Saturday, August 19, 2006
"According to our strength of character and our clarity of vision, we will endure, we will succeed, we will have contributed to make life where we were and as we lived it better, brighter and more beautiful"
Frank Lloyd Wright.
After 50 days and a few days rest, the thrill of completing such a challenge is exhilrating. With the sight of the ocean, my emotions overcame me with tears of joy and happiness. Had I really made it all 3780 miles, climbing over 110,000 feet? CHECK OUT THE MAP http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=105016220074415919612.000442fe95f82cf857b57&ll=56.944974,-77.519531&spn=40.216836,163.476563&z=3&om=1 It was a most remarkable journey with physical, mental and emotional challenges conquered by all on this trip, and to my surprise, even myself. Trip of a lifetime!
On the eve of the trip, like many, I was wondering if I was really prepared for the adventure that lay ahead. As we rounded the room with introductions, it became apparent these people were clearly skilled cyclists who had prepared months and possibly years for this trip and included some Olympic and World Class Athletes, some trip Alumni and some who cycled 4000 plus miles. Most were doing it for the love of cycling.
Then there was me. I dare not say it, I was not doing this for the love of cycling (after all I was a novice, not even ever having changed a flat tire). I was in it for the love of the outdoors and backwoods of America. I wanted to embrace, savour, smell, feel, taste, touch, enjoy and experience America at the grass roots – to see it every inch of the way! In April, I stumbled upon the opportunity of a free summer which coincided with my life long dream that has been itching me for years. And as the saying goes ‘if you have an itch, scratch it!’ Arriving in the US and buying my bike May 20th, 2006 I was off. On the eve of the trip, I was contemplating ‘was it the time to fess up to the following?;
- That my Odometer was inadvertently set to measure Kilometers (although labeled as MPH) and with distractions of family and travel, I had only ridden 329 miles?
- That in the little riding I did, that I loathed hills and with just 3 days before departure, I made my brother pick me up each day (to avoid the 2 mile 10% climb back to his house)?
- That a physical chronic pain has haunted me daily for the past 18 months (and that I was feeling it at that very moment)?
Nope! Revealing such secrets would only weaken my own confidence. I am a firm believer of ‘what does not break you, makes you’. This was going to test that theory. I realised early on that I might be (or rather was) physically weaker than all of those here but I was head strong and planned to remain that way.
Everyone rode this trip for different reasons, many to pursue a life long dream and enjoy America. In addition to my intentions of saturating myself with the States, I set out with one objective and that was to ride ‘EFI – Every Fabulous Inch’. This is a very tough objective considering that there are so many variables, many risks beyond one’s own control (weather, pre-determined destinations and schedule regardless of how you feel and unpredicatable construction). And perhaps now is the time to say remember on Day 23 (of my blog), we (Lois and I were forced into a SAG – not just through a construction zone but against our will to the hotel). It was 8 miles. For me, it was a gnawing bit of defeat that I was trying to release and let go that day but simply could not shake it. I was not happy, although beyond my control, I felt failure. All things then changed as Lois approached me just before dinner and said ‘Annie – I came to ride EFI and I am going back to re-ride what we missed. Want to go?’ Oh yeah- game on! Like sneaking out of camp, we re-traced our route at 7:00 pm for an additional 14 miles. Oh what a sweet feeling that was! But we realised it also upped the stakes on going the distance, so we decided it was best kept secret. The following day, with 105 temperatures and nearly 75% of the group sagging in the frustration of nasty headwinds and heat exhaustion, I was more determined to go EFI (at least for the day), not wanting the previous days’ effort to be wasted. Fourteen bloody hours! It was undeniably grueling but going the distance was exhilrating. ‘Tough Cookie’ one fellow rider said to me. Oh yes I am! From then on, I never questioned if I could make it (as I had for weeks at the beginning).
Every aspect of this trip has been phenomonal. All in all, I was very pleased with this route and trip - it had great scenery and history with mostly backroads and fairly safe shoulders. We had great weather for the most part and even with the few dark days of rain, thunder, lightning and hail, it made for finding adventure and entertainment in barns. It seemed the sole unpredictable risk were the various bits of construction but this could be eliminated with the simple use of technology. As a group, we were all very lucky with just a few close calls with careless drivers. In all, we had a few incidents of ‘road rashes’ and just one broken collar bone. Not bad for a group of 50 plus cyclist traveling some 175,000 miles.
As I turned the corner into Rye, NH, the church bells were ringing out with Amazing Grace ‘ I once was lost but now I’m found’. How amusing, inspiring and reassuring! At this writing, I am enthusiastically energised on life and look forward to stepping back onto the career ladder taking my trip experiences with me.
I also might fess up that I am now a cyclist for life. Just days after finishing in Portsmouth, I had the urge to cycle. And with that, I attempted the summit of Mount Ascutney, a 3.8 mile, 12-18% grade in 50 minutes. In true Final Four style, I did not make the time but I made the hill. After just 50 days, a cyclist? Maybe. Another cross country trip? I hope so. So to all those armchair athletes, I say, get out there! You will surprise yourself with what you can do!
Friday, August 18, 2006
Final Four footnote
- A few bloody hills (Mount Hood, Ochocho Pass, Keyes Pass, Dixie Mountain, Tifton Mountain and Snall summit, Summit Pass, Togwotee Pass,Black Hills, Adirondacks, Apalachian Mountains, Green Mountains and Hogback Mountain) for a total of 110,000 feet of climbing.
- Spectacular scenery, in particular Mount Hood, Grand Tetons, Continental Divide, Cave of the Winds National Park, Missippippi River, Niagara Falls, Erie Canal (bike paths), NY churches (and many of them), VT covered bridges, Bennington monument and Hogback Mountain.
- Pursuit of business opportunities (Dayville, OR General Store ($325k with store, house and pool), desolate West Point Service (to entertain Mormon’s, Potato farmers and the occasional cyclist), Hell’s Half Acre (for potential Bison Burgers), DQ (to repair in Ripon), Michigan Land Auction (near power station!) and potential employees for a day at Niagara Falls TGI Friday’s (short lived!).
- Meeting fascinating people including Juniper Guy (http://www.juniperguy.com/), Marvin (of the Rasberries), DQ Curt, the Mandelas Lady and Grandpa. Most inspiring was self-supported Larry – we met him twice. Chatting with Amish on a few occassions who are sprinkled across the Northern States.
- A few wrong turns (most notable a painful but memorable 11 mile detour) which also included some road rash!
- All things related to DQ (off-roading DQs, helping hand in DQ and double dipping (two in one day DQs) .
- State signs! (The talents of setting a camera timer and balancing it for a group photo).
- Any technology to be tinkered with – including cameras falling into toilets, transforming to self-propelled rockets or performing 'houdini' acts. Capturing ‘must have photos’ of tunnels and the Michigan pothole. Perhaps one too many photos (total taken 3,646!).
- Animals of all shapes and sizes (elk, deer, moose, bear, bison, prairie dogs, racccoons, rabbits, frogs, fish (hatcheries), snakes, pigs, turkeys, cows and horses. Dead or alive. With added distractions of practicing the fine art of ‘cow whispering’. Only a few dogs occassionally quickened our pace.
Fruits (and vegetables) of labor (raspberries, blueberries, wildberries, pears, apples, cabbage, asparagus, alfalfa, ginseng, cucumbers, peas, beans, carrots, potato and just about any other fruit or vegetable). And of course, ‘corn stalking’ or was it stalking corn?
- Trains, planes and automobiles (and a boat as well) – All shapes and sizes – stopping or distracting us including many antique cars (including Corvairs), crop dusters and numerous freight trains. Timing was not always on our side as we even had to wait for a drawbridge (for a boat to pass)!
- Shopping at the Dollar Store for chalk, squirt guns and American flags - all necessities of the serious cyclist.
- Looking for luck (aka Pick a penny up and all the day you have good luck!).... Think we had a total of $3.13 collected of various coins and bills. At one point, I found 30 cents within 2 miles and had thoughts of funding my trip.
- Tacky tourists traps – The Dells, Outlet malls and Wall Drug (along with the 1500 miles of advertising sign to go with it). Getting my head around good ole American laziness (drive thru cigarette store, stand alone Espresso shops, all you can eat buffets).
- 'where is that bike helmut' revelations - 5 miles too late!
- Of course, 'valet'ing the bikes
- Napping in more than a few places including Magnolia, Port Byron, the golf course, under any shady tree and most notably picking up positive vibes on the Optimist Bench!
- Meddling with moody Mother Nature (and some nasty thunder and lightening storms – especially in Waseca, WI).
- Anything Red, White and Blue in the spirt of Patriotism and Lois’ scrapbook! It’s alive and well across the States (mailboxes, gas tanks, wood carvings, call boxes, you-name-it, its red, white and blue!)!
- Great bike paths (on or off the official route maps) – Casper, Elroy/Sparta (and visiting Bikin Ben of Sparta), Houston (and the one we could not find), Worthington with ‘wrong-way-Abe’, Windmill to Brantford (off-map), Erie Canal (off-map and not easy!) and Mohawk-Hudson trail.
- Hay Jumping (Evil Knevil style).
- Flower picking (and naming) - Stopping to view and smell the wildflowers as well as amazing manicured gardens.
- Lost in construction!
- Debating politics in Ripon without taking party lines and still remaining friends.
- Water towers (my all time favourite: The Big Smiley!)
- HOT FOOT - oooooooouuch!!! Must stop now!
- Train Spotting - a UK sport that I imported as an excuse to stop!
- Trip entertainers - Requested as the ‘cell phone’ singing Happy Birthday Quartet (yes me!) at SAG stops. Along with team sing alongs of ‘Rooster’, ‘This land is your land, this land is my land’.... etc, etc.
- Entertaining fellow riders with practical jokes and then only to realise there was no one left to fool and nothing left to do but ride on!
Sibling sitings (Lois sitings in Wisconsin and Ogrady sitings in VT, NH and MI)
Sleepless nights (with no energy to ride)– Blog, blog, blog.... A great trip diary....
Monday, August 07, 2006
Day 50 - Wallis Sands Beach, NH -August 7th 2006
Location: Wallis Sands State Beach (Portsmouth), NH (from Manchester, NH)
Miles per day: 53.7
Average miles per hour: 13.65
Elevation: not enough to care.
So these were my initial thoughts "Broom in hand - mission accomplished.... Watch this space for final trip summary. Thanks a ton for all your support. This has been not just one adventure but each and every day was an adventure in itself..."
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Day 49 - Manchester, NH - August 6th 2006
Location: Manchester, NH (from Brattleboro, VT)
Miles per day: 88.6
Average miles per hour:
Elevation climb: 7111 feet (too much climbing)!
Blizzards/Ice Cream to date: 32 (Georgia Mud Fudge 9/10!) Flat Tires to date: 1
So they said today was to be the second toughest day of the trip with numerous climbs, many of them at 13-15% grades. Fear not! Since DAY 1, for me, this trip has been about mental attitude and toughness --- guts, determination and tenacity would get me over the hills. Today was no exception, physically ready or not, I wore my 'Wheaties' socks. They have been my secret weapon for any difficult day (including the 8 Centuries). Knowing I had the socks on, I would make it.
Initially, I scoffed as we started ticking off each of the early morning climbs. Ahead of schedule, we confidently took a Dunkin Donuts coffee break in Keene, NH. However, as the day progressed, I started feeling the pain. But sharing the pain is always best and so we started clinging as a group to the side of these hills. It was appropriate that Dennis was nearby (pictured here) as we fondly recalled clamouring over the Continental Divide together. We decided today we should be embracing and savouring the moments, as we moved into the remaining hours of our trip. And that we did.
Knowing this was nearly the end of the trip, in a sadistic way, I just didn't want it to end. In full swing of procrastination, we stopped in New Boston for a late lunch. Took our last nasty climb out of town and then raced down into Manchester.
To my surprise, Irene - one of my very good friends from college was waiting in the Hotel Parking lot. Words can't express having great support of friends and family on this trip. I was completely speechless as she not only tracked me down but had also scouted the local DQ!
The trip still feels like a dream (come true). Time has flown past so quickly. It may take me months to really reflect on the experience. There are times when I can't tell you the hotel or town I was in yesterday or where I am going tomorrow. But then there are times when I can tell you the exact place and moment I saw something happen. It almost feels like a time-warp. Then there's the reality of life. For 50 days, we have been coccooned from the outside world. At night, I am so tired, I don't turn on the TV. I wake up, eat, pedal, blog and sleep.... Repeat.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Day 48 - Brattleboro, VT - August 5th 2006
Location: Brattleboro, VT (from Troy, NY)
Miles per day: 84.7
Average miles per hour: 12.03
Blizzards/Ice Cream to date: 31
Flat Tires to date: 1
Spectacular day! For a cyclist, nothing can be better than sunny weather combined with fresh cool air and that's exactly what we had today. Overall, I would rate this as one of the best days of the trip.
Vermont welcomed us with some hills! We have been on a hiatus from hills since the Black Hills. Although we were warned of a potentially difficult day, it turned out to be 'a storm in a teacup'.... Yes, the hills were 6% but perhaps with a bit of a tailwind, I did not feel them. We were distracted by the beautiful scenery of Vermont, rolling hills with farms and small quaint towns.
We stopped to tour the Bennington Battle Monument where in 1777, the local New Englanders (General Stark and Col' Warner ) successfully beat off the British forces. We had lunch in the small town of Wilmington at the Old Red Mill on Jerry's Deck. With the fresh air, the time passed quickly.
My brother and his wife (John and Maureen) along with my brother Thomas met me for dinner. It was a great surprise. And as many on this trip will tell you, after nearly 50 days, you really do miss family and friends. Thanks for all your emails! See you soon. Annie
Friday, August 04, 2006
Day 47 - Troy New York - August 4th 2006
Location: Troy, NY (from Little Falls, NY)
Miles per day: 83.7
Average miles per hour: 14.21
Elevation climb: nearly flat... last easy day!
Blizzards/Ice Cream to date: 31 (missing my DQs!)
Flat Tires to date: 1
Today was the last of the easy days and we enjoyed it thoroughly. We cruised the Hudson-Mohawk bike trail for about 30 miles - a great flat bike trail along the Mohawk River with spectacular views.
Tomorrow we head into Vermont and climb through the Green Mountains.
As usual, the 'Final Four' found an original excuse for being late --- We were stopped dead in our tracks by railroad freight cars! Not just once but twice!
Footnote: Yesterday, we were reminded the hardest lesson: 'Life is just not fair' - on or off the bike..... One of my favourite riders (Kent - the Diesel, so named for his strength and skill of riding) had a nasty fall breaking his collar bone. What makes this terribly tragic is not that Kent made it 46 days and had to drop out but the fact this was Kent's second attempt. Last year, on the first day, he fell and broke his collar bone. Kent was an inspiration to me - always kind and cheery words throughout my long days. We will miss him.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Day 46 - Little Falls, NY - August 3rd 2006
Location: Little Falls, NY (from Liverpool, NY)
Miles per day: 79.8
Average miles per hour: 15.87
Elevation climb: Very little
Blizzards/Ice Cream to date: 31
Flat Tires to date: 1
Following yesterday's long day and the anticipation of some tough climbing days ahead, I was focussed on finishing early today. The weather was very co-operative, with clouds and light rain, we kept cool. Scenery is not too exciting, typical suburbs of middle-class America with little opportunity for photos. We rolled into Little Falls just after noon.
In its heyday, along the Erie Canal, Little Falls (with power generation of the water falls) was a major textile manufacturer (particualalry knitting mills). It also was the largest cheese producer at one time. Today, like so many small towns in America today, its economically challenged!
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Day 45 - Liverpool, NY - August 2nd 2006
Location: Liverpool, NY (from Henrietta, NY)
Miles per day: Planned 88, Actual 97.6
Average miles per hour: 13.81
Elevation climb: Very little
Blizzards/Ice Cream to date: 31 (no more DQs!)
Flat Tires to date: 1
An unexpectedly long but great day! With the completion of our trip imminent, we are savouring every minute of everyday. There is not only natural beauty but so many works of original and intriguing art displays along the way. This mural brightened up a run down town and my spirits as I could not help but hang out with these fellas.
We started with some mayhem consisting of detours and road construction. After yesterday's excursion, I was adamant that I was not budging an inch in the wrong direction. So I watched several of the 'fast' riders head in a direction I was not so sure about. As they were the 'fast' riders, my strategy was simple: let them go (over the hill), turn around and come back. If they weren't back in 10 minutes, I would know they were right. It all worked according to plan. Sure enough, they came barrelling back past me. I saved myself a wrong turn today!
Our route was along the historic and beautiful Erie Canal. The Erie Canal was the brainstorm of a jailed convict in the 1807. Construction of the 363 mile canal began in 1817, was completed in 1925 and within 10 years, had over 3000 boats in service. It connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes (via Albany to Buffalo). A six week trip of travel was slashed to just 10 days!
To fully appreciate the Eric Canal, we took the optional bike path, which was gravel, a bit rough riding but well worth the 14 miles of tranquil and beautiful scenery. It slowed us down quite a bit and took some extra energy (with extra mileage)but I was well pleased we had the Erie Canal experience. At one point, we watched a boat navigate through the Canal System. Interestingly, to encourage more tourist, the Canal Locks are free for leisure use. Looks like it could be a fun vacation.
This part of New York also is the source of much American religious history. In the Palmyra, Joseph Smith founded the Mormon Church as well as it is now the site of the only street corner in America that has a church on every corner. Each of the towns are very pretty, almost village like. A few have suffered economic tragedy such as Port Byron.
The weather turned on us at about the 67 mile mark in the town of Port Byron. We took cover in an abandoned building in the centre of town (see photo - Stu waits it out) and ended up falling asleep while the thunder clouds passed. Following that, we pumped out another 30 miles to arrive in Liverpool on the outskirts of Syracuse, NY.
Patriotism has been running high across America. The flag can be found in the most unusual places - on mailboxes, farm call boxes, gas tanks - you name it. This one really was an outstanding piece of work (in the rural parts of New York with very little nearby).
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Day 44 - Henrietta, NY - August 1st 2006
Location: Henrietta, NY (from Niagara Falls, NY)
Miles per day: 80.1 plus additional 11
Average miles per hour: 14.34
Elevation climb: Very little
Blizzards/Ice Cream to date: 31 (sadly there may be no more DQs... may lose weight just yet!)
Flat Tires to date: 1
Some days are better than others.... This was no 'some day' but rather an 'other day'. We had a great start and were head of the pack at 9:30 with 30 miles completed. With a complicated cue sheet (lots of streets) and with one wrong turn, we were lost for 11 miles and back of the pack for the rest of the day. Initially, my mental state was completely depleted on realising my mistake. The heart sinks and one who makes such a mistake can only dig deep, accept and suck it up. There is no easy fix. Rather the only answer is to take a deep breath and pedal onward. That is what I did. We pumped out the additional 11 in very hot humid conditions. In the end, we came in about 3pm with a good average miles per day, despite the extra miles.
Jim N, a local (from Rochester) and friend of Abe's joined us for the day. He was an excellent rider and was fairly successful at coaxing us to ride above our average speed. He sadly advised me that there were no DQs in Henrietta so we opted for the Famous Tim Horton's (one of Canada's famous (but shortlived) hockey players.
Now that we are in NY, traffic has really picked up. We are managing to attract the rowdies and reckless. With just 6 riding days, our focus is to be safe and that is getting harder. Helmets are firmly on the head and we are as far to the right as possible. Keep your fingers crossed for us.
On reflection and apart from the unexpected extra miles, it was an enjoyable day. Following a day off, I felt pretty strong. Add in a tailwind and relatively flat terrain (yet again), I can't complain too much.