 and is very active with the West Point Society in Tallahassee. He is the secretary of the organization and has done a lot to promote it in the four years that he and his wife have lived in Tallahassee. Taking pity on the fact that I was trying to negotiate rush hour traffic, Anntoinette swung her truck over to the downtown area and picked me up.
Another delicious homemade meal was waiting for me when I arrived at the Rich's home. I'm starting to think that I'm gaining weight on this trip, which I didn't think was possible. With all of the wonderful food I've been offered, I might be the first person in the history of cross country cycling to actually get fatter rather than skinnier. As it turns out, David and I had a few things in common. We were both tank officers in the once mighty, but now nonexistent, 2nd Armor Division. David and I swapped some old tanker stories and it was very interesting to hear about West Point and Army life in the early and mid-seventies. He had been an enlisted soldier prior to attending West Point, and served at a time when the morale and resources of our armed forces were among the lowest they had ever been. Contrasting his service during the Watergate and post-Vietnam eras with my military experiences in the 80's was very enlightening for me.
David and his wife are extensive travelers; they have both lived and worked in Europe and Asia. David is one of the few Americans I know that can speak, read, and write Korean fluently. He knew the language well enough to attend the Korean Command and General Staff College while he was stationed there. Having spent about 18 months in Korea during my Army years, I understand how difficult that language is, and thus have a tremendous amount of respect for anybody who can dedicate themselves to learn it.
Lots of preparation. Where am I going to put all of this stuff?
My parents and I. It has been great having them as part of the effort.
Diego Mera and I at the point of departure (St. Augustine, Florida).
View of St. John's River,
start of day 2.
After spending hours on an open road, it looked like I had dipped my arms into a vat of red lobster dye.
Day 2 on the road.
These maps from the Adventure Cycling Association that I'm using are pretty good; they keep us off the heavily trafficked roads.
Just before we got into Gainesville we ran across a cyclist named Antonio from Texas. He is getting ready to do a cycling trip of his own from Gainesville to Massachusetts.
On a course of a journey, you come across a guest house, inn, lodging, or hotel with such a level of charm and ambiance that you have to make special mention of it. The Gator Lodge in Gainesville is NOT one of these places.
I'm still trying to figure out what all of these Abyssinians, Macedonians, and Egyptians are doing in Columbia County, Florida.
Ed's welcome at the Madison Four Freedom's park.
Ed with the Maultsby family, Claire in back, Julie, Catherine and JP. (Dixie and Rudie are the pets... and you know Ed.)
Ed with JP in front of the Four Freedom's Monument in the park. Freedom from fear, want, of religion and speech. It is dedicated to Colin Kelly who was recognized as the first American hero of WWII. He was a B-17 pilot who flew bombing runs against the Japanese Navy in the first days after the Pearl Harbor attack. He is remembered as a war hero for sacrificing his own life to save his crew when his plane became the first American B-17 to be shot down in combat. Colin Kelly has been called the first American hero of the Second World War.
The Suwannee River with a couple of Brazillian divers!
The beautiful Suwannee River.
Stephanie Sipe and John Parsons on the banks of the Suwannee River in Florida.
Mrs. Walker is the owner of the general store and gas station in Wacissa, Florida. Her husband was the first person from Jefferson County drafted in World War II, and after he returned from his army service in the Pacific, they opened this store in 1948.
I wish my cycling jersey was the same color as this house.
Welcome to the tri-state area.