Bicycle Addictions

I have had two serious addictions during my lifetime. The first was the nasty habit of smoking cigarettes and the other is bicycle riding. I gave up smoking in 1983 when a doctor told me he would not treat my malignant kidney if I did not quite smoking. The biking addiction shows no signs abatement at 94.

 

My first exposure to cycling was given to me by my Grandmother Mennifee. Somewhere in the 5-6 year old range, she provided me with a tricycle at her home in Covington. There was no pavement on the farm where I grew up but Grandma had lots of driveways and sidewalks around her home and a good hill coming down Wallace Ave. that could max out the speed capability of a tricycle while turning onto Glenway.  Shortly thereafter, she also provided me with a scooter which got me into the two-wheel mode of riding. Living next door to Grandma there was family with a single son a couple of years older than me, Billy Murry. By about 10 or 11 Billy was taking me for exciting bicycle trips on his new Schwinn. I sat on the crossbar or the handlebars of Billy’s bike while he navigated the streets and sidewalks of eastern Covington.  We did not have helmets but we somehow managed to get through those dangerous years of swerving into and out of driveways from street to sidewalk and back with me perched on his handlebars. Billy was also my inspiration for trumpet playing.  In the later years of our acquaintance he was the lead trumpet in Holmes High school band and received several state awards. He taught me to play jazz sheet music which my teacher would never touch.

 

My next step in cycling occurred when my best friend at Crittenden school, Eldon Pickett, also got a new Schwinn. I had never been on a solo bicycle ride before until Eldon let me try out his Schwinn.  My first ride around Crittenden seemed to start well but when I turned around to coast back into town, I found that I had never had any experience with coaster brakes.  This resulted into a pretty good crash at the end of my first solo.  My elbow, the Schwinn’s fender and Eldon’s friendship were all scared by this event, but all healed rapidly.

 

At the top of my Christmas list for the next couple of years was a Schwinn but my parents did not come through.  Perry, my brother, had had a bike a few years earlier (I think it was from Sears & Roebuck) that had not lasted very long because we did not have any paved surfaces around.  The road to Crittenden was mostly rock and potholes, so as a teenager I never had a bicycle.

 

In late 1942 my parents decided that they were going to Florida for three months. That, of course, was not to my liking since it removed me from the remaining basketball season and all my friends to be planted in school in Clearwater which was a couple of semesters upstream from Crittenden.  Mom and Dad rewarded me for this upset in my life by renting a bike for me.  Most days I rode it from Clearwater Beach to the high school in Clearwater.  On my return trips, I could explore he streets from Largo to Tarpon Springs. After the stay we returned to the farm and I retired from cycling for the next 25 years.

 

During the summer of 1968 we were in the process of moving to Brussels and arranged for Bart to proceed us for a bike trip from Brussels to Frankfort.  I had business friends in both places (Lee Haltom in Brussels and Ted Miles in Frankfort) to help start and end his trip. Lee helped Bart with the purchase of a new bike, maps etc.  By the time he had finished the trip we had moved to Brussels and Bart returned there with his bike.  Our intent was to bring the bike back to Bart when we moved back to the States.  During September I was required to have a physical exam to conform with the Belgium healthcare program.  That is when I was diagnosed as a diabetic.  I had no symptoms and was just on the borderline of positive diagnosis. At that time it was not determined whether I was T1 or T2.  My treatments at the time were diet, exercise and some oral meds.  My doctor (Dr. Lavaux) was quite firm in his advice for a serious exercise program so I inherited Bart’s bike and started cycling around Brussels and the surrounding communities.  I then started riding to work as much as I could but my mileage was comparatively small compared to my current level but I credit that experience as the start of my addiction.

 

When we got resettled in northern Kentucky, I started riding to downtown Cincy and work on a fairly regular schedule. I would leave home in shorts and a t-shirt with a suit, shirt and tie in a back pack. The ride into town was easy since it was almost all downhill. It was easy to exceed the 35 MPH speed limit on US 25 going down the big hill without even pedaling. As I crossed the Roebling Bridge, I pulled on the suit, shirt and tie to get entry into the P&G General Office.  I entered the office in a somewhat wrinkled state.  After a redress in the restroom, I got rid of the shorts and t-shirt into the back pack and went to work. The return trip in the late afternoon was the inverse of this process but I had one occasion where a kind auto driving soul seeing me take off my suit on the bridge, thought I might be on the verge of jumping and stopped to save me. With a little explaining we both moved on.

 

Somewhere in the 70’s, I started looking for some road trips. One of my first attempts was from Athens Ga. to Fountain Inn SC. It combined a trip to visit my cousin Bill in Atlanta and finished with the bike ride to see another cousin, Betty Meyers in Fountain Inn.  I picked that route based on my driving experiences through Ga. It seemed to me to be relatively flat and the road map showed lots of country roads along the way.  Unfortunately, my driving experience had been only along north/south routes. Going east from Athens soon taught me that I was going to spend most of my time riding up some pretty steep hills. Nevertheless, I made it in a few days. The most interesting parts of this trip were the folks you met along the way. I do not remember encountering another cyclist but the people around filling stations and other rest stops had not seen many others on a bike touring their countryside and were eager to know why anyone would choose that mode of transport.

 

It wasn’t until the mid-80’s that my riding started a crescendo.  Bart, Sandy and baby Jordan moved to Bad Soden near Frankfurt which gave Marg and me incentives to visit.  I think my second visit was via a solo bike ride from Brussels to Frankfurt.  Bart had left his bike for me with a friend in Brussels and a short taxi ride got me underway.  Stops along the way were Liege, Luxenberg, Trier, Koblenz, St. Gore and Mainz.

 

I think it was the following year that I persuaded Marg to try a joint ride from Amsterdam to Frankfort. We trained a bit and set a modest daily goal distance of 25-30 miles per day. We flew from Cincy to Amsterdam via LaGuardia and Kennedy.  On departure we thought we could check our boxed bikes through to Amsterdam but found out that we had to transport them ourselves between airports.  You cannot imagine how hard it is to get a dolly to transport two bicycles, two people and full luggage through the airports.  In addition, it was almost impossible to find a cab to hall this load. Finally, with sufficient tips, I managed to find a brave cab driver for the transport between airports and we barely made the takeoff from Kennedy.  The next day with no acclimation to time zones, I checked the bulk of our baggage through to Frankfurt, reassembled our bikes and started our ride. Our intent was to just get started and find a hotel after a few kilometers.  Little did we know that it was a Saturday German holiday and everybody in Germany went to Holland that weekend.  We stopped at every hotel and “Zimmer Frei” along the way without finding a room.  After riding until nearly total darkness, we found a suite in a very up-scale hotel.  In today’s dollars, that was probably the most expensive room I have ever occupied. We visited a lot of small town centers and restaurants along the way.  When we got to St. Goar, we were close enough for Bart and Sandy to drive out after work and take Oma home with them. The following couple of days were solo for me to Bad Soden.

 

The next duo ride with Marge was a trip to Torremolinos, Spain.  We had been there before and rented bikes for short trips but on this trip we took our bikes with us and rode along the Costa del Sol.  We made a couple of trips into Malaga and Fruengirola. The hardest ride was all uphill to Mijas.  I recall walking the last mile up but the ride back was coasting all the way.

The Fla. Keys has been one of my favorite vacation spots since the early 60’s. I have forgotten the first year that I did Miami to Marathon but I did it at least three times in the 90’s. The first is probably the most dangerous of my rides.  At that time you could get on a plane and have your bike shipped as free baggage.  Upon arrival you could be on your way after replacing handle bars, pedals etc.  Traffic from Miami airport to US 1 can be a little hectic but survivable.  US 1 to Florida City is reasonable but as you start the trip into the keys, the road becomes two or three lanes and the berm was about one foot wide.  All supplies to the keys and most of the tourist traffic follow this route.  Many of the tourists are in RV’s pulling boats the size of the Titanic while the drivers observes their first glimpse of a pelican diving for fish.  On following trips I hitch-hiked this section.

One of my most interesting bike trips was a 2010 ride to Washington, D,C. I only rode about half of the distance from Cincy to D.C. but I tried to hit all of the county seats near US50. I carried a big sign that I had tried out on the Loveland trail saying that I would carry messages to the folks in Washington. I had made arrangements with the then Ohio District 1 representative, Steve Driehaus, to distribute any messages I carried to him to the appropriate senators and representatives based on the zip code of the authors.  Driehaus cancelled my appointment to see him so I only got too talk to an intern about my trip.  I did have a nice lunch in the Representative’s dining room.

My next addictive high sprung from an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer about a young man, Jason Bright. who was a T1D and was training for a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  JDRF, ride in Death Valley in about three weeks. I made a wild guess as to his email address (Jason.bright@---) and fired off an email asking if there was any way for an 84 year old cyclist to join him in this adventure.  Jason was on the local JDRF board and arranged a meeting with Tara Listermann, the ride leader.  Shortly thereafter I went on my first and only training ride with the group to prove that I could stay upright on two wheels.  It was my absolute worst ride. We had a late start from Harrison’s Memorial, and I did fine for the first half of the ride.  However, when we turned around, the sky turned very dark. There was much thunder and lighting as a monster rainstorm moved through.  Julie Roettker, a JDRF coach, came to my rescue to guide me back to the start.  Jason tried to pick me up with his car, but I was determined to ride it out.  I rode the last few miles with vision that let me see Julie’s red taillight only a few feet in front of me.  Yes, they let me go to Death Valley. When Bart learned of my plans, he decided to join me and we put in a couple of extra days in Los Vegas.

The following year. 2012, JDRF was planning a ride on the Natchez Trace which interested me but the elevations and miles traversed were beyond my limits, but this started me looking for an easier ride on the Trace.  That’s how I found The Fuller Center rides. I called and asked them if they would like to have a combined rider/sag wagon for their March ride. The first few days of this one-week ride, I spent much more time sagging than riding. The weather was miserable with temperatures in the 30’s and plenty of rain.  Many of the 30+ riders had not brought sufficient warm clothing and rain gear, so I helped with Good Will/Walmart supplies and some of my own clothing.  Fuller rides are typically housed and feed by churches and schools along the way and a day of each ride is spent doing building, repair and maintenance for the needy.  Ginny has joined me on the Natchez Trace ride and has done two cross country rides, other shorter rides (like the west coast) and several foreign build trips with Fuller.

 

Just one last gasp about my addiction. It has provided me with much enjoyment over many years and continues to do so. Many of my best friends have come from biking experiences. I just bought a new three-wheel recumbent with electric drive that should let me ride with my friends into my 95th year.