An Ohio man is riding his big unicycle 3,000 miles from San Diego to St. Augustine in hopes of raising awareness of the disease that killed his father back in the 1990s, and ultimately hoping to inspire donations for its continued research. David White’s father died at the age of 63 of Lou Gehrig’s disease, also referred to as ALS.
Having reached the age of 58 himself now, White embarked on his trip in March of this year after retiring from a 34-year career as a juvenile probation officer. He has rough 400 more miles to go and travels an average of 45 miles a day right now. His top recorded speed is 19 miles an hour, but he usually travels at an average of around 12 mph. He expects to reach St. Augustine in a little more than a week if the weather, his stamina and his pace all hold steady.
On day 52 of his 3,000 mile journey, David White rolled through Marianna and headed to Florida Caverns State Park to set up camp for the night.
He said he expected Thursday to be a day of rest that might give him a chance to join his support team for a walking tour of the caverns after he clambers out of the sleep chamber he created in his truck camper shell. Perching atop a narrow unicycle seat that rides on a 36-inch wheel is not something one can do day after day without a respite, he said. He generally rests every fifth or sixth day and takes breaks every five to 10 miles each time he rides. And if he should ever need to modify or suspend his day’s route because of fatigue or any other reason, his support team is a phone call away.
His “team” is a one-woman outfit, friend Joan, who volunteered to drive the truck from point to point and do some sightseeing in the communities while White is riding each day’s route. They communicate by cell phone to meet up at the end of each day unless something happens that necessitates her meeting him along the way. Each posts a blog of the experience; those journals are almost completely different, White said, and the two may later merge them as one resource for people who follow one or the other.
White’s blog can be viewed at http://unicylcingsailor.com .
He’s had more than a small share of roadside visits with people who see him riding and flag him down to take a picture and chat. Those opportunities to share the story of why he’s riding, he hopes, will inspire a few people along the way to give a few dollars to ALS research.
He said he’s enjoyed those encounters and the unique way he’s been able to tour the country. He learned how to unicycle as a 10 year old at a small parochial school, where one buddy’s unicycle acquisition turned into a big fad at the little school. A parish priest bought several unicycles so that the children who wanted to could learn how to ride. Several of them, including White, actually rode their cycles in the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and other such events through the years.
He’s had very few unpleasant encounters with motorists, he said. If he gets a response, he said, it’s usually a friendly toot-toot of the horn as the driver passes by. Most drivers politely share the road, and he has rarely had to deal with an irate driver; those are easy to distinguish from the others, he said. They’ve usually pulled alongside and blasted their horns in an unmistakably frustrated way.
Other than those few unpleasant moments, White says his trip has been a remarkably happy one. An unseasonably hot spell at the start of his ride was counterbalanced by unseasonably cool weather along the way. He’s been able to pull the tall climbs with relative ease, he said, including an 8,000 ft. climb from the ocean into the foothills of a mountain, and he traveled a 6,300 elevation at the Continental Divide.
His worst challenge came early on the trek, and was actually a problem that began before he started his trip. While visiting Costa Rica, a parasite attached itself to White’s leg. As the cyclist began his ride, the parasite came along, unbeknownst to White at the time. He had to seek medical attention when the pest started eating a hole in his leg, he said. He reached that critical point in May, in Mississippi, and had to stop riding for a 21-day intravenous treatment to get rid of the unwanted hitchhiker and heal his body. He said that he’s building back up to his former 50-mile per day pace, having had to drop back down to about half that for a time as his body recovered and he got back in shape.
White’s ride is following one of the paths offered by the Adventure Cycling organization. It’s the shortest cross-country route offered by the group, which prepares maps and provides cyclists information about points of interests, supply stations and other things they need or might want to know.
He said he’s glad he decided to go. “It’s been a pretty interesting way to see the country,” he said. “A big part of that is because of the people I’ve met along the way. It’s fun to talk to people who get a kick out of the unicycle, or to run into bicyclists who are making the trip."
Why did he choose to ride a unicycle rather than a two-wheeler? There are a couple of main reasons. First, he knew his cycle is an unusual sight that might cause people to seek him out; he was right. Doing so has given him opportunities to mix talk about his cause in with the unicycle chatter. And the second reason goes back to those old days when he was learning to ride alongside his chums in parochial school. “I never really grew up,” he said in explaining his second reason.