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News & Press

Veteran Riding Schwinn, Raising Awareness for Troops

Jul 18, 2006

by Brandon Fincher, Courtesy of The Randolph Leader

In the movie ""Forrest Gump,"" the title character, played by Tom Hanks, decides ""for no particular reason"" to go for a run one day. By the time he finishes his run, he has crossed the United States multiple times.

One could compare Forrest Gump with Bob Brown, 46, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who is planning to cross the United States on a bicycle. What makes Brown's journey different from Gump's is Brown has a reason to travel across the country, and it is very particular.

""Write to the soldiers. Soldiers need us to write to them so they know that someone cares about them,"" Brown said. ""That's my biggest message. Write, write, write, write, write.""

Brown feels so strongly about his message because he is a veteran of the Persian Gulf War and the 1989 Panama conflict.

""A lot of soldiers over there have no one write to them. I was one of them. No one wrote. Everyone said 'I'm too busy' or 'I thought so and so was going to write to you,'"" Brown said.

Brown said writing letters is important because soldiers fighting overseas are facing death everyday, and they need to know someone back in the U.S. cares enough about what they are doing to write.

He began his journey on the first day of July from Crystal River, Fla., and has slowly but steadily crept northward.

He spent his 46th birthday traveling up U.S. 431, stopping for the night at Lake Wedowee Motel and Cabins, where he slept in a camper and worked the next morning to earn a little money before leaving in the afternoon.

Brown has ridden an aged, red Schwinn bicycle for the entire journey so far. ""I'm riding the best-made American bicycle, Schwinn. This is an old Collegiate Schwinn,"" Brown said.

He hopes to get enough publicity from his ride for Schwinn to provide him with parts for the upkeep of his bicycle. The tires looked worn from the journey, and Brown said he has lost one of his brakes.

Three small American flags are tied to the bicycle in various places, and a pink cloth bag carrying most of his belongings is tied on over the back wheel. ""Support Our Troops"" is written on the bag in black marker.

He keeps a small radio and headphones attached to the handlebars for something to listen to while on the road.

""The only way I can get recognition by folks is to ride a bicycle because no one sees a motorcycle and cares; no one sees a truck and cares,"" Brown said. ""They see a bicycle like this, and it catches attention, and I can put my message out.""

For his basic needs, Brown relies on the kindness of people he meets along the way. If he needs money for food or supplies, he stops at local businesses to ask if he can pick up odd jobs for a few hours.

He also stops at churches to camp out, and sometimes, church members will get him a hotel room or even let him sleep in the sanctuary. Policemen in some towns have also given him assistance.

""People have been fantastic,"" Brown said.

For those still wondering why Brown is going north to travel across the nation, he is stopping by Piedmont, Ala., to visit his mother and then traveling up to Ithaca, N.Y., to visit the parents of a friend who died in Desert Storm.

From Ithaca Brown will begin his transcontinental trek, which he hopes to end in Seattle, Wash.

He will not be done then, though. From Seattle Brown will continue to bike south along the West Coast and will finally finish up in Studio City, Calif.

From there, who knows? Brown said he might stay in California, or he might come back east.

""If I can get involved with more veterans who are interested in doing what I'm doing, I'll just keep on traveling,"" Brown said.

Brown said two events during his trip have been really special to him so far.

The first occurred in Monticello, Ga., when he had stopped at a church to rest. He met a woman who bought him groceries, gave him $15 and treated him to dinner at Golden Corral.

The second was in Eufala, Ala., where a woman told him about her brother who had died in World War II, but she never got the opportunity to write him to say how much she loved him. She gave him $100 for his mission.

Though he is only in the early stages of his journey, Brown has little doubt he will complete it. He keeps a small copy of the New Testament in his back pocket that he says helps keep him peddling.

So do not be surprised if you travel to a faraway state this summer and see a man on an old bicycle sprinkled with flags peddling down the highway. Slow down and give him a honk and a wave for encouragement, for he probably has many miles yet to go before his journey ends.