Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 33 and Epilogue

                                                                     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 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 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

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 32

                                                                     Day 32
                                                     Amsterdam, NY to Keene, NH
                                                    125 miles, avg speed 15.4 MPH

     It was a great day today.  The weather was perfect, mid 70's some sunshine, and no rain.  The wind may have been with us for part of the time.  There was a lot of climbing, total 7800 feet, but it was broken up into a few long climbs and then 12 miles of rollers at the end.
     We started in New York, but by mile 63 we had entered Vermont.  This is many ways was the prettiest day of the ride, getting to see the rolling farmland in this neck of the woods.  It also was a spectacular cycling day with multiple ascents followed by thrilling descents.  I hit a max speed on one descent of 47 MPH.  Some in our group hit 50 MPH.  By mile 109 we had entered New Hampshire. 
     Tonight, a score of us went out to a local pub here in Keene.  Lots of laughing,
     I've been with this group for 32 straight days now.  This is the closest experience to the summer camps I went to as a teenager that I've had in my adult life.  We've all become tighter as time as gone on, sharing a lot of the same memories and being able to laugh about them and ourselves at the same time.  Tomorrow we will ride together for the final time, and although there's a definite sense of excitement knowing that we will soon be completing what certainly has been an epic journey, we will also be saying goodbye to people that we've become close with, many of which we will not be seeing again.  I don't know what more to say about that other than to acknowledge it. 


Crazy times for crazy guys

Beautiful tree-lined/water lined section of road in New York

New Hampshire!


Screaming descent

Hudson river

Biking along a quiet lake in New York

Vista from the top of Hogback Mountain, Vermont

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 31

                                                                           Day 31
                                                          Liverpool, NY to Amsterdam, NY
                                                               119 Miles, Avg. 18.6 MPH

     Today saw the return of a direct tailwind.  We haven't had one of those it seems in quite some time and it was well appreciated.  We traveled again easterly through upstate New York, passing by farms, beautiful scenery, and dieing towns.  Where we're staying tonight, Amsterdam, is a good example of this.  Lots of empty stores and large idle factories.  We're staying at a large older hotel, currently under the banner of America's Best Value Inn.  It's obvious that this place has changed ownership a number of times.  I'm not certain, but I think our 26 person group may be the sole occupants in this 5 story hotel.  Along the way today we again got to see the Erie Canal and after a long climb got to see a great view of the surrounding countryside.  I also passed a small chapel in the middle of a pond, billed as the world's smallest chapel.  The seating capacity in there was two, provided that we're talking about small people.
     Having previously sworn off hotel food, UK Steve, Simon and myself ended up eating here at the hotel because the only other local option was Dominoes Pizza.  Everything else was miles away and was out of the question.  We sat in the bar to eat instead of the empty restaurant, and as it turned out, the food was pretty good. 
     Aside from the good company at dinner, the highlight of my day was cleaning my cassette and chain using UK Steve's, "FS Foaming Degreaser" made by Fenwicks, a British company.  After this experience I will never use any other product again to do this job.  It was amazing!  You just spray this pink foamy stuff onto the cassette and chain, brush it in with a paint brush, then wash it off with a hose.  Voila!  My drivetrain is so clean now I could go blind just looking at it.   
     Little Chris reportedly returned to the hotel last night with the diagnosis of a Cervical spine fracture (C5).  His prognosis is good, and he will need to wear a neck brace for four weeks.  However, he was not permitted to continue riding and had decided to make his own arrangements to find his way back to San Diego.  The loner that he is, he stuck to form and did not see any of us before we departed this morning.  I wish him the best. 
     Tomorrow the work begins anew and it will continue into the next and final day of the ride.   Climbing,  and lots of it as we make our way into Vermont and New Hampshire.  About 7000 feet each day.  We've been warned for days of what's ahead so none of us will be shocked when that first hill arrives.   I'm glad that today wasn't terribly difficult.  There's no escaping the fact that the worst is yet to come.


World's cleanest cassette and chain, compliments of Fenwicks FS Foaming Degreaser (biodegradable)

Riding past the Erie Canal

View from a vista after a long climb

World's smallest church

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 30

                                                                        Day 30
                                                         Batavia, NY to Liverpool, NY
                                                            121 miles, Avg speed 16.1
                                                          Time in saddle 7 hr 30 minutes

     Today, we had our first major accident.  Little Chris was hit from the right by a car at an intersection.  The car had stopped but then proceeded, not noting Chris coming from the left.  Chris had the right of way but that doesn't mean much when you're hit by a car.  The good news is that he is apparently OK.  There were some cuts and scrapes, but reportedly nothing broken.  An MRI of the head was negative.  He will be returning to the hotel from the hospital later tonight and would like to ride tomorrow.  His bike was destroyed and the ABB group is seeing what they can do to get him a temporary bike for the next few days.  This had a sobering affect on most of the group.  Although Little Chris had been a "loner" on this bike trip, choosing to ride by himself and eat by himself, he's still a part of the trip and we are all quite happy that his injuries are relatively minor.  Look, biking is a dangerous activity.  It's hard enough avoiding the potholes, curbs, wheels of other cyclists all while obeying the rules of traffic.  There are times, as Mike says, you are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  One of the spookier aspects to this, is that just a few minutes before this accident happened, I was riding with Jim, (the mechanic on the trip), and he was telling me of the number of times people have had accidents in just the last few days of these cross country trips.  Moments later, we came upon Chris just as the ambulance was arriving.  Anyway, I have been and plan to continue riding in the safest possible way. 
     The ride today was hard, probably harder than it should have been.  There are days on this trip where I've felt strong and days where I have not.  Today fit well into the latter category.  Perhaps it was related to not enough sleep, which I can pin on the Bulls-Heat game that I watched until 10:45 until the outcome was clear.  Perhaps it was too much bragging over how the prior day's 83 miles seemed like nothing.  Regardless, my mojo was gone today.  Maybe it will be back tomorrow.  Maybe not. 
     We were in the Finger Lake area.  I saw Seneca Lake, which we brushed by the northern shore.  I saw signs to towns I was familiar with, Ithaca, Syracuse, Watkins Glen.  I also saw the Erie Canal.  There were lots and lots of rollers today.  The temps were nice, but the wind, which was from the South, sometimes blew against us and sometimes with us.  The combination of wind, mileage, and rollers made for a long day.  I was quite happy to finish.  I felt wiped out.  As part of my recovery routine, I've been laying on the bed with my feet above me, resting on the headboard.  This afternoon, I fell asleep in that position and woke up just before rap. 
      For nourishment we went next door to a sports bar which was both convenient and fun.  Lassa turned 50 today and treated us to a round of beer.  More reason to like Norway.  He's got the proper attitude about celebration.  One of the more interesting bits of conversation was whether if it were possible to continue our bike trip for another month after it ends in three days, would we do it?   This is assuming that money and jobs were not a factor.  Most agreed they would which really says a lot about how great this bike trip has been.  We just don't want it to end.  So we agreed that it's on to Europe for the lot of us. Kris, if you're reading this, could you send me my passport?


Erie Canal

Seneca Lake

Finger Lake countryside


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day 29


                                                                                Day 29
                                                                  Dunkirk, NY to Batavia, NY
                                                                     83 miles, Avg speed 18.0

     It was a dreary day, no question about it.  The skies were overcast with occasional sprinkles, but no downpours.  I decided not to bring a raincoat with me, choosing instead to thumb my nose at the weather.  The axiom in cycling is that if you bring your raincoat, it won't rain, and if you don't then it will.  I chose to ignore that adage and dealt with knowns.  In this case the known is that my raincoat is bulky and won't  compress easily into the jersey pocket.  In fact with it crammed into the middle jersey pocket, it appears that the only explanation for this is that I have a large lumbar tumor and should likely seek treatment right away.  Thus I took a calculated gamble that if it did rain, it likely would be light and I wouldn't get cold.  My gamble paid off as this is pretty much what happened. 
     In spite of an excellent day of cycling the day before, the effects of 140 miles still lingered in my legs as we set out.  The game plan was to take it recovery.  I caught up to UK Steve and Simon early  on and we stuck together for the remainder of the ride.  We knew it was going to be a short day, even with a later start time than usual.   There were really no sights to see along the way, unless you consider the sight of Steve giving it a yeoman's effort to change two flats occurring one mile apart involving different wheels.  In both cases an ABB van arrived with its highly valued floor pump.  Jim joked with us that they have tracking devices on all of us that show our location on a big screen in the van.  The occurrence of two flats was a deflating experience for Steve.  After the second, with only 7 miles to go, the wind had gone out of his sails.  He tried to overcome it by putting on a stunning display of pulling for 2 plus miles, but to no avail.  The tire gods had cast their shadow on him, and there was no escaping its darkness. 
     The countryside of upstate New York was a mix of farmland and small towns.  We saw a number of cyclists and joggers out today, obvious testament to how New Yorkers are more health conscious.  Living in the state where the center of the universe exists, (NYC), inspires this in an individual.  I would know because I was born here, although at the time I was growing up, we demonstrated this pride by trying to see how many hot dogs we could eat at one sitting.  Once in Batavia, we found an excellent local ice cream shop, Olivers, where we indulged in post ride treats, deserved or not.  I hope this doesn't sound the wrong way but after the miles we've done on this trip, doing 83 miles in a day is just not that much of an effort.  Then it was on to the hotel, which we discovered had changed its ownership from Holiday Inn to Clarion. Apparently the head honchos got tired of the smell of cat piss in the rooms and turned it over to Clarion.   Our rooms weren't ready, but we relaxed in the lobby draping ourselves over the furniture like passengers on a long layover waiting for a plane.  I again won the laundry lottery by arriving in time to be number two in the cue for the washer.  Even better luck is that I arranged with the number 3 person behind me to put my stuff in the dryer when my cycle was done.  I think this will be the last wash I'll do on this trip.  I  have 4 more days of cycling and now exactly 4 more days of clean biking clothes to wear.  It's worked out perfectly.  The end is almost in least as far as laundry is concerned. 
     This evening we had dinner at the hotel.  After our experience last night with a meal served so slowly, that you'd think we'd wandered into an alternative universe where time has no meaning, we swore off hotel dining once and for all.   However, a free drink coupon lured us in, suckers that we are, and before we knew it, we had eaten what turned out to be a pretty good meal.  So for the moment, all bets are off with regard to hotel food.  Such is life on the road.  Tomorrow we'll be back at it with a 120 mile ride to Liverpool, NY where I'm told on good authority from my British friends is the birthplace of the Beatles. 


Small town of Harding New York:  (Note the fancy red colored bike lane)

The best damn ice cream parlor in all of Batavia, NY

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 28

The "Lassa Express"

Wine tasting near Erie, PA

Entering New York and showing off

Entering Pennsylvania

Lake Erie

Bill Benson, 89 yr old caretaker of covered bridge

A working covered bridge

Lighthouse in Erie, PA
                                                                              Day 28
                                                                Warren, OH to Dunkirk, NY
                                                                    140 miles, Avg speed 19.2
                                                                Time in saddle:  7 hr 16 minutes

     Today I biked the most miles I've ever done in a day.  This also is our longest mileage day of the trip.  As you can gather from the average speed, things went well.  It was another 3 state day, in this case, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
     It was a perfect day for biking.  We had a slight but noticeable tailwind, along with dry weather and temps in the mid to upper 60's.  Early on, I was passed by a speeding bullet, also known as the 'Lassa Express.'   As you may recall, Lassa is a huge guy who if you are fortunate enough to catch his wheel will pull you along with the same drafting effect as a semi-truck.  In this case Lassa had Simon already in tow.  Simon a few miles back was passed by Lassa who then had the presence of mine to jump onto his wheel.  I did the same.  The man was possessed.   The three of us were cruising at 25 MPH with Lassa shouldering all of the work.  Neither Simon nor myself made any attempt whatsoever to jinx this by taking a turn at the front.  Lassa didn't ask us to and we didn't inquire.  This was all Lassa and we were along for the ride of our lives.  At one point we approached a group of three ahead of us.  I rode up to Lassa and implored him to step on the gas as soon as we are about to overtake them.   He was to make it impossible for anyone in this group to latch onto our wheels.  Two appreciative parasites, (Simon and myself), were all the express could handle.  Lassa did manage to accomplish this but Lee, with an intense burst of speed, jumped the gap and caught up to us.  Thus we were 4.  Lassa pulled us until the first SAG stop at 47 miles.  There was a covered bridge there along with its remarkable 89 yr old caretaker.  We gave both a reasonable amount of attention.  However, both Simon and I were watching Lassa out of the corners of our eyes.  When this train was going to leave the station we wanted to be certain that we were on board.  Thus, as soon as Lassa made a move for his bike, we dropped everything, food and all, grabbed our helmets and started to follow.  However it was clear after a bit that something was wrong.  The speeds were no longer there.  Lassa had blown his engine.  When Lassa was asked what was happening, he replied, "I go slow."   And that was the end of the free ride. We might actually have to work the rest of the day. 
     We passed vineyards, and lighthouses, and Lake Erie along the way.   The final SAG of the day, at 107 miles,  was in the parking lot of a winery.   A few of us went in and before you know it, we were doing involved in some wine tasting.  Ed had thought about buying some wine and having it brought back to the hotel in the van.  However, due to commercial license rules, this was not going to be allowed.  To get around this problem, Ed bought a bottle of champagne, which 7 of us shared right there and then.  The effect of the wine tasting and the champagne made the remaining 33 miles an interesting experience.  All I can say is that I pedaled blazingly fast.  I was hitting Lassa like speeds.  My goal was to finish the ride at least at 19 MPH and I achieved that. 
     All agreed that this was a great day of cycling.  I was happy to end when I did, but honestly could have gone further if need be.  Seven of us ate at the hotel restaurant and a good time was had by all except for the unfortunate waiter who had to suffer through us on his first day on the job.



Friday, May 20, 2011

Day 27

                                                                        Day 27
                                                          Wooster, OH to Warren, OH
                                                            98 miles, Avg speed 17.3

     This had the makings of a good day.  The sky was overcast, the winds were light but from the west, the mileage was subcentury, and there was only a 20% chance of rain.  The major warning for the day was to be aware of roads in poor condition.  This indeed was a well heeded warning for indeed there were quite a few miles where your bike was rattling so much you weren't sure if your eyeballs were going to pop out or the bike was going to fall apart.  Neither happened.  Much of the time it was just a matter of navigating around the poorest sections of the road.  Fortunately, traffic was light so this wasn't much of a problem.
     The countryside has changed a bit in the last couple of days.  There are still farms, but no longer 30-40 miles of them before you get into a town.  Indeed, there's now housing developments, and upscale houses intermixed with the farmland.  The nicest parts of it look like Medina back home.   Also, today I saw something I haven't seen since the beginning of the trip.....other cyclists.  There are indeed people, other than ourselves, who like to get out and ride their bikes. 
     I felt really good today.  Perhaps it was the extra 1/2 hour of sleep that I successfully lobbied for yesterday and then unabashedly claimed the credit.  Perhaps it was the fact that for the first time in at least a week, I was able to cycle with just a short sleeved jersey and bike shorts.  Whatever it was, I felt pretty strong on the bike today and in spite of the crummy roads, I managed to ride comfortably fast.  I was the first to the lunch spot which I think is a first for me on this trip.  I was also one of the first to finish and since the luggage van hadn't arrived rode my bike over to Coldstone Creamery where I and a few others enjoyed some shakes.
     Tonight was a special treat.  On the cue sheet, there will frequently be restaurants listed that will be near our destination hotel.  Today, for the first time "The Olive Garden" was listed.  I could almost think of nothing else all day.  During the lunch SAG I casually mentioned that I was planning on going to the "OG" tonight.  I needed to explain that at home, to add an air of sophistication to what may be one of the greatest restaurants in the history of man, we refer to the "Olive Garden" as the "OG."  Once the buzz got going,  almost everyone wanted to be apart of the 'in' crowd going to the "OG."   However, when we got to the hotel, there was no sign of the "OG".  The person at check in told us that it was one mile away.  Now what's interesting about our group is that in spite of the fact that we are cycling 100 and sometimes more miles a day, the thought of actually using our legs and walking more than 100 yards at days end to a restaurant is simply out of the question.  Biking there is also out of the question as this would involve biking shoes, biking shorts, etc.  Well, after thinking about this restaurant all day, I had a hankering for the "OG" and I was even willing to walk there if necessary.  I checked on Google Maps and it was 0.7 miles.  This still seemed like a lot, but I told some others in the group that if we took a short cut, it was no more than 1/2 mile.   In addition, I put my reputation on the line, by insisting that nobody would be disappointed if we went there.  Well, I managed to get 9 of us to go.  The walk did seem far, and there was the slightest hint of grumbling that I could discern on the way over.  That said, indeed, everyone was pleased with the plentiful food and that special ambiance that only an Olive Garden can provide.  I'm now on a roll.  Yesterday it was lobbying for today's extra half hour of sleep.  Today it was a gastronomic home run with the Olive Garden.  Tomorrow????  I'm thinking about it. 

The strange sight of other cyclists on the road

Ohio Landscape

Ohio's answer to Paris-Roubaix

Scenic Ohio country road (in poor condition)

The original Ironman

True bliss at the "OG"