A bicycle tourist, who left Spokane last summer to pedal a message of peace around the world, was sleeping in farm fields, showering once or twice a week and otherwise living high on the hog in the French countryside this month.
“I even tried pig’s back and cow’s tongue,” said John Verd, a 1984 graduate of Mead High School, in a telephone interview last week.
A few days later, however, the dream trip came to a crashing halt.
Verd was run over by a truck while pedaling through Florence, Italy, last week, breaking multiple bones in his lower legs and feet, his father said Monday. Verd was scheduled to return to Spokane about 11 p.m. Monday.
The cyclist had pedaled 3,600 miles across the United States before changing continents and measuring systems to log nearly 4,000 kilometers in Portugal, Spain and France.
Verd telephoned The Spokesman-Review last week from Beziers, France, near the Mediterranean coast. He was enthusiastic. All was going well, and he planned to be through Italy by mid-May.
“Then it will be on to Austria. And a German girl helped me make a contact in Croatia, so I might go there. For now, it’s safe, from what I understand.”
But while riding through traffic in Florence, Verd was hit by a truck, requiring emergency medical attention, said his father, Tom Verd of Nine Mile Falls.
The hospital that treated him had no crutches or wheelchairs to offer him, his father said.
“They finally agreed to let him sleep in the hall, but he had to call for help to go to the bathroom. He couldn’t move.”
By coincidence, Tom Verd heard of a Jesuit in Florence with connections to Gonzaga University. “We called Father Tony Via, who helped John get a room and to the airport,” Tom Verd said.
The Gehl Group, a Spokane telemarketing firm where John worked before his trip, offered to pay the cyclist’s air fare home.
The cyclist had lofty plans. After logging about 12,000 kilometers in Europe, he had planned to head to Japan this fall.
Throughout his travels, Verd passed out postcards promoting peace to school children. He’d collected addresses, which he passed on to kids in other countries to create pen-pals for peace.
“So far, I’ve collected about 3,000 addresses,” he said in the interview, noting the paper added 15 pounds to the trailer he pulled behind his bike.
To help keep his tour rolling after he left Spokane on June 3, Verd stopped to work for two weeks in Chicago. He also worked two months as a bicycle messenger in Washington, D.C.
In Spain, he hooked up with a chain of language schools and, for a fee, made nearly 100 presentations.
Documenting the journey was difficult, considering he had one camera stolen in Spain and broke another in France. But the media helped fill in a few gaps. Although he slipped through the United States with only minimal fanfare, Verd was a celebrity in Spain.
“There were incredible, huge stories and photos in the newspapers, and I’ve lost track of how many TV and radio interviews I’ve done.”
A French cyclist invited him to stay at his home for a few days.
“We talked until 2 a.m.,” Verd said. “I don’t get much sleep unless I’m on my own, in my tent.”
As for the wine in France, “I’ve only sampled one so far,” he said. “I prefer the wine from northern Spain, although I admit I’m not a connoisseur of fine wine. Most days I just want Gatorade.”
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