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.

Day 43 - August 4th - Washington to Confluence

(photos: farm buildings on a hillside; Mingo Creek park; bridge in the park; bluebird box along trail; view of Youghiogheny river from the bike trail)

Heavy dew during the night, and cool temps - which made it easier to sleep. But it felt chilly at breakfast and several Riders added a layer of clothing to stay warm until we got on the road. The day's route of 88 miles took us through some high-traffic areas, and included several steep climbs within the first 30 miles or so. One hill was at a 12% grade. Other sections were just long, sustained climbs. But once we reached West Newton - and the lunch stop (mile 38) - the terrain changed dramatically. We would ride on the YRT for the balance of the day. Over 50 miles on a level bike trail of crushed limestone, paralleling the Youghiogheny river. Lush vegetation provided lots of shade. No sunburn worries here. Riding this surface sounded like I was rolling over a path of Grape-Nuts. The steady crunch became monotonous after awhile and sometimes overwhelmed sounds from the river - either water movement or exuberant water rafters. A rocky hillside on the right-hand side of the trail, included damp sections with water dripping into the ditch. Reminded me of the hillside behind the old Carnival restaurant at the base of Terwilliger Blvd in Portland.
I pulsed along the trail until it opened up in the town of Connellsville. There, in a park shelter, a Big Rider alum from 2000 - Fred Husak - had set up a rest stop for us. Sandwiches, cold drinks, fruit and ice cream were waiting to be consumed. Fred knew what we needed! His wife Rose Ann and daughter Bethany were there too, to chat with us and make the stop as hospitable as possible. Today, I had wanted to get into town to find the library so that I could update my blog. But some annoymous Big Rider angels had set up a laptop for me to use right in the pavilion. Thank you!
I spent a couple of hours in the shade at a picnic table, uploading photos, etc. By 2pm, I decided that it was time to unplug from technology and return to the trail. Rode on to our campsite in Confluence - right off the YRT. It was in a beautiful setting, right next to the river. The sound of moving water provided soothing white noise for us all night long. As we were in a valley, cellphone reception was nil. I stopped by the camp office and asked the woman on duty if she could provide me with a weather forecast. Within minutes, she printed out a local report: 30% chance of showers this evening, 50% chance of severe thunderstorms - with high winds and possible hail - tomorrow. Oh joy. Shared the news with others and crawled into my tent.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Day 42 - New Waterford OH to Washington PA

(photos: East Fairfield church message; Welcome to Pennsylvania; busy porch of general store in Burgettstown)

Due to requests from a few Riders, Sharon set up breakfast to start a bit later than usual: 7am. We had only 62 miles slated for the day, and felt we could afford the luxury of more zzz's. Today's route consisted of deep rollers with a few long climbs. Towns in this area had a scrappier appearance than those from a day or so ago. You could sense the transition from ag-based communities to those trying to sustain themselves with industry.
At the peak of one hill, I scanned the horizon. Farm fields were behind me and laid out in the valley below. But active, tall, smokestacks were in the distance. The view seemed to imply that Pennsylvania meant Industry. I began the noted long descent - not noticing the Welcome to Ohio sign on the left-hand, ascending lane, and reached the base of the hill. Mark was there to point out that an official Welcome to Pennsylvania sign could be found about 1/2 mile to the right, whereas our route continued to the left. How can you pass up a sign photo opp? Got a shot of the PA signe and even went back up the hill to get a picture of the Ohio one as well. (When crossing from Indiana to Ohio, we did so on a county road that only noted the crossing within a street-name sign. Wanted to have a more official-looking one in my archives).
Rolled on into my first PA town: Midland. Looked fairly run-down. Unkept rowhouses lined the road into town. At the mid-town check point, I asked Mark about local cafes. He pointed to one down the block - one of the only bright spots around. The Karma Cafe. I locked up my bike and went in. Old building, very high ceiling, illuminated by daylight from street-side windows.. A seasoned wait-perso behind the counter seemed to be going through Opening tasks. I sat on a stool at the counter and ordered some coffee - there was a REAL espresso machine on the back counter - and a fresh-baked apple muffin. As other Riders saw my bike and filed in, the tension mounted a bit. "I'm the only one here so you'll just have to wait" said the wait-person/cashier/cook. We're a patient crowd for the most part. Few seemed to mind the hap-hazard way of ordering (no menu present: speak up or you won't be fed). If she looked your way, you needed to ask what was available and pick something on the spot. The place did accept credit cards for payment, but the machine had run out of receipt paper. You get the picture. But the breads, muffins and cakes were made in-house. It was very much worth the experience to stick around to eat and drink.
On my way out of town, I passed the Beaver Valley nuclear power plant. Ominous facility. We had been warned not to take photos - as your camera might be confiscated. Ok, ok, I'm out of here.
Moderate to deep rollers for the balance of the day. Stopped in Burgettstown (last chance to make grocery-type purchases before camp) and meandered along some back streets. It was Sunday, so most everything was shuttered. But I could hear a loud voice down an alley way, and spied some older guys hanging around an open door: an auction was in progress. Farther down the street I noticed the general store. Its porch was crowded with any number of things. A stretch for me to imagine living in such a place. It reminded me of a worn-down italian hill town for some reason - maybe due to its steeply sloping, narrow streets. And the sense that life was being lived behind shuttered doors and windows - but not on view to just anyone.
Continued on in the direction of our designated camp site: Whispering Pines campground. Stopped at a farm market along the way to purchase some local honey, a small town paper, and a cold drink.
The campground was small and basic. Some sites were bookmarked with vacant trailers. And other sites available to us were on a grassy slope. We made the best of it. Having a shower and a chance to set up your little tent home is often all that we need, along with a few thousand calories in one form or another.
Dinner was catered by a local company. They underestimated our appetites. No matter. We'll make up for it tomorrow.

Day 41 - Burton to New Waterford

(photos: signs of things to come; local transportation option; steel mill boiler; flame on; local produce)

Last night, it took me awhile to get to sleep. Was it the coffee at dinner (perhaps not truly decaf)? Was listening to music for 30 minutes too stimulating? Seems like I finally fell asleep around 11 or so. Woke up a bit after midnight to hear an electric storm in route. First the thunder - sounding like bowling balls rolling down a hardwood hallway. Then infrequent flashes of lightening. Then mixed together. The wind started to blow - but it seemed to be doing so in the distance. Didn't take it long though to move right over to us. The rain was slow to start but within a few minutes came down with power. Felt like someone was aiming a hose right at the top of the tent. As these storms tend to do, it slowly slid over our camping spot within 20 minutes or so. The morning air seemed refreshed by the midnight show.
We were sorry to leave the calming enclave of the Geauga County Fairgrounds - but move on we must.

The route had gentle rollers in the morning, taking us through some more Amish country. Saw caution signs noting presence of buggies, saw farms with buggies, and even a few out on the road. Went through a very contrasting area - the town of Warren with a steel mill on the edge of town. Our first close-up encounter with factory-type industry for awhile. The homes in the vicinity of the mill were run down and commercial area looked a bit distressed. I tried to take some photos at the mill. In the process of doing so, a security guard emerged from his station and asked that I not do so as he might get in trouble. So I moved on down the road (and found a couple of other good shots away from his line of sight).

We encountered several Farm Markets (e.g. fruit stands) and I stopped at a couple of them. Bought some local apples at one, and a container of homemade granola at another. Stopped in the town of Columbiana to have a calzone at a local bakery/cafe. That fueled me for the remaining 15 miles to Terrace Lakes Campground. Our designated site was up on a ridge, above the lakes and the very active office/pavilion. A bingo game was in full swing as I rode up the road to our site. When I returned to brush my teeth at dusk, a shuffle board game was in progress.
Sharon and the cook crew made a wonderful fajita dinner for us. Riders worked on their bikes and sat around to chat. Others took it upon themselves to create their own entertainment. Some of the younger guys decided to pull a prank on own of their own. They captured about a dozen lightening bugs and released them into his tent while he was busy chatting with someone at the other end of camp. As he approached his tent, he could see the flickering light within and knew that he had a challenging task ahead. Turns out that he could only get all of the bugs out by emptying his tent of belongings and then twirling it over his head. A bit of centrifical force seemed to do the job. I wonder what his retalitory efforts will be?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Day 40 - August 1st - layover day in Burton

(photos: church in village square; sign for my home away from home - yet another public library)

Woke up a bit after 6. Can't seem to shake this habit of waking early. It was nice to have a leisurely time in the tent - a chance to listen to birds and watch the sky brighten with the sunrise.
Finally crawled out around 6:30, and walked up to the town square. Belle's Restaurant opened at 7
and had homemade corned beef hash on the menu. Kevin wandered in shortly after I had ordered and so joined me. Other Riders trickled in over time. After breakfast, I wandered around the town square to check out options for the balance of my rest day. Hung out on a bench outside the library waiting for it to open at 9. Once the church bells announced the hour, I went in and latched onto a terminal. Plugged in phone to recharge and dove into blog work. Uploaded photos and made good progress over the next 2 hours or so. Local kids came in from time to time to do gaming. Otherwise the place was quiet. Bought an ice cream cone for my lunch, visited the local hardware store, and peeped into some other shops. Purchased some maple syrup and then returned to camp. Cleaned up my bike, rested in my tent, and then Rosie and I walked back to town and ate dinner at Belle's. Short of a swim, a good rest day - allowing me to accomplish key tasks.

Day 39 - July 31st - Sandusky to Burton

(photos: fishing pier on Lake Erie; me so glad to see an expanse of water; Rosie and Tracy ready to enjoy a Great Lake of Starbucks)

Not a great night's sleep. Air was very still and hot in the tent. Frequency of trains didn't help. Had camp breakfast around 6, packed up the truck and headed out of town in clumps. The initial few miles on Hwy 6 provided views of commercial activity. But eventually, we were treated (on the left side of the road) to the likes of well-established mom and pop motels along the lake. Once in a while, there would be a break in-between the buildings and you could see Erie. We had a bit of a tailwind - clouds moved right along - and the blue sky was nicely reflected in the water. When we came upong what appeared to be a grassy knoll available to the public, several of us pulled over for photos opps. I ran down the bank to the sand and water to check out the view, and to look for rocks and any stray shells. It was so restorative to hear moving water (and not from a shower head), and to have the expansive view of the lake. I had forgotten how many miles of mountains and prairie were between me and the Pacific. I had really missed those familiar sights and sounds.

As we rode further east, the lakeside property was taken up by large, and larger homes. It would have constituted a training ride to reach the front doors of some of these estates. Enormous shade trees were strategically positioned in deep front yards. Landscape crews were hard at work. The area reminded me of spots along Lake Washington, Madison Park and further south. Ou lunch stop was at a park with a fishing pier. Made and ate a sandwich, and took some photos of the water. Tracy, Rosie and I then left the pb&J behind and continued on into Cleveland. At the outskirts of town, we located a Starbucks and stopped to enjoy a cold drink. (On the way, went through the town of Vermillion. Very pleasant, nautical feel without feeling too contrived. Too bad Sandusky hasn't yet pulled this off).

Then onward through Cleveland. It was an urban maze. We asked for, or confirmed directions, on several occasions. Our journey seemed to attract drivers who either disliked cyclists or chose to drive as though we were not present. We wound through a few diverse neighborhoods - stopping in one for yet another cold drink (sub and chips for me). Our release from the grips of city traffic involved a few miles to and within Shaker Heights. It was then that the terrain began to change - as we had been forewarned: the return of contours, hills, rollers - whatever you'd like to call them. They appeared as ocean swells until you were in the trough - and then the ascent actually wasn't too bad. I enjoyed the chance to use a broader range of gears, and to feel the breeze during the downhill portions. The ups and downs continued for the next 25 miles into Burton. It was hot out, and we made another cold drink stop. By late afternoon, Tracy, Rosie and I finally made it to the Geauga County Fairgrounds, our camp site for the next 2 nights. It was a relief to set up the tent, and take a shower. After a very tasty chicken curry dinner made by Sharon and dinner crew, I headed up the hill to the town square to get some laundry done. Clean clothes are always a good way to start a layover day.

Beacons in the distance

For the longest time, I have been trying to capture an image of a water tower. My friends know this by now, and regularly point out towers that loom before us in town, and those that we spy on the horizon. I have an idea in mind as to what I want to show/share, but it's proving to be an illusive depiction. These photos above come close. But know that I have passed many, many towers - and the perfect shot, in my mind, has yet to be taken.

Water towers are a common sight in the rural mid-west. You often see one (or more) on the horizon. It is a beacon. It tells you that you're close to a community. It might be your designated destination, or in a town that you are merely passing through. Or one that you will see only from a distance. Toward the end of a riding day, it's uplifting to finally see your destination's tower in the distance. "Ah, there's where we'll end up." Sometimes you close in on it quickly - but more often, at a snail's (e.g. your) pace. You put visual hooks into the tower and cinch yourself into town.

Some towers look quite dated, others almost appear to be space ships on stilts. The wording can be plain and to the point: Fremont. Or the town slogan might be included: Hardin - town with a reason.

Cities announce themselves with tall, new or old, habitable buildings. Water towers are an icon of towns on the prairie.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Childhood Car Game

Many, many years ago, I took a trip back east with my parents. The three of us, along with my great-aunt Betty spent several days in the car, driving around to historical spots. Aunt Betty taught me a game to play in the car to make the time pass. You counted the cows that you saw out of the window on your side of the car. But the minute a cemetary came into view (on your side), you "lost all of your cows" and needed to start over.

I've been thinking about that game as I've ridden past lots of examples in both categories.

Day 38 - July 29th - Napoleon to Sandusky

(photos: ferry schedule; aquatic option; entrance to Public Library in downtown Sandusky)

I was assigned to breakfast crew (along with Chad and Catie), so was up a bit earlier than usual. We worked with Sharon to set out cereal, coffee, juice, and cut up some delicious melon. In spite of extra morning tasks, I was able to leave camp with Rosie before 7. A 90 mile day was ahead.
The route was generally quite flat with some gentle rollers.
While riding down Main Street in Bowling Green, we saw Chuck motion to us from the sidewalk. He was just leaving a coffee shop! Rosie and I were more than happy to pull over, and check it out. Having a hot, tall latte in a thick glass mug can really set you up well for the balance of the day. I also ordered a chocolate chip scone - which was more like a cookie. No matter. Needed calories.
Rode on through Portage, Ballville and Fremont. Mile upon mile of corn, farm houses and out buildings, rows of soybeans. Pulled over at the lunch stop (mile 50) - a table set up adjacent to a vacant field. Mark shared with me a mention in USA Today about some recent layoffs at Starbucks. I phoned a team member to check on my status - got confirmation that my position was not affected. Whew. Change channels. Back to The Ride.

Construction work necessitated a detour - one the took us under the Turnpike in one direction, under it again on another road and back again. It was becoming a regular feature. And the wind had picked up a bit. Sometimes in our favor. But as soon as we had to take a right hand turn, it was coming at us from the side. Another turn and it was a relentless headwind. You reached the point of not caring how you were going to reach Sandusky - just wanting the wind in your favor.
Finally reconnected with the original route outside of Castalia - just a few miles from Sandusky. Rosie and I stopped at a gas station - I ate my pb&j and she bought a coke. A common routine for us around 2pm. No longer running on vapors, we were ready for the final section.
Rode into Sandusky - and found the KOA campground near the Lake. Set up my tent, and then...both of us headed into town to find the library. I also wanted to see the Lake and check out ferry options to Put-in-Bay (South Bass Island) where my dad used to vacation as a child. Rosie went into the library and I went down to the waterfront. It was after 4 by then, and I just didn't feel that there was time enough to take the 5pm ferry and get back by 7 or so, and then ride back to camp. Took some photos and joined Rosie at the library. After using up our alloted hour at the computers (cost of $1), we meandered back towards camp. Stopped at Jack's Deli out on Highway 6, for pizza and beer. Then returned to the Big Ride tent village for the night.

There is a train track less than a block away from one of the borders of this KOA campground. Trains must have rolled down that line every 20 minutes or so during the night. How can campers possibly find this restful (unless they have a train running through their backyard at home)? It is still hard for me to ignore the rumbling, the whistles, the clanging. When I mentioned my challenges with being so close to trains, Darrell quietly shared some wisdom: when your route parallels the tracks, you can be assured that it will be on a very gentle grade. A small concession to the iron goat of sleep deprivation.

Day 37 - July 29th - Kendallville IN to Napoleon OH

(photos: early morning barn view; state line - as good as it gets on a county road system; afternoon barn; court house in downtown Napoleon)

Members of the Kendallville Parks and Rec dept prepared breakfast for us at a pavilion in the campground. Pancakes were on the griddle at 6. Juice, coffee, eggs and bacon were also on the menu. Nice to have a change from our standard morning camp fare. It took awhile for everyone to show up as some watches and alarms hadn't been adjusted for the hour time change that bopped us on the head at the end of the ride yesterday.

I left camp a bit before 7. Nice rollers in the early morning air. A bit of fog for the first 20 miles - but more picturesque than concealing. Stopped in Butler for some oatmeal and coffee at a local cafe. I was halfway through my bowl when a clutch of other Riders showed up, doubling the occupancy of the place within minutes. About 5 miles outside of town, I encounted a very low-profile state-line indicator. No big Welcome To or Sorry You're Leaving signs out here on County Road 28.

In the next town of Bryan (mile 40),. I ran into Tracy and Rosie. They were snacking in the sun at the local Walgreen's. Cliff rode up within a few minutes. He mentioned word of a coffee shop that was a few blocks away - but he wanted to move on to the upcoming noted check point. However, the three of us, when hearing "coffee", had to go down the alley to investigate. A fine place it was - complete with religious undertones (poster and pamphlets). No matter. I ordered a tasty grilled sandwich and a V-8 for lunch. Rosie and Tracy went straight to the coffee. We had a great time there, and were even approached by a local retired teacher who gave us a donation to ALA after hearing about our intentions. When we re-emerged into the bright noon-day sun, we were immediately reminded of what non air-conditioned air feels like. It was hot! Putting-your-hand-in-the-clothes-dryer-at-the-end-of-the-Cottons-and-Heavy-Towels-cycle hot.

Rode on to the lunch stop check point. Not too compelled to make a sandwich - just wanted to keep going. The three of us continued over mostly flat rural roads. Arrived in Napoleon early afternoon. On our way through town, we passed a noted soft-serve ice cream establishment. Several Riders were already seated at the outdoor tables enjoying a treat. We joined them in the shade. I was getting antsy to get into camp so finished my orange slush and took off before the others. The final route segment followed the Maumee river and deposited me right at the Henry County Fairgrounds. It was still quite hot out, so I set up my tent to dry out. Grabbed my journal and rode into town to search for the local library. Found it - just within a few blocks of the eye-catching courthouse building. I asked a librarian where I might find some postcards of the area. She did some brainstorming, and then posed the question to some of her associates. Within a few minutes, calls were being made to various shops around town, the Wal-Mart, and the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber apparently had a few in stock and would stay open a few minutes past closing if needed. I thanked the search team and rode over to the CofC. Bought a few cards from the sole person in the office - a bit terse, who gave no indication of receiving the call. Rode back to camp in time for dinner. Our facilities for the evening included use of an large open-ended building. It was nice to have a enclosed eating area - however, we had company. Not many mosquitoes here - but the flies made up for them in spades. For dinner, Sharon and others grilled skewers of vegetables and some chicken. The cooler had a large bottle of white wine - a refreshing libation at the end of a hot day. The night air was heavy and just a few points cooler than during the day. Made for a restless, damp night of fitful sleep.