Don Boehly has been riding a bike for the past two years. He has not eaten in his kitchen, he has not slept in his bed, and he has not seen his home in Grayson, Ky. Since Sept. 1, 2004.
Some people would call Boehly crazy. Others would say he’s just doing it for the attention. But most of those who have met Boehly as he rode through their towns and spoke to them would probably call him a hero.
Boehly, 51, is not doing it for the fame (so far he has gotten relatively little recognition for his efforts) or the fortune (he doesn’t accept money from anybody), but for the rescue workers who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, and for those that continue to risk their lives every day.
“The incredible courage of those men and the women, going in the building, getting people out and going back in, and then their lives being taken…that to me is the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate hero,” Boehly said. It was that courage and sacrifice that Boehly says inspired him to start his two-year trek across the 48 contiguous states in their honor He finished his trip this weekend when he arrived at Ground Zero in time for the five year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
Before he began his journey, Boehly says, he was a handyman in Grayson. When asked what caused him to leave for the bike trip of over 20,800 miles (so far), he says only that he felt compelled to do something in memory of the firefighters, police officers and others that died in the terrorist attacks.
“I believe that it was God’s [plan] for me to do something,” he said. “I felt personally obligated… When you get to a certain age in your life, and you want to achieve something you never have achieved before, why not?”
Boehly says that aside from honoring and remembering those who died, he was upset by hearing about organizations that tried to benefit off of the attacks.
“Because of 9/11, there were a lot of scams out there, a lot of illegitimate companies trying to profit off of 9/11,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that the organizations that benefited were the police officers and firefighters that on 9/11, and today, place their lives on the line”
“I’m not out there to try to make any records or anything, just to do something different, that makes a difference,” he added.What makes Boehly’s story truly unique is that during the entire trip, he never once accepted a cash donation. “I accept material donations, parts for the bicycle, hotels, motels and food,” he said.
When people try to give him money, he directs them to his Web site, 9-11usa.com, where they can donate directly to a number of charities benefiting police officers, firefighters and those in the armed forces.
“If they can’t give on the Internet, I tell them to give to the local police & fire departments,” he said.
Many of the firehouses and police stations in the towns that Boehly has visited have tried to thank him for his efforts any way they could. He says that the experience that moved him the most was one he had in the small town of Natchitoches, LA.
“I arrived at their fire department, and I needed shelter, and they provided it for four days,” he recalled. “But on the second day, I got strep throat and they wouldn’t let me go.”
He says that every day he stayed in the town, he was provided with breakfast, lunch and dinner by the fire chief, Dennie Boyt. Then, before he left, he was the guest of honor at a surprise celebration.
“I came back to the station and they had the mayor, the press, all of the fire department and all of the police department,” he said, “and they gave me an appreciation certificate.”
Now that the he has reached his original goal of the 48 contiguous states, Boehly admits that there were times when he was discouraged.
“I got turned down so many times for shelter”, he said. “I slept out in the woods, in the desert, I often went two or three days without anything to eat.
“Plenty of times I wanted to turn around and go home,” he continued, “but every time I saw a child, or a firefighter, or a police officer, it brought me back up to that level where I belonged.”
So what insight on the attacks has Boehly gained from two-years on the road and nearly 21,000 miles of America? “I was asked the other day ‘How many people have you bumped into that are really afraid of terrorism?’ I don’t see any. Who’s afraid?”