A Brief Biography of Gerald “Gerry” Eddlemon
I arrived almost 67 years ago, not in one of these United States, but as an accident of war (WWII), in Washington, D.C. where my father was stationed after returning from the war in the Pacific. My parents, however, were East Tennessee born and bred. I grew up in Oak Ridge, TN, graduating from Oak Ridge High in 1964 (National Honor Society; Bausch & Lomb Science Award, and my most prized award - a track team letter jacket). One of my favorite playgrounds as a young child was perhaps the most infamous and newsworthy creek in the world: the East Fork of Poplar Creek (EFPC) very near where it exits from the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Plant. Wading up to my thighs in the radioactive and mercury-laced yellowish-silver muck may account in some small measure for my glowing, if sometimes irascible, personality. An incomprehensible and life-changing accident – in which a measles-stricken, bored, and always-looking-for-danger little six-year-old cleverly fashioned a semi-automatic bow and arrow weapon system (SABAW) from a child's otherwise boring Robin Hood bow and arrow set – cost an eye, thereby precluding my service years later in a far more dangerous venue – the Vietnam War.
Keen interests in zoology and ecology led to BS and MS degrees with honors at the University of Tennessee, followed by 30 years of interesting and sometimes exciting work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as an environmental scientist conducting research in the transport and effects of radioactive and chemical contaminants; assessments of environmental impacts of a wide range of energy technologies and Department of Defense facilities and activities; and regulatory compliance assessments for various federal agencies. And I got to wade once more in EFPC, but this time with waders and . . . a paycheck.
Throughout most of my life, athletics, often of an unconventional nature, were an important pursuit. Despite several serious injuries, I lettered in track in high school, and in cross-country as a University of Tennessee Volunteer, representing the team at the 1967 NCAA National Cross-Country Championships in Lawrence, Kansas. I climbed the highest mountains in Africa and Mexico, soared during my second solo flight without benefit of an engine for over six hours, and twice broke the record for hiking and running the 70-mi length of the AT in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the last time becoming the first hiker known to have hiked the trail in less than 24 hours. Together, the records stood for 16 years.
In the course of a lifetime of adventure, I have had sometimes exciting, sometimes simply terrifying up-front and personal encounters in their own element with bears, wild boar, tidal bores, bald eagles, timber rattlers, cottonmouths, gators, snapping turtles, moose, bison, wolves, caribou, muskox, giant arctic hare, rabid foxes, baboons, really sneaky vervet monkeys, scorpions, black widows, tsetse flies, giraffes, and assorted others of God’s creatures, including, in one terrible and protracted encounter, some 500 of the most fearsome of them all – the Cumberland Plateau seed tick, of which, the first 2 days of infestation, I thought I was going to die, and for the next two weeks, feared I would not die.
After 30 years on the research staff at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, I looked to travel and mountaineering for new adventures. After a successful 2002 climb of Kilimanjaro, a very steep descent finally wrecked an already compromised knee. Following surgery and a presumed ending to all future athletic endeavors, I discovered the excitement of bike racing, including one of the toughest sports of them all, ultramarathon racing and the pursuit of record crossings of states, provinces, and even countries. This sport proved surprisingly gentle on my knees.
I saw this as a second chance from God to explore just how far and fast mind, spirit, and body could be pushed to achieve goals I previously thought impossible, at least for this aging ex-athlete. I also continuously surprised and amazed myself at what a man, even one as old as I, can do with the leverage provided by a simple machine weighing no more than 20 lbs, e.g., ride 1000 miles across Alaska, or win a world championship. My prayer was that such hard adventuring was pleasing to God and, at least once in a while, that it inspire some youth or even an older person to get off the couch, away from the TV, and out into this beautiful world to walk, run, or ride under his or her own steam. If an old guy like me can bike hundreds of miles in a day, there's no reason why almost any reasonably healthy person can't walk, run, or ride a few miles to school, shops, work, or simply for the sheer joy of exploring this bent but still beautiful old world, alone, or better still, with others.
My cycling accomplishments include conventional road racing championships in the Senior Olympics in Tennessee and Kentucky; a few 12 and 24-Hour championships; 72 UMCA state crossing and international time trial records in 17 US states, three Canadian provinces, and (ocean to ocean riders take note) the records for cycling from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans and back in only 8 hours, 44 minutes (Panama); the informal record for cycling from Moscow to Paris by way of Milan and Skullbone (Tennessee, that is. . .); and the 2010 World Cup Championship of UltraMarathon Cycling. The latter may have been the only world championship in a truly athletic sport ever won by a 65-year old. Sixteen of 72 UMCA records were achieved in a four month period following convalescence from illnesses and injuries incurred as a result of my 10-month-long pursuit of the World Cup. The most recent cycling accomplishment was just last month: the first bike crossing for record of the “holy grail” of state crossings: the 1000 miles of Alaska from the Pacific Ocean near Seward to Deadhorse by the Arctic Ocean (Prudhoe Bay) in, yes, a rather slow 6 days, 17 hours, 25 minutes. I had hoped to cross in less than five days, but old age, cold rain, headwinds, perhaps the most mosquitos and deer flies on record, and 106,000 feet of climbing . . . well, c’est la vie (any excuses are better than none!). I blush (but not enough) to say that the UMCA records administrator has declared me “King of the Record Book.”
I live in Knoxville, Tennessee with my lovely bride, the former world-class runner (three golds, three silvers, and a bronze in the Huntsman World Senior Games) and gymnast extraordinaire, Mikki. We have three wonderful children and, if one might venture a totally unbiased grandfatherly opinion, the world’s most handsome and brilliant grandchild, Alexander the Pretty Good.