Sunday, August 10, 2008

Day 49+ - August - Seattle

(photo: birds awaiting a thermal - early morning outside of Clarksburg, MD)

I don't know if I sense a "transition" from the Big Ride, back to my pre-BR life, or if it is more like changing TV channels. Experiencing the Ride is a distinct reality. You get up, pack up, eat up, clutch your cue sheet (i.e. map) for the day's route, and head out to reach your the designated destination. During the event, I didn't seek out national news, and did not refer to a calendar. My mental energy was used up by staying on course, riding safely, collaborating with others in the group, and stoking my determination to complete the journey. My focus was limited to the day at hand, the horizon in sight. While aware that I was slowly chipping away at a larger goal, gazing directly at it might have been counter-productive.

I have returned home and to work. It's been interesting to hear from people who had been following my blog.

  • "You haven't mentioned your hot feet recently. Did that get resolved?"

  • "You seem tired toward the end. Were you really?"

  • "You sure ate a lot. Did you gain any weight?"

  • "How did your bike hold up? Did you have many problems?"

  • "You didn't mention rain. Did you have any?"

I can tell you that my problem with hot/sore feet DID crop up later in the Ride on warm-hot, high-mileage days. I just wasn't compelled to write about it any more. The first several instances of this painful condition were the most significant to me.

I don't know if I was more tired toward the end - I DID feel better prepared. But understandably, the accumulated mileage takes its toll on your body.

Yes, I did eat a lot. But in the state that I was in (no pun intended), my meals (quantity and frequency) were usually just a means to an end: feeling sated. Ordering pie with ice cream after polishing off several pieces of chicken and a baked potato might sound excessive. But if you are still hungry, you dive into the pie. On layover days, I often felt less hungry, as though my body could immediately dial down the appetite when at rest. Comparing pre-and post-Ride weight? I lost about 2 pounds.

My bike - a Rodriguez Stellar - held up extremely well! I had a total of 2 flats during the 3300+ mile course. A few specific actions kept this number low: David kindly rotated my tires in Rapid City; And I took a very close look at their surface every few days, to pick out any debris that might have otherwise migrated to the tube over time. The experienced staff at Seattle Bike Repair did a fantastic job of overhauling and tuning up my pony for this extraordinary event. I sent them postcards to announce that the trip mechanic had yet to do any work on my steed.

We were very, very lucky with regard to the weather on this year's Ride. There was not a single day when we packed up during a rain shower, or spent a rainy day on the bike. We had the memorable headwinds outside of Rapid City, and a few thunderstorms. And hot. We had hot days. Cloudless, hot-as-the-inside-of-a-clothes-dryer-at-the-end-of-the-cottontowel-cycle hot. But no soggy days.

A big Thank You is due to my family, donors to the ALA, donors to Pies & Pints, the Marcom team at work who covered for me during 7 long weeks, neighbors and friends who encouraged me during the event, and those who posted comments on my online journal.

May you too embrace a dream.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Day 48 - August 9th - Clarksburg MD to Washington, D.C.

(photos: pea vines; crossing the finish line; posing at rest; Big Wonderful Friends)

Wow - the last morning of packing up the tent.

Went through my morning routine as though the it was just another Big Ride day. But camp breakfast was served with uncommon flair this morning: Sharon included some bags of mini Krispy Kreme doughnuts, as well as lox and cream cheese to have with full-size bagels! After loading the truck, we moved on out of the park to the highway. Some Big Rider alums were already suited up and ready to leave with us at the top of our designated campsite loop in Little Bennet park.

For some crazy reason, I thought that today's ride would be a flat course right into Washington. A parade-atmosphere perhaps, with flags and bunting. Maybe a brass band. A dignitary or two.Far from it! We were assigned to rollers, lots of 'em too. They coursed through some very pretty countryside, but they were rollers all the same. After the 25 mile checkpoint, the route took us through some elite (e.g. bordered by gated estates, not just communities) areas with increasingly heavy traffic. As this was Saturday, lots of road warrior cyclists raced past us, going in the opposite direction. They looked very serious (one buzzed by, talking on his cellphone, confirming a rendez-vous point) and barely acknowleged our waves and "hello"s.

Several of us within the group (Ash, Pauline, Barb, Diana, Janet, Rosie, Sam and myself) took turns pulling the others into town. We finally reached the intersection with the C&O Trail where we needed to contend with the weekend crowd of walkers, runners, beginning cyclists, etc. I nearly worn out my bike bell announcing our string of Big Riders. With Tracy's help, we located the Old Post Office and locked up our steel ponies outside. A former Big Rider hosted us at his greek restaurant (located in the food court) for lunch. A very ample and flavorful meal! We then took off for the Finish Line in sets of 2 or 3 (though traffic lights caused us to clump a bit). David and Daniel were there to meet me. The Ride had actually come to an end. It was hard to fathom.

After 48 days of living in a parallel universe - focusing only on cue sheets, personal and group safety, eating, drinking enough water, and staking my tent securely in the event of a storm, those daily concerns have now vaporized.

I am now back at home, having done laundry (endlessly and without quarters in hand), answered a phone call on a landline, sorted though my bags in a vast, bug-free space, and tried to make sense of what I have accomplished.
It's challenging to bring both the Big Rider cyclist and the person-at-home into a singular focus, as the same being.
Did I actually ride across America, or was that my alter ego?

Day 47 - August 8th - Gettysburg PA to Clarksburg MD

(photos: fruit stand on Taneytown Road; ditto; Border Patrol gal Tracy; Steven expressing his amazement at Catie's love of a Big campFire)

Given that we had only 50 miles to travel today, our camp breakfast started at 7. It was nice to have time to gather up our scattered belongings, pack, and clean up our beloved cabin. It had been a wonderful campground oasis. Thank you Barb and Diana for your collaborative efforts to set this up for us!

Rode out of the campground with Tracy, Rosie, Diana, Janet and Barb. We stretched ourselves out over the gently rolling hills that led to Taneytown. Along the way, we passed the roadside pinacle that marked the Pennsylvania/Maryland state line. Photo opps of course. Especially given the background of pleasant blue skies.

Once we reached T-town, we saw that many Riders had opted to stop at Three Fine Cups for a some of thoughtfully prepared coffee. As was often the case, we seemed to swarm the confines of the shop. A trio of locals sat in a window seat. Big Riders encircled all other available tables. Oh well, our little contribution to the local economy. After coffee, we rode on to Midway, our only checkpoint for the day. Across the way was a plain looking building: Trout's Towne Restaurant. Big Rider bikes sitting outside again lured us inside. It must be time for some lunch. Sam joined us for this mid-day refueling, joining us after lunch, as we continued on to Frederick. Nice looking town, with beautiful brick rowhouses. Took awhile though to emerge from the other side - lots of urban/suburban traffic. Finally reached some semblance of country side, which came with familiar, rolling terrain. On to Clarksburg - recognizable only via address listings on roadside businesses. Didn't see a town or village. Took the noted left hand turn into the Little Bennett Campground. An easy, winding, coasting ride to the Group C loop. Very woodsy. Several Riders commented that it reminded them of the Easton (our 1st) campsite. But the sound of traffic here, was muffled by the distance from the road.

Sharon prepared a camp dinner while several Riders chose to clean up their bikes. Clusters of Riders stood around chatting, talking about the culmination of this seven-week journey. It was tempting to stick around the roaring campfire for hours, but I was just too tired.

Day 46 - August 7th - layover day in Gettysburg

(photos: Janet, a temporary resident of the Saloon, shows us her gams; a fine picnic dinner for the Golden Girls of the Big Ride)

Loved sleeping in the cabin, ensconced on an upper bunk. Woke up a bit after six. It was nice to know that I could take my time getting up and finding some breakfast. My roommates eased out of their respective sacks during the next hour. Morning hunger necessitated that I ride into town in search of breakfast. I had noticed the Season Bakery and Cafe on the local map, not too far from the library. It took just a few minutes to ride the rolling 2 miles to the center of town. Found the cafe, and locked my bike under the shade of a sidewalk tree. The cafe was quite warm inside due to active bakery ovens: a good sign. Bhe emphasis of the menu was directed more toward bakery items than a protein-packed breakfast. So I ordered a double shot latte, a ball of fresh mozzarella cheese (from their sparse deli case) and a cinnamon roll. Rosie joined me and ordered a cappuccino - a rare find. We then walked around the corner to the Adams County Library. Locked up our bikes and went inside .

At the circulation desk, the librarian on duty carefully explained the process of signing up for computer use. She mentioned that "if we didn't need our entire hour", we could come back later in the day to use the time. I decided to jump in at that point and explain our situation: we are part of a group of cyclists who are riding across the country. We need access to computers in order to update our journals and that it might take MORE than an hour. "Oh dear:". But this librarian didn't feel limited by the normal confines of computer use: she checked with a colleague who confirmed that their back room computer lab was not currently occupied. She quietly escorted us to the room and turned on two computers for us to use as long as we needed! Fan-tastic! We worked diligently at our respective stations until nearly 1pm. Rosie then went off to meet up with Patti and some of her out-of-town visitors, and I went in search of a light lunch. Ran into Ash and Pauline while I was outside of The Spot, munching on a bagel. Rode my bike through parts of the center of town, and also out through Cemetery Ridge. Took in views and read posted signs with information about the War.
I had been watching the darkening sky, wondering if we were due for an afternoon thunderstorm. Sure enough, on my ride back to camp, the wind suddenly picked up, nearly blowing me sideways. This was my warning: find cover. I raced back down Taneytown Rd and made it to the camp office just as oversized drops of rain began pelting the area. I sought refuge there, at the entrance, and just waited for the storm to pass. Within 20 minutes, I could continue back to our cabin, where others were inside either resting or working on their laptops.
That evening, we had a wonderful picnic dinner outside of our cozy abode. Other Riders wandered over to witness what a good time looks like, and they stayed on 'til after dark.
There have been layover days spent in communities where I felt that I SHOULD be siteseeing or making an effort to learn more about the area. But it's as though my capacity to absorb new info was hampered by low energy or simply the need to rest. Gettysburg was the most significant example of this. There were Riders who spent the whole day in camp, and others who were compelled to take tours. I followed my natural instincts and took in what I could, and tride to accept my limits.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The changing landscape - from cows to cars

As we journeyed east into Ohio and Pennsylvania, I noticed a transition in the roadside views. Fewer small farms and feed stores. More auto body shops and cars laying around. The air had lost the pungency that comes with dairy operations; it had been replaced with the smell of exhaust coming from vehicles on their way to be repaired or junked.

Day 45 - August 6th - Bedford to Gettysburg

(photos: un-tested coffee shop in Bedford; thinking of my farmer, David; old schoolhouse; Janet takes a ride; confirmation that we are truly in the eastern part of the U.S.)

Awoke at 4:30am to a good old thunderstorm. Not much noise and light, but plenty of wet. Buckets of rain for nearly an hour. This was the morning of one of our longest and most challenging routes. Sharon had posted a note the night before that breakfast would be ready at 5:30am so that we could leave camp by 6:30. The rain put a damper on such a plan, delaying morning tasks by half an hour. Tents were drenched by the storm and unwieldy to pack up. It wouldn't have been surprising to see a stream of water flow from the truck's back door as it made its way to Gettysburg.

After eating breakfast and packing up the truck, we rode out of Friendship Village and on through the town of Bedford. I wished that we had had time to walk through its narrow streets and to visit the well-kept shops. But we had miles of rollers to cover today. The hilliest part of the day's route was during the first 40 miles. Around mile 15, I fit in a stop at McD's to fill up my camelbak. There was a check point set up right around the corner - facing a broad highway, teaming with semi's. The stop was conveniently located in the parking lot of a Starbucks! Bought a latte and ate a banana. Tried to psych myself up for the next 25 miles. Big dips and long climbs. And the air was muggy - yet to clear from the morning storm. Views from ridge tops were veiled in haze. At least the temp was somewhat moderate. Last year's Riders did this section in 100 degree weather, with 100% humidity.
Somewhere around mile 39, in a fairly remote area, I noticed a grocery store with gas pumps outside. A few Riders were already there and flagged me down. What a find! Shaded benches. Friendly people behind the store counters - happy to make up a roast beef sandwich. That, a bottle of V8, a bag of chips and some M&M's set me back just $5. Ate on the porch and flagged down other Riders. Janet stopped by, and noticed a mechanical horse on the porch. Someone dared her to take a ride. Always a good sport, she gave it her all. Glad to provide any/all store customers with some Big Rider entertainment.
A local guy drove up in his pick-up. Very friendly - talked to us about the area. Was then compelled to display a large snapping turtle that he and a friend had recently found in a corn field. Turtle was none too happy to be shown to a crowd, as he held her out from her spiked tail. She tried in vain to snap at his wrist. "What will you do with her?" someone asked. "Eat her" he replied in a matter-of-fact tone.
He then tossed her in the back of his pick-up and waved to us as he drove off.

Mark set up a lunch stop in Cowan Gap State Park. The miles on the way to the stop were very pleasant with more level terrain than the first 30, and lots of shade. The stop in the park was at a lakeside beach - complete with concession stand (why not try a cone?) and crowds of people. We kept to ourselves at a few tables on the fringe of activity. Made and packed a sandwich. Made a half sand and ate it.
Rosie and I got back on our bikes and started in on the final 60 miles. Gentle rolling hills with few surprises. Occasional towns - some with sluggish, noisy traffic. Give me a country road embraced by corn fields, please!
Check point in a shady park. Had a very nice attendant at the snack stand fill my camelbak with ice. This should get me through the day. Cold water is such a boon on a hot day. We rode on through rural areas and small towns. My feet started to ache. Time for water in the shoes. Squished along, easing up a gradual incline and then had a chance to do some coasting. Passed a farm market hat advertised various fresh veg and fruit including "lopes". We assumed "cantalopes".
Reached Gettysburg and took a right turn in town, prior to village square. Rode 2 rolling miles east to the Artillery Ridge campground. Diana and Barb had reserved a cabin for 6 - a nice reprieve from a tent. We luxuriated in having a space to fully open up our bags and spread out their worn-out contents. Drank cold beer and ate pizza on the front porch of our cabin (ironically labeled "Saloon"), happy that our final long-mileage day was behind us. It would be great to have a day off the bike tomorrow.

Day 44 - August 5th - Confluence to Bedford

(photos: bike weather vane atop bike shop on YRT; Meyersdale historic train depot; monument in Berlin cemetery)

Slept well, likely due to the constant sound of water movement from the river. At 5am or even 5:30, it is still dark out. Bit by bit, Riders emerge slowly from their tents - headlamps on - and make their way to the bathroom. It's an amusing sight. At dawn, lightening bugs go to bed and flickering headlamps take their place.
Camp breakfast (granola with milk, banana, yogurt, coffee, cream cheese on a mini-bagel) at the truck. The sky was cloudy and wouldn't commit to a storm or clearing. We were advised to carry rain gear - just in case. The day's route had 2 options: 26 miles of steep rollers, including reaching the summit of a Mt. Davis (the highest point in PA), or 30 more miles on the trail. Only a handful of vigorous Riders opted for the climbs - most were glad for the trail option. The balance of our 78 mile route included sufficient rollers to work off a 2nd breakfast and other spontaneous meals.
The bike trail ended in Meyersdale, where many Riders (hill and trail folk) coasted through town to Missy's Cafe. Another case of overwhelming one wait-person (though she had help in the kitchen). Service was slow, but we didn't mind. I was very hungry and ordered a Full plate: chicken-friend steak, 2 poached eggs, potatoes and toast. Split a bottle of juice with Rosie. And drank several cups of "coffee".
Back on the route (under partially cloudy skies), the roads pitched and dropped. There were a few level sections on ridge tops or in valleys, and then more climbs and descents. Stopped to take photos at the cemetery in Berlin. Captivated by the metal statue atop a monument for a soldier. Civil war casualty. Headstone for his wife was adjacent, with "Mother" in large letters. Why not a statue of her in full dress too?
Stopped for soft-serve on the final stretch. Finally arrived at Friendship Village campground on the fringe of Bedford by late afternoon. This was a KOA campground - complete with "office", game room, laundry facilities, shuffleboard court and other enticements to keep you hanging around for weeks on end. Park your motor home, extend the awning, roll out the astro turf and get ready to Kamp!
Cleaned off my bike and did some laundry. Given the recent weather forecast, I staked my tent well, and guyed out the sides. Just in case.
Sharon and the dinner crew grilled hamburgers for dinner. At last, sufficient food: she knows all too well how much we can put away. Some Riders stayed up for awhile, their active laptops illuminating the pavilion.