Sunday, December 19, 2010

Never say "Never"

As recently as my last post, I settled the issue of whether or not I would ever try another ride as long as my last trek.  I said, "NO - Not that far, not alone, and not pulling a trailer."  But now, exercising my right to follow in the footsteps of some of our infamous politicians who frequently mis-quote, mis-lead, mis-appropriate, and mis-serve our nation, I acknowledge that I may have "mis-spoke."  I am starting to investigate the wisdom and logistics of another trip for this coming Spring or early Summer that will circumnavigate the entire state of Florida.  The ride will begin at the War Memorial in Pensacola, follow East along Highway 98 to Crystal River, Highways 98, 19, & 41 to Miami, US 1 to Key West, North along US 1 & 1A to Amelia Island, West along Highway 40 to Kings Ferry, Ga, South on 115A & 301 to Baldwin, Fl., West on US 90 to Crestview, Rt 4 to Davisville, North 97 to Meadows Lane, West along Meadows Lane and Nokomis Rd to Pineville Rd, South along Pineville to Enon, 97A to Bay Springs, 99 to Barrineau Park, 196 to 97 South to Beulah, US90 to Blue Angel Pkwy (173), 173 to 298 West, 298 & 297 to 292 (Gulf Beach Hwy), 292 East to West Main St., Main St back to the War Memorial in Pensacola, for a total distance of approximately 2,000 miles, requiring approximately 50 days on the road.

The sole purpose of this trip will be to raise funds to build a shelter for homeless veterans in the Panhandle.  I will encourage individuals and businesses to donate funds, equipment, and services to defray the operational costs of conducting the ride, and pledges on a per-mile-completed basis to fund the construction and operation of the homeless vet shelter.

One thing I learned the hard way on my last trip is that I shouldn't even think about doing this alone; although I'm confident I could do it.  If I could accomplish 1160 miles alone, why not 2,000?  But, common sense says that I won't be able to effectively plan or promote this alone, advertise and fund raise alone, or ride and support this alone.  This could be a massive effort, involving many riders and supporting organizations.  The financial goal of this project will be ambitious for tough economic times, which, in and of itself validates the need for substantial public effort to help care for some of our most deserving citizens, those who put it all on the line, at the expense of personal health, family, and careers, only to return home to hopeless life circumstances. 

Something else I learned during my October trip, is that a properly-motivated person, even if relatively unfit, can accomplish virtually any reasonable fitness goal, given sufficient time and support in the right environment.  I started my last journey weighing 233 pounds with poor stamina.  I came home 25 days later weighing 204 pounds (still too much) with much greater stamina.  I'll be 64 years old when I start this next trip.  I'll come home weighing around 185 pounds and feeling as fit as I did 30 years ago.  This will be an excellent endeavor for anyone who has similar fitness goals.

To make this trip possible, each rider will need to raise approximately $3,000 in funds to finance personal participation in the ride, and gain as many pledges as possible to forecast reasonable assurance that a suitable veteran's facility can be built and operated.  At least one maintenance and support-equipped vehicle will have to be provided to complete the entire journey with the riders, preferably with a covered trailer that can shelter participating bikes and carry necessary supplies.  An escort vehicle would be very helpful to scout routes, help riders avoid construction and other hazards, and pace riders in areas of traffic congestion. 

Any number of properly-funded and equipped riders can participate in any portion or all of the trip.  Riders can plan to relay en route, unless riders wants to pedal the entire distance.  I plan to pedal the entire trip to set the pace and to accomplish personal fitness goals.  All cycling participants will be required to wear a cycling helmet and gloves and should ensure that their bikes are properly maintained and equipped, including lights before departure.  All ride participants should carry a cell phone, GPS if you've got it, or plan to ride with someone who does.

I am soliciting as much input as possible to help plan and execute this ride.  Biking associations in particular could benefit from the exposure generated by this ride.  Using cycling as a means of raising public awareness of important social issues serves the double purpose of encouraging folks of all ages and fitness levels to get out and enjoy one of the best low-impact aerobic exercise opportunities available - cycling.

Individuals interested in supporting this mission might consider donating, loaning, or otherwise making available to ride participants bike equipment and attire, support vehicles, including RV's that can be used to shelter riders en route and overnight (This alone could save untold thousands of dollars that can be channeled towards the primary goal of constructing a shelter for homeless vets.), shouldering the responsibility for advertising and promoting the ride, and coordinating with other private, government, or business organizations that will participate in, or benefit from our efforts.  Others might help solicit donations of speciality products specifically suited to cycling events - food, drinks, first aid equipment, etc. 

Other things that we must investigate and prepare for before departure are road, traffic, and construction conditions, and forecast weather.  Some roads may require swapping out tire types.  Forecast weather may dictate carrying different kinds of riding attire.  I recommend each rider have a minimum of two days of appropriate moisture-wicking riding attire, including padded Spandex shorts and tights, and at least one long-sleeve shirt.  Sunburn will absolutely be an issue, as will insects in some areas.  I don't recommend tent camping for this trip, as camping fees can be unreasonably exorbitant; and you will need good quality rest and facilities to stay fit and able for this ride.  In the absence of available RV's, several folks can "camp" in a motel room and enjoy much-needed facilities at substantial savings.     

Please contact me ASAP with your questions and suggestions.  The sooner issues can be resolved and plans completed, the more likely and easier our goals can be accomplished.  I don't want to trust any important considerations to last-minute resolution; and sponsors are entitled to trust and expect that we will accomplish what we set out to do.  This will be a great opportunity for you to immerse yourself in an opportunity that will test and reward your ability to achieve a number of personal and corporate goals, made easier by mutual effort, support, and encouragement, not unlike some of the difficult tasks routinely accomplished by our soldiers every day.      


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Scenes Along the Greenway 1


From October 1 thru 25, I pedaled 1160 miles roundtrip on the Greenway from Fernandina Beach to Key West. Although I was driven by other missions that kept me from being primarily a cycling tourist, one of my goals was to evaluate the Greenway to identify sections of it that I could bring cyclist groups back to for weekend tours. I took several dozen pictures, but then struggled for weeks to find a program that would download them from my Android II cell phone camera. I still don't have an ideal solution; but, I was able to retrieve the pictures; and I will publish a group of them every week on

I had really over-prepared for my trip in some respects, carrying far too much gear, including a handlebar-mounted HD camcorder to document my ride which proved to be less-than-useful; because most of the route I followed was far too rough to use it, even with digital stabilization. So, I took still pictures instead and made a digital voice journal of my riding experiences.

Florida is blessed with many beautiful coastal communities; and perfect weather conditions during my trip allowed me to capture scenic shots of areas that I would like to visit again.
Daytona Beach

St. Augustine
As you might expect, when you pedal into some of the older communities, like St. Augustine, you'll find that many streets are not particularly accommodating towards bicycles, since traffic can be heavy on narrow streets. The Bridge of Lions is a particularly difficult challenge, unless you want to walk your bike across on a pedestrian lane.

Bridges in general are okay for cycling, offering shoulders of 6 to 10 feet in width. You just have to vigilant to avoid all of the broken glass which seems to mark the territorial bounds of redneck youth whose primary source of entertainment must be breaking beer bottles. This can be especially hazardous as you accelerate at breakneck speed on the down slope. Since I was pulling a 100 pound trailer behind my bike, I had to be careful to look far enough ahead to avoid sudden swerving. I guess it's possible to jack-knife a bicycle and trailer; but I didn't want to try it. It was scary enough exceeding 30 M.P.H. on narrow high-pressure street tires! The longest bridge on my trip was the Seven Mile Bridge between Marathon Key and Bahia Honda Key, with six foot shoulders. Traffic is heavy; but I found that motorists would go far out of their way to give me extra room. The next-longest bridge is the five-mile-long Long Key Bridge between Long Key and Grassy Key, with its adjacent "Fishing Pier" constructed with newly-resurfaced bike lane right down the middle. What a nice treat, thanks to the state's Greenways and Trails folks!

Long Key "Fishing Pier"

Seven Mile Bridge

For nine of my twenty four days of cycling, I battled stiff headwinds - strong enough that it required 38 minutes of hard pedaling to get across Seven Mile Bridge. I didn't dare take any pictures from that bridge, as traffic was too heavy for me to stop on its relatively narrow shoulder.

I've been asked many times if I will do this trip again. My canned answer has been an all-too-hasty "NO!" But, the correct answer is "Parts of it." I wouldn't do it solo again, or, without a chase vehicle; and I wouldn't want to pull a trailer again for that distance. And, now I know that this trip should really be allotted sixty days to complete to allow for sightseeing and side trips. Once the bulk of the ongoing road construction in the Keys is complete, this should actually be a very pleasant route for cycling. I don't think I would plan on tent camping again, as the fees charged in State campgrounds are exorbitant and completely out of line, considering the minimal amenities used by tent campers compared to those used by RV'ers.

From a fitness perspective, this ride was an awesome experience. I lost 27 pounds in 25 days, and never felt weak or hungry, in spite of pedaling 8 - 12 hours per day, fueled by a large breakfast and 1 1/2 to 2 gallons of Gatorade per day. I would certainly recommend a trip like this for anyone who is reasonably healthy and looking for a way to lose a significant amount of weight, while improving cardiovascular health, and overall fitness. As a side note, I contacted the makers of Gatorade to tell them about my experiences and hoping to gain some insight into how that product worked for me; but they didn't extend the courtesy of any kind of reply. How strange! I believe in their product, whether they do or not! Having said that, I would not recommend that anyone blindly follow my example without first being thoroughly examined by a doctor and cleared to embark on such a journey. What worked for me may be harmful for someone else.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Observations And Recommendations About The Greenway Experience

Observations and Recommendations for Improving the Cycling Experience
on Florida's East Coast Greenway

Based upon my recent experience of cycling 1160 miles roundtrip on Florida's Greenway trail system, I offer the following observations and recommendations to be considered in developing, improving and maintaining our cycling trail systems.

1. A volunteer from each county or community served by the Greenway should be sought to at least monthly inspect and report upon the condition of the bike trail in that community. Perhaps Florida's Greenways and Trails office from the DEP could maintain a data base of trail condition reports on its website. Cyclists could be encouraged to report all problems encountered on the trail to Greenways and Trails, or the East Coast Greenway Alliance for internet publication.

2. In areas where the Greenway bike trail is separate from motor vehicle traffic, the trail should be marked with mile markers, like those used on US 1 to help cyclists accurately determine and report their location on the trail in the event of an emergency, or to help locate and access nearby community amenities.

3. All trail markers and signs should be mounted no higher than 6' above ground level, or, within the peripheral vision range of the typical cyclist. Cyclists wearing a helmet with visor, as all should be, will probably not be able to see signs mounted higher above the ground, especially if they are focusing their attention on trail surface conditions ahead of them. I had to remove the visor from my helmet in order to be able to see trail signage.

4. The Greenway often terminates abruptly in areas of construction or in areas where it is not fully developed without warning, and with no hint as to how the cyclist can safely transition back to pavement. I was pulling a 100 lb. trailer on my journey; and it was very difficult to drag my equipment through debris-filled ditches and construction areas trying to get back to a paved surface. Had I not been using puncture-resistant tires, my bike would have probably been damaged many times in these areas. Appropriate signage could help solve this problem. Regular inspections of the trail route could identify problem areas in a timely manner and allow reports of trail conditions to be posted on the internet. Cyclists could be encouraged to always access such reports in planning their cross-country trips. Blogs about cycling conditions should be encouraged; but concise, reliable information about trails should be compiled, centralized, regularly edited and updated by someone assigned that responsibility.

5. Members of Greenway-related organizations should coordinate their efforts to establish a cyclist hosting service for Greenway member cyclists that could operate like, or I traveled through many areas where accommodations were either scarce or unreasonably exorbitantly priced. Through better education of sponsoring communities and businesses about the commercial and health benefits of cycling activities, cyclists would bring substantial additional revenue to businesses bordering cycling routes. Many European communities have mastered the art of encouraging cycling and camping. Why can't we look at what they're doing and move toward adopting their best practices now?

6. Greenway organizations should unite to encourage local and state governments to promote "green activities" like cycling by offering reasonable affordable tent camping rates to cross-country cyclists. Many state and federal parks in Florida currently charge the same fee for tent camping as they do for RV camping. RV campers hook up to sewage, water and electric services that consume significant amounts of energy that are not consumed by tent campers. State parks in particular are guilty of gouging travelers as much as some flea-bag motels do. That turns away many first-time visitors and certainly discourages repeat visits. Where is the gain in that? The city-owned and operated Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park in Jacksonville, Fl is an example of a well-run excellent tent and RV camping facility that is reasonably priced and offers all of the amenities necessary to attract cyclists and tent campers. Similarly, the Everglades Hostel in Florida City offers excellent accommodations and amenities to cyclists. State and local governments should understand that cycling organization members would be strong proponents of green activities and the governments' best proactive conservators of cycling trails and facilities.

7. In concert with government agencies, cycling organizations should require cycling safety certification, and perhaps licensing as a condition of membership. This would be a win-win proposition for everyone interested in cycling safety - cyclists, motorists, and government.

8. In the Florida Keys especially, Greenways and Trails has done an exceptional job of marking routes and equipping the Greenway bike trail with rest sites, benches, and garbage cans. Even at that, there is room for much improvement. More benches and trash cans would greatly enhance the cycling experience and help keep the trail system clean and attractive. The addition of properly secured and maintained "porta-potty"-type toilets every 10 - 20 miles or so would be an awesome amenity. I would gladly pay an additional annual membership fee that would be used to maintain such amenities; and the more member cyclists that could be encouraged to regularly use those amenities, the easier it would be mitigate or prevent vandalism of trail amenities. With a little more concerted effort, thought, and planning, Florida's cycling trails and amenities could become a crowning jewel promoted among its outdoor activities. Rather than being something that vacationers "also do" when they come to Florida, cycling could become the primary reason many visitors come to Florida, especially during the cooler months.

9. Businesses bordering Cycling trails should be encouraged to offer special rates to cycling organization member/users that would help increase cycling activities within their communities. At any given time, a cyclist will spend substantially more time in a given community than a motorist will. Through proper advertising and promotion, that fact could translate into more revenue for cycle-friendly communities. On Amelia Island for example, Carmen Martinez, owner of Amelia Oceanfront B&B offers substantial discounts to cyclists. Greenway interests should encourage other businesses to do the same.

10. The DOT should be requested to not use raised lettering, lines, and reflective markers on paved shoulders and bike lanes, as these make riding more uncomfortable and dangerous depending on the type of cycle tires and tire pressures used. It is especially dangerous and fatiguing to be busied and distracted by dodging raised reflectors in areas of high motor vehicle traffic.

11. Cycling clubs should be encouraged to regularly instruct members on safe cycling practices, especially with regard to etiquette. Faster cyclists should never pass slower cycles without first giving an audible warning and adequate clearance between cycles. Over the course of 1160 miles and being passed by dozens upon dozens of other cyclists, I was warned only three times of their intention to pass. Motorists were generally considerably more courteous than other cyclists. On several occasions, I observed other cyclists riding shoulder to shoulder, oblivious to traffic slowing and building up behind them, when a simple fall-behind maneuver would have enhanced their safety and allowed motorists to pass more quickly and safely. It seems that motorists are generally more knowledgeable of, and concerned about cycling safety than most cyclists are. What an inexcusable paradox! We are our own worst enemy; and it's no mystery why many communities are not interested in promoting cycling.

12. State vehicle traffic laws require cycles to be operated by the same rules governing motor vehicles. It's a no-brainer that proper lighting is required to operate a cycle between the hours of dusk and dawn. State laws should also require some kind of signaling device, like a bell be installed and used on every bicycle ridden in the state. Passing another cyclist or pedestrian without proper warning and adequate spacing should dealt with in the same manner as would illegal passing in a automobile.

Al Melvin
6053 Arnies Way
Milton, Fl 32570

Monday, November 1, 2010

Remembering My Purpose(s) for Making This Journey

My purposes for making this journey were multi-fold. When I met folks along the way who asked me why I was riding, the answer I conditioned myself to offer first was that my intent was to say thank you to our solders and vets; and then, time permitting, I would explain my interest in personal fitness, cycling, and the Greenway issues.

As time goes on, I will continue to focus on all of these things; but, today, I want to briefly revisit my mission that focuses on veterans affairs. It is integral to everything that I set out to accomplish; and is related to cycling, as cycling has been demonstrated to be an excellent low-impact aerobic activity that can be enjoyed by almost everyone, and can be especially useful in verteran's rehab efforts. I like what I see being done by Ride 2 Recovery and the support afforded this charity by the American Legion and numerous cycling interests.

As a veteran who recently applied to be enrolled in the VA healthcare system, I am impressed with the quality of outreach and treatment provided by VA facilities to those veterans who apply for enrollment. However, the VA healthcare system can only help those who apply for treatment; and as I confirmed on my bike journey, there are untold numbers of veterans suffering from war-related injuries and illnesses who are either currently enrolled in the VA healthcare system, but not fully informed about treatments available to them, or completely unaware of the fact that they are entitled to enrollment in VA healthcare. I met many veterans on my trip who were either under-treated, or, completely left out of the system; because there does not appear to be any adequately comprehensive source of VA treatment options available to all vets, and especially those of the Vietnam era. I only found about my own personal eligibility for healthcare enrollment by accident in a casual conversation with a veteran friend. Since then, I've encouraged all of my other veteran friends who are suffering from obvious war-related health issues to apply to the VA for treatment. 100% of these veteran friends were either totally unaware of their eligibilty for treatment, or, they did not know how to apply for it.

None of this is intneded to be a negative comment about the VA's efforts. The VA can only outreach to, and treat those that it is funded and staffed to treat. Therein lies the crux of the problem. The VA may, in fact be overwhelmed by its current treatment workload; but that does not negate the responsibility we have to honor the committments we've made to our soldiers and veterans by willfully, albeit often irresponsibly dispatching our soldiers into the midst of unwinnable, thankless conflicts, serving ungrateful supposed-allies who hate America and everthing we stand for. And just because many of our soldiers are found to have served in conflicts later judged to be unpopular or non-PC does not ever justify turning our backs on them after they have laid everthing on the line for us.

The politicians who serve "us" today (spelled: "themselves") who are determined to "save money" by ignoring or breaking the committments made to our soldiers are dead wrong and need to be held to the highest level of accountability for their greed, insensitivity, and irresponsibility. The bottom line is that, if America is not willing to fairly and adequately treat our veterans' service-related health problems, we urgently need to get out of the business of treating our soldiers and veterans as expendable mercenaries.

By using cycling endeavors as public-awareness and fundraising opportunities to reach out to our soldiers and veterans, I intend to immerse myself in activities that will focus more and urgent attention upon soldiers' and veterans' issues. I believe it would be unconscionable and irresponsible to do otherwise.

Thanks to all of you who rallied to support this hastily-planned and executed cycling trip up and down Florida's East Coast. Regardless of which of my goals you supported, personal fitness, promoting Florida cycling opportunites, or calling attention to veterans's health issues by helping defray the expenses of my trip or making donations to the American Legion, I could not have accomplished this without you. I encountered many adverse conditions along the way that would have led me to give up several times, had it not been for your encouragement and support. I survived two years of combat in Vietnam only by the grace of God, and came home realtively unscathed. I confess the same about this bike trip. This effort was more difficult than any physical feat I ever attempted as a young soldier; and I endured some very dangerous conditions due to traffic (mainly other cyclists), road and bike trail construction, and discouraging headwinds for nine days that forced me to pedal for 10 - 12 hours per day at barely more than walking speed.

Thanks again for you calls, e-mails and bogs of encouragement.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Ride Is Over; But The Journey Has Just Begun

On Monday evening at 5:00 p.m., I finished the last of 1160 miles logged on this trip when I returned to my van that I had parked at a friend's home in Vero Beach. By the grace of God, and with the assistance of several new friends, I accomplished what I set out to do, not knowing until it was over that I was actually capable of succeeding in my venture. It was a long haul and hard pull nearly every day, beset with strong headwinds for 9 of the 23 1/2 days that I pedaled, towing that heavy trailer.

I have to rush off to Anchorage, Alaska tomorrow to help my family there arrange some home-care services for my ailing mother. I will return to Florida on Nov 7 and start compiling a number of observations and recommendations that arise from this bike trip.

In the meantime, I would simply advise all Florida cyclists to be extra vigilant as they ride through our great state, and pay special attention to the average cyclist they encounter who, in my experience will be discourteous of each other and given to some very unsafe practices devoid of common sense, such as, and especially rapidly overtaking slower cyclists, passing them with a less-than-safe distance between cycles, and without calling out their intentions to pass.

We have much to do to make cycling a safer activity and to raise public awareness of the fitness benefits of cycling. As our fossil fuel crisis continues to worsen and the need for green activities continues to increase, local and state governments need to play a more agressive role in encouraging and facilitating cycling activities.

Take for instance the popularity of cycling and camping in European countries. Is there any reason that we should not follow suit, except for the fact that our park systems tend to discourage cycling activities in preference to accommodating 40' RV's towing trailer loads of energy-consuming motor bikes, 4-wheelers and boats? Is there any justifiable explanation for charging the same $30 - 40+ fee for a bicyclist to deploy a tent in a park, when that cyclist will have no more impact on utilities than taking a shower, and maybe recharge a cell phone, as opposed to the RV driver who will tie into a sewer system, use unrestricted amounts of water and run lights, air conditioners, and TV's long into the night?

Florida needs to get serious about encouraging energy conservation and physical fitness. Dedicating hundreds of acres of land for the enjoyment of those who waste the most energy, and effectively barring those who want to enjoy the outdoors without wasting energy by imposing exhorbitant fees is both counterproductive and ludicrous. Think about it. We've got a lot of work to do!

A final thought for today. If you are planning a cycling trip down the Keys any time soon, as I know two clubs are, don't go unless you have verified the suitability of roads and trails on Key Largo, Islamorada, and Long Key. If you do decide to go in spite of major road construction, with its collateral damage to adjacent cycling trails, I recommend that you go with puncture-resistant off-road tires with heavy duty tubes. Street tires will make your trip treacherous until that construction is complete.

Thank you all for your comments and encouragement along the way! I'll have much to share in the coming days. Unfortunately, most of it will have to wait until I return from Alaska on Nov. 7. I will be able to receive your emails at: and cell calls at: (850) 529-4473.


Monday, October 25, 2010


25 days, 1160 miles, 57.2 miles today.

It couldn't have ended on a better note. I've had a strong tailwind all day, only got angrily honked at by one redneck (Yes, he was driving a GREEN pickup!), and I broke my downhill speed record descending into Port St. Lucie on the bridge - 31.8 MPH. Whew! I think it's time to hang up my helmet and put away the padded Spandex, while I'm still ahead of the game.

I had estimated that this trip would require 30 days to complete and cover 1172 miles. Not counting side trips in some communities, it was only 1160 miles.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

In Juno Beach - 55 Miles From Journey's End

Well, another windy but productive day. 61 miles down today, 1103 miles total pedaled to date, about 55 miles to go. Got rained on a couple of times and jostled by strong crosswinds. I'll take crosswinds anytime in preference to headwinds.

Tomorrow, I hope to reach Vero Beach and journey's end! I stayed inland on US1 today due to stormy conditions, and made better time because of it.

I had a couple of folks beep at me today and give me a thumbs up. Even a policeman gave me a short burst of siren with a thumbs up. Go figure! Now that the trip's nearly over, more people are noticing the signage on my trailer. All kidding aside, motorists have been generally courteous and accomodating towards me on all of this trip. But, those cyclists! Another passed me today in traffic today - too close, and with no warning. I wish a cycling license and safety certification process was required before any bicyclist could ride on state roads, and that local jurisdictions would enact cyclist licensing laws.