Monday, August 16, 2010

Home and Final thoughts

Home again to the mountains of Big Canoe.

It’s great to be home again. The seven days since I’ve returned have gone by as fast as the last seven days of the cross country bike ride. Now that I’ve been home for a week, there has been time to reflect on the ride.

It was a great experience. I saw some wonderful sights that I want to come back to again, this time in a car with Karen. And I’ve met some wonderful people I hope I’ll see and ride with again. I’m very grateful the other four Geldings asked me to ride with them the first week. And I’m glad we got to ride with Alex and Katie too.

Completing the ride was a great accomplishment for me. When I look at a map of the United States it will never be the same way again. I’ll always think of this ride and scan across the states we’ve ridden from Oregon on the left to New Hampshire on the right.

Finishing is bittersweet. I’m glad I reached my goal and can now take a brief pause from riding seriously. (And Bob’s Bicycles of Portsmouth has helped by not shipping my bike yet!) It will be tough not riding with friends I’ve been with every day for the past month and a half. A goal that I’ve focused on for several months is done, never to be repeated. The only remaining goal I have is finishing my hike of the Appalachian Trail. Perhaps I need to set a few more goals.

Other riders asked me for the last month what I was going to do when the ride was over. I told them I didn’t know and I still don't. I’m sure something will develop that will be fulfilling to me. I just don’t know what it is yet.

If you are considering a ride similar to this, know that it is not all wonderful sunshine and tailwinds, with birds chirping and corn fields waving in the breeze. Those moments are all there, many times over. But there are also stinky cattle farms, roads with cracks every ten feet for miles on end, steep climbs when you least want them, a few marginal dinners, and some frustration when things aren’t going your way. I’ll refer back to Teresa’s five “P’s” from Day 5: Patience, Perseverance, Positive Attitude, Peace, and Prayer. A cross country cyclist definitely needs all five. The great moments (and there were hundreds of them) make up for the difficult times. The great majority of the ride was fantastic. But some was just getting down to business and riding the miles. And maybe less than 5% were the tough times including the headwinds, heat and humidity, rude drivers, rain so bad you couldn’t see, bad roads, and traffic. If this is something you’ve dreamed of, find the time to do it. It is definitely worth it.

There were some hilarious moments you had to be there to appreciate. Todd’s confession he wore his riding shorts inside out one day. Another rider who had soapy pants when it rained because they were not properly rinsed out the prior day. The guy snoring on the S.S. Badger when crossing Lake Michigan.

On Day 1, this journey was all about the ride and reaching the destination. By Day 50 it was all about the riders and the time spent getting to the destination together. I’ll miss everyone. On every organized ride from here on out I’ll be scanning faces, looking for any ABB North 2010 riders, so I can get reacquainted with them.

To close, here are what I think were the highlights of the ride. Some of these pictures are new and some have been posted previously. I hope you’ve enjoyed the blog. Highlights below:

1. Day 0 – Dipping my wheels in the Pacific and thinking. “This is really going to happen.”

2. Day 1 - Stopping at the first traffic light, right in front of the hotel, and thinking, “What did I get myself into?”

3. Day 2 – The bike path in Portland next to the Columbia River

4. Day 3 – Climbing up and over Mt. Hood on a brilliant sunny day with fantastic views of the mountain. Then, meeting the other Geldings on the way to Kah-nee-ta.

5. Day 5 – The 117 mile ride to John Day with the other Geldings.

6. Day 13 – Riding on East Baseline Road

7. Day 15 – The climb up Teton Pass, views of Jackson Hole, and the hair raising descent to Jackson.

8. Day 16 – Riding past the Tetons

9. Day 17 – Wind River Canyon

10. Day 20 – The empty road to Lusk with the coal trains to our left and the strange person we met near the last SAG stop.

11. Day 22 – Wind Cave National Park, buffaloes, Mount Rushmore, and 5000 feet of climbing.

12. Day 24 – The long day to Pierre with 20 miles of headwind that took us two hours to complete. And the plague of grasshoppers that were everywhere.

13. Day 33 – The tunnels of the Elroy Sparta bike path. Especially, three quarters of a mile Tunnel #3.

14. Day 36 – The relaxing crossing of Lake Michigan on the S.S. Badger and laughing with Baltimore Mark.

15. Day 40 – Crossing the Blue Water Bridge into Canada en masse, Jeff’s tour of Sarnia, Butter tarts, and the Canadian countryside

16. Day 42 – Niagara Falls, slowly I turn...

17. Day 45 – The Erie Canal bike paths

18. Day 50 – The whole day. Every minute. Riding as a large group. The bakery. The school in Rye. Wallis Sands Beach. Dipping our wheels in the Atlantic. The swim with Jeff and Alex. And final pictures in the ocean, complete with Dave still in his riding shoes.

19. All of the small things that add up to great memories: DQ blizzards, riding 120 miles in a single day, a sub five hour century, rain so bad I couldn’t see through my contact lenses, great hamburgers, a memorable brat in Wisconsin and BLT sandwich in Birch Run, epic climbs including a triple mountain day, Teton Pass, Togwatee Pass, and the climbs on the day to Rapid City. Drafting Jay for 10 miles trying to not get dropped, and also struggling to avoid getting dropped by the other Geldings, Alex, and Katie.

20. And finally, Day 51 – After losing eleven pounds, taking my belt off going through security at Logan Airport and almost having my pants fall down.

That's all. Until the next great adventure.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 50 – Manchester to the Atlantic Ocean (Portsmouth, NH)

Today: 52 miles, 2256 feet of climb
Final statistics: 3680 miles, 122326 feet of climb, 1 flat tire

The finish

We’ve made it to the Atlantic Ocean. Journey complete. I’ll always remember the events of this day and it unexpectedly turned out to be an emotional day for me as well.
Our top notch professional ABB staff. Debbie, Jeff, Barbara, Jim, Karen, and Mike. I thank you.

First, I need to go back to last night. We had our farewell banquet at the hotel in Manchester. After a nice dinner, Toronto Mark and Sandy emceed the festivities which included several skits, poems, and other routines by the riders which good naturedly poked fun at the ABB staff or our own shortcomings. Everyone received an Oscar style “ABBY award”, most of them funny (husband/wife that finished the farthest apart each day) and a few of them serious (most perseverance). Leo was awarded a hat made of tires, since he had the most flat tires during the ride. Margo was awarded the progress map of our route, signed by all riders, for her trials and tribulations which included multiple accidents. No one wanted the evening to end, it would be our last time together as a group, but we had an early breakfast and luggage load for our final day to the beach.

The Geldings final ride together. Dave, Baltimore Mark, Toronto Mark, Jeff, and Joe

We did get an early start on Day 50. Breakfast at 6:00AM (which means everyone was in the breakfast room at 5:30) and luggage load at 6:30 (which meant everyone had their luggage in front of the truck before breakfast). Although we only had 52 miles to the beach, there was still some climbing to do, including a few hills at 10% grade.

One final SAG stop

We had one last SAG stop about 25 miles which included homemade pumpkin spice and chocolate chip cookies. OK, I had three.

Bob, who rode with us from Astoria to Casper, met us at the bakery to say hello

All riders were to meet at a school at 11:30AM, three miles from the beach in Rye, for final assembly. So with time on our hands, we stopped at a nice bakery in Exeter to have more food, chat, and kill some time. Finally, we rode to the school where a final group photo was taken and the police were waiting to escort us to the beach as a group.

Our final posed photo as a group. Joe, Mark, Dave, Jeff, Mark, in the back. Alex in front.

Daniel and Bruno are police officers in Switzerland

Group photo in Rye

We get ready to leave for the beach

On the way to the beach

Arriving at Wallis Sands Beach

Video on the way to the beach

By Day 4, I was pretty sure I’d make it the whole 3700 miles, barring an accident or other physical injury. So I didn’t think it would be an emotional arrival at the beach for me. And I didn’t have anyone waiting to see me at Wallis Sands Beach either. But there were about 200 family members for other riders hooting, hollering, ringing cowbells, and high fiving us as we reached the breakwater. Folks on the beach also clapped and congratulated us, once they knew what was going on. We took over the beach. I confess I did get a little teary eyed as I rode through the throng of well wishers on both sides of the sidewalk and when getting off my bike for the last time.

Wheel dipping

Next it was time to dip our wheels in the Atlantic Ocean to make the ride official. A few riders had to pour out Pacific Ocean water they carried with them from Day 0. And then Jeff, Alex, and I went for a swim. The water was cold but felt great. Being at the beach was one of those times you will never forget. As my old friend Scott said to me on another occasion similar to this, “It will never get any better than this.”

Final photo together. Dave still has his shoes on.

Finally, it was time to leave the beach. Events after that were a bit anticlimactic. A shuttle to the bike shop where my trusty blue Trek 5200, the bike that shared my hotel room with me for 51 nights, was dropped off for shipping home. Then a shuttle to the hotel to clean up and retrieve my luggage.

My Trek bicycle held up well. No mechanical issues at all.

Dinner was very nice. When meeting in the lobby we found out Katie is now engaged to her boyfriend Terrence. Baltimore Mark and Toronto Mark and their wives, Michael and Matt (the father son tandem team), Katie and her new fiancé, and I had dinner at an Italian restaurant called Pesce. More chatting with other riders in the lobby after dinner, where no one wanted the day to end, and then finally to bed for a final early wake up call for a shuttle to Logan airport and the trip home.

Some final statistics for my cycling friends: I rode well over 3700 miles including mileage on the off days and the side trip to Iowa. I lost eleven pounds of weight. Todd and Gerard were the only two riders that did not have a flat tire the entire ride. There were several people with only one flat. Katie and I lasted the longest before we had our first. Toronto Mark had eight flats, but that was only good enough for a tie for second place. Leo and his Bike Friday had eight flats excluding one day when he had several flats and lost count of them. My Garmin shut off a few times a day requiring me to restart it, but the ride was about 225 hours of riding time at roughly 16.5mph. Considering we had mountains to climb, days with headwinds, dirt paths to ride, some places we had to walk, rainy days, some recovery rides, and city streets to negotiate, 16.5 is a pretty good average in my mind. We also had tailwinds and lightning fast descents too. My maximum speed was 49.7mph coming down Teton Pass. Were I willing to take risks, know the road, and ride down it again, I’m sure 53mph would be possible. But that will never happen. 52mph coming down Burnt Mountain here by my house is still my fastest speed. I started the ride with two heavy duty Kevlar tires with 500 miles on them. The back tire was replaced in Casper after an additional 1400 miles on it, and again towards the end of the ride with another 2000 miles on the replacement. My front tire was replaced after about 3700 miles on it.

This blog started as a summary of the terrain, roads and a few of my experiences so my wife Karen could follow along. I also didn’t know much about blogging back then. I hope it got better along the way. I’m not a very expressive person, and don’t write very well, as most of you know. The blog also finished for other folks that were curious, and those that would like to ride cross country but don’t have the time to do it right now. It also started about the ride itself and (in my mind) finished more about the riders.

Headed home on Tuesday morning

Once I’ve been home for a few days more, I’ll have some final thoughts and maybe a couple of my favorite moments in pictures.

Today’s route:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Day 49 – Brattleboro, VT to Manchester, NH

Today: 81 miles, 5730 feet of climb
Cumulative to date: 3628 miles, 120070 feet of climb, 1 flat tire

New Hampshire. Our final state. We finish tomorrow.

This morning we crossed into New Hampshire one mile after leaving the hotel. Only one more day to the Atlantic Ocean and we’ve cycled across the entire country. Amazing.

In some respects, it seems like eons ago since I dipped my bicycle wheel in the Pacific Ocean. But in others, it seems like yesterday. Staying in towns like St. Helens and Welches seems like a long time ago. But when I look at a map of the USA and retrace our whole route, it seems like the whole ride has passed rather quickly.

An early morning view. Jeff and Alex in the distance.

On to today. New Hampshire is not like Vermont for us. Yesterday we saw small farms, towns, and small stores selling antiques, produce, or maple syrup. Today we saw a lot of trees. It seemed like our entire route was through a forest of trees, with an occasional house thrown in for good measure. There were no strip shopping centers or clear cut areas. The scenery was what you might see in the very northern part of Georgia down seldom traveled country roads. Except there was no humidity and it was cool. I had to wear my arm warmers and vest this morning.

Baltimore Mark, Jeff, Alex, Joe, and Katie all climbed the Sullivan Road hill. ABB's Jeff took the picture.

Our route today was primarily on NH Routes 9, 31, 136, and 13 in that order. At the 20 mile mark we took a side trip up Sullivan Road. This is a very steep climb that used to be on the cross country route but was removed a few years ago. I’ve never done a climb where my Garmin showed a grade of 20% or more. On this climb my Garmin touched 34% and Jeff’s touched 37%. Now that may be an anomaly, but the grade was well over 20% for most of the climb. And when I sat down on the bike (I had to stand up on some of the climb) my front wheel was starting to come off the pavement. A great climb and I think I can now handle the Brasstown Bald climb. I’ll need to try that when I get home. Anyone in Georgia want to join me?

The Contocook River

The Day 49 peloton started with Toronto Mark, Baltimore Mark, Dave, and me. Katie joined us and we took it easy for the first 20 miles until we were joined by Jeff, ABB’s Jeff, and Alex just before the Sullivan Road climb.

Katie gets her first flat. That leaves only Gerard. Can he make it through tomorrow without one?

I guess I put the whammy on Katie. After Sullivan Road,but before our first SAG stop, she had her first flat tire. I believe that leaves only Gerard who has not punctured on the whole Sorry Katie, it was my fault for blogging about it.

We made a left turn on Joe English Road right here. The road immediately went up at over 20% grade for about half a mile.

We also had to climb Joe English Road at 66 miles. That climb was also over 20% on my Garmin. All told, there was a significant amount of rather steep climbing today but after 50 days of riding, none of it was any problem. I could have easily done a lot more riding and climbing. Hopefully I can keep my fitness for the rest of August and September and have a good day riding the Six Gap Century Ride this fall.

An early afternoon scene. Lots and lots of trees on rolling roads.

Tonight will be our farewell banquet where we thank the ABB staff and say good bye to one another. Tomorrow we ride to within three miles of the ocean, meet and regroup at a local school, and ride as one to the beach with a police escort. After the wheel dipping and pictures, all riders head separate ways, me to the bike shop to ship my bike home. Then back to the hotel to prepare for Tuesday’s flight home. Half the riders will be leaving for home by car directly from the beach or hotel, and half will be headed to the airport Tuesday morning.

I’ll be posting Day 50 events after I return home. I’ll also have some final thoughts at that time. But I’d like to share two random thoughts now:

First, when I went to church last Saturday night, I put my jeans on for the first time in three weeks. They don’t fit anymore. Neither do my shorts. I have to cinch the belt up about two inches for them to stay on. Also, I feel great. Getting down in the aero position without having my knees touch my stomach is pretty good. Now, my knees are touching my ribs. I haven’t been on a scale since leaving home, but I know I’ve lost some weight. Many of our riders look much thinner than they did fifty days ago. So I’ll weigh myself when I get home and hopefully be able to keep the lost weight off without burning 4000 bonus calories every day.

Second, and with all due respect to my biking friends in Georgia and elsewhere, the riders on this ride are of a different mindset. My biking friends in Georgia share their cycling with other athletic passions. They either run, play tennis, basketball, golf, softball or all of the above. Here, most of the riders live, eat, and sleep cycling. They spin. They bike in the rain. They bike in the winter. They clean their bike and clean and lube their chain every few days. They inspect their tires for cuts at red lights. They ride with regular groups on a weekly basis. They take no prisoners. And they put in a lot of miles. It’s been a learning experience for me to ride with them, and I’m grateful for it. I now know the best way to change a tire. The best way to lubricate my chain. The best way to clean my bike. And a bunch of other tips. I know what to inspect and how often to do it. And I can ride 40+ miles between SAG stops. The lessons I’ve learned on this trip will carry me through the rest of my cycling career. To all of the riders on this ride, especially The Geldings, thank you for your passion. And thank you for putting up with me and letting me ride with you.

Today’s route:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day 48 – Latham, NY to Brattleboro, VT

Today: 79 miles, 5457 feet of climb
Cumulative to date: 3547 miles, 114340 feet of climb, 1 flat tire
Remaining: Approx. 148 miles, 8500 feet of climb

Eight states down. Two to go.
We entered Vermont today. It is our ninth and next to last state on the cross country ride. Actually, we rode across the bottom of the whole state and we’ll enter New Hampshire in the morning. We’re almost to the Atlantic Ocean now.

This is The Breakfast Club. The four that usually get to breakfast first. Joe, Dan, Tom, and Rick

I relived a lot of happy childhood memories today. When I was young, my Aunt Marie used to take me skiing at Mt. Snow at least once a year. She would pick me up on Long Island and we would take the Taconic Parkway north, eventually getting on Route 22 north. Next, a right turn on Route 7, which we would take to the Vermont line. Then it was Vermont Route 9 through Bennington to Wilmington where we would turn left on VT Route 100 to her ski house near West Dover. Today, we retraced that route on our bikes from NY’s Route 22 into Vermont to Wilmington. The scenery was just as pretty as I remember it over 40 years ago.

At mile 5 we crossed the Hudson River. SAG #1 was at mile 29 and Rod rode like the dickens
to get there early to see his family.And his family brought us some great cookies too.

The day started with a ride over the Hudson River through Troy. At 33 miles we entered Vermont on Route 9. Then we climbed to 2400 feet between Bennington and Wilmington, with another climb over Hogback Mountain before a long descent into Brattleboro. The terrain was very hilly with a lot of climbing. There were many small towns and shops along the way.

The Appalachian Trail where it crosses Vermont Route 9. Perhaps I'll be hiking through here some day.

The Appalachian Trail crossed Route 9 between Bennington and Wilmington, so I stopped there for a short hike down the trail. Completing my AT hike is the only other lifetime goal I have not finished, assuming I cycle to Wallace Sands Beach on Monday. As I walked a bit on the AT I was thinking that perhaps I’ll be back here some day, this time walking north through Vermont to get to New Hampshire, with Maine and Mount Katahdin still to reach. As of now I’ve hiked from Springer Mountain to where the AT crosses I-77 near Pearisburg, VA. Still 1500 miles to go on my AT hike if the knees hold up and Karen gives me permission to continue my hike in sections.

This scene is along Route 9 near Wilmington

Today I began with Dave, Toronto Mark, and Baltimore Mark. Jeff and Alex later joined us at SAG #1. In the middle part of the ride I rode easy on my own, exploring the AT and the town of Wilmington. I wish I had more time to cycle north on Route 100 to Mount Snow, but it was off route, and would have delayed me outside the support window. Later, I caught up to Jeff, Dave, and ABB’s Jeff, who had stopped for lunch. The four of us rode the rest of the way to the hotel, also picking up Toronto Mark in the outskirts of Brattleboro who himself had stopped for lunch.

Downtown Wilmington and signage along Route 9

The weather was cool and breezy and I was actually cold when we were over 2000 feet in elevation. It was another beautiful day. Bright sunshine, bird chirping, tree leaves blowing in the wind, with babbling brooks along the side of the highways. There were antique stores, produce stores, and stores selling fruit and maple syrup. This is definitely New England. It changed as soon as we crossed the state line.

Another scene along Route 9 as we ride today. This was just before Bennington.

Tomorrow and Monday will be hectic days. Tomorrow we have about 79 miles to ride with 4000+ feet of climbing, so it will be a long cycling day. And tomorrow night is the farewell banquet, which will probably last two or three hours. This will be the chance to thank the ABB staff and say goodbye to the other riders, since many of them will be leaving with their families immediately from the beach when the ride is over. And then Monday we will ride to a meeting point three miles from the Atlantic Ocean where we will group up and have a police escort to the beach. After our wheel dipping ceremony, we will need to go to the bike shop to have our bikes broken down and boxed for shipping home. And then we will go to the hotel in Portsmouth for dinner and to prepare for our flights home on Tuesday. I mention all of this now because I may not post any notes for Day 49 and Day 50 until I am back home in Georgia. So this may be my last post for a few days.

By the way, check out Todd's compilation of all our cross country riders here (click on "Meet the Cast"):

Today’s route: