Day 8: March 30, 2007
Tallahassee, Florida to Marianna, Florida
Distance 70.5 miles in 5h 22m
Total Distance: 389.7 miles
Got an early start out of Tallahassee, and luckily David Rich was able to drop me off close to my original route. Only 30 minutes into the cycling day, I pulled over to do a quick telephone interview with a journalist from the Tallahassee Democrat. He seemed to like the Bike4Vets concept and had a lot of detailed questions for me. Even though I've left Tallahassee, I think it is still a good idea to continue raising awareness and interest whenever possible.
The morning was cold, overcast, and breezy at times. I actually welcomed this. Because I've had such hot sunny days during the past week, it was nice to have some cloud cover for a change. At certain points I was tempted to take out my wool sweater. I paid $40 for the thing so I might as well use it, right? But then I figured that as soon as I hit a couple of hills I'd probably be sweating bullets. Sure enough, by the afternoon the temperature was up to the boiling point again.
One of today's highlights was crossing the Apalachicola River and it was rather significant, not only because I like saying Apalachicola, but also because I just passed into the Central Time Zone. Wow, two more of these time zone crossings and I'm done! This fact kept me motivated for the rest of today's travels.
I pulled into Marianna without a hitch feeling pretty good after cycling over 70 miles in a little over 5 hours. I made sure I reset my watch and telephones back an hour.
I passed not one but two "Primitive Baptist Churches" on my way here. I hope this isn't offensive to any Primitive Baptists out there, but I couldn't help thinking about the caveman character in the Geico commercial. I pictured him and his fellow cavemen coming out of the Primitive Baptist Church session in their Sunday best. Just couldn't shake the image out my head for some reason.
It is amazing how a little bit of music can keep you pedaling when you are getting tired. The last hour of my trip was through some remote and rural roads, and I was able to listen to a few of my favorite Blues tracks. I had BB King's "Live in Japan" to keep me motivated. This iPod is really making a difference and I was glad that I was able to bring it on the trip.
Day 9: March 31, 2007
Marianna, Florida to Panama City, Florida
Distance 63.5 miles in 4h 46m
Total Distance: 453.2 miles
Luckily, I had a guest cyclist along with me today, a West Point classmate named Scott Nunn. A friend of the family drove Scott up to my hotel, the Ramada Inn Limited. I guess it is called "Limited" because of the limited maid service. We started at 9:30am and this turned out to be the hardest day of the trip so far. I guess I'll be saying that every time a new challenge arises, but for me there were some serious hills today.
From the photo you can see that Scott definitely looks like a cyclist, as opposed to me, who just looks like a guy with an expensive bike. Scott has actually tackled some very difficult cycling challenges, including the one day, 100 mile, three mountain race, which involves three different mountains in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee - including Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee. He finished that grueling 'hundred miler' last year and he will repeat it this year, so I'm sure today's ride was kid's stuff for him. Scott had started cycling as a way to recover from knee injuries he received while playing football at West Point, so he had to find a sport that was a little easier on the joints.
Scott was a perfect southern gentleman; he didn't leave me too far behind and he easily could have chopped an hour off the trip if I hadn't been there. He also took two of my bags, which definitely helped me on those hills. On the last 16 miles or so, Scott's wife Pam, also an avid cyclist, joined us. She drove her truck to a gas station where we linked up. She led the entire way and served as a wind breaker. We were experiencing strong headwinds, and those winds tend to make things twice as hard. Pam has also done a fair amount of cycling, as well as some marathons. Scott's whole family has a good sense of physical fitness. This is inspiring to see these days, in an age when most people are busy looking for new and innovative ways to sit on the family couch, only moving every so often to retrieve the remote control. I was also impressed that both Scott and Pam were wearing cycling jerseys featuring the West Point logo and the academy colors - black, gray, and gold. Much more impressive than the boring monochrome yellow jersey I was wearing. Definitely appropriate and motivational that they both wore these; husband and wife cycling along with me to support the cause!
Scott is as enthused about the "The Fallen Heroes' Ride Across America" as I am He spent the past several weeks drumming up support in Panama City, writing to media outlets, talking to Tyndall AFB, and calling some of the local veterans' service organizations. We ended the day by crossing over the North Bay Bridge, where Scott had arranged an interview with a journalist from World's Most Beautiful Beaches (WMBB), the local ABC affiliate. We arrived earlier than the journalist expected; consequently, she wasn't ready and had not completed the setup of her equipment. We decided to go around the bridge a second time for the photo op. After 60 miles and change, we figured that another couple of miles wouldn't kill us. Finally ended the day with an interview that aired later that night in Panama City.
Luckily, Scott had a pool installed recently in his back yard so it was a nice treat to jump into the water and soothe our aching and weary muscles. Well, at least mine were weary and aching, I don't know about anybody else's! Scott and Pam's kids, Ashley and Jennifer, also jumped in. One of the great things about their pool was a feature called "Endless Pool", which allowed you to control the speed of the water flow. Of course, the kids thought it was funny to set the control to "swim or drown mode" to see how I would do.
For dinner we went out to a southern style "All You Can Eat" place. The problem with these all you can eat places is that I "Eat All I Can Eat"! ...And I did.
Day 10: April 1, 2007
REST DAY in Panama City, Florida
Day 11: April 2, 2007
Around Panama City and Tyndall AFB
Distance 45.2 miles in 3h 20m
Total Distance: 498.4 miles
Well, it had to happen sooner or later: almost all of the American veterans of the First World War are gone. I read in the newspaper last week that we recently lost two of them, and now there are only three left. World War I, known as the 'Great War' until World War II came along, ended nearly 90 years ago and involved millions of Americans. That war, and all Americans associated with it, will soon pass forever into history.
Today is what this trip is all about. This was a big day of media support and raising awareness. My friend Scott Nunn of Panama City is the one to thank for making this happen. He took two days off from his job to spend time and cycle with me. We started the day by cycling to the Panama City News Herald for an interview and a couple of action photos. From there we cycled 20 miles to Tyndall AFB for an interview with Airman Hyatt from the Public Affairs Office. This will all be published in the Tyndall AFB online newsletter. We then proceeded to the flight line to take photos and conclude our interview. Scott works as a contractor on the base, so he knows his way around.
We cycled to the beach, which I have to say is one of the finest beaches I've seen anywhere. The Air Force really owns some prime beach front property, and I hope they don't give it up. It would be sad to see this pristine, unspoiled land ruined by condos and other commercial development. It is really a gem and a national treasure, and I'm sure glad I had the chance to see it.
So Scott and I were standing on possibly the best beaches in the state of Florida while F-15 fighters frolicked in the skies above. I had to look around and ask myself, "What the heck was I doing spending 6 months of my life in Fort Knox, Kentucky as a junior Army officer when I could have been an Airman on Tyndall Air Force Base?!" Comparing places like Tyndall, Camp Pendleton in San Diego, and Jacksonville Naval Air Station to Army posts like Fort Knox, Fort Bliss, Fort Stewart, and Fort Sill...I had to wonder about the sadistic real estate agent the Army has been using for the past 200 years. Why can't we use the same one the other guys have been using all this time?
After the beach, we cycled to another part of the base where several brand new F-22 Raptors were parked. We were sitting on our bikes looking at a row of these aircraft and wondering how much money was displayed before us. I'm sure it is a tidy sum of money; probably enough to buy a decent bicycle and a Dairy Queen Blizzard for every man, woman, child, and domestic pet in North America.
We then cycled to the Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans Home for a visit that was also arranged by Scott. He and I were both highly impressed with this facility, which is run by the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs. The veterans had a lot of good things to say about the care and facilities. It was uplifting to hear about the quality of care they were receiving and to hear some of their stories. We gave a little speech and the veterans had many questions about my accommodations, the bicycle, the gear, and the purpose of the trip. We definitely enjoyed our time and I think they appreciated our visit as much as we did. Also spoke to a young Navy veteran, Bill Helson, who is about 40 years old and had lost his leg to an infection. He asked about joining the journey at a later time, and he was also interested to hear about the athletic activities being promoted by the Wounded Warrior Project.
One of the veterans asked me what unit I was in and what my job had been in the Army. I told him my first job was a tank platoon leader in Germany with the 2nd Armor Division - "Hell on Wheels". He shook my hand and said he was once the commander of 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment (a unit in the 2nd Armor), probably before I was even born. It was nice meeting a fellow "Hell on Wheels" warrior at the VA home. We also joked that it was probably a good thing that I had never been in the 1st Armor Division, whose motto is "Old Ironsides". After all, I'm already carrying enough weight on the bike without having to lug any ironsides around.
Scott and I took a photo along with Bill Helson and a World War II veteran, Hal Coggin, who was a member of the Army Corps of Engineers. Hal served all the way through the Pacific Campaign from New Guinea to Japan.
We finished up our time with the veterans, handed out some Wounded Warrior pins and cycled back to Scott's home through some rush hour traffic. Scott's wife Pam had prepared a delicious meal, which of course we devoured. I'm definitely enjoying these home cooked meals, and I have really appreciated the hospitality I've been shown along the way. Scott and his family hosted me in their home for 3 days, and while in Panama City I took a much-needed rest day after a long week of cycling.
Our very busy event-filled day was capped off with a party. We visited the home of Scott's friend to see the basketball championship and watch Florida clobber Ohio State. It was a fun crowd, mostly friends of Scott from his church, where Scott is quite active. There was also food available, which of course I willingly ate even though I had eaten dinner only a short time earlier. Well, that was it for day 11, an all around fantastic day and one of the highlights of the trip.
Day 12: April 3, 2007
Panama City, Florida to Destin, Florida
Distance 60.9 miles in 4h 21m
Total Distance: 559.3 miles
The Panama City News Herald didn't waste much time and had our story and photo on the front page. Scott ran out to the store first thing in the morning and bought about a dozen copies.
We left Scott's house and cycled west on US Highway 90 towards Pensacola. This was Scott's last day of cycling because his office is calling and starting to wonder if he is coming back to work. We stopped for lunch at a town called Inlet Beach and I want to say a special word of thanks to the Spicy Noodle Restaurant for treating us to a free lunch of shrimp and pasta. After we showed the waitress our newspaper story, she posted it on the wall so customers could see it. She then told us the manager was feeding us at no charge. What a great way to help celebrate the day! Free food is a concept I have always felt very strongly about.
After lunch, we continued through the small town of Seaside, Florida, featured in the Jim Carey movie, "The Truman Show." It is the kind of picture perfect, seaside setting you would see in a postcard, with a beautifully manicured park and small, cozy houses. It was nice to take a break and eat some ice cream at the spot where the movie was filmed.
Seaside was Scott's turnaround point. We had hit the 35 mile mark and that would make a 70 mile day for him, and a hot day too. We said our goodbyes and I'll miss having him along for the trip; he has been a huge help. He headed back home and I continued on towards Destin.
Day 13: April 4, 2007
Destin, Florida to Pensacola, Florida
Distance 47.5 miles in 3h 13m
Total Distance: 606.8 miles
Destin is known as a popular spring break destination. I guess it was no surprise that my hotel is co-located with a tattoo and body piercing salon ...and about a quarter mile down the street from another tattoo and body piercing salon. It was also sandwiched by several bars, one of which is named the Hog's Breath Inn. "Better hog's breath than no breath at all" is what their coasters say. I'll take their word for it. The Waffle Houses and diners in the area were all overflowing with famished party animals, so I had to start my cycling day without breakfast.
About 10 miles before reaching Pensacola, two Marines - Josh Reynolds and Steve McGuire - joined me near the town of Gulf Breeze. Josh and Steve were both proudly wearing their Marine Corps cycling jerseys and we kept a pretty good pace until we got to the three-mile bridge which connects Gulf Breeze with Pensacola. The Marines got ahead of me. But in my defense I had already cycled 40 miles, was carrying at least 45 pounds of gear, and might I add that my age is probably greater than their ages combined. So I do have some mitigating circumstances as to why I had a hard time keeping up.
I also passed the 600 mile mark. For those of you looking at a map and wondering how I have managed to cycle for more than 600 miles along the Florida Panhandle without leaving the state, it has to do with the side trips that I've taken among the different towns, as well as the use of side roads to avoid congested areas. I brought the two Marines along to my Aunt Connie's house where she had some sweet tea waiting for us. Connie is a long time Pensacola resident and has a home right in the revitalized downtown area. Josh and Steve got ready to cycle back to their vehicle and I thanked them with the hope that we could meet up later with some of their jarhead buddies for a drink at the local pub.
Tonight I had dinner at my cousin Melina's house and enjoyed seeing my Pensacola relatives and their kids. We also celebrated her son Alexander's birthday. Also on hand was a friend of the family, Paul Robbins, who we affectionately call "Cornbread Paul" because he makes the most delicious cornbread I've ever tasted in my life!
Ended the evening by taking my aunt and cousin to Maguire's pub where the Marine Corps guys had invited us for a few drinks. Upon walking in, someone shoved a large jar filled with green fluid that looked like anti-freeze into my hand. I found out later that this thing, known as an Irish Wake, had about 5 shots of alcohol in it. Luckily, I only drank a small amount or else I wouldn't have gotten out of Pensacola for several days. Gotta know your limits, right?!
I want to give a note of appreciation to Marine Corps Major Dan Sheils for arranging the cycling escort with Josh and Steve and inviting me out for a round of cheer with his Marine buddies.
Day 14: April 5, 2007
Pensacola, Florida to
Distance 43.4 miles in 3h 12m
Total Distance: 650.3 miles
Took my Aunt Connie out for our traditional breakfast at Waffle House. We both love the place - who doesn't?
Connie also managed to arrange some Pensacola news coverage. Thanks to Mollye and Ted of ABC affiliate WEAR, Pensacola channel 3, for coming out to cover the bike trip. I was able to watch the broadcast on the evening news when I got to my destination in Alabama.
After the interview, I said goodbye to Melina and Connie and started pedaling west out of Pensacola. I was able to link up again with my Marine buddy, Josh Reynolds, who managed to get some time off from work and cycle about 25 miles with me to the Florida-Alabama border.
We stopped at a restaurant right on the border, which is a popular weekend hangout. It is appropriately named Flora-Bama (http://www.florabama.com/). It is a well-known restaurant and bar, and always looks like it is under construction - maybe because it is. After lunch, Josh returned home and I want to thank him and his boss for giving him the time off to ride with me.
Well, it has been a couple of weeks and I FINALLY made it to my first border crossing! Made sure to get a couple of photos crossing the border.
From the border I pedaled into Gulf Shores, Alabama, where I encountered quite a bit of traffic and some strong headwinds. I know this place gets really crowded on weekends and the holiday season, so I was happy that today was a weekday. I was hoping to get to Mobile in one day but the wind and traffic were taking its toll, so I decided to call it quits at the town of Foley.