Remembering a solo bicycle journey from California to Florida–March to May, 1999
Twenty years ago this week, on March 18, 1999, I began a solo bicycle trip that began in San Diego and ended nearly two months later in St. Augustine. During the first half of the journey, I cycled for eighteen days and rested two, traveling through the dry lands of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas for a total mileage of 1,496 miles, averaging 83 miles per day on the days I cycled. At San Antonia I interrupted the bike trip by driving in a rented car to Fort Worth to lead a workshop for ministers.
Returning to San Antonio, I continued cycling through the wet lands of East Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and northern Florida. In fifteen days on my bicycle, I traveled another 1,312 miles, averaging 87 miles, and rested two days. My last night on the road was in Stark, Florida. After attending Mass at a Catholic Church, I rode the final 55 miles, dipped my wheels in the Atlantic Ocean at St. Augustine, and waited for my son to drive up from north of Orlando to take me to his home.
These memories were rekindled on Tuesday of this week—March 19, 2019—when I traveled with my son, who now lives in Fernandina Beach, Florida, to Saint Augustine to wander through the oldest European city in the United States. We had planned to make a three-day bicycle trip there and back, but an unfavorable weather forecast and a chronic sore leg that I am nursing back to health made a one-day trip in his BMW Z4 roadster the better alternative.
We glanced at the ocean along the way on Florida A1A and spent much of our time exploring the Castillo de San Marcos, established nearly 350 years ago to protect Spanish trade routes and the village of St. Augustine, the oldest European settlement in the United States. We also toured the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine which continues the oldest Catholic parish in the United States.
We wandered through the streets in Old Town that have been continuously used since 1572. More like cultural trails than city streets, they were crowded with people walking along, with ancient residential buildings on either side. No automobiles here, only a few bicyclists moving through the walkers as best they could.
A few days before making the trip in 1999, I gave a preview of my plans and purposes to friends at the Surprise-Grand-Bell Rotary Club in Surprise, Arizona. While eating breakfast before I made my speech, a fellow Rotarian, with disbelief in his voice, asked “Why? Why would anyone do such a crazy thing as that?”
Maybe the fact that I was 67 years old and would be riding all alone were reasons for his question. Fortunately, I have preserved a copy of the remarks that morning as I made ready for the longest bike ride of my life.
How better to feel the texture of the southern tier of the United States than to bicycle from San Diego to St. Augustine—from the community where in 1769 Junipéro Serra founded the first of California’s chain of missions to the oldest European settlement in the nation, founded in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. This is the plan I have laid out for me and Bluecycle, my faithful two-wheeled steed, for this spring. We will begin our journey on March 18, the day after the festival honoring St. Patrick, and plan to complete our travels in early May near the day honoring St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. Half way through the journey we are to spend a week in Grapevine, Texas, where I am to lecture at a church conference. Read more . . . . . . . Bicycling from San to Saint