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A ride beyond survival

John Greer faced hailstorms and grizzly bears on his 82-day bike trip from Alaska to Florida.

But riding his recumbent bicycle down U.S. 19 Friday morning was the most frightening part of the roughly 5,000-mile journey, he said.

Greer pedaled into the Hillcrest Mobile Home Park entrance just after 11 a.m., where a group of cheering friends and neighbors greeted him, balloons and bottled water in hand.

The 62-year-old part-time quality control consultant didn't ride to raise money for charity or to raise awareness for a cause. He rode for himself.

Greer said a prostate cancer scare last fall prompted him to make the trip. A biopsy turned up negative, but the scare was enough to make him take several months off work for the journey.

"You get your priorities rearranged," he said.

Greer left from Anchorage on July 5, traveling between 70 and 100 miles each day on his Longbike Vanguard, a recumbent bicycle he bought about seven years ago. Starting in Alaska, he traversed British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, before riding through Montana, the Plains states, Louisiana and the rest of the Southeast before finally arriving in Florida.

He also rides a mountain bike and a road bike. But he said he prefers the recumbent bike for long-distance riding.

"My hands were going numb and my neck hurt and my bottom hurt," he said. "I tried a recumbent and just fell in love."

According to the 2003 Guinness Book of World Records, the longest solo bicycle journey was 402,000 miles by an itinerant lecturer who visited 159 countries from 1959 to 1976.

Greer hasn't traveled as far, but he's no stranger to cross-country bicycle treks.

He previously rode from Michigan to Maine to Georgia on his recumbent bike. About 10 years ago, he rode from Seattle to Atlantic City with about 200 others to raise money for the American Lung Association.

Traveling via bicycle is the best way to explore the country, Greer said.

"You take in more. You smell the smells. You hear the sounds," he said. "Especially on a recumbent, you can actually look around. You can actually take in more of the panorama."

And what a panorama it was, he said, with something new and beautiful around every corner.

Just as interesting as the countryside, he said, were the people he met. He couldn't get a drink at a gas station without someone stopping to ask where he was going and where he'd been.

"Every time I'd tell people, they would just be overwhelmed," he said.

Doug Martin, 57, of St. Augustine was on an RV trip across Canada with his wife, Sheila, when he met Greer at a roadside pulloff in British Columbia.

"I was amazed at how little gear he had," Martin said.

Greer traveled as lightly as possible, shedding items along the way.

"I just found more and more things that weren't really necessary that I eliminated as I went," he said.

His laptop and digital camera were the first to go. Then went his shaving cream (he didn't need it in the shower) and his hairbrush (he wore a helmet, after all). He sent packages home filled with things he picked up on the trip.

But Greer kept his cell phone with him, calling close friend Diane Huntington every night.

"It was wonderful," she said. "He told me so many heartwarming stories."

By the time Greer returned home to Unit 506, he had only a few small bags, a helmet and a sleeping mat hanging off the back of his bike.

"It's just astronomical," said Carol Sasbon, the administrative assistant at Hillcrest, shortly after Greer arrived.

"I just can't believe that he did this He even made it home in time to pay the rent."

Times researcher Mary Mellstrom contributed to this article. Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at (727) 771-4303 or cshoichetsptimes.com.

At the end of his long ride Friday, John Greer, 62, regales well-wishers at Hillcrest Mobile Home Park with tales of his adventure on his Alaska to Florida bike trek. Greer says the recumbent bike is more comfortable than traditional bikes and lets him take in more of the view as he rides.

John Greer rides his recumbent bicycle past a shuffleboard court at Hillcrest Mobile Home Park he never has played on as he heads for his mobile home after his cross-country trek. He traveled between 70 and 100 miles each day to complete the 5,000-mile trip in 82 days.

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