Homeless veteran biking across U.S. with his dog makes stop in Cedar Rapids

Harold Palmquist and Daisy are riding for Veterans and Their Pets

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates 39,471 veterans are homeless on any given night.

Harold Palmquist is among them.

“I’ve got belongings in Phoenix, in storage,” Palmquist said Monday morning. “I’m still considered homeless; I haven’t got a lease agreement, or anything.”

Palmquist, 48, and his dog Daisy had a place to stay Sunday and Monday nights, at Jim and Carol Borschel’s home in Marion. Palmquist scheduled a rare day off the road for “a much-needed bike tune up.”

The Borschels and Palmquist connected through a website that links cross-country cyclists with people willing to share a spare room.

“I saw some of his videos before he stopped, and I said, ‘Carol, we’re going to be entertaining a character,” said Jim Borschel.

Palmquist and Daisy are on their second cross-country bicycle trek to raise money and awareness for Veterans and Their Pets, a nonprofit that provides housing, food and veterinary care for pets of veterans in need. With Daisy, a 40-pound mixed-breed, riding in a cage aboard a trailer, the pair left St. Simons Island, Ga., April 11.

The two found each other about 10 years ago. Daisy was a puppy and Palmquist was teaching English as a Second Language in Mesa, Ariz.

“She walked into the classroom, and I said ‘Whose dog is that?’ ” he said. “Nobody said anything, so I said ‘She’s my dog.’ She’s a used dog, I tell people. I got her used. We won’t ever part ways.”

But in early 2014, Palmquist was out of a job and out of money.

“I was ready to hit the street,” he said. “They wouldn’t let me take (Daisy) in the shelter.”

The person on the other end of the crisis hotline knew about Veterans and Their Pets, which found a temporary home for Daisy while Palmquist stayed in a homeless shelter. After leaving to be with his dying father in Los Angeles, he didn’t want to go back to the shelter.

“Do I go back to the homeless shelter and take up another bed?” he remembers thinking.

Instead, he asked the nonprofit for some business cards. He and Daisy set out on their first run, west-to-east ending in St. Simons Island, that spring. They passed through Cedar Rapids.

“It got cold,” he said. “I went to Sabula, and from there I went straight down the Mississippi River — about 5,000 miles, altogether.”

On that trip, Palmquist thought he’d lined up a truck-driving job in Lincoln, Neb. That job was gone by the time he returned, so he spent some time with friends in Glidden, in Carroll County, while preparing for his trek.

He wasn’t always homeless. After a 1987 to 1995 stint in the Air Force arming A-10 Warthogs in Korea and Arizona — “no bullets were fired at me, and I didn’t fire at anyone” — Palmquist returned to his Phoenix birthplace. He got married, had two sons, and launched what he called a successful landscaping business.

It all fell apart. Palmquist admits what he calls his “emotional instability” played a role.

“The business fell by the wayside, and the divorce was messy,” he said. “One thing led to another. Driving a taxicab, I fell behind on my bills, and that’s how I got where I am now.”

But he doesn’t mind where he is, no matter where he is.

“I’m blessed,” he said. “I stop the trailer, and I look back at where I’ve been. I love it.”

Palmquist’s isn’t the latest in lightweight touring gear. A grain-elevator scale in Indiana weighed the outfit, including himself and Daisy, at 560 pounds. Palmquist thinks was a bit high, but Borschel’s not so sure.

“My wife and I tour a little bit,” he said Monday as he waited for Palmquist’s repairs at Northtowne Cycling and Fitness in northeast Cedar Rapids. “We tow a little trailer, but it’s not anything like what he’s got. He’s probably got a kitchen sink in there.”

The pair camps most nights, when Palmquist cooks up some rice and beans.

“I eat a lot of oatmeal and grits,” he said. “They’re hardy.”

Avoiding large cities and sticking to back roads, Palmquist aims to head generally southwest from Cedar Rapids.

“You don’t know whether it’s going to rain, or there’s going to be a tree in your path,” he said. “I got to take it one day at a time.”

Palmquist blogs and posts updates about his and Daisy’s journey at tourdepaclantic.blogspot.com and on his TourDePaclantic Facebook page, both of which include links to veteransandtheirpets.org.

“I enjoy doing what I’m doing,” he said. “All I’m doing is sharing my story and pedaling on my bicycle.”

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