A solo, 1,200-mile bike journey to Florida

Michael Kringle takes a break near a field outside Bennettsville, S.C. It was 95 degrees that day. (Credit: Michael Kringle)
Michael Kringle takes a break near a field outside Bennettsville, S.C. It was 95 degrees that day. (Credit: Michael Kringle)

You’ll have to excuse Michael Kringle for failing to make it all the way to the Florida Keys during his recent bicycle excursion from SUNY Binghamton in upstate New York.

Though reaching Florida’s southern limits was his initial goal, the 2010 Riverhead High School graduate called it quits after crossing into Florida and ultimately reaching Jacksonville.

Your initial reaction might be, ‘Why didn’t he just push himself for a few more days?’  

But you weren’t there.

When he was lying alone along the side of the highway unable to sleep due to the sound of bullfrogs, you were snug in your bed with a Breathe Right strip across the bridge of your nose and the air conditioning on low. Remember that birthday earlier this month when you blew out the candles on your cake surrounded by family and friends? He was eating Haagen Dazs ice cream at a gas station on his birthday, surrounded by strangers.

R0626_Bicycle2_C.jpgAnd while you spent that one Sunday morning eating a delicious bacon, egg and cheese sandwich (with salt, pepper and ketchup) at Meetinghouse Deli, he was being run off the road at 8:30 a.m. by a drunk driver in Georgia.

So, yes, it may be a little frustrating to you that young Mr. Kringle came up 500 miles short in his quest to ride his bike as far south as he possibly could upon his graduation from college, but you weren’t there for the first 1,200 miles.

“It was really tough,” the engineering major said. “I was out there for 12 days, so there were time constraints. And I started asking myself, ‘How am I gonna make it through?’ ”

Under the original plan, Mr. Kringle wasn’t supposed to go it alone. Instead, a friend of his who also just graduated from the engineering program at SUNY/Binghamton was supposed to make the journey with him. That is, until an internship opportunity popped up.

“He couldn’t get enough days off to do both,” Mr. Kringle recalled. “I said, ‘I’m still doing this.’ ”

So he set out on his solo bicycle mission equipped with a tent, an iPhone, a GoPro camera, Cliff bars, three liters of water and just one change of clothing. The bike he rode was a 40-year-old Peugeot 14-speed from France. He and his dad had found it at a yard sale at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Riverhead.

While making the ride, Mr. Kringle avoided interstate highways, sticking instead to county and local roads as he made his way across eight states — New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

By car, it’s a 15-hour drive from Binghamton to Jacksonville. A flight between the two cities can take a little more than four hours. Hitting the road by 6 a.m. and riding approximately 100 miles per day using a route that diverts a rider slightly farther west than the interstate routes, Mr. Kringle made it to Jacksonville in 12 days.

The journey was filled with challenges.

For starters, some of the roadways featured no shoulders but plenty of honking cars with drivers yelling ‘Be careful!’ as they zoomed by a few miles per hour over the speed limit. There was also the odor. With just two pairs of clothes and no time to head to a laundromat, Mr. Kringle admits he stunk for most of the trip.

“A lot of people were asking me what I was doing when I’d stop for a break and be covered in sweat and all smelly,” he said.

And of course there was the matter of where to sleep when he had to stop for the night but was nowhere near a park.

“I’d just sleep right there on the side of the road,” he said, admitting that he did cheat a little by spending two nights in a hotel, where he could wash up and charge his phone and camera.

Not exactly a bicycle enthusiast, Mr. Kringle said he prepared for the trip by training in the gym for a couple hours each day. He also took several 50-mile test rides to see how he felt afterward.

What he didn’t necessarily account for were the hills along some of the roadways.

“Pennsylvania was the worst,” he said.

But while its topography made the Keystone State the most strenuous of all, its rich history along Route 15 provided the biggest highlight.

“The best part was definitely the historic sites between Harrisburg and Gettysburg,” he said. “I’d stop for a minute and read the signs. It was really nice.”

That definitely made for a better experience than what Mr. Kringle dealt with on the penultimate day of his trip, when he was run off the roadway in Georgia. A witness to the near-crash called police, who stopped the driver who almost struck Mr. Kringle. He said the man was arrested for drunk driving.

It was at that time when he decided to call it quits once he passed into Florida. He did so on June 16 and flew back to New York a day later, much to his mother’s delight.

“I was totally relieved,” said Karen Kringle, who said her son didn’t tell his parents he was going it alone until after he started his journey. “I did a lot of praying … every day.”

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