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Jauary 1, 2016

By meriwether, Jan 1 2016 09:47PM

Happy New Year To All!

I saw something quite strange the other day about 25 miles southeast of Tallahassee. I was mystified and befuddled. I didn’t think that they existed any more - just a thing of some story teller’s wild imagination. It had a pleasing and rounded shape, and there appeared to be trees and grass protruding from it’s surface. Lofty aspirations were its trademark. It was totally beyond my comprehension - it was a hill! I knew not what to do about it, so as always, I proceeded on . . . . and up.

I hadn’t seen anything resembling a hill for quite some time - probably over 1,700 miles ago back in Virginia. In fact, it was quite pleasing to enter the rolling countryside leading into and around Tallahassee - to pump those peddles for a while, and then sit back and enjoy the just rewards of climbing to the top of a hill. The flats are nice, but there is no rest for the weary cyclist - the peddles must continue to spin, and you are the only one to spin those peddles.

After leaving Dunedin I visited with old friends in Weeki Wachee - Mark and Terri. I spent a relaxing day before Christmas Eve with them in the “Nut House” - actually their very nice future retirement home. An assortment of cashews, almonds, and pistachios adorned their coffee table - hence the name . . . “ Nut House”! Mark was my neighbor for many years growing up in West Toledo.

My Christmas Eve was decidedly strange - it was a riding day that took me to Crystal River, but on the way I stopped off at Homossasa Springs State Wildlife Park to spend some time with Lu the Hippo. One of Lu’s favorite pastimes is to fling his dung at visitors. You are forewarned to beware when Lu dips his head and raises his hind end - be ready to dive for the bushes. The park is really a showcase for Florida’s natural habitats, and many of the native animal species that populate them, including three gentle resident manatees.

This unusual Christmas Eve conjured up thoughts of another strange Christmas Eve 30 years ago. Jaipur, India . . . 1985. My riding mates Alison and Paul and I cycled out of Bombay (Mumbai) heading northeastward toward the capital of New Delhi through the semiarid, desert like state of Rajahstan. It was near the “Pink City” of Jaipur, India, on Christmas Eve that I had my cycling accident - a seriously fractured elbow - although I didn’t know that until two weeks later. That night, Christmas Eve, with my arm wrapped and on ice, we all made calls home to our parents. It took about an hour to set up the call from Jaipur to Toledo, Ohio, back in 1985. But it was worth it to hear the voices of my family. I didn’t tell my parents, Ruth and Charlie, about the accident I had that day, not wanting to worry them. When I talked to them again weeks later after my operation in New Delhi, my Mom said she had felt something was wrong that night - a Mother’s intuition.

I find myself now in the western Panhandle of Florida having crossed into the Central Time Zone. I’m actually farther west than all of you in Toledo, and almost as far west as Chicago. In fact, it’s about 2,200 miles from here to Los Angeles - half of the 4400 miles I have already traversed.

Whereas my time in Southern Florida was blessed, for the most part, with very warm temps and sunny skies, Northern Florida and the Panhandle has been just the opposite. The last couple of days, and especially yesterday, New Years Eve, have been truly miserable days of riding - dark and brooding skies, in and out of rain showers, some of them quite heavy . . . tremendous humidity, and now falling temperatures. I arrived in Destin in the midst of a heavy downpour, soaked to the core.

A bright spot in the otherwise gloomy ride across the Florida Panhandle was spying another heavily laden cyclist coming toward me from the opposite direction - one of the few that I have encountered on this journey. We brought our wheels together and talked. It was Jack Camino, a young man from Ecuador who has been living in Texas for about 10 years. Jack is riding for Immigration Reform, and his destination is Washington D.C. where he hopes to garner support, financial and otherwise. Jack told me he had been on the road for about five weeks, and that he’s riding slow . . . and that “this is tough”. We traded cards, good wishes, and then went our separate ways. Here is the link to Jack's fundraising website:

I must praise Florida for the winds; they have been for the most part favorable to me, encouraging me down the east coast, turning the corner and ushering me westward, and then most considerately changing direction and shooting me up the west coast into the Panhandle.

I also praise the infrastructure Florida has provided for cyclists. Almost every major highway features a dedicated cycling lane or has a berm wide enough to provide you a margin of safety while peddling along. Other states - especially the Carolinas - should learn from Florida.

On the social consciousness spectrum however, Florida has much room for improvement. I think I’ve seen more Confederate battle flags flying here than in the other southern states I’ve traveled . . . well . . . South Carolina was not a shining beacon in that regard either. Outside of Perry, Florida, I passed the Taylor County Sports Complex where a huge Confederate flag fluttered in the breeze - twice the size of the U.S. flag that flew nearby. This apparently was not private property, but a public facility - a sports complex where children and adults come to play and exercise . . . and exercise fair play. I believe that if I were an African American living in Taylor County, I would want nothing more than to tear that flag down and place it where it belongs - in a museum of history - because it IS History, in more ways than one.

As I posted on Facebook, I had a bit of a media blitz while in Tallahassee. I did a radio interview with WGN out of Chicago, and a reporter from WCTV, the CBS affiliate in Florida’s state capital, caught up with me as I was heading west out of town into the Panhandle. Charlene, the reporter, tracked me down and did a nice report on my ride. If you are not on Facebook and missed those, here are the links:

A special New Years Thank You to some recent donors to Habitat For Humanity and/or Save The Children in support of my ride: Arlyn Bensch, Polly Heninger, Tom and Lisa Hoersten, Amy and Brian Hoey, Michael and Debbie Lindell, Barb and Dave Ziesmer, and the Sig Ep 14th Annual Holiday Reunion. As always, it means so much to me to know that my efforts are producing tangible results for these two causes.

Poised to exit Florida and point my front wheel toward Alabama, Mississippi, and Lousiana, which will be short timers compared to the long miles of Florida’s east and west coasts. Now Texas . . . that would be another matter. Too far ahead to think about though . . . well . . . not that far at all when you look at the map.

Proceeding On . . . a day at a time.

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