In 2000, Parkville, Md., resident Ray Lorden was training for the Boston Marathon when he tripped over a hole on a run. He tore his meniscus and needed surgery. His doctor told him he would never run another marathon.
Lorden ran three more marathons, bringing his lifelong total to 48, but he underwent more surgeries on both knees. Marathons were like his job at the post office: no matter the conditions, he completed his rounds. He endured particularly memorable conditions during marathons in Ohio, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
"Columbus was raining and 33 degrees," he said. "Cape Cod was tough. Harrisburg was below freezing."
After his knee surgeries, Lorden started riding his Fuji bike every day. Five years ago, he decided to bike from Florida to Baltimore.
"I got the maps out and started plotting my course," he said. "Then I went on Google and checked it again. I took the train to Orlando with my son, who lives in Florida, and spent a few days with him. Then I set out."
On March 31, 2014, Lorden started his trek from Oviedo, Fla., to Charm City.
"It rained for three hours the first day," Lorden said.
Lorden, 65, grew up on Highland Avenue in Canton. He attended Sacred Heart of Jesus grade school and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. He played soccer on Sundays in Patterson Park in the late '60s with legends like current UMBC men's soccer coach Pete Caringi.
"Petey played on better teams than I did," Lorden said. "He went to Calvert Hall. They always beat us at Poly."
Lorden worked for 34 years at the post office. Soccer taught him how to run, and he has stayed active ever since.
He averaged 90 miles per day on the bike during the 12-day ride. His longest stretch on the road tallied 135 miles. The trick was to map the distances between towns that could be reached in a day.
"I stayed on Route 17 the whole way," he said. "When the road stopped, I'd ask someone where to find it. I learned all kinds of shortcuts through neighborhoods. People were wonderful."
He enjoyed being alone on the bike. He likes being by himself with his saddlebags stocked with provisions. He kept three pairs of running shorts and shirts.
"I washed them in the sink and used the blow dryer in the hotel room," he said.
He'd ride for four hours in the morning and then have lunch. Then he'd ride until early evening. Every night he'd chart the next day's journey.
"Once on the bike, I stayed focused on that day's ride," Lorden said. "I like the sense of accomplishment."
Before long, the flat tires started piling up. Ray didn't know his wife, Lisa, had planned to surprise him on the journey somewhere in South Carolina.
"I really missed him and wanted to surprise him," she said. "On the way down to meet him, he called me. He was tired of having flats and was ready to give up. We were on the phone when I surprised him in a shopping center parking lot. We talked about taking a break and finishing later. I brought him back to Baltimore and then we returned a few weeks later so he could finish. When I pulled away and left him there, I was worried. He looked so small amongst the cars."
Ray finished the journey in two parts. The first leg took four days and the second leg took eight.
"Lisa thinks I'm crazy," Ray said. "I'm just stubborn."
When he reached the Potomac River, he knew he couldn't get across the bridge.
"I went into a Sheetz and announced, ‘How do I cross the bridge?' I quickly learned it was not possible," Lorden said. "A large gentleman came up to me and told me to follow him to his house. He would take care of it. I asked him, ‘You would do that for me?'"
"What are we put on this earth for if not to help people?" Lorden recalled the man saying.
Then things took a different turn.
"I followed him home and his friend joined us. I put my bike into the back of his truck. Then he started going on the back roads," Lorden said. "I thought, ‘If he kills me, everyone in the Sheetz saw it.' He took me to the other side [of the river] and told me if I was ever back this way that we would enjoy a meal."
Why did Lorden make the long journey from Florida?
"I got a bug I guess," he said. "I felt it was something that could be done."
Lorden has pulled out the maps again and started charting the course from Baltimore to Maine.
"I'm not ready to commit yet," he said, but he's intrigued by the prospect. "That would give me the entire East Coast."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ray Lorden
Issue 258: October 2019
Originally published Oct. 15, 2019