Pedal mettle: Former Air Force colonel on 2,500-mile bike ride to raise money for families of fallen service members

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At public events along his trip

Gary West’s legs brought him to Princeton on Monday, a stop on a 2,500-mile-bike ride that began in the dog days of summer in Maine and will end in the early fall in Florida.
It is a much slower speed at which the former Air Force colonel once traveled, a combat veteran who flew F-15s and F-16s but who today is peddling his way down the East Coast for charity. Mr. West is hoping to raise $60,000 for Folds of Honor, which provides educational scholarships to children and families of fallen service members and to disabled veterans.
“It’s been three years getting reading for this,” he said in an interview at the foot of the Princeton Battle Monument. “My goal is, today, to be able to get on the bike tomorrow.”
His trip began some 600 miles ago, Aug.1 in Lubec, Maine; so far, he has been keeping to a seven-day-a-week schedule. On Sunday, he was in New York City and rode from Central Park to Ground Zero. The goal is to get to Key West, Fla., by Oct.1 — his 60th birthday.
The journey began with an idea. Now retired, Mr. West, of Manassas, Va., recalled wondering about three years ago what he could do to “bless others” rather than sit on the couch. He thought of having a bike ride, originally from California to Florida, but then settled on travelling north to south.
“As it matured over the last three years,” he said, “it became an opportunity for us to engage the public along the way. We didn’t want to just get on a bike and ride 2,500 miles. We wanted to do something that would be honoring.”
The way he honors the fallen comes from a tradition at military funerals, where an American flag that covered the coffin of deceased service members is then folded and then presented to their family.
At public events along his trip, he will have flag-folding ceremonies in memory of service members from the states he will be biking through. Earlier in the afternoon Monday, there was a ceremony at Rutgers University and then one again in front of the Princeton Battle Monument.
“What an honor to participate in this event which honors our fallen sailors, our fallen soldiers, fallen airmen and Marines,” said Navy Capt. David Wright, who runs the Naval ROTC program at Rutgers and Princeton universities and rode with Mr. West on Monday.
Mr. Wright will open his home to Mr. West for the night, before Mr. West embarks Tuesday for the next leg of his trip that will take him to Trenton and then to Philadelphia.
Of his short visit to Princeton, Mr. West said he is in “love” with the town, a “historic place,” in his words.
“I’m glad we were able to come here,” he said.
To learn more about Mr. West and his journey, visit www.patriothonorride.com.