CARLSBAD — As he pedaled toward the “finish” line, a La Costa neighborhood exploded in celebratory chaos to celebrate the end of a local cyclist’s decade-long journey.
Hundreds of area residents holding signs and waving flags filled the intersection of Unicornio and Corintia streets on Oct. 24 in Carlsbad to celebrate 83-year-old Al Merritt, who set a goal to pedal “around” the world on his modest bicycle.
Over the last 10 years, Merritt, a Carlsbad resident, rode 24,901 miles — a distance equal to Earth’s circumference.
Throughout his journey, Merritt has become something of a neighborhood celebrity, using his cycling to meet, smile and honk at passersby and make new friends along the way. Merritt’s outgoing personality has also led Natalie London and Taylor Plecity, members of the band Hey, King! to film a documentary about the North County octogenarian.
“I’m still a little weak-kneed,” Merritt said about the size of the crowd celebrating his achievement. “I can’t believe there are so many people that are that nice. It’s just unbelievable to me. When I’m riding, I tell people the weather is the best in the world and the people match the weather.”
Merritt and his wife, Penny, moved to Carlsbad about 19 years ago from Seattle to be closer to their grandkids. About 23 years ago, Merritt suffered a heart attack and was later diagnosed with coronary heart disease.
Merritt’s son and a friend found an old bike, made some slight improvements and encouraged him to start riding. So, he did.
At first, Merritt rode for his health but after the first year, he added another goal: to ride Earth’s circumference. Merritt attached a GPS monitor to his bike and decided to keep yearly mileage riding logs.
Soon enough, the miles started piling up, with Merritt averaging 2,490 miles per year, with the exception of a couple of years he got “lazy” and only rode 1,200 to 1,400 miles.
Merritt became a symbol of kindness and friendliness throughout his neighborhood, waving to pedestrians, stopping for quick chats and bringing a smile to anyone he encountered on his journey.
His grandson, Bennett Kienast, said Merritt is his role model and “radiates” positivity.
“(Merritt) knows everyone in this neighborhood,” Kienast said. “His bike rides are everything to him. His outlook on life is very friendly, gentle and kind.”
Several months ago, London and Plecity, who both live in Los Angeles, came across Merritt while visiting London’s family and quickly became fascinated by him. The two women then approached Merritt about making a documentary.
London and Plecity released the trailer for the film, “Around the world in my neighborhood,” several weeks ago and will release the final cut in the coming months.
“We have to capture this story,” London said. “The more neighbors we spoke to, the more we realized the impact he has. The joy he has spread for years. People told us the most amazing things.”