April 19 02:38 PM

Modern day pioneer

Man pedals his way to Michigan from Florida in time to celebrate 65th birthday

Detroit native Jerry Hickey pedaled through Imlay City on his way up from Key Largo, Florida to a family reunion in Avoca over the weekend. The former aquatics instructor decided to make the trip to celebrate his 65th birthday Aug. 30. photo by Catherine Minolli.
August 15, 2007
IMLAY CITY — They say that a frontier isn't a place—it's a way of life. And Jerry Hickey is living proof.

A few notches into his quote-unquote senior years, the 64-year-old former newspaper executive pioneered yet another frontier in his life when he jumped on his bicycle in Key Largo, Florida and pedaled his way up to Avoca in time for a family reunion over the weekend. Oh, did I mention in time for his 65th birthday later this month, too?

"I wanted to see if I could do what I could do when I was 21," Hickey grins. "I wanted to do it for the challenge, and for the family reunion. Both worked out pretty good."

With nothing but some gear, the clothes on his back and two wheels beneath him, Hickey took to the road and embraced the challenge. He says the experience left him feeling like a pioneer. But that's nothing new for Hickey. Really.

A cast off

Twenty years ago Hickey decided to drop out of the corporate world and carve out a life at sea. Part of the dream—to move to the Florida keys—came true. The other part—to sail with his wife and kids for a year—didn't quite work out. But the good part—the sailboat part—became Hickey's home and way of life. For two decades he's lived on a boat—including his current digs, a 32 foot Morgan with teak interior and trim. A prized possession, the Morgan is Hickey's 23rd sailboat. He lost two of them to hurricanes, the last one just a couple of years ago. With the FEMA funds he was able to swing the Morgan. He's as happy as a clam.

"It's a beautiful, beautiful boat," Hickey says. "I couldn't be happier."

Happiness is easy

Living on a sailboat is like camping out, Hickey says, so taking a major road trip on a bicycle didn't require any major adjustments as far as his lifestyle goes.

"Getting back on the bike and cycling solo on the road is freedom," Hickey says. "It's the freedom of the road. It's been great. I felt like a pioneer a couple of times. A bit of a pioneer in this modern day. It's still possible to get away."

Hickey knows all about getting away. He walked away from two stints in the newspaper business—lucrative careers with the Republican Gazette in Phoenix, Arizona and the Port Huron Times Herald just down the road from here.

"I drove a Porsche and wore three piece suits," Hickey says, "but I find I prefer this lifestyle any day."

Part of his recent lifestyle included diving into creeks to cool off along the road. Camping out under the stars every night and enjoying all the nice people he met along the way.

"I stop frequently and people have been really wonderful," he says. "People have bought me breakfast, offered me sandwiches, hamburgers, coffee. People have been just great."

On the road again

It's been 44 years since Hickey, a Detroit native, took a major road trip. He was 21 and had just finished a summer as aquatics instructor at the Boy Scout camp in Jeddo when he decided to pedal his way to Los Angeles, California.

That trip stuck with him, and a couple of years ago he picked up a bicycle to ride around Key Largo. In two years he put 8,000 miles on the bike.

"I got so I was riding about 20 miles a day and thought 'well, maybe I could do another road trip with the family reunion coming up,'" Hickey smiles. "I told my relatives 'I'm going to ride my bicycle up to Michigan,' and they said 'you're crazy.' I decided, no, I'm not crazy. I'm going to try it."

Hickey set a goal of 100 miles a day, but a week or so into the trip he realized his average was right around 60.

"I got as far as Knoxville, Tennessee and realized I wasn't going to make it in time," he says. "I picked up a bus ticket for Flint and decided to ride from Flint to Avoca. I'm glad I came this way."

All tolled, Hickey had logged 1,050 miles when he hit Imlay City.

"I feel like I'm in better shape than I've been in the last 20 years," Hickey says, crediting bike riding for the physical boost. "The equipment's better than it was when I was 21, I've got a computer that tells me how fast I'm going, how many miles I'm traveling, how many calories I burn."

Hickey says he loves the outdoors, and has found treasured moments in the simplest things while on the road.

"It's been great. I'll pass by a creek all hot and sweaty and decide to jump in to cool off," Hickey says. "I jump in and look up and there's cars whizzing by overhead. It was like a bit of pioneering in the modern day."

Hickey will celebrate his 65th birthday on Aug. 30. Calling himself 'semi-retired,' Hickey's next goal is to sail to the Caribbean on a 'no return date' trip. After that, he's thinking about setting sail for the Mediterranean and seeing what happens next.

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