HOME, BUT STILL HELMETED
Elmer Jackson, fuzzier, lighter and still wearing his helmet, was all smiles Thursday.
A 111-mile sprint took him from the outskirts of Wilmington, Delaware to Freehold, New Jersey Tuesday.
Elmer Jackson just wanted to be home after pedaling his way across America.
Elmer, in white, and Jeff Jackson, in red, surrounded by admirers on their ceremonial ride home; Elmer’s wife, Doris, helps unfurl a map showing the coast-to-coast route; and Elmer tells a crowd how he whooped each time he crossed a state line. (Click to enlarge)
He made it, too a day early. Which meant that yesterday’s “homecoming,” complete with an escort up Shrewsbury and Bridge avenues by kids and adults on bikes, police and a blaring Liberty Hose Co. firetruck, was something more of a staged event than planned.
But it couldn’t be avoided, Jackson said, noting that he rode hard when he could to offset the downtime caused by unpredictable sprinkles and showers that would make it impossible to ride.
“When the roads are wet, this little bike’s going to slide around,” he said. “My wife said to me, ‘don’t you come home broken!’ “
Far from broken, Jackson was about 40 pounds lighter and “in the best shape I’ve been in in several years,” said the former open-heart surgery patient. “I think this is a new start for me physically.”
The ten-week journey from San Francisco, covering 4,200-plus miles, was a fundraiser for the West Side Christian Academy, where the father-and-son Jacksons are teachers and administrators. They’re still seeking donations, hoping to raise $100,000.
Jeff only rode the first four weeks, taking the wheel of their sag wagon after the original driver, Tim Hathaway, left the tour.
“I wanted to do the whole ride, but I promised to take care of him,” Jeff said of Elmer as he addressed about 50 people who’d gathered in the parking lot of the Calvary Baptist Church, where the school is housed. “And taking care of him is a lot of work,” he added.
Before recounting tales of near-miss catastrophes with wild dogs and spectacular landscapes and lessons learned on the road, Elmer all but refusing to remove his helmet spoke of the yearning that compelled him homeward.
“One thing I know is that I really did miss being home,” he said. “The familiar faces, my racquetball partners. I missed all the students. So I never thought about quitting.”