Paul James Ride To The Florida Keys

Lots of people take up bicycle riding and some even become enthusiastic enough to ride in marathons that go for 13.1 or 26.2 miles. But few can boast of logging 10,000 miles in 2.5 years.

Paul James, 66, has done just that, riding his bike from Fernandina Beach to Key West, a distance of some 535 miles in five days in October, averaging 107 miles a day. A typical workday’s exercise involves riding an average of 21.5 miles. On days off he rides between 30-60 miles. Toss in eight century rides of 100 miles each and a trip to Jekyll Island, Ga., and back and getting to the 10,000 mark is easily achievable, at least for James.

 Raised in the family grocery business in Iowa, James was active in high school, playing on the football, basketball and golf teams.  He continued his active lifestyle as a wilderness ranger for the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado. “I kept up the bike to help keep me in shape for the hiking and rode back and forth to work.”

 But when he moved back to the East Coast, he ended up taking a job that had him behind the windshield of a car for about 12 hours a day in New England.  Couple that with meals that came in through the car window and he was packing on the pounds.  Following a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in 2008, James got serious about his health.  “When the doctor told me I had diabetes, I said, ‘It’s put up or shut up time.'”

 He signed up for a six-week nutrition class to learn how to eat properly. When he was unable to attend because of work commitments, his wife went to the class for him, taking along a spreadsheet detailing her husband’s food intake. Soon he was planning his meals on spreadsheets. “It started out as information and ended up as planning.” Realizing diet alone wasn’t enough, James took the bike down off the garage wall and got back on it.  “I put the bike to work to regain my health. My first bike ride was about half a mile,” he said.  As the mileage increased, the pounds dropped off and 15 months later, James was 130 pounds lighter. He put his diabetic medications down in 2010.  But his dedication to proper nutrition is ongoing. He hasn’t had a slice of pizza, a French fry or fried chicken since 2008.  He heard he was the only rider who finished the century ride at the Katie Ride in April.  It was his faith that pulled him through, he said. “We started at 54 degrees and ended at 49 in a pouring rain. My scripture then was Joshua 1:9, ‘Be brave and courageous, not dismayed or disheartened for I am with you always.'”  People were encouraging him to stop because they’d pulled other riders off the course with hypothermia. “But I said, ‘Lord, I don’t know if I’m being brave and courageous or I’m just being foolish and stubborn.'”  When he finished his wife said, “That just shows how stubborn you are!”

 But tackling century rides wasn’t enough for this bike enthusiast, who wanted to try some “serious riding.” A bike journey to Key West seemed like just the thing.  Cycling partner Terry Landrath shared James’ eagerness to make the trip so the two paired up for the ride, meeting some friendly folks along the way, including a young man who joined their pace line in Daytona. “I don’t think he had ever ridden that fast because when we stopped at a light, his grin was bigger than the Cheshire cat’s. He was really enjoying the ride and we became instant friends for at least 15 to 20 minutes.” 

The trip was not without hassles as Landrath suffered a flat tire and the clipless pedal on James’ bike malfunctioned, making the ride through Palm Beach traffic “very interesting.”  “There were places and roads that were just not bike-friendly at all,” reports James. “Areas such as high-speed merging traffic lines put a cyclist at serious risk.” Roads without bike lanes were definitely dangerous, but it was the construction zones that proved most hazardous, said James, who labeled them “flat antagonistic.” Impatient drivers were also annoying. “I doubt we impeded any car for more than a few seconds (construction zones excluded) but those seconds must have been gold lined to some drivers,” said James, adding that there were some who employed horns or a few choice shouted words. 

The hard-driving cyclist burned through about 6,000 calories a day so keeping fuel in the tank was a priority.  Breakfast was pretty standard fare, augmented by protein bars, fruits, nuts and energy gel.  Lunch was usually a Subway 12-inch double meat. “I pretty much stayed to my diabetic diet, just more of it. I drank every 15 minutes, mostly water, and coconut water when I could get it.” Coconut water provides seven times the electrolytes of a sports drink, notes James. Dinner was an entre, vegetables and salad. Necessities carried in a 10-pound pack included a change of bike clothes, a fleece-lined bike jersey for cold and a rain jacket (neither of which were used), clothing for evening and dinner, bike repair gear, sleepwear, food and toothbrushes. Despite aggravated motorists and equipment problems, the final 50 miles brought beautiful weather and scenery with the wind at their backs.  Church friends gave him a ride back home and the following day, he was back at Nassau Health Foods working. 

James is an active member of Springhill Baptist Church where he teaches an adult men’s Sunday school class and is part of the Community Meals Ministry. The 10-year Yulee resident shares his home with his wife, Reenie. Their children are Beau, Brian, Jamie and Kim, and they have eight grandchildren. Their furkid is Frankie the golden retriever.


Heather A. Perry


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