Riding a bicycle to Florida
From Niagara Falls Canada that is!
-and other places too...
When my parents met back in about 1947 or 48, they were roller skating. Roller skates in those days had four wheels, two in front, side by side, and two in the back, side by side. Not like the Rollerblades of today where the four wheels are in a straight line, called inline skates. I digress.
It was, I am told, a routine where the music would play and when the whistle would blow, the ladies would coast and the men would skate up to the next lady ahead of him. On the next whistle, move again.
On one of these moves, Ernest Foster and Mavis Burnham met. The story goes that Ernie went home that night and told his mother he had met the woman he was going to marry. So it was. They were married on June 12th, 1948.
Harvey was born to Ernie and Mavis in September of 1950. By the time Harvey could hardly stand, the parents had roller skates made to fit him so they could take Harvey out on the rink with them by holding him between them.
Where am I going with this? My parents met on wheels, so I guess you could say wheels are in my system. At one time I had ownership in ten taxicabs, five buses, a motorcycle, a bicycle (or two), and I'm sure more things with wheels.
As a child, like most children, I had a bicycle to get me around, give me independence, and make delivering newspapers easier. I am of the opinion today that every child should be given the opportunity to own a bike, be taught the responsible operation of a bike, and given the freedom to explore (with guidance and instruction). A bicycle is an energy efficient, one person moving one person, non-polluting, healthy mode of transportation.
When I was turning sixteen my peers were all getting excited about getting their drivers licenses. I didn’t really care if I were to get a license. I was happy with my energy efficient, non-polluting, healthy, one person moving one person, bicycle. It would take me anywhere. I guess I just never really quit riding, even after I did drive and owned more than one vehicle (over fifteen at one point).
Sometime in the spring of 1984, some of us were sitting around the table in the staff dining room at the Skylon Tower in Niagara Falls. We were discussing things we would like to do. I said I would like to get on my bicycle and ride it to Walt Disney World in Florida. The discussion went on to the conclusion that I could, and should, do this. It was reasoned that I had the time off after Canadian Thanksgiving (or American Columbus) Day in the middle of October; I could afford it; I had no ties to keep me here; and it wouldn’t matter how long it took me; I’m off twenty or more weeks and still come back to my job.
Sometime in the mid summer, and with the prompting of a girl, the decision was made, I am going to ride my bicycle to Walt Disney World! I would go by myself and have no support vehicle. I figured I could do the trip in less than a month, and should be able to stay ahead of the inevitable winter weather that would be following. After all, I’m heading south. The weather and temperatures have to get better.
Around Labor Day of 1984, a friend of mine, Doug McArthur, knew I would give it a shot, but being as spoiled as I was, might just hop on a bus, train, or plane, to finish the trip as soon as I decided I’d had enough. He suggested I raise money for one of the charities I was involved with. His correct thinking was that I would then have an incentive to keep me going. I wouldn’t quit. I’d accomplish my goal as well as do some good for someone else.
The charity I picked was the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. (Furthering Recreational Integration Emphasizing Needed Developmental Skills) program operating out of the Boys and Girls Club on Culp Street in Niagara Falls. Over the years I raised thousands of dollars for them.
I left Niagara Falls on Tuesday, October 16, 1984. I was alone with my bicycle. I had over forty pounds of luggage on the bike. I was thirty-four years old. Away I went. United States customs couldn’t believe I was going to Walt Disney World, but after checking me out, reading the Review’s (the local Niagara Falls newspaper) write-up, and still in disbelief, they let me head out. It took me seventeen days to get to Walt Disney World. I met some great people along the route and also rode into a guidepost in North Carolina.
I kept in touch with Niagara Falls through CJRN (the then local radio station) as I called them regularly to give an update and report (the post they wondered? It was at dusk and it just sort of snuck up on me, indicating a median, and I saw it too late. I had a bruise on my leg, but otherwise I and the bike were fine to carry on).
In 1985 I again left after Thanksgiving. This time I had company. A (then) twenty-three year old Ken Reid joined me for the ride. We both raised funds for the FRIENDS program and we did the trip in fifteen days.
Ken and I rode to Columbia, South Carolina and my dad (who had now retired) caught up to us with his car. For the balance of the trip he carried the luggage and tools in the car. After getting to Walt Disney World, we spent a week vacationing there.
In 1986 it was back to being alone. I headed out with me and my bike. My dad, Ernie Foster, caught up to me just before the end of my first day in Bradford, Pennsylvania. He became my support vehicle for the next fourteen years, missing only one. He made twelve, or thirteen, trips with me.
The ride in 1986 was a real nice ride. I rode longer than 'normal' most days, and when I hit the Florida border I just couldn't quit. I rode until 11:00 p.m. that night. We took a six volt lantern from my dads vehicle and taped it to the handlebars so I would have a light. I did have a tail light already. I made the trip in just ten days. This is a record that has remained with me to this day.
During the summer of 1987 I met Paul Foy. He owned a local GM car dealership. Rod Booth worked for me at the time and Rod had decided to join me and ride to Florida. Paul played hockey with Rod and heard about the trip. Paul wanted to join us. Because of circumstances, and some business situations, we couldn't leave until November 7th in 1987. We have never left that late in the year again. It was cold.
At the beginning of the trip and for eight days, it was cold. Some days we froze with the wind chills we were creating by our riding motion. In Greensburg, PA, we had snow and had to quit after only thirty miles (fifty kilometers) that day. We could more or less ride, but the snow was so thick the cars couldn't see us until they were on our back wheels. We took a motel and called it quits that day.
Paul had over fifteen flat tires in 1987. Fortunately for us, most of them were after it warmed up, farther south. One time he didn't even get a hundred feet before the tire was flat. We learned about 'rim tape' from this and then Paul was okay and could ride more than a hundred feet without a flat.
1987 was also the year the decision was made to ride from Niagara Falls to Florida, not Walt Disney World as the first three rides had been. The reason for this was to take a couple of days off the ride so we could do it in fourteen days. Also, we had read that statistically, Florida had more dead cyclists every year that any other State or Province. We preferred to live.
We're only up to 1987. We have to get to 2013. If you've had enough,
go Home, or go to the Longer Story.
Okay let's get on to 1988. There was only Paul and I riding to Florida (with my dad as support vehicle).
In March of 1989, Paul and I flew to Los Angeles, California, and rode our bicycles back to Niagara Falls. You can read about that trip by clicking on this link. Bye. We'll see you back here shortly.
For those still here (or came back), we rode to Florida again in October of 1989. There were three of us.
The average number of riders has turned out to be three. I have made the ride four times by myself. I have been joined over the years by Ken Reid, Rod Booth, Paul Foy, Sante Rampado, Fred Zahn, John Forrest, Dale Winger, and Dave Watson.
I met Dave Watson when I was driving for G&G Motor Coach Tours in 1979, '80, or '81. Dave worked for the Post Office.
As part of his work requirement, Dave had to learn to speak French. He was sent to the province of Quebec to learn. A limo was sent to his house to take him to the airport in Toronto, he would spend a couple of weeks in Quebec, fly back, and a limo would meet him to take him home. He had to do this several times over a couple of years. I was usually his limo driver.
Dave and I hit it off right from the start. We had several things in common. We were both even into 'quadraphonic' sound, a technology which was bypassed by the better 'surround' sound, but we had great conversations while traveling back and forth to and from Toronto.
I had told Dave I rode a bicycle and wanted to ride to Florida, to Walt Disney World. He, of course, thought I was crazy and it was all talk and this would never happen. Dave finished his training and I changed jobs and we didn't see each other for many years.
One day I went into the Post Office for something (stamps maybe?) and Dave was my counter person. He looked at me as he was serving me with that look like he knew me. I was sure I didn't know him. Then he said, "Hey, aren't you that guy, don't remember your name, but you said you were going to ride a bicycle to Florida? Was that you? And did you ever do it?"
I told him it was I, my name was Harvey, and yes, I had done it already four times (or maybe it was five, I don't remember). Riding to Florida on a bicycle had become an annual event.
He couldn't believe it, but he did stay in touch after that. He also walked across the road from the Post Office one day to Peddlar Bicycle Shop and bought himself a bicycle. He also smoked cigarettes at the time. He started riding to and from work. Eventually he was riding to work every day, regardless of the weather.
After Dave figured he was up to the challenge, he called to tell me he was joining me in October to ride to Florida. Dave has now ridden the trip seven times. He also gave up smoking.
In the spring of 1996 I had pretty much figured I would not ride to Florida anymore. I now had twelve trips under my belt (or is that on my seat?). Then I received a phone call.
The call was from Disney Magazine. Deborra Wey had heard I rode a bicycle from Niagara Falls, Canada, to go see Mickey Mouse. Apparently I had done this twelve times already. Yes, it was true I told them. "Are you going to do it again this year, in October?" she asked.
The truth is, I figured I was done riding this particular trip, but if Disney was asking, instead of saying, "No!" I answered, "Why do you ask?"
It turns out that Walt Disney World in Florida was starting a fifteen month celebration in October of the year, 1996. The celebration was to recognize the twenty-fifth (25th) anniversary of Walt Disney World. The Magic Kingdom opened in October of 1971 and this October would be the 25th anniversary. The Disney Magazine might want to do a story on me as they were doing a feature for fifteen months on fifteen Walt Disney World enthusiasts in the October issue. After hearing this, I enthusiastically said, "Well, of course I'm doing the ride again this year!"
After some more phone calls and interviews, I was on page 84 of the Disney Magazine, the October, 1996 issue. I was one of the fifteen Walt Disney World 'Super Fans.'
From the story in the Disney Magazine, I also ended up in the 'I Love Orlando' magazine a couple of months later as well. I believe there were three of us that rode that year. The only problem now was, how could I quit after thirteen rides? I guess I'll have to do a couple more.
I rode the bicycle to Florida in 1997, but for some forgettable reason, didn't ride to Florida in 1998.
In 1999, we decided to do a spring ride instead. We left Niagara Falls on Monday, April 26th. It was a great ride, with good weather, good friends, good food, and even with the struggles over the mountains, fun was had by all.
1999 was also the largest ride by rider count. We had six bicyclists and a support vehicle. The van was my dads, but he didn't feel he was up to the trip. My mom’s second husband, Warren Southwick, was our support driver. This was overall a great ride and with six of us riding you would think there might have been problems, but really there were none to speak of.
In September of 2000, Warren had a heart attack and passed away after seven days in a coma. It was good that we all had time with him in 1999.
There were only three of us again in 2000. They were Paul Foy, Dave Watson, and I. We left on September 30th with a business partner of mine, Bob Hewitt, driving the support vehicle, my 1994 Jeep. The Jeep was broken into in Brunswick, Georgia, and we lost a few things, but it was just a minor inconvenience considering the whole trip.
We also didn't ride all the way to Florida this year. The road was closed. We were three miles (five kilometers) from the end, but couldn't go any farther. We packed our bikes up onto the Jeep and drove to the Interstate 95. We then crossed into Florida on I-95. So, we didn't ride to Florida. We were three miles short.
Once we arrived in Florida, we drove to Daytona. I have friends (formerly from Niagara Falls) that owned the White Sands Motel right on Daytona Beach. We spent a couple of days here visiting, enjoying the weather, and taking in the 'scenery.' (On a side note: If you go to Daytona Beach and are looking for the White Sands Motel, you won't find it today. Joe and Shelley Williams, my friends, sold the motel a few years ago, and it has since been taken down, and the neighbors on either side of the motel property as well, to allow for a larger motel to replace them.)
We then drove over to Kissimmee to check into the Westgate Town Center. Dave's wife, Carol, had driven down to meet us there. As usual, Paul didn't stay with us long, maybe three days since entering Florida, and he flew home to his wife on Monday. As had been the habit since 1984, I spent a week (sometimes up to ten days) in Orlando/Kissimmee. Dave & Carol stayed as well this year.
In 2001, it was Monday, October 15th, when three of us, Paul Foy, Fred Zahn, and me headed to Florida with my niece, Rebecca Hare, driving my Jeep as the support vehicle. Paul and Fred only stayed one night in Orlando, and then flew home. Becky and I stayed a week.
In 2002, it was Sunday, October 20th when three of us, Paul Foy, Dave Watson, and myself left for Florida with my now girlfriend, Celine, driving the Jeep. This time Paul stayed two nights before flying home. Dave stayed four nights, and then flew home. Celine and I remained for a total of ten days.
In 2003, I missed doing a Florida Bound Bike Ride altogether. It's just the way things turned out. I ran for Niagara Falls Alderman (city council) in the municipal elections on November 10th. I didn’t get elected, but I did run again in 2006 to no avail, and finally in 2009. That's it. Three times and I'm out. I guess no-one wanted me in a position of power. I don't blame them.
In October of 2004, Paul had to attend a funeral on the day we were planning to leave, so we just rescheduled. On Wednesday, October 13th, 2004, Paul, Dave, and I headed out. We rode all the way to Fort Erie, Ontario, a distance of about twenty miles (thirty kilometers). That was it. Good ride, eh?
Well, that was it for me. Paul and Dave continued on toward Florida, I had to come back to Niagara Falls because of some business, but just for two days.
On Saturday, October 16th, Celine and I took off in the Jeep and headed to catch up to the guys. In New York State I was stopped for using my cell phone while driving, but was only given a warning. Good thing. It would have been something else for me to go to court over. This was a whole lot easier. Actually, the police officer was very nice about it.
We caught up to the guys in Grafton, West Virginia. We continued on to Philipi, West Virginia, for the night. I also continued on the ride with them from this point. Again, we didn't ride all the way to Florida. The bridge over the Saint Mary's river was closed. Here we are just three hundred feet from the end, and we can't finish the ride. We wish they wouldn't do that to us. Paul and Dave stayed three nights and then went home by Amtrak train. They said it was a long trip.
In 2005, my twentieth ride to Florida, we left on Monday, October 10th. It was the three musketeers, Paul, Dave, and Harvey. Celine was the Jeep driver. On this trip we also met ‘Uncle Ray.’ He was from Blackville, South Carolina. He owned a restaurant, Millers Bread Basket. He invited us for a free meal and good conversation. It was a good Amish meal. Uncle Ray Miller also told us he had two and a half dozen kids. How many? Two and a half dozen. That turned out to be a total of eight, two girls and half a dozen (6) boys.
The Saint Mary's bridge is still out in 2005. Here we are on the other side of the river, just yards from Florida, and our bicycles won't float. We had to quit so close. Again! We packed up our things, packed up the Jeep, and off we went to Orlando as my friends are no longer at the White Sands Motel in Daytona. Paul and Dave stayed four nights this time and they flew home. Celine and I stayed eight nights, along with Bob Hewitt (remember he drove the support vehicle in 2000) and my youngest sister, Barbara Hare. They had each driven down to meet us on our arrival in Orlando. (Bob Hewitt had a heart attack in early 2010 and passed away. It was good to know him.)
In 2010, we left on October 30th. This was my twenty-second ride to Florida. Paul Foy, Dave Watson, Dale Winger, & myself all did this ride. To follow this, then go to Our 2010 ride.
I now have ridden my bicycle to Florida twenty-two times. If you would like to consider joining me (us) in 2013, just contact us. Please keep in mind we don't have accessable email. Spam does not get through. Please use our 'Contact Us' page. We are tentatively looking at a mid to late September departure from Niagara.
As some of my rides have also been used to raise funds for a charity, I would like to encourage you, if you've read this far, to make a donation to the Red Roof Retreat in Niagara-On-The-Lake. This facility assist physically challenged children by giving them a farm experience, complete with farm animals and horses, as well as taking the children for some nights so the parents can have a reprieve and time for themselves. Red Roof Retreat provides quality recreational, educational and respite services to children, youth and young adults with special needs and their families.
Call them at 905.684.0235. Tell them 'Harvey' sent you.
All of us cyclists hope you have enjoyed reading about our adventures. If you need more information, then go to 'the reason' to learn more about me.
Before I leave you, let me answer some questions we often get asked.
How many flat tires do we usually get?
All things being created equal, none. Yes, we have had bad runs for some reason (bad rim tape one year), but overall, none. Today's bike tires are made with the same materials as vehicle tires, or sometimes even better materials. Many have Kevlar in them. Kevlar is what some bullet proof vests are made with. Bicycle tires today can take a lot of road abuse. We have made trips without a single flat. If you read about Paul and I riding from Los Angeles to Niagara Falls in 1989, we only had one flat (me) on the trip. I also use a little wider (1") tire with a small amount of tread. These are not the 'slick' tires of racing style. Ours is not a race, but endurance.
How fast do you go? How fast do you ride?
Again, this is not a race. We average about 12.5 or 13 miles per hour (20kph). We do one hundred miles (160 km) a day on the average. We may ride from six to ten hours a day. It just depends on the weather, on us and how we feel, on any breakdowns, and any such things as may make our day go better or worse, like climbing mountains, or a severe headwind. Usually, of course, the wind is head-on. If it's behind us, then it’s good. The fastest speed I have ever had my bicycle going is coming down the mountain from Fancy Gap, Virginia, going into Mount Airy, North Carolina. It's highway 52. I hit a speed of 48 mi (78 km) per hour. I actually passed a car on the inside of a curve.
Doesn't sitting that long give you a pain? And you know where?
It's an interesting thing. Bicycle seats are made very narrow. It seems the narrower, the better. Over the years, one or another of us, might get some chaffing or sores. Usually everything goes alright because of the design of the seats. Also interesting, I find the harder the seat, the better. Soft and gel seats don't work or help for me. Over the years I have tried wider, sheepskin, gel, padded, you name it, but it seems a narrow, hard seat is best. It might also be a factor I have been riding since youth, and still do.
What route do you take? Can you ride on Interstates?
Or: What is your bicycle route from Niagara Falls to Florida?
Riding on Interstates is not permitted in most Eastern United States. In 1989, Paul and I did ride on I-40 in New Mexico and Arizona. It was allowed. I don't know about other States.
If you want to dig out your maps, here is our route that's hardly changed in 20+ years. If you want to follow the 2010 ride, go to the 2010 trip.
Starting in Niagara Falls, Canada, either ride along the Niagara Parkway South to Fort Erie and cross the Peace Bridge into Buffalo, go though town to hwy 62 or
cross the Rainbow Bride at Niagara Falls to Niagara Falls, NY, then onto hwy 62 to Buffalo, then, in either case...
follow 62 to Hamburg, then 391 to Springville, then 219 through Ellicottville, Salamanca, into PA, and to Bradford. Our first night is here at....
Leave Bradford, PA on 219 to DuBois, take 119 and follow it to Punxsutawney for the second night at....
Still on 119 to Uniontown (exit 119 at Connellsville Rd to go into town for the motel) for the third night at....
Continuing on 119, enter West Virginia and into Morgantown. Here we get our bicycles checked up and checked out at Wamsley Cycles
at the Seneca Center. After all is given the okay, follow 119 to Grafton, then 250 will join 119 and we stay on 250 into Philippi, WVa, for the fourth night at....
Following 250 into Elkins will join up with 219. Stay on 219 until Snowshoe. Here we usually book into the..., but then, if we have a support vehicle, ride about 21 miles to complete the day. We return to Snowshoe in the vehicle for night five. Otherwise we may stay in Marlington instead.
The next day we drive to where we quit and continuing on 219 all day, we end at the... in Lewisburg, WVa for our sixth night.
The next day will take us to Rich Creek, into Virginia and here you go onto 460 to Pearisburg, VA, then 100 out of Pearisburg to Dublin where we stay at... for our seventh night.
Because 100 joins onto the I-81 at this point, we backtrack a little to 11 and follow it through Pulaski back to 100. Hwy 100 ends at 221, a right turn, a short ride, and you meet 52 in Hillsville. Following 52 will have you entering North Carolina and into Mount Airy. Turn onto 601 and here we book into the... and again, if with a support vehicle, we ride out 12 miles and drive back for night number eight.
The next morning we drive to where we quit the day before. This is the intersection of 601 and 268. We ride 268 through Elkin which takes us to North Wilkesboro, NC. A zig, a zag and into Wilkesboro and onto 18. Follow 18 and 16 joins up. Stay on 16 into Conover, NC (near Hickory). We make a small diversion at this point for our motel at... for our ninth night.
Leaving Conover on 321 will take us through Gastonia, into South Carolina, through York, Chester, and into Winnsboro, SC, where we stay at... for our tenth night.
All of day eleven is on 321 until Estill, SC where we stay at...
for the eleventh night.
Stay on 321 untill Hardeeville, SC, and continue on 17 into Georgia. Our twelveth night is in GA on 17. Depending on energies, we may stop in Richmond Hill, Eulonia, or maybe Brunswick. We KNOW tomorrow we will be in Florida. We usually stay at...
On day thirteen, we just ride on 17 untill we get to Florida. In 1984, '85, and '86, we went to Orlando, but since 1987, only to Florida.
I hope this gives you a sense of our route and our ride. Thanks.
Feel free to ask any other questions. I'll try to answer them here. To ask a question, just ask, and I'll try to post a response for everyones benefit.
Go back to 'The Long Story,'
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