3rd week – Key West to Ocala

Apologies for the tardiness of this blog.  Here were the highlights of the 3rd week.

Monday – Mar 18 – Key West to Tavenier – a long ride over a lot of water, no shoulders, brilliant sunshine, a 7-mile bridge and a strong headwind, glad to be getting close to the mainland.

Tuesday – Mar 19 – Tavenier t0 Tamiami (Miccosukee Casino) – moving from urban area to completely flat terrain, dull overcast morning burning off to a warm bright day.  Finding the Casino was a godsend!  All you could eat buffet was very welcomed.

Wednesday – Mar 20 – Tamiami to Clewiston – moving north about 80 miles with only one gas station along the way.  Key lesson learned:  carry a minimum of 4 quarts of water/sports drinks if you go over 40 miles!  Had a super Cuban supper in Clewiston.

Thursday – Mar 21 – Clewiston t0 Sebring – another hot day going up the center of Florida.  Sebring was a welcome stop at about 2:00 pm – having an early supper listening to the senior citizens at the local diner was the evening’s entertainment.

Friday – Mar 22 – Sebring to Minneola – 89 miles!  Long day made longer by an hour & 15 minutes delay in check in due to computer glitches, but it was countered by eating at the Honey Hive restaurant – all you could eat fish supper.

Sat – Mar 23 – Minneola to Ocala – made it into Ocala by midday, sat in the hotel lobby until the room was ready, then walking down to the local Winn Dixie for provisions.  Rest day – Sunday – was also in Ocala.

 

2nd week – Davie, FL

I’m finding that as I’m on this journey, particular things tend to dominate:  the weather, the terrain, the scenery, the desire to get as far as possible as quickly as possible, the destination, and so on.

But with the 2nd week of my journey, it’s the people of Davie, FL.  All of these folks are unique in their own right, with specific talents & gifts, but the folks that I want to focus on are the people that are making the LCpl Janos V Lutz Live To Tell Foundation a positive force to save and transform people’s lives.

Janos Lutz was a Marine Lance Corporal who served his country in both Iraq and Afghanistan, suffered from Post Traumatic Stress, and took his own life on January 12, 2013.

If I had suffered devastating turn of events, I would have difficulty in coping with day to day events for a very, very long time.  However, his mother, Janine Lutz, possesses the positive grit & determination to transform this deeply personal tragedy into a inclusive, life-affirming force to help others in similar situations.

Although Janine and her Foundation have several goals, two particularly resonated with me.

The first is about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  Janine immediately points out that it is important to drop the word ‘Disorder’ from this phrase, and with good reason.  It helps no one to keep reiterating and internalizing a ‘disorder’; it actually furthers to stigmatize and disempower the person with the condition.  Janine prefers to use the term, Post Traumatic Stress Growth, which I think is a true game changer, which focuses on growth.  The key is to grow through all experiences (both positive & negative) and emerge a stronger, more resilient individual than before.  What a great concept!

The second objective is to stop veteran suicide.  Not reduce, not decrease – TO STOP.  Wow!  Talk about a SMART goal.  By SMART I mean (Stupendous, Momentous, Awesome, Revolutionary, & Transformational).  It sets a high standard and this standard deserves to be set at this level.  If there has ever been a goal worthy of a “zero-defect”, this has to be one of them.

Janine & her team are using a Buddy Up Program to identify veterans from Iraq & Afghanistan and pair them up with other veterans that have similar experiences with tools and assistance that can be downloaded from her website, http://lcpllutzlivetotell.org/

Not only did Janine open her house to me for three days, she and her team also planned, prepared, and conducted a deeply emotional & touching memorial  ceremony at the town hall of Davie on March 14 that I will remember for a very long time, with the Mayor, Council Members, the Leathernecks, and local citizens – in a phrase – very, very moving.

Then, as icing on the cake, arranging to be hosted at a VIP suite at the Florida Panthers Ice Hockey Game that night where I was honored and humbled to be recognized for what we are all trying to do – Giving Back To Those Who Have Served.

So to Janine and her Team – Andrew, Angel, Collos, Rene, Shep, & Terry, my thanks to you all – ordinary people doing extraordinary things and in the process, thus becoming extraordinary in their own right.

North to Alaska!

 

 

 

Meet Kevin Campbell – walking across America

IMG_1622I met Kevin in Kingsland, GA on Mar 7th as I was finding a local hotel for the night.  He was one of those people that never knows a stranger and his engaging manner soon had me asking more questions of him than he had of me.

Kevin, originally from Boston, was diagnosed with macular degeneration six years with the prognosis of permanent blindness within ten years.

Most people, when confronted with this may adopt a ‘why me’ attitude, but not Kevin.  He said that he saw this an opportunity to see America, the country that he loves so much, so, he started WALKING from Seattle, Washington to the east coast, nine months ago, going one day at a time, working odd jobs to pay his way.

He carries a map, backpack, an atlas, an umbrella, & bin0culars as his eyesight is failing him.  He refuses donations and once he gets enough money from odd jobs, continues to walk to achieve his goal.

He said that his grandmother, who was Irish always told him, ‘Kevin, you must go out to see the world as it will not come to see you’.

Well, Kevin, you’re doing more than that, you’re providing a great example to all of us to explore this great country and get to know its people, one step and one smile at a time.

Thanks for continuing to inspire me on my journey.  Godspeed on your journey and its successful conclusion.

Meet Kenneth E Smith, Sr – Mayor of Kingsland, GA

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I met Mayor Smith on Mar 7th, when I stayed in Kingsland, Georgia.  Mayor Smith served three tours of duty in Vietnam, was exposed to Agent Orange and enemy gunfire serving in the ‘brown water Navy’ (naval operations in the rivers of Vietnam) before leaving the service in 1969.  His biography follows:

Mayor Kenneth E. Smith, Sr. is a native of Kingsland, Georgia.  He served sixteen years as Councilman for the City of Kingsland and was first sworn into office as the Mayor in January 2002.Mayor Smith has prioritized the interests of Kingsland residents, families and businesses.  He has made himself accessible to all of his constituents and works diligently as an ambassador for Kingsland and ultimately its well being.

In 2008, Mayor Smith served as President of the Georgia Municipal Association.  Currently he serves on the Georgia Municipal Association Board of Directors, the Legislative Committee, the Budget Committee and the Board of Trustees for the Georgia Municipal Employee Benefit System and Worker’s Compensation Self-Insurance Fund.

Prior service includes the Georgia Municipal Association’s Revenue and Finance Committee, District 12 President, Dues and Revenue Study Subcommittee, Municipal Operations Committee; and, the Resolutions Committee.  Mayor Smith has earned four certificates of achievement and excellence upon completing hours of municipal training at the Harold F. Holtz Municipal Training Institute for elected officials.

He also serves as vice chairman of the PSA (Public Service Authority), of Camden County, a member of the Elks Lodge of Camden County, and serves as an executive board member of the Coastal Regional Transportation Roundtable.

The Mayor participated in the oversight of the recent installation of a state-of-the-art $13 million dollar wastewater treatment facility.  This facility doubled our wastewater capacity yet is very cost efficient.  It is beautifully landscaped and returns clean water back to the St Marys River.

Mayor Smith is a lifelong member of the First African Missionary Baptist Church in Kingsland, and actively serves as a board officer for the church.  He also serves as Vice President for the Zion Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress.

In 1965, he graduated from Ralph Johnson Bunche High School.  After graduation, he went on to serve in the U.S. Navy, where he completed three tours in Vietnam.  He and his wife, Peggy, have three sons, Kenneth Jr., Kevin, and Kimyatta and are also blessed with five grandchildren.

Tom writing here again.  The thing that impressed me the most about the Mayor was his insistence on escorting me to the Veterans Park to have the Memorial Ceremony in Kingsland where he & I read the names of those from the area who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Although it was a busy day for the Kingsland city officials and they could not attend the ceremony, Mayor Smith made the point of making this his priority at 5:00 pm.

Thank you Mister Mayor, for one of the most heartfelt and personal ceremonies that I’ve had during this trip

LCpl Janos V Lutz Live To Tell Foundation

Live To TellIt is not possible to tell all the stories on the road, but one that needs to be broadcast is the story about the LCpl Janos V Lutz Live To Tell Foundation.

Janos (or Johnny as he is called by his mother Janine) was a Marine from Davie, Florida, deployed to Iraq & Afghanistan, returned home, and after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), took his own life on Jan 12, 2013.

This devastating tragedy (being replayed at, on the average of one suicide per hour every day) would effectively end any hope of happiness that I would have for my life, but Janine has transformed this into a life-affirming program of suicide prevention by de-stigmatizing Post Traumatic Stress turning into from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder into Post Traumatic Growth.

What Janine and her small core of volunteers have done in such a short period of time is nothing short of remarkable and awe-inspiring.  Visit their website at http://lcpllutzlivetotell.org/ for practical information to prevent veteran suicide and how to implement best practices for your local communities.

I also strongly recommend going to their Facebook page to see how a vibrant form of social media can be effective and empowering (‘Like’ them also).

It is estimated that PTS affects over 600,000 personnel since 9/11 and Janine’s 501(c)3 charity, LCpl Janos V Lutz Live To Tell Foundation is taking concrete steps to ensure that those at risk are identified and supported through a Buddy Up Program.

The town of Davie, Florida has embraced this charity with a proclamation naming Jan 12, 2013 The LCpl Janos V Lutz Live To Tell Day and sponsoring the PTS Awareness Day on that day.  They have also donated the use of the Davie Women’s Club Facility one day per month for the Buddy Up program.

During our Remember, Recognize, & Rejoice Ceremony last Friday (Mar 14) at Davie Town Hall, I was particularly impressed by Mayor Judy Paul’s commitment & support of this and other veteran’s initiative.  Mayor Paul’s actions show the model that other towns can follow to address this devastating problem.

Although many times we are reminded of what is wrong or lacking in the US, it is more important to realize the positive effect that two people can have in turning a tragedy into what will ultimately be a triumph.

 

So Janine & Judy, you have my sincere admiration and thanks for Giving Back to Those Who Served.

The Leathernecks

IMG_1687It has been an honor & privilege for me to get to know many organizations on my trip across the US both in 2012 & this year, and I that I wish to highlight is the Leathernecks Motorcycle Club Intl, Inc.  Below is an excerpt from their website.

Just as the United States Marine Corps is a proud and distinct organization that stands apart from other military organizations, so too, is the Leathernecks Motorcycle Club Intl., Inc. a proud and distinct organization of active-duty and former Marines and FMF Corpsmen that stands apart from, yet not against, other motorcycle clubs. Just as the United States Marine Corps supports God, Country and Marine Corps Brotherhood, so too, does the Leathernecks Motorcycle Club support God, Country and Marine Corps Brotherhood. Just as the United States Marine Corps stands ready to defend our country and allies against tyranny, so too, does the Leathernecks Motorcycle Club Intl., Inc. stand ready to defend itself against tyranny of any kind.

The Leathernecks Motorcycle Club Intl., Inc. is not political and claims no territory. We have no need for reputation building. The Eagle, Globe, and Anchor needs no introduction. We fly USMC and CORPSMAN as bottom rockers because we can. We respect all men except the enemies of our country and the enemies of our free way of life. We are not interested in joining or interfering with the affairs of others. We desire only to ride our motorcycles in the company of our brothers as free men in this free land, a land for which we and our brothers have fought “In Every Clime and Place” during the past 238 years. Currently, and always, we have brothers in hostile places around this globe defending our rights to choose as we please. We will never seek to infringe upon the rights of anyone and we expect the same courtesy in return.

Tom writing here again. These guys are amazing.  They will attend any event, any ceremony, any activity that honors our military and veterans and came at very short notice to participate in our Ceremony in Davie honoring the fallen from Iraq & Afghanistan and those who have succumbed to Post Traumatic Stress since coming home.  It was one of my highest honors to call the names alongside these Marine vets, who, from outside appearance may look a bit intimidating to the uninitiated, but to those who know them, regard them as brothers in arms extending across generations.

I’m not ashamed to say that the shared tears were shed helped me through the ceremony.  I really appreciate Gunny’s (the Marine with sunglasses, fierce look, and ‘evil grin’) words of comfort of never being ashamed of shedding tears for those who have done so much for us.

Another Leatherneck, ‘Ghost’ is hosting me on this Sunday & I look forward to seeing more of these great folks as I cross the country.

Semper Fi!

 

Recap of the 1st Week

WOW!  It has been an incredible 9 days so far, so I’ll try to recap in some sort of chronological order.

Fri – Feb 28 – An awesome send off at Clemson University at the Scroll of Honor (honoring Clemson students killed during all conflicts).  The AFROTC cadets, Pershing Rifles, students, & faculty came together for an emotional & heartfelt memorial ceremony honoring the 96 South Carolinians killed in Iraq & Afghanistan.  I was honored & humbled to have Rick & Cindy Roth & their daughter Amy there to honor the life & service of their son, Corporal Jason S. Roth, who we rode in memory of on Sat.  So heartwarming to see my old & new friends there.

Lots of butterflies that night, saying goodbye to my Mom, & her wishing me Godspeed early on Sat morning.

Sat – Mar 1 – Departing from Tillman Hall, cheered on by vets including Larry Druffel & Derek Popham, with AFROTC cadets in a peloton, led by Luke Watson with support by Drew Stephens (who officiated at the ceremony the day before).  One of my oldest & dearest friends, Greg Bauld, provided the much needed support & encouragement for the first day where we ended up at Newberry, SC, with a Memorial Ceremony in Veteran’s Park across from the Opera House.  http://laweb.htl.dc.publicus.com/news/home_top-news/3794607/Von-Kaenel-travels-solo-to-Alaska-after-visiting-Newberry

Overnight accommodation kindly provided by Henry Summers

Sun – Mar 2 – Pushing on to Columbia with Greg, reminiscing our 50 + years of knowing each other, was more like a celebratory ride when we arrive at the State Capitol at Columbia at noon, greeted by his wife, Denise, daughter, Katie, son-in-law, Bobby, & Yvette, from Senator Lindsey Graham’s office.

A chance to relax at Bobby & Katie’s house with them, Greg,  Denise, & Bobby’s Mom – Laura.  Said goodbye to Greg & Denise & started preparing for Aiken.

Mon – Mar 3 – On to Aiken to the Veteran’s Job Fair hosted by Congressman Joe Wilson with the Director of the Veteran & Military Students Success Center at USC Aiken Robert Murphy hosting my stay & providing overnight accommodation.  Unbelievable support for the trip by everyone.  Cycling to Robert’s house that evening for dinner and to spend the night.  A wonderful meal & fellowship with vets Colin & Harry (and Harry’s partner, Jessica) with Robert’s wife, Lisa being a wonderful hostess.  It is incredible the kind of relationship building that these people and this organization does in terms of connecting veterans and military students with USA Aiken.

One memorable event – a cold front coming through dropping the temperature about 20 degrees very quickly.

Tue – Mar 4 – Breakfast with Robert & Lisa, cycling to USA Aiken to have a Memorial Ceremony at the Student Activities Center.  I was honored to call the name of Corporal Matthew Dillon as the last name to be remembered in the presence of his parents at the Center.  The ride was dedicated in his memory.

Students & veterans were very supportive & respectful – Chancellor Jordan provides inspiring leadership & I thank her for her support for this.
Cycling 35 miles at noon from Aiken to Augusta, getting to Darling Hall at Fort Gordon, GA and conducting the first Memorial Ceremony for the 209 Georgians killed in Iraq & Afghanistan.  Surrounded by over 80 senior non-commissioned officers and junior officers in Darling Hall was truly overwhelming.  All participated in the reading of these 209 names and after reading a selected poem whose last line is “We will remember them’ was echoed by all in unison “We will remember them”.  The Executive Director of the Augusta Warrior Project Kim Elle, who hosted the visit and Janice Barnshaw pulled out all the stops.   My special thanks to Major General Patterson the Commanding General of Fort Gordon and Command Sergeant Major Pflieger attending the ceremony.  Thanks also to Colonel Stephen Elle, the Commander of the 15th Regimental Signal Brigade for his active support of the event.

The ride on the following day was dedicated in memory of Doctors Dan Dickinson & Matthew Burke, tragically killed a couple of years ago in separate bicycling accidents.

The evening, hosted by Kim & Steve Elle, was another reminder of what I love about the US military, the tightly knitted sense of camaraderie & family that reaches out across the years and throughout the ranks and branches of the military.  It is emblematic of our nation’s family & the Elle (and Murphy) families are wonderful examples.

Wed – Mar 5 – Steve Elle getting me out of Fort Gordon & Augusta on a road that I could safely cycle (thanks Steve!) then cycling towards Statesboro.  Weather was cold but dry and road conditions were good so was able to get the 75 miles in by 4 pm to Statesboro, meeting with Heidi Jeffers (and Becky) at Statesboro, and was greeted by Mayor Nancy Moore.  We had the Memorial Ceremony inside City Hall  http://www.statesboroherald.com/section/1/article/57602/

Incredible to see the town support for this short notice event.  Very kind words by Mayor Moore and goodwill by the residents of Statesboro.

Attended Ash Wednesday Service at St Matthews Church, then a supper in the church hall and was very kindly put up for the night by the parish priest, Fr Clark in a guest room – a nice time to reflect on the past few days.

Thu – Mar 6 – Challenging ride in the rain – temperatures in the high 30s with a steady rain, cycling 50 miles to Fort Stewart in Hinesville, GA.  Cycling through Stewart, I could hear the tanks firing on the ranges and see the troops training in the rain that I was cycling through.  The only difference was I could stop & get dry whenever I wanted, they were training up to a standard to ensure that they could defend our country at a moment’s notice, & this takes precedence.

Stayed the night at a local hotel provided by St Stephens Parish Church, dried off & warmed up for the next day.

Fri – Mar 7 – Rain was light, the temperature was 41 & Kingsland, GA was 100 miles away, so departed early and rode about 9 hours until reaching Kingsland at 4:00 pm.  Met Mayor Kenneth E. Smith, a Vietnam Vet who presided over one of the most personal & touching Memorial Ceremonies at Veterans Park in Kingsland.

Then had the best restaurant meal at Steffers Restaurant where the atmosphere is more like a family dining room than a restaurant.  Kris, Taylor, & Linda were simply wonderful.

The next morning, Linda took me across I-95 into Florida as the bridge was being repaired on the local US route I had been cycling.

Sat – Mar 8 – Cycling in Florida, I saw the sun!  First time in 3 days!  Temperatures were rising and was able to get to St Augustine by 3:00 – about 80 miles.  Had the Memorial Ceremony in Veteran’s Park, negotiated my way back by bike to the hotel amidst the sea of motorcycles (St Augustine had a motorcyle rally this weekend in conjunction with Daytona Beach).

Sun – Mar 9 – REST DAY!  Slept, ate, did laundry, then was greeted by Shep & Collos from PTSDAwarenessRide.org, on behalf of its founder, Janine Lutz.  Shep & Collos have the PTSD Awareness Vehicle as my support vehicle going down to Davie, FL – exciting times – can’t wait to meet Janine!

Finally, & most importantly, I want to thank my very dear friends – the CEO of Sea2Sea, John Sprowl, and the Secretary/Director of Social Media/General Go To Person, Tricia Murdock for their support of this trip.  We are a three person non-profit organization.  I just ride the bike – John & Tricia do everything else.

It is safe to say that Sea2Sea would be just a dream for me if not for them, so my profound thanks & gratitude to John & Tricia.

More to follow for Week 2 of the Sea2Sea 2014 Challenge.

One of Sea2Sea’s Oldest Supporters

Tom's mom

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Here is a wonderful photo of one of Sea2Sea’s older supporters, Sallie, born on Aug 16, 1924, one of thirteen children to ‘Bub’ & Minnie Lee Jameson, farmers in upstate SC.  Seven sons and a daughter served in the US Military, six during World War II and one was killed in a bombing raid over Austria.

Her husband saw combat as an infantryman in World War II & Korea, and she has four sons, all who served in the military.

What makes her special to me is that she’s my Mom.  So to my dear Mother as I pedal away today, I’ll promise not to bicycle on the interstate if you promise me to go to all your doctors’ appointments.  See you in July.  Love, Thomas.

How Do You Cram Your Worldly Possessions into Two Panniers (Saddlebags)?

Very carefully, of course.

As you may be aware (and I now know) – going on a self-supporting bicycle trip requires meticulous planning and a certain amount of ruthlessness to determine what goes in the panniers and what stays at home.

‘Must haves’ become ‘nice to haves’ in a day or so & then change into ‘THROW IT AWAY!) after a week. Jeff at Mainstreet Cycles in Clemson has a good rule of thumb, ‘Pare down everything you want to bring & lay it out before you pack it. Then throw half of it away.’

Here is the current layout for the trip (note – the cat is optional)

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Fully loaded, the two panniers weigh about 25 lbs. With me on the bike, it’s about 235 lbs.

I’ll take another photo one month into the ride to see what has been thrown away.

That’s only one aspect of the ride. The other aspect is the fit of the bike fit and the gearing ratio. That will be in a future blog.

Pitfalls of a New Blogger

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Having been reluctant to embrace social media and being of the mind that once you are 58, you really don’t care who ‘LIKES’ or ‘COMMENTS’ about you, unless it is to tell you that there is a bit of ketchup or mustard on the side of your mouth, or your shirt is inside out or your zipper is unzipped, I find myself trying to strike a balance, between telling people what’s going on or simply getting on the bike & riding to the next destination.

And it is a bit narcissistic, when I notice that my first blog has six comments and succumb to looking at them, only to find all except one are ads (speed dating in Bethesda, and Celebrex printable coupons among the more unusual).  And the one related to the ride, is my friend, Greg, who is joining me to Columbia (Thanks, Greg!)

I guess for the purposes of the trip it is finding the balance being between ‘online’ or ‘on the road’.  Being ‘online’ won’t get us where we want to go, & just being ‘on the road’ won’t publicize our cause the way social media can.  Maybe a good mantra to have is ‘If I’m online, I’m in danger of being off track.’

So my commitment to you is to make these blogs, short, positive & hopefully insightful.  Happy for you to comment (especially if I have a bit of food on my face or if my zipper is unzipped).