From Santa Barbara News-Pres
By SCOTT STEEPLETON, NEWS-PRESS CITY EDITOR
May 31, 2016 5:40 AM
The fluorescent green top and matching helmet make Mike Beattie look like so many other cyclists you might pass on Cabrillo Boulevard on a gray May morning.
But the message printed on the back of his shirt – “I’m biking 12,000 miles to feed hungry veterans” – makes you realize the retired locksmith/security company owner and Navy veteran from Connecticut is on the road for a much higher purpose.
“I left Connecticut 68 days ago. I’m biking for the Utica (New York) food pantry which is called Feed Our Vets. They distribute food cards and assist any veterans that are in need of food throughout the whole country.”
The News-Press caught up with the 67-year-old near Chase Palm Park in Santa Barbara on Memorial Day as he was riding west, an American flag attached to the back of his bike, slowly approaching the halfway mark in his circle tour of the United States.
From his home in Storrs, Conn., about 35 miles east of the state capitol Hartford, Mr. Beattie headed south to Florida. “From Florida, I headed all the way over into San Diego. Now I’m going up the Pacific coast to upstate Washington.”
From there, he’s riding to Bar Harbor, Maine, and then it’s back home.
He averages about 80 miles per day, beds down in a motel and then gets back up and rides another day – all of it to raise money for vets who need help.
“When I retired almost two years ago, I bought a used motor home and I traveled around the country, and I couldn’t help but notice how many homeless veterans there were on the streets,” Mr. Beattie told the News-Press. “I found out that a lot of them just fell through the cracks.”
He did some research, discovered that almost 3 million veterans and their families members who don’t have enough food at the end of each month.
“That inspired me to ride.”
Mr. Beattie said there are plenty of wealthy people who do a lot for vets, augmenting government assistance. Still, he wishes more people would do more.
“This is just a small food pantry that serves thousands and thousands of veterans, and it’s all operated by volunteers,” he said. “There are no salaries involved, there’s no big bureaucracies involved.”
In the New York area alone, he added, the pantry feeds 5,000 veterans every month.
Mr. Beattie is doing the ride on his own, with no crew, no support vehicle and no one at his side to keep him company on those long, lonely stretches. He’s financing the ride through the sale of his home.
You’d never know it by looking at him, but Mr. Beattie has endured three spinal surgeries, including steel rods and screws holding his lower back together. He likes to say all the major surgeries he’s undergone in the past eight years, involving his shoulders, arms, back, neck and more have left him “rebuilt.”
Sure his back hurts, he said, “But as long as I’m riding, I’m pretty much pain free.”
On this day, he’d left Carpinteria and was heading to Lompoc.
Good weather was in the forecast; nothing like the three days he was waylaid in the Texas-Louisiana area because of torrential rains and floods and tornadoes.
“I’ve been through all kinds of weather,” he added with a laugh.
“It’s been pretty crazy.”
For more information on Mr. Beattie’s ride or to make a donation, click here.