Jeff Larson has ridden bicycles for most of his life, whether it's racing mountain bikes in the early 1980s or riding a tandem around Lodi with his wife.
Last summer he rode through Oregon and Washington. The summer before that, he rode through California from the Mexico border to the Oregon border.
Now the Lodi Fire battalion chief is gearing up for his next adventure. He'll ride 450 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles in October, pedaling 50 to 90 miles a day to support a veteran rehabilitation group called Ride 2 Recovery.
He's pledged to raise at least $3,200, which is actually Larson's biggest challenge, considering that he's in pretty good shape due to his regular riding and his job. He's raised less than a third of the money so far, but he's determined to do it because he believes in the cause.
His daughter's husband was deployed to Iraq in September 2009. Three months later, on Dec. 27, he was riding in a convoy when an improvised explosive device hit the platoon commander's vehicle.
Larson's son-in-law happened to be riding in a different vehicle, so he was unharmed. But one of his good friends lost a leg and is still going through rehabilitation at Fort Hood, Texas.
Meanwhile, one day Larson was watching a sports channel on TV and saw a story about bicyclists raising money for veterans. He was intrigued and soon learned more about Ride 2 Recovery. Everything clicked.
"You've just got to say 'thank you' in some way. This is my way," Larson said. "I'm old enough to remember people coming home from Vietnam."
Ride 2 Recovery works with the military and VA to provide further mental and physical rehabilitation to veterans, according to the nonprofit's website. Funds also help pay for bicycles, helmets and cycling gear for veterans.
Some veterans will participate in at least some of the ride — they don't have to pay a registration fee — and Larson said he expects that to be emotional. He's watched videos of last year's ride, which included amputees who were able to ride a bicycle and regain fitness even after losing a limb.
As someone who's always been physically active, Larson believes that's a key to recovery.
"(Veterans) are getting out there with other people, assimilating into the lives, doing what normal people do," he said.
His wife, Jana, isn't worried because Larson has been riding as long as she's known him.
"I know he can do it," she said. "He wouldn't be in this profession if he wasn't a giving, caring person."
Jeff Larson at a glance
Family: Wife, Jana; four children.
Residence: Lodi. Raised in North Stockton, where his family lived for generations. Attended junior high and high school in Lodi.
Career: Employed as a Lodi firefighter for 21 years, currently at the rank of battalion chief. Previously spent four years as a Lathrop firefighter.
Source: Jeff Larson
How to help Jeff Larson raise $3,200
Go online to www.ride2recovery.com and click on "Donate/Sponsor." Enter Larson's first and last names in the boxes under "Sponsor an Individual." Checks are also accepted and may be mailed to Ride 2 Recovery, 23679 Calabasas Road No. 420, Calabasas, CA 91302. In order for the donation to go toward Larson's goal, his full name must be included in the "comments" or "memo" line on the check.
Oct. 3: Ride from San Francisco along the coast to Santa Cruz for a total of 75 miles.
Oct. 4: Travel 50 miles to Carmel Highlands.
Oct. 5: Pass through forests of Big Sur to San Simeon, totaling 90 miles for the day.
Oct. 6: Cycle 50 miles along the ocean to Pismo Beach.
Oct. 7: Ride through vineyards to Solvang, 65 miles south.
Oct. 8: Bike another 60 miles to Ventura.
Oct. 9: Travel a final 60 miles to West Los Angeles, where a USO party will be held.