“It’s not something you can do on a regular bike,” Dukler explained. A recumbent bike has a special layout that makes the rider look like they’re leaning back comfortably in a reclined car seat. It gives the rider a chance to look around. “It’s much more conducive to sightseeing.”
The slower pace of a bike and the lack of an enclosed windshield makes Dukler feel like he’s part of the road. He’s not breathing odorless, filtered air -- he’s breathing in the fresh scent of grass and palm leaves. “I just think it really brings me more in touch with the environment. I can stop at any time if I’m interested in something.”
Much of Dukler’s love of cycling and being out on the road would seem pretty typical without context. But the Gardiner resident and former New Paltz Board of Education president is a long, long way from home -- just fewer than 2,000 miles from the Hudson Valley.
As you read these words, Dukler is still riding. He’s just entered the third week of an epic, six-week-long bike ride from Fort Lauderdale, FL back to New Paltz -- a journey which will take him up the East Coast through nine different states.
“For the most part, I don’t have reservations from one day to the next,” he explained. Dukler has some friends along the way, but many times he’ll stay in a motel or in a campground. He has food, water and all his supplies with him.
“Tonight I’m in a state campground in Florida,” he said on April 21, during a phone interview.
Unlike most reality TV shows, where help and a paramedic is just a nearby camera van away, Dukler is on the road alone. He’s roughing it to find food, make emergency repairs to his bike and to find a place to stay. Each night, after a long day on the road, he finds a place to stay.
But why is a retired school social worker undertaking a massive, weeks-long ride? For charity. Dukler’s ride will go to benefit the newly founded New Paltz Central School District Foundation for Student Enhancement.
Last year, Dukler retired from his job across the river at the Arlington Central School District. And he also decided not to run for re-election to the New Paltz School Board. But even after stepping down as president, Dukler still wanted to find a way to be helpful.
Superintendent Maria Rice and a number of volunteers had also been working behind the scenes to create an educational foundation that could help cocoon students against federal and state cuts to education. Dukler pitched them the idea of the ride as a fundraiser.
“This had been a dream of mine to do a long-distance bike ride,” he said. “It was really serendipitous.”
As of April 13, the rider has been on the road -- usually logging 50 to 80 miles each day. Any place he can find access to a wireless Internet signal, Dukler blogs about his trip on his Blogspot.com account.
“This was today’s ride,” Dukler wrote on April 16, referencing a picture of clear skies and the open road. “I went to visit some old friends near Orlando, which was off the official route. Not scenic like riding along the ocean.
“The road is 65 mph. Almost every car moved over into the far lane and gave me plenty of room. The traffic also came in pulses, not continuously, so I felt totally safe the whole way despite the speed.”
One lesson he learned quickly was not to try to swim in any of the lakes or ponds in Florida -- no matter how hot he is or how inviting they look.
“One of the quirks about Florida is that they have lakes and ponds everywhere. They are not swimmable, not a one! Why? Chomp, chomp. You guessed it, alligators,” Dukler wrote in the next day’s entry. “From a cyclist’s point of view, this is tantamount to torture.”
During the phone interview, the former school board president again joked that he was being pretty careful about those ponds. But another consideration in the Southern state is salt water -- bathe in the salty brine and you’re asking for trouble when you get back on your bike.
“It’s another ecological environment down here entirely,” he said.
Last week, Dukler said Florida’s almost unfathomable flatness reminded him a lot of the Midwest. But on the bike, that level field has been a blessing, and it is a phenomenon the rider hopes will last. “I’m predicting that the biggest hill on the ride is coming up the Gunks Ridge.”
Other people have taken the long route Dukler is following now. The bike ride was designed by a group called the Adventure Cycling Association, and for the most part -- outside of some small changes -- he’s sticking with that map.
When asked what his family thought about his ambitious ride, Dukler paused for a moment to collect his thoughts.
“I couldn’t do this if I didn’t have my wife’s support,” he said, adding that his wife and family have known all along about his goal. “I’ve been a big biker for years … It was with the understanding that this was a dream deferred, and this was going to happen at some point.”
Retirement from both his day job and his civic volunteering put the bike ride in the forefront of Dukler’s mind. “I’m definitely fortunate in that I have the time to do this,” he added.
Back home, people are becoming aware of Dukler’s big ride. The New Paltz Foundation for Student Enhancement sent out a press release to announce the ride, but Susan Hill -- the group’s secretary -- said this was just the first of many fundraisers to be held.
“It’s kind of a quiet fundraiser,” Hill said. “We’re hoping to do something big in the fall.”
By having people tune in to Dukler’s travel blog, the not-for-profit foundation’s members hope to get people’s attention locally and let them know what they’re about.
But after a nail-biting and painful school budget process, many taxpayers are interested in alternative solutions to local educational woes.
“People are coming out of the woodwork to help,” Hill explained.
People who’d like to sponsor Dukler on his ride can do so at a few levels -- people can pay $0.01 a mile or $20 total, they can pay $0.025 a mile or $50 total, or they can pledge $0.05 a mile or $100 total. Donations should be made to the New Paltz Central School District Foundation for Student Enhancement c/o the Office of the Superintendent, 196 Main Street, New Paltz, NY 12561.
For more information about the foundation itself, head to www.npschoolfoundation.org or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see how Dukler is progressing on his ride, head to david-uptheatlanticcoast--2011.blogspot.com or you can e-mail him to ask question or voice your support at email@example.com.