Day 33 and Epilogue
Keene, NH to Amesbury, MA
117 miles, Avg Speed ? (Who cares)
I'm on a plane now to Florida, where I will soon see my family for the first time in almost 5 weeks. I am looking forward to seeing them along with my sisters and parents at the family reunion that was planned months ago. I have achieved my goal, biking from coast to coast, and fulfilled my promise from the start......that I would stay safe.
I am always struck by the fact that weeks can go by in my life where virtually nothing happens. Days just melt into one another....time flies by. Then, a day or a weekend comes along, action packed; I'm shaken out of my routine, and the clock slows down to a crawl. The last 5 weeks have been like that. This last day, time seemed to almost come to a stop.
Our cross country group of 21 riders, will never be together again. This is how it has to be. But for the past 33 days, we, all strangers at first to each other, discovered that what happened to one person in the group had an effect on all us. We were a team. True, we may have started the ride thinking, "I'm doing this." By the end, it was clearly, "We're doing this."
Saying goodbye was tough. Not something I've ever been good at. Promises were made to keep in touch, invitations extended to visit when in town, rides in the future we could get together and do. What happens from here on out is unclear. What I do know is that this experience can not erased and can never be duplicated. I will always remember this.
Keene, was beautiful in the morning. The sun was out, the skies were blue, and it looked like a perfect day for riding. I love this type of cycling and I love this part of the country. It's a mix of winding roads, rollers, steep climbs, straightaway descents, with the added visuals of evergreens, hardwood trees, quiet farms, rivers, streams, lakes, sleepy towns, and old houses. I hope to come back here to ride again someday.
There was a fair amount of climbing, one small stretch, the "Joe English Road", at a reported grade of 18%, required alternately sitting and standing in my lowest gear. (Thank goodness I had that 11-28 cassette.) It was all doable, and although I'm probably stronger than when I started, the cumulative effect of all the miles has taken its toll. My legs are flat out tired.
There was a last day of the Tour de France feel to today's ride. Although we wouldn't be celebrating with glasses of champagne as we rode circuits around the Champs Elysee, Lee and I did find time to sneak a milkshake in at a roadside stand after lunch. We rode at a leisurely pace all day trying to take as much in as we could, knowing this memory would need to last a long time.
There was a sense of finality to the day....the last time we had to load, our last lunch SAG, our last pee break, the last time we'd see Manny hanging onto someone's wheel. However, I never had the feeling, nor did I think anyone else did, (with the possible exception of Craig), of wanting to get this whole thing over with. This was a day to savor. There was no need to rush.
I got to ride with lots of people during the day. We'd take each other's pictures while we were riding, like athletes entering the Olympic stadium at the closing ceremonies. We, along with a number of others got lost at one point, as we followed an ABB (America By Bike) white arrow painted on the road. As it turned out, that arrow was put there a year ago for a different ABB ride. With Garmins, our maps, and some roadside help, we got back on track.
To ensure that we'd all proceed to the beach at the same time, the plan was to rendevous around 3PM at a checkpoint at mile 101. Due to the navigation problems alluded to, this ended up being more like 3:10. We then went a few more miles and rendevoused again. Once we were all together, we proceeded forward and soon that familiar feeling of being near an ocean came over me. (I grew up a few miles from the Atlantic.) It was getting exciting. After we turned the corner, we proceeded in one long line, all wearing our America by Bicyle jerseys, being led by a police escort, past cars honking their horns, people yelling from the side walk, all down the road to the beach. One final left turn and there it was and it was beautiful......the Atlantic Ocean. We had made it!
We got off the bikes and made our way across the sand. Some riders were met by family members and there was a lot of hugging, kissing (not me), high fives, fist bumps, and I dare say even a few tears were shed. We posed for pictures, and then gathered in a half circle where Mike congratulated us on our accomplishment and shook everyone's hand. Then, as is tradition, water that was brought the entire way from the Pacific Ocean, was poured into the Atlantic, and our journey was complete.
Well, almost complete. There was still the ride to the hotel, which some in the group avoided by SAGGING those remaining 6 miles, seeing no point in riding another inch. I opted for the bike and was treated to another police escort where we were safely delivered to our hotel in Amesbury. No falls, no disasters, no ride stopping mechanical breakdowns. All told, just 11 flats, and one shredded tire.
Once at the hotel, the order of business was to breakdown the bike for shipping. My Serfas hard case had made it, and upon opening it, there was my secret treasure.....my bottle of Bourbon, completely intact in its bubble wrapped armor. I made plans to deal with that later. First was the matter of the bike. I had packed the bike a couple of times before, but had completely forgotten how to do it. After wrestling with this for about an hour, the only thing I can be certain about, is that at the end of it, I was able to successfully close the case. I make no claims on the contents. I will cross my fingers.
The plan for the evening was to go to a local restaurant for our group banquet, which we did at 7PM. Then it was back to the hotel for our goodbyes and presentations. We were told a few days earlier that we should be prepared to say a few comments to the group. After having some cake, and beer (good combination), we were called up alphabetically to receive our ABB certificate, congratulations from Mike, and to give our speeches. I was very impressed by how articulate many people were. Some had clearly come prepared while others took a more laid back approach. Then it was my turn. Knowing a few days earlier what might be in store, I had written down some things that I learned from each of the riders during the ride. I went through them one by one, saving the best laughs for last. I think its fair to say that many people in attendance were stunned by how somebody so inarticulate, so seemingly dimwitted that he could rarely carry on a conversation for more than 3 sentences, was able to piece together a reasonably clever monologue and actually make people laugh. It went over well. It had its desired affect. I think it will be remembered.
After it was over, there were the goodbyes. Some in the group would be coming with me in the morning on the airport shuttle, so their goodbyes could be temporarily put on hold. For the others, it was a pat on the shoulder, a hearty handshake, and a well deserved, "Job well done". Then it was off to my room, a rendezvous with the bourbon, and off to sleep.
It's over now. It's time to let this go and return to the real world. Am I any different now that I've ridden across the country? I don't really know, but I doubt it. I have a beard, which will get shaved off tomorrow, I'm a little thinner which will not likely last long, and I'm just a wee bit stronger in the legs. I'm a safer rider and I know all the ins and outs about chamois butter. However, I'm still the same old Mark, warts and all. There's no shaking that. I've logged a few thousand miles, seen some spectacular sights along with some ordinary ones, all while sharing a lot of very good times with some very good people. I've had the time of my life and for now that's enough. So, as this chapter ends, out of the void comes a new thought ......to ride the Tour de France route, Europe, 2013. I think I'd like to do it. All I need to know is what is the milkshake situation in France? Hope to see you all there. Rubber side down.
|Cross country miles|
|Procession to the beach|
|Pouring of the Pacific water into the Atlantic|