By Jeanne Starmack
By Saturday afternoon, Chuck Campbell was on the beach in Pensacola, Fla., soaking up some sun and visiting with his three grandkids.
He’d come all the way from his home in Poland to visit Gracie, 4, Jordan, 7, and Bradley, 9, as well as his daughter and son-in-law, Carolyn and Tom Styrnec.
The trip took him a month, but not because he’s an extraordinarily slow driver.
It wasn’t horse power, but the slower, sure power of the pedal that got him there.
Campbell got on his bike in Poland on May 3. He rode through Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama, finally arriving at the Florida line Friday.
He got to Pensacola around 10:30 a.m. Saturday, met some fans, did a TV news interview and got some breakfast with his family before heading to the beach.
He’d traveled 1,070 miles, a long way to go for a bike ride. But he had his reasons.
He did it for his wife, Carol, who died in 2008 of a rare type of meningitis.
He did it for Hospice of the Valley, which took care of Carol during the end of her life. He solicited donations for Hospice before he left, asking people to write on their check memo lines that the donations were stemming from “the ride.”
He did it for himself, even spending his 62nd birthday on the road May 9.
“For me, this was a goal and challenge,” he said.
And challenging, it was. He used a Trek 7100 for the trip — “an intermediate bike, not a racer or a mountain bike,” he said.
His biggest fear, a flat tire, never came to pass. Unfortunately, neither did the idea of dodging sweltering conditions by taking the trip in May.
“The heat was atrocious,” he said.
The hills, too, were some steep obstacles. Depending on the heat and the hills, he could ride 70 miles a day or 35 miles a day. He averaged around 45 to 50 miles a day, he said.
There were plenty of rewards as well as hardships along Campbell’s road less traveled.
“On the freeway at 65 miles an hour, you don’t see much,” he said. “I went through a lot of small towns that were really pretty. It was [Norman] Rockwell’s America.”
Though he was the lone two-wheeler on the trip, he had a lot of help. For that he’s grateful.
He’s grateful to his support crew, the friends and family who traveled with him on four wheels and even in a motor home on different legs of his journey.
Friends Marge Diorio and Regina Rusnak of Struthers accompanied him to Canton. Joan Sonnet of Canfield traveled with him to Danville, Ohio. From there, Nick Pope of Coitsville was with him for three days until they got to Cincinnati. Dan Becker of Struthers was with him through Indiana in Becker’s motor home, and they stayed the nights in it at Walmart parking lots.
George and Patty Lancaster of Poland got him into Kentucky and Tennessee. Boe Karody of Struthers and Jack Shetler of Poland took him to Bell City, Ala.
His son-in-law was with him from Bell City to Greenville, Ala. From Greenville, Styrnec drove Campbell to Pensacola to spend the Memorial Day holiday. They went back to Greenville on May 29, and he finished the bike trip.
“The support crew played a big role,” he explained.
“I had extra gear and water and clothes they’d carry,” he said. “They’d wait five or 10 miles up the road with the gear, or let me rest. They’d take me to lunch.”
They’d make arrangements for the hotels where Campbell spent his nights. “A lot of accommodations were along the interstates, so they would shuttle me sometimes 10 miles to get to a hotel,” he said.
He was grateful for other help along the way and as he got ready for his journey.
Shetler, who owns the Old Stone Tavern antique store in Poland, mapped his route.
Ntense Workout in Boardman gave him a temporary membership so he could get in shape.
Boardman Cycle Sales made sure his ride was road-worthy.
Hotels gave him good discounts after receiving a letter of introduction from Hospice.
Police in Huntsville, Ala., even sent two cruisers to escort him through town when he found himself confronted by a road with three lanes of traffic and no berm.
So what’s next for Campbell — has he hit the beach to stay until he returns home?
No. He’s expecting to throw out the first pitch today at a Cincinnati Reds farm-team baseball game. He wants to sit down and finish writing in his journal that he kept along the road. And he has to count a very big pile of pennies his granddaughter Jordan’s school collected for Hospice.
He returns to Poland on Friday. “I’m not riding the bike home,” he proclaimed. “I’ll be on an airplane.”