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Bike trip fills his days for 15 years

Eddie Fitzgerald, 65, is a philosopher on a bike.

Sit for a few minutes with him and the Irish gift of gab kicks in and he tells you that this is his second trip through Citrus County. The last was six years ago. He has traveled Florida a total of four times, down A1A and up U.S. 19. On Tuesday, he once again found himself in Citrus.

In his search for a record, Fitzgerald has logged more than 123,000 miles and traversed the continent more than nine times.

Born in Dublin on April 11, 1936, Fitzgerald came to America "on my mother's breast." Later the family immigrated to Canada and that's where Fitzgerald began his trek from Winnipeg in 1986.

Fitzgerald's wife of 30 years, Virginia, died of leukemia in 1986. He was depressed by the thought of going on without her.

"Virginia died, the children were grown and gone," said Fitzgerald. "The house was empty, and so was my heart."

He suffered a mild heart attack, was overweight and was smoking and drinking. His doctor essentially told him to get a life . . . and a bike.

Fitzgerald sold his house, split the proceeds among his children, Mike and Lisa, "to avoid the lawyers' fees," and bought the bike.

"I don't think this is what (the doctor) had in mind though," said Fitzgerald, who started out biking 10 miles a day. He has gone through 15 bikes and lost weight. He still enjoys a beer now and then and hasn't given up on cigarettes yet. He has visited old friends and made new ones.

Fitzgerald is attempting to set a record for the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest continuous bicycle trip on the North American continent.

"They have already said they'll recognize it when I finish," Fitzgerald said, noting that he wouldn't be able to touch the world record ride of 30 years and a half-million miles. He has kept logbooks signed by people in every town he has visited. They are in the care of a friend in Corpus Christi, Texas, and are the key to his entry in the book.

Four of Fitzgerald's bikes were stolen: in Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and Baltimore.

"I can't stay on the bike 24 hours a day," said Fitzgerald. "When you steal my bike, you don't just steal the bike _ you steal my home. I have my stove, my hotel (a tent), and my clothes. I don't have to just get a new bike, I have to start all over.

Two bikes fell victim, as did Fitzgerald, to auto accidents. Fitzgerald landed in the hospital and the bikes landed in the trash heap. He was forced to curtail his riding for a while, but he wouldn't stop.

Traveling the highways and byways with his small radio attached to his handlebars, Fitzgerald has had plenty of time to ruminate on life and the world.

"There is so much bad news in the world. . . . I do get a spiritual feeling sometimes while I'm riding. I look at the pain and suffering at 10 miles per hour," said Fitzgerald who has both rheumatism and arthritis. "When you see somebody else's pain, you don't concentrate so much on your own."

Using his Army pension to fund his travels, Fitzgerald lives frugally, camping out in a tent nearly every night, regardless of the weather, and cooking for himself. He has also enjoyed the kindness of strangers.

"A lot of people have been very kind to me," he said.

Strangers have fed him, offered him a place to sleep, taken time to talk with him, and some have even banded together to purchase a new bike for him.

When he ends his ride in a couple of months in Corpus Christi, Fitzgerald will head to Toronto, where his daughter is a teacher.

He says he won't miss the road because, "I'm going to go home and love my grandchildren."

The real secret is that he plans to buy a small car and retrace a good portion of his journey, renewing friendships made along the way. This time he'll have company because he plans to adopt a dog from an animal shelter.

He shares one thought before he heads out on the road again.

"I've outlived my doctor."