Jerry Lachance is on a mission. The 70-year-old Vietnam veteran and volunteer fireman is riding a bicycle from Key West to Canada to raise money as part of Project Hero, an organization which benefits disabled veterans.
He spent Monday night at the Marion County Fire Station #10 in The Villages. Lachance has been a volunteer fireman for 40 years in his hometown of Sundown, N.H.
When he first decided to do a fundraising ride from the Canadian border to Key West in 2016, his fire chief enlisted firehouses along the route on an overnight basis. When he started that ride his goal was to raise $100,00 and he actually raised $25,000.
When he decided to ride for Project Hero this year, he reversed the route and headed north from Key West on April 10.
He planned to fly into the Miami area and ride to Key West. His plans were nearly dashed when his bicycle was damaged by the shipper he hired to get his bicycle to Miami. He was saved by the Miami-Dade County area firefighters when one of their members donated a $4,000 dollar titanium Litespeed bicycle so he could continue his mission.
Lachance has enjoyed the support of the fire departments along his route. While a guest of the Marion County firehouse he was able to visit the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, join the firefighters for their meals and sleep at the firehouse. He plans to stay in firehouses for 37 of the 40 days he expects this trip to take.
He got interested in helping veterans through the Project Hero program when he was doing a local group ride in support of veterans. While climbing a 1,000 foot long hill he was having some difficulty keeping up with a rider on a recumbent hand cycle. While catching his breath at the top of the hill he asked the veteran who had lost both legs in Afghanistan where he had gotten his bike and that’s where he learned about Project Hero.
In addition to the hospitality of the firehouse, along his route firefighters have escorted him along his route.This led to a humorous encounter. When he got into Key West he was approached by a man who had passed the cyclist and his firetruck escort just outside of Key West. When the man asked what he was doing and Lachance explained about his trip the man turned to his wife and said “I knew you were wrong.” She thought Lachance must have been a robber that the firemen were following until the cops arrived.
Lachance hopes finish his ride on May 20. Pledges for the his ride are being accepted at http://r2r.convio.net/goto/jerrysride