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franklin county times

Armstrong revisits personal odyssey

By Staff
May 6, 2001
A year after his 2,400 mile coast-to-coast odyssey, Andy Armstrong is still pumping the pedals in a way, telling and re-telling his own personal adventure, praising God and thanking the many people who helped him achieve a dream.
Readers of The Meridian Star may recall the journey of Armstrong and his nephew, Ashley Bailey, 19, as they rode bicycles from Fernandia Beach, Florida to Santa Monica Beach, Calif., from May 9-June 16, 2000.
Daily report
Their adventures were chronicled in a daily report in this newspaper. People still talk about the trip, indicating that while the newspaper accounts may have been widely read, it was Armstrong's doing it that made the more lasting impression.
In remarks to the Meridian Kiwanis Club the other day, Armstrong recounted as much of the story as time would allow (the standing rule enforced by club president and City Judge Lester Williamson Jr. is that speakers can talk as long as they wish members leave at 1 p.m.).
Armstrong answered questions about why one would want to bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific, described what training and equipment were helpful and what it's like to ride through the desert in the heat of the day.
It began as a challenge, Armstrong said. During trips out west in the 1970s he saw people on bicycles climbing mountain passes and peddling through the desert. It looked like fun and he began to wonder if he could do it.
Sounded logical
Sounded perfectly logical. After all, he had tried to ride a borrowed bike in 1963 from USM, where he played football, to Meridian only to have the trip end in with a flat tire in Laurel. In 1984, he and his youngest son, Rob, rode to Orlando and Jacksonville. And in 1985 he and Rob rode from their home in Newton to Niagara Falls, Canada, a mere 1,264 miles.
Armstrong and Bailey took the Florida-to-California trip with no support vehicle following them. They were self-contained, Armstrong said, carrying clothes, bike parts, maps and water.
They stayed mostly at motels along the route, ate at local one-of-a-kind restaurants. Wilma's Cafe, in Pearson, Ga., has a great Blue Plate special, he said in response to a frequently-asked question. The Sister's Act Tea Room in Lake Village, Ark., makes great sandwiches and salads. And, he quickly decided he liked The Firehouse Restaurant in Barstow, Okla.
While some of the longest days are still etched in his memory, he most remembers the people met along the way. The state trooper who let the pair pedal out of Nevada on an interstate highway, a staffer at a welcome station in Arkansas who saw to it Armstrong got needed medical attention. And literally hundreds of people who kept up with the trip and remembered them in their prayers.
For Armstrong, this was a life-changing experience. In more ways than one.
The feeling in his fingers spread out for hours at a time over handlebars and brakes is now almost back. At least Armstrong can pretty much retrieve items from his pockets.
He clearly connected with his own inner self, built a much closer relationship with his nephew and felt the gentle hand of God at work when he dipped into the Pacific Ocean at 12:35 p.m. on June 16, 2000.
And, he says, stay tuned. He may still be good for another ride to somewhere.
His many friends and former students all of whom have profited enormously from his guidance and leadership will be pleased to know retired Meridian High School principal Charles Armstrong was back in attendance at the Meridian Kiwanis Club last week.
Though still ailing from some lingering health problems, "Charlie A," as he is affectionately known, beamed with pride as his son, Andy, recounted his coast-to-coast adventure.
Buddy Bynum is editor of The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3213, or e-mail him at bbynum@themeridianstar.com.