Day 1: Friday — Atlanta to Ellijay, Ga.
Day 2: Saturday — Ellijay to Dillsboro, N.C.
Day 3: Sunday — Dillsboro to Asheville, N.C.
Day 4: Monday — Asheville to Little Switzerland, N.C.
Day 5: Tuesday — Little Switzerland to Boone, N.C.
Day 6: Wednesday — Boone to Christiansburg, Va.
Day 7: Thursday — Christiansburg to Roanoke, Va.
Day 8: Sept. 2 — Roanoke to Staunton, Va.
Day 9: Sept. 3 — Staunton to Culpeper, Va.
Day 10: Sept. 4 — Culpeper to Washington, D.C.
Day 11: Sept. 5 — Rest day
Day 12: Sept. 6 — Washington to Denton, Md.
Day 13: Sept. 7 — Denton to Cape May, N.J.
Day 14: Sept. 8 — Cape May to Atlantic City, N.J.
Day 15: Sept. 9 — Atlantic City to Long Branch, N.J.
Day 16: Sept. 10 — Long Branch to New York City
For seven hours, Douglas Kerns and a fellow firefighter pedaled their bicycles up, down and around Lookout Mountain, planning to rack up 125 miles.
But when they arrived back at their starting place — Chattooga High School in Summerville, Ga. — Kerns’ bicycle computer told him he had ridden only 123.5 miles.
While his pal Mike Palmeri relaxed with a beer, Kerns stayed on his $6,000 bicycle and rode around the school parking lot 10 times until he had reached 125 miles.
When Kerns says he’s going to ride 125 miles, he’s not going to stop 1 1/2 miles short.
That determination is why Palmeri asked Kerns to lead a group of firefighters and military veterans on a bicycle ride to New York City in honor of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.
Kerns, who works for the Dalton Fire Department, and the 11 other firefighters and military veterans mostly from Northwest Georgia leave today and plan to arrive in New York City on Sept. 10.
One of the five or six cars riding with them will carry a flag bearing the names of the 343 New York City firefighters who died after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
They’ve been training since Kerns held qualifying runs in April. Once or twice a week, Kerns calls each of the guys on his team to make sure they’re riding, eating, hydrating and even taking their showers to prepare for the trip.
“After this is over,” he said, “we’re going to be able to look at one another and say, ‘Man, that was fun.’ But you can’t appreciate it until it’s over.”
Kerns was delivering plumbing supplies on Sept. 11, 2001, when he heard that terrorists had attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He grabbed some fast food and went to his Calhoun, Ga., home to watch footage of the World Trade Center buildings crashing down. He watched the television until late at night, flipping channels.
“Why would anybody do that to America?” he asked. “Why would anyone have to die? People were jumping out of buildings to avoid the heat.”
Palmeri, a firefighter at the Atlanta Fire Department, owns a bicycle shop, Cartecay Bikes in Ellijay, Ga, and that’s where he and Kerns met. At first, Kerns was interested in mountain biking, but eventually he started entering road races on Palmeri’s custom bicycles.
Without Palmeri, there is no 9/11 tribute ride. Eight years ago, Palmeri rode his bicycle to St. Louis from Ellijay to propose to the woman who would become his wife. A few years later, Palmeri and Rodney Deese, another Atlanta firefighter, were talking about the proposal. Deese suggested riding to New York City for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Mike Palmeri, a firefighter out of Atlanta, hydrates while taking a rest stop at the Alpine Church stop in Menlo, Ga., on Saturday. Palmeri is one of a group of firefighters planning to bicycle to New York City later this month. Douglas Kerns rode in the Chattooga Century on Saturday. He is training to bike to New York City in commemoration of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Sounds good, Palmeri said.
But because he was a firefighter and ran a bicycle shop, Palmeri didn’t have the time to organize the ride. Besides, he said, he’s not a natural leader. Kerns, though, has that perfectionist, A-type personality that commands respect, he said.
So this spring, after Palmeri asked Kerns to lead the 9/11 ride, Kerns approached his wife, Leslie, to see what she thought.
“Well, people listen to you,” she said. “You don’t make decisions without thinking of them. Like you’re talking to me right now, you think things over and talk about them.”
That was that. Kerns would lead the trip.
In the time since, Kerns has spent his off-days trying to collect the about $70,000 needed so the 12 men can make the journey. To ensure everyone stays healthy, the men are bringing along an EMT, a paramedic, a massage therapist, a cook and a bike mechanic.
Kerns said he also wants to donate as much as he can to help the families of those who died on 9/11.
“The riders aren’t looking for a lavish ride up there,” he said. “It’s just making it a little more bearable for us.”
He still has $5,000 to go, and sometimes he’s one of the only men fundraising.
He collected money at a Rascal Flatts concert with only two other firefighters and their wives and at a Kenny Chesney show with one other firefighter and their two wives.
“You’ve got to lead by example,” he said. “It’s not do as I say, it’s do as I do. When nobody else is watching, it’s what you do.”
Andrew Pantazi is an intern at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who says that when he was 7 he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: play hockey for the Colorado Avalanche. Unfortunately, he says he wasn't any good at hockey, so he became a journalist instead. He writes about the lives we hide, like the man who suffered a stroke but smiled, or the football walk-on who endured 5 ...