Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Day 52 - Manchester, NH to Portsmouth, NH & the ATLANTIC OCEAN!

"O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!"
America the Beautiful, words by Katharine Lee Bates, 1895

Today we reached the Atlantic Ocean. Our journey that began 52 days ago on June 7 is now complete. I have bicycled across the entire length of the United Sates of America.

Our morning began with an energy and excitement you would expect on the final day of a adventure like this. Everyone was wearing their America by Bicycle jerseys, so the hotel was awash in red, white, and blue. Cameras were already snapping with great regularity during our load out. Everyone left the hotel with their favored group of cycling buddies. I was no different. I gathered with Leigh Pate (Seattle), Chuck Tobey (Miami), Chris Zeidner (Columbus), and Hans Diethelm (Lucerne, Switzerland). We had dubbed our group, "Team A.L.L.: Always Leaves Last." Today that was absolutely the truth.

Chuck took the front of the line and led us out of the hotel... and promptly in the wrong direction. About seven tenths of a mile down the road, we realized our error, check the cue sheet, and turned around. We rode back to the hotel and corrected our wrong turn. Chris and I were actually giddy about the wrong turn. It made for an extra mile and a half. I was out to hit 4000 miles today and every extra mile would aid that goal. And besides, my motto is, "More miles, better stories!"

Our ride was at first along fairly busy streets with drivers and bicycle commuters headed for work. It was odd thinking about the significance of our ride that morning with countless others around us completely unaware. As we left the suburbs of Manchester and were further out in the country, we reached Lake Massabesic. It was worth stopping for a few photos and enjoying the view of the boats on the water in the early morning.

The roadway ahead was flooded. It was a suitable ending to a ride with adventurous road hazards and closures. We smiled as we rode through the inch-deep water. I think Chris turned around to ride through it a second time. As we climbed the hill after the flood, we spotted a group of cyclists and staff on the left. We pulled over to join them and were handed strands of Mardi Gras beads to wear as we rode. Great. I've never been a fan of necklaces on men, but I played along. Judy and Gerard, our staff riders this day, joined our entourage.

One would think that with two staff members riding along, you wouldn't have any more missed turns. Not so. We missed one more and after comparing notes and calling the two van drivers, we turned around and headed in the right direction. Our ride was quiet, perhaps introspective, as we individually considered the culmination of this life-long goal. The route was once again beautiful. We travelled under tall shade trees, past farms with bright, red barns, through small towns with brilliant white steeples reaching into the azure blue sky. I prayed several prayers of thanksgiving to God for His mercy and grace to give me 52 days of strength, health, energy, protection, and care for my family at home. I am blessed.

We arrived at the one and final SAG stop for our journey. For me, it was bittersweet. This would be the last time I would see that silver van and trailer parked with a table waiting full of snacks and fruit. This would be the last time I would remove my sweaty helmet and gloves, wash up, check my name on the sign-in sheet, and refill my water bottles. This would be the last time I would chat casually with the other riders about the miles we had just ridden. The last time, that is, until the next time... More about that later.

As we rode on, we reached the small, historic town of Exeter. The staff had told us we had an extra 15 minutes before we needed to be at Rye Junior High School, 12 miles up the road, to gather for the group photo and ride to the beach. We decided to stop at a cafe for one last time and savor the moment. We savored a little too long and when we checked the time, we realized we had about 40 minutes to ride those 12 miles. We would have to boogie.

In a way, it was fun to ride fast for one last time with my friends. We raced closer and closer to the coast. We pulled up behind two other riders and noticed it was Carole and her friend Dr. Dave who rode with us from San Francisco to Salt Lake City. We thought it would be appropriate to let Carole lead us in to the school. She had been struggling a little and knew she was late, so our presence boosted her spirits and she told us so.

We got to the school and everyone was already posed for the group photo. We dropped our bikes and ran into position. About 25 cameras later, and one "official" photo, we got up, remounted our bikes, and got in place. A police cruiser was in front and would lead us for the four mile ride to Wallis Sands State Beach. As soon as he turned on his lights and siren, shouts and claps went up from our peloton. Everyone had their cameras out as we rode slowly toward the seacoast.

My heart was doing jumping jacks with excitement. I wasn't alone. Everyone was smiling, congratulating each other, and reveling in the moment. Motorists pulled to the side of the road for us. Pedestrians stopped and gawked. Local residents stood on their driveways and applauded. We neared the beach and suddenly I saw what I had waited 52 days to see... the Atlantic Ocean! I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion—gratitude, joy, and excitement. I could feel the cool Atlantic air and smell the salt. The blue coastal waters declared, "You did it!"

The beach was absolutely packed. Beach goers walking to the beach waved, clapped, or stared in confusion at this parade of patriotic-colored cyclists. We passed the long line of motorists waiting to enter the park, and rode right in. A throng of people was ahead, with signs and banners, all looking in our direction. It was our family and friends. I looked for Susie and the kids and spotted them. Bethany was holding a sign reading, "CONGRATS! WE LOVE YOU!" When I stopped, she turned it around to reveal, "CAN WE GO HOME NOW?"

We walked to the sidewalk at the top of the beach where I was handed my celebratory drink: an iced Starbucks white mocha with Toffee Nut. Perfect. I removed my helmet, shoes, socks, and gloves, and we walked across the stretch of beach packed to the gills with sunbathers and families. At the water's edge, all of the cyclists and their families were busy taking photos, hugging, kissing, and most importantly, dipping our front tires into the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The Cross Country Challenge was complete. My Ride for Impact was finished. I absorbed the moment, watching my friends with their families, taking photos, drinking in the scene.

We eventually made our way back to the sidewalk where we had left my shoes and other gear. Susie and the kids were going to meet her old high school friend and her kids at a pizza place in Portsmouth while I rode the final miles into Portsmouth on my own. We shared some ice cream then parted ways. It was refreshing to ride these final miles on my own. I was reflecting on the day and the journey and just enjoying the view of the ocean, still amazed at all that had just transpired.

I rode along the coast for a mile or two, then turned inland through tide flats and forest, before reaching the outlying communities around Portsmouth. I found the "Welcome to Portsmouth" sign and took a final destination-city photo. But, I wasn't done yet. The Maine border was only a few miles north of me. We had been given route directions to reach Maine if we wanted to cross into one more state. I did. I walked across the bridge crossing the Piscataqua River connecting Portsmouth, NH with Kittery, Maine. A sign at the far end announced, "STATE LINE - KITTERY MAINE." I looked at my odometer. I had cycled 3,991 miles since June 7. I had to hit 4,000. I rode out to Kittery Point and added another six miles.

The Atlantic air was cool and refreshing. I could have stayed hours and soaked it all in. But, I had to be back at the hotel by 3:00 p.m. to take my bike to a local bike shop for shipping home. It was about 2:30. I retraced my path across the bridge, rode through the historic downtown of Portsmouth and continued out toward our hotel. I had missed a turn (that added an extra mile to my tally), and when I got to our hotel it was 2:45 and I had 3,998 miles. I spoke with Judy. She told me to go find a mile and then come back. The van to the bike shop would wait. I raced around the neighborhood, watching my odometer intently... 3,999... and then, there it was... 4,000. I took a photo. Then I returned to the hotel. Loaded the bike on the van and headed to, of all placed, Bicycle Bob's Bicycle Outlet. What a coincidence. My trusty steed would now be boxed and sent home. I would meet my family and drive to Boston and then New York City for a relaxing four days sightseeing before we flew home to Seattle.

Many have asked in a variety of ways what this trip has meant to me or what I have learned, enjoyed most, or will take away from it all. If you've read this far into the blog, you won't mind reading further. Here are my take-aways. The thoughts that are at the top of my mind upon the conclusion of this journey. I've been thinking about this list for several days. Here it is:

1. "It's about the journey, not the destination."—Whether on a vacation or in life, remember to take the road less traveled. In simplest terms, get off the Interstate. See the backroads and country routes that are the seams to this rich tapestry of our nation. Make time to look for the offbeat, unexpected, and serendipitous on your next travel.

2. "Be present in the moment."—Too many times over the last year, I had been impatient, hurrying to the next thing, worrying about the next task, unmindful of the moment before me. On this ride, I haven't had to focus on anything but the moment before me. It has been life-changing. Stop what you are doing. Look around and observe the people, notice the surrounding, drink in the environment, use all your senses and be aware of the time and place God has positioned you. Be present, fully present.

3. "Talk to people."—On this ride, I have had the great pleasure of meeting the most interesting people. If I were to do this ride again, I would talk to twice as many people. People are what God values most. And every person has a story. If you engage them, show that you are genuinely interested in them, and value them with the significance that God does, you'll be amazed at what you will learn. My pastor recently said, "Today I will assume the very best of people I meet; having the highest regard for them. If Jesus died for them, they must be amazing!" I couldn't agree more.

4. "Be proud of your country. Fly the flag."—I was amazed how many times and in how many cities I saw the stars and stripes proudly flown from front doors and flagpoles. In Seattle, I rarely see the American flag being flown. Across small towns and big cities in the West, the Plains, the Midwest, and New England, I saw the red, white, and blue flying high. The people that make up our nation are patriotic. They love America. Don't be fooled by what you see or read in the media that would suggest differently. I will put our flag outside our front door when I get home. I will fly it proudly, thankful for the freedom it represents.

5. "Dreams can and should be achieved. Do it now."—When I wrote down this goal of cycling across the United States, I was 32. I wanted to accomplish it before I turned 40. At 36, I decided if I meant it, I better start planning for it. A lot of effort, partnership, and timing went into fulfilling this goal. In many ways, the planning of this goal was as challenging as its fulfillment. My point is this: You have a dream. Turn it into a goal. Another pastor of mine (who I met in Auburn, CA on Day 3 of this journey) said long ago, "A goal is a dream with a deadline." Put a date on that dream and ask God to help you live it out. Too many people say, "Someday, when I'm retired, I'll do..." Truth is, that someday may never come. My father died at 44. I was 16 years old. I'm certain he had dreams that never came to pass. On this ride, I saw people in wheelchairs, on oxygen tanks, or in poor health. They may have dreamt of fulfilling an adventure like this, but poor health made it impossible. You only get one body. Take care of it. That's one reason why I wanted to do this now, at 39. I'm in the best shape of my life now. And now, I can dream of doing this again—or doing something even more amazing!

A final word to everyone who has been reading my blog (whether daily, semi-regularly, or occasionally), to those who have been praying for me, sending encouraging texts, emails, or Facebook comments: THANK YOU! I cannot put into sufficient words how much your prayers, encouragement, and comments have meant to me. Sharing this adventure with you has made it all the more valuable and exciting. I am forever thankful for your support. And to those who have believed in the cause of this Ride for Impact and have been a financial supporter, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have helped me raise $10,110 for IMPACT Ministries. These funds will help the poorest of the poor in communities around the world with global relief and missions support that they need. Thank you for your incredible generosity. You are my heroes!

The Ride for Impact is now history. Go out and find your own ride for impact. Get started today. To quote Phil Keoghan from TV's The Amazing Race, "The world is waiting..."

For more photos from today's ride, visit http://gallery.me.com/eternaldesign2#100585
For more about the Ride for Impact and to make your final donation, please visit http://www.rideforimpact.org

Dist: 74.16
Time: 5:16:23
Avg: 14.0
Max: 35.0
Cumulative Miles: 4,000
Cumulative Flats: 5
Elev Gain: 2,555 ft.
Max Elev: 627 ft.
Avg Climb: 2%
Max Climb: 12%

Monday, July 27, 2009

Day 51 - Brattleboro, VT to Manchester, NH

pe⋅nul⋅ti⋅mate  [pi-nuhl-tuh-mit]
1. next to the last: the penultimate scene of the play.
2. of or pertaining to a penult.

We entered New Hampshire today. 51 days ago, this day was so very far away. And now, it is here. Even better, my family was in New Hampshire today. I haven't seen my wife since Pueblo, CO on Day 20 and I haven't seen my kids, Kyle and Bethany, since June 6 when they took me to the airport! I had, in a word, motivation today!

I was the first to leave the hotel this morning. I have never been first to leave the hotel. As I rolled out of the parking lot, Chris called out, "Bob's on a mission today!" Well, in truth, I didn't plan to be out in front very long, but it was fun while it lasted. Within the first mile, we were at the New Hampshire state border. We all piled up taking out turns to get our photo. This one was special. It was our final state we would enter (at least officially, as tomorrow we have the opportunity to ride into Maine once we reach the shore of the Atlantic.) So, the photo required something special. I lifted it up over my head.

It's a good thing I did that early in the ride. Because the next 26 miles would suck the life out of me! New Hampshire is noted for not having the highest mountains, but rather for having the steepest roads. We would suffer on a few of them today. But first, we had some pleasant riding through Keene, NH. At the center of town is a tall, white church steeple. I would discover today that every town in New Hampshire has at its center a white church with a tall steeple. But, this one was particularly stunning.

Shortly after Keene, the suffering began, slowly at first, then building, like the crescendo in a musical score. Only the sounds I was hearing weren't musical by any means. They were the sound of my heart beating through my chest only slightly overcome by the sound of my lungs drawing in as much oxygen as they could find. Old Concord Road was first to beat on us for awhile, then the work was handed over to Sullivan Road. These roads are between 10 and 15% in grade. For you cyclists reading this, you know how steep that is. By the time I reached the end of Sullivan Road, I took a photo of the sign as a gesture to say, "You did not defeat me today!"

At the first SAG stop, it was 10 a.m. I had talked to Susie earlier in the morning when she was about a half hour outside of Manchester, NH. I estimated I would be at the second SAG stop in Francestown by Noon. Now I did the math. That was 35 miles away. I would have to average 17.5 mph for the next two hours to reach her in time. My average speed so far was... 12.0. I had my work cut out for me.

I would like to tell you what I saw over the next 35 miles. I took a few pictures. But primarily, I was hauling butt. I was cycling as fast as I could. The roads out of the SAG were downhill for a long section and I soared down them. We had to climb Pitcher's Mountain for about 6 miles. I stepped on the gas and climbed that silly mountain as fast as I could, sweat pouring down my helmet and onto my handlebars. I raced through the towns of Antrim and Bennington and Greenfield. By the time I pulled into Francestown, it was 12:20. My wife and kids had only been there for 10 minutes. Susie and Bethany were sitting under a tree when I pulled up and ran over to me. Kyle was asleep in the car. I had great joy in waking him up with, "Hey Kyle, wake up. It's your dad!" We kissed, hugged, (despite my sweatiness), and I proudly introduced my family to the other riders. Then we talked and ate while I caught my breath.

Susie and the kids drove to the hotel about an hour later and I resumed the ride, this time at a far more leisurely pace. So many of these towns are quaint, beautiful, they remind me of Port Gamble back on the Puget Sound at home. But whereas in Seattle, we only have a few towns this quaint, here, all of them are! The route was mostly wooded, with lush, green trees towering over our road. A stream followed us on the left for several miles. I could have easily stopped and sat in the middle of it for awhile. It looked that refreshing. As we pulled into Manchester, I looked to Leigh and Chuck who had been riding with me and asked if anyone was up for some ice cream before we reached the hotel. Nods all around.

We found an ice cream shop and gorged ourselves. One last time. Then I looked at the cue sheet and realized our hotel was two tenths of a mile away. We were done for the day. And what a penultimate day it was. Our evening was spent with a celebration barbecue dinner. Awards, humorous remarks, thanks and appreciation, and well wishes rounded out the evening. As I looked around the room, I vaguely recalled seeing these faces for the first time 51 days ago. They were strangers to me. Today, they are all friends. And friends I hope to stay in touch with, and preferably, ride with once again.

Tomorrow is our final day. We ride 61 miles to Portsmouth, NH and dip our front tire into the Atlantic Ocean. By noon on Tuesday, July 28, 2009, I will have completely bicycled across the entire length of the United States of America.


To view more photos from today's ride, visit http://gallery.me.com/eternaldesign2#100577
For more about the Ride for Impact, visit www.rideforimpact.org

Dist: 85.06
Time: 6:02:13
Avg: 14.4
Max: 45.5
Cumulative Miles: 3,926 (This ride was advertised as 3,850 miles. Through side-trips and extra miles, I've exceeded that. Now I plan to break 4,000 miles tomorrow!)
Cumulative Flats: 5 (Last one was in Colorado, I think!)
Elev Gain: 5,102 ft.
Max Elev: 1,953 ft.
Avg Climb: 3%
Max Climb: 15%

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Day 50 - Latham, NY to Brattleboro, VT

"These green hills and silver waters
are my home. They belong to me.
And to all of her sons and daughters
May they be strong and forever free.

Let us live to protect her beauty
And look with pride on the golden dome
They say home is where the heart is
These green mountains are my home.

These green mountains are my home."
—These Green Mountains, State Song of Vermont

We left Latham, NY this morning thinking this would be a rainy day. It did rain, but not until we had logged nearly 70 miles of riding in perfect weather—sunny, warm, and wonderful. By mile four, I had removed my arm warmers. Some time later, I took off my vest. The day was shaping up to be great. We crossed the Hudson River as we entered Troy, NY just five miles away from Latham. We crossed the bridge over the Hudson quickly and traffic was busy, so a quick glance to the left and the right was all I had time for. Good think I'll get a better view when me and my family visit NYC later this week.

Troy—the home of Uncle Sam, as the sign states—is a larger city with tall, brick buildings. As we rode through the town and climbed up Rt. 7, the neighborhood was primarily lower income homes. As we rode further east, the homes appeared nicer and the surroundings less sketchy. Our first SAG stop was in East Hoosick at a gas station and Dunkin Donuts store. I took the opportunity to start the day with a frozen mocha and a blueberry donut. I made the point that this was more food I wouldn't be able to eat unless I'm riding 80+ miles. Man, it's going to be hard to change these habits developed over 52 days of cycling!

After the SAG stop, we reached the Vermont State border. While the "Welcome to Vermont" sign wasn't anything special, the state certainly was. Within a mile, I was already gazing to the south overlooking green rolling hills, picture perfect farms, and verdant pastures. The town of Bennington, VT was a few miles further. As we entered town, I saw Old First Church, a towering white church on the road leading into the town center. I stopped for a photo and noticed an arrow in the cemetery pointing toward Robert Frost's grave. Far be it for me to not take the road less traveled and not see Frost's grave. So, I walked through the cemetery, enjoying the eery feel of the place (wondering what it would be like on an October night) and found his grave.

As we rolled slowly through town, I was struck by the quaint downtown storefronts, but more interesting were the brightly decorated moose statues. Back in Seattle, we have a similar downtown decor with painted pigs and at Christmas, it's painted nutcrackers. So I took great delight in looking for as many mooses (meese?) I could find and snagging a photo of each. Our favorite was the one dressed as Capt. Jack Sparrow with a pirate theme. The multi-colored moose licking an ice-cream cone was also a fun one.

Now we began our climb up into the Green Mountains. The road wasn't as bad as I imagined. It was refreshing to be climbing again. The sun was out so the climb was hot. I was keeping my eyes open for a special intersection coming up. We were about to bisect the Appalachian Trail, generally known as the A.T. This trail begins in Georgia and runs all the way to Maine. Hikers will take six-months to hike the entire trail from start to finish—they're known as Thru-hikers. I spotted a pullout and saw some hikers gathered and then saw the sign. It was the A.T. I parked the bike, took a photo, then actually hiked a few feet into the woods just to make the claim that I had been on the A.T. I met the group of hikers, most of them were thru-hikers. One had started in Georgia. A few had begun in West Virginia. We talked about our journeys and shared mutual respect for each others' efforts. It's a rare breed—perhaps with an element of insanity thrown in—that can spend that many days on the road or trail.

The remainder of our climb was as scenic as you could hope for. The road followed a bubbling stream with occasional rapids. Homes and cottages dotted the shores of ponds and reservoirs. Snowmobile trails and ski resorts showed that this region would appear entirely different six months from now. We arrived in Wilmington, VT and took time for a lengthy lunch. The street was lined with touristy shops and galleries. The sign above the country store next the restaurant said it best, "Maple Syrup & Cheese and Things that say Vermont"!

After lunch we had one more climb to tackle: Hogback Mountain. This climb wasn't hard at all. I chatted with Gerard all the way up. Halfway through the climb, it occurred to me that six months ago, chatting on a climb would have been all but impossible. Now, it was second nature. The view from the top was stunning. Rolling green mountains as far as the eye could see. The descent was even better. We roared down the mountainside, rolling up and back down again.

Eventually, we arrived in Brattleboro. A covered bridge on the edge of town made a great stop for a series of photos. Then we rode into the center of town. I found a bike shop that was open and purchased their shop jersey, a water bottle, and some cycling grub for the last two days. I asked if they had a "I pedaled 3800 miles to get to your shop" discount. I was surprised when the clerk took 15% off.

Now I rode the final few miles to our hotel. The day was late and I could have easily spent several hours walking around Brattleboro. I decided that I had a new state to add to my list of favorite states: Vermont!

Tomorrow, we'll ride 84 miles to Manchester, NH. We'll enter our 13th state and the state of our final destination: New Hampshire! Best of all, my wife, Susie, and my kids, Kyle and Bethany, will meet me en route and spend the evening with us at the farewell dinner tomorrow evening. I haven't seen Susie since Pueblo, CO back on June 26 and I haven't seen my kids since June 6 when they took me to the airport! I plan to ride fast tomorrow afternoon when I hear they are in Manchester!

To view all the photos from today's ride, visit http://gallery.me.com/eternaldesign2#100562
To learn more about the Ride for Impact and make your donation before this ride ends, visit http://www.rideforimpact.org

Dist: 80.08
Time: 5:41:23
Avg: 14.0
Max: 41.5
Cumulative Miles: 3,839
Cumulative Flats: 5
Elev Gain: 4,999 ft.
Max Elev: 2,485 ft.
Avg Climb: 3%
Max Climb: 10%

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Day 49 - Little Falls, NY to Latham, NY

"Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge for we're coming to a town
And you'll always know your neighbor
And you'll always know your pal
If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal"
Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen

Today's route from Little Falls, NY to Latham, NY was almost entirely along the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal was opened October 26, 1825. Today, it extends 340 miles across the state of New York from Troy on the Hudson River on the east to Tonawanda and Buffalo on the Niagara River. In 1903, the Erie Canal was enlarged by adding three branches to it, thus creating the Barge Canal System. There are 57 locks on the Barge Canal. The lifts of the locks vary from 6 feet to 40.5 feet. In Little Falls, the evening we arrived in town, Chuck and I investigated Lock 17. This lock's lift of 40.5 feet is a greater lift than any single lock on the Panama Canal. It uses a guillotine gate on the downstream end of the lock rather than moveable doors like our Hiram Chittenden Locks in Ballard north of Seattle.

As we left Little Falls, we were in a world of fog. Heavy mist clouded our sunglasses and moistened our faces. Looking to our right, we saw a few trees and then nothing but white space. Looking up ahead on the roadway, we could see a cyclist 100 yards ahead but that was all. After a few miles, the fog lifted and the sun came out. The sun would stay with us all day, baking us in it's sorely missed rays. I reveled in the sunshine today. It was good to have it back.

Our first stop was at the historic Fort Klock, built in 1750. This fortified homestead was the home of Johannes Klock and the Battle of Klock's Field on October 19, 1780 was a battle in the Revolutionary War. The homestead wasn't yet open but it was interesting to walk around the building and peek into the windows.

As we left Fort Klock, we were passed by two Amish horse and buggies. The second one was quite a sight. The riders had attached a long canoe to the roof of the carriage. I guess even the Amish like to hit the streams once in awhile! The scenery was varied, but always attractive. We were cycling through small villages, past farms and homes, and past forests and woodlands. As we rose up above the valley, we had some amazing views of the rolling New York hills and forests. I could tell we were beginning to touch Adirondack terrain when we saw some rocky cliffs and outcroppings. The Adirondacks were out of our reach today, however, as they are several miles north of us. We passed the Beech-Nut baby food and chewing gum factory in Canajoharie, NY. This gleaming white factory on the Mohawk River has been there for 118 years, but just this year production was moved to a state-of-the-art new production plant 20 miles east.

Another interesting stop today was at the Kateri Shrine and Indian Museum. Kateri Tekakwitha lived from 1656 to 1680 and was the daughter of a Mohawk warrior and a Catholic Algonquin woman. She received Christ and was baptized on Easter Sunday at the age of 20. Four years later, she died. Her last words were, "Jesus, I love you!" The shrine is a memorial to her. Native American Catholics venerate her and she is currently in the canonization process for sainthood. A pamphlet included a prayer you can pray for her canonization to become a saint. Hers is an interesting story, yet the particulars of Catholic worship and veneration of saints stands in contrast to my Protestant and spirit-filled Christian faith.

After our first SAG stop, we rode along a portion of the Mohawk-Hudson Bike Path that paralleled the Mohawk River. The Mohawk is one of several rivers that have been "canalized." The old canal that original was parallel to the Mohawk has been abandoned and the Mohawk has been made into the canal. This process involved dredging channels to assure a consistent depth and building dams to maintain a fixed water elevation above the stream beds. The bike path had great views of the river. We passed Locks 8 and 9, both much smaller lock than Lock 17 in Little Falls. As we neared our second SAG stop, we skirted the city of Schenectady, NY, then crossed into Scotia.

In Scotia, we stopped at the Jumpin' Jack's Drive-In. Having been to three drive-ins over the last two weeks (White Turkey in Conneaut, OH; Ted Wahl's in Avon, NY; and Jumpin' Jack's in Scotia, NY), I decided this one wasn't nearly as good as the other two. Who would have thought that I would be a connoisseur of drive-ins after 52 days of cycling across the U.S.? We rejoined the bike path and now had some beautiful scenery to bike through. The shady trees, views of the river, rolling hills, business parks and neighborhoods, were just part of the scenes that whipped past us.

Soon we left the bike path, climbed up out of the river valley, and into Latham. After a filling dinner, we enjoyed a great time at our T-shirt swap. It's something like a white elephant gift exchange, but with t-shirts. There was the usual stealing, trading, and good-natured ribbing. In the end, I got the shirt I wanted—one from the aforementioned White Turkey Drive-In in Conneaut, OH!

Tomorrow, we will leave New York and enter our 12th state—Vermont! We will also once again—and for the last time—be in the mountains: the Green Mountains of Vermont. We will cross the Appalachian Trail. (All you hikers out there know about this one. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, generally known as the A.T., is a marked hiking trail in the eastern United States, extending between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. It is approximately 2,175 miles long.) We'll also be in some very scenic, touristy areas of Vermont. I'm ready for some climbing and some scenic riding! On Monday, I'll finally meet up with my family—my wife, Susie, and my kids, Kyle and Bethany. They've spent the day enjoying roller coasters and water park rides at Hershey Park in Hershey, PA.

For more photos from today's ride, visit http://gallery.me.com/eternaldesign2#100552
For more about the Ride for Impact, visit http://www.rideforimpact.org

Dist: 77.87
Time: 5:35:46
Avg: 13.9
Max: 33.0
Cumulative Miles: 3,758 ft.
Elev Gain: 1,980 ft.
Max Elev: 614 ft.
Avg Climb: 2%
Max Climb: 10%

Friday, July 24, 2009

Day 48 - Liverpool, NY to Little Falls, NY

"Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it." — Greg Anderson

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."—Robert Frost

I will begin today's story in the middle. You'll soon see why. But, today clearly—emphatically—demonstrated both of the quotes above. Our route was 79 miles from Liverpool, NY to Little Falls, NY. About mile 45, I was in Westmoreland, NY, a small town about a mile from Interstate 90, but not on the Interstate at all. I had stopped at a Sunoco gas station to use the restroom and possibly get some coffee. Before I decided, I thought, "Maybe there's a quaint cafe further down the street. That would be way better than gas station coffee." I pulled out my iPhone and used Google Maps. I searched on "cafe." Up popped a Starbucks. It was only a half mile up the road, but off course. I wouldn't usually choose a Starbucks over a local cafe—in fact, I've learned on this ride to always choose the local establishments. Go where the locals go. Skip the fast food chains. Favor the mom-and-pop shops. But, I also have learned to be curious. Always ask questions, explore, dig, find the unusual. This Starbucks didn't fit the lay of the land. I was curious why there would be a Starbucks in a tiny town like Westmoreland, NY.

I rode the half mile where the map indicated and reached an overpass straddling I-90. I looked all around. I saw an old hotel. I saw some homes. I saw no Starbucks. I called the phone number. The girl who answered said the Starbucks was located in Westmoreland and asked where I was. "Westmoreland," I said. I explained what road I was on. She said, "Oh, do you see the Carriage Motor Inn? We have an access road right across the street. Are you making a delivery?" I had no clue what she was talking about, but I saw the hotel. I said that I was just looking for their store. She assured me there was one there. I found the access road and then it began to dawn on me where I was going. I rode about a quarter of a mile and found the back entrance to an I-90 Travel Plaza. A fence and gate had a sign that read, "THIS ENTRANCE FOR EMPLOYEES & PERSONS ON OFFICIAL BUSINESS ONLY. NOT TO BE USED BY PATRONS." Well, I rode through that gate anyway and found the front of the plaza.

I parked the bike out front, walked in and was surrounded by Interstate travelers enjoying the amenities of the Travel Plaza. There was the Starbucks I sought. There was a Sbarro restaurant, a Burger King, a Travel Mart with New York knick knacks a plenty, a sunglasses and travel accessories store, restrooms, and even a couple of information kiosks with history and details about the local area, so you could be informed on what you were missing if you chose not to stop. And then it occurred to me. As I sipped my white chocolate mocha with toffee nut flavoring prepared to specific Starbucks standards, I realized that for the past 48 days, I have seen more of the United States than any Interstate traveler would ever hope to see. Even the last 45 miles, I had seen and experienced more of upstate New York than these travelers would experience all week. They will fill their bellies, return to their cars, step on the gas, and drive by the most amazing scenery, towns, and sights at 75 miles per hour and not see a thing.

I decided at that moment, that when I'm traveling for pleasure and want to really experience where I'm going, I will get off the Interstate and find the State Routes, the County Roads, and the two-lane highways. That is where you see the world around you. Now, here's what I would have missed today if I had chosen to drive on the Interstate instead of riding a bicycle.

I passed quiet century-old homes sitting on the banks of backyard streams. I rode through the Syracuse, but in neighborhoods most visitors will never visit. At our first support stop in Canestota, NY, I saw another section of the Erie Canal. In the center of Canestota, I found a small memorial park remembering the men and women lost in 9/11. It featured a small section of I-beam pulled from the wreckage of the Twin Towers. The engravings on the stone in front of the I-beam were moving and gave me pause that a small town in New York would make such a lasting memorial to those lost on that fateful day.

Further on, I passed "Cross Island Chapel—The World's Smallest Church" in Oneida, NY. It is 28.68 square feet and seats two. It's located on a tiny island in the middle of an algae-covered pond. There's even a small rowboat available to take you to the island. The church is available for "special occasions and meditation." It would be too small for a wedding, but my British roommate, Sean, remarked, "But, you could have a lonely funeral."

About six miles from Little Falls, I rode into Herkimer, NY. I was hungry for pizza. I passed a Pizza Hut, but I was looking for the local place. I found it on Mohawk St. —"Yetty's Pizza." Opened in the 50s, it's a comfortable mom-and-pop owned pizza joint. It was almost two, but a late lunch crowd was still eating. I found a table, placed my order, and enjoyed a great personal pizza with extra cheese, pepperoni, and homemade sausage. It was New York pizza, cut in the traditional criss-cross manner. As I was eating, I met Renee, a waitress there. We talked about my ride and she mentioned having been invited to do a local charity ride for missing and exploited children—a cause she is passionate about. She's never done the ride, but felt inspired to after talking with me about my Ride for Impact. I shared with her that I thought about doing this ride six years ago, but it was only three years ago that I really got serious about it. My friend, Pastor Don, (who I saw way back on Day 3) once told me, "A goal is a dream with a deadline." I encourage her to take that charity ride. Write it down. Set that goal. Fulfill those dreams now. I was glad I stopped in for pizza and found the road less traveled by. It reminds me of another thing I've learned on this ride, "Everyone has a story—You just have to ask the right questions to learn what it is."

The remaining six miles into Little Falls was quick but pleasant. When I got to my hotel, I found my roommate Sean asleep. He woke up to tell me that from mile 40 to the hotel was a full downpour. He didn't believe me that I wasn't wet. He and two others arrived at the hotel first. I guess that's another benefit of focusing on the journey and not the destination—you might avoid the rain!

Tomorrow's ride to Latham, NY will be 76 miles. We'll ride mainly along the Erie Canal. The weather looks promising—mid 80s and partly cloudy. We cherish each day's ride, but these last four should be extra special.

For those wondering what my wife and kids—Susie, Kyle, and Bethany—are doing, they arrived in Philadelphia this morning taking a red-eye from Seattle. The toured the Philadelphia Mint, saw the Liberty Bell, and rented a car to drive through Lancaster, PA, where they stopped at some of the Amish stores, and arrived at their hotel in Hershey, PA this afternoon. They plan to hit HersheyPark tonight and all day tomorrow. They're going to have a ton of fun!

For more photos from today's ride, visit http://gallery.me.com/eternaldesign2#100537
For more about the Ride for Impact, visit http://www.rideforimpact.org

Dist: 83.2
Time: 5:36:51
Avg: 14.8
Max: 28.0
Cumulative Miles: 3,681
Cumulative Flats: 5
Elev Gain: 1,714 ft.
Max Elev: 837 ft.
Avg Climb: 2%
Max Climb: 9%

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day 47 - Canandaigua, NY to Liverpool, NY

I was worried. I looked out our hotel window this morning and saw rain. Lots of it. The day had the markings of a repeat the ride from Erie, PA to Hamburg, NY just a few days ago. A royal soaking. I gathered all my rain gear: rain jacket, insulated booties, arm warmers, leg warmers, long-fingered gloves. I was dressed for a downpour. Thankfully, I wouldn't need most of it.

After our breakfast at Denny's a block away, we walked outside to find the rain had stopped. The roads were wet, but the spray and splashes were merely a nuisance. It was looking hopeful. By mile 12, the rain had stopped completely and I saw a silver lining in the clouds. I planned to ride easy today and see whatever sights along the way that seemed interesting. There would be plenty.

In Geneva, I took time to ride out to the end of Long Pier on Seneca Lake, one of New York's Finger Lakes. The clouds made the lake look cold, but I could tell this would be a pleasant place to spend a hot summer's day. Nearby, I passed an ice cream shop. It was too early to stop, but I turned around to take a photo. It was "Peppy's Ice Cream." That's significant because one of my good friends and co-worker in Bothell, WA is Chris Peppler, AKA "Peppy." Who knew he owned an ice cream shop in upstate New York.

In Waterloo, NY, I learned that this town is the birthplace of Memorial Day—formerly known as Decoration Day. I even rode past the "Memorial Day Museum." Waterloo, New York was credited with being the place of origin because it observed the day on May 5, 1866, and each year thereafter.

Shortly after Waterloo, we entered Seneca Falls, NY—the birthplace of the Women's Rights Movement in 1848 on the site of the Wesleyan Chapel. Next door to the remains of the chapel, is the Women's Rights National Historical Park & Vistors Center. We toured both the chapel and the visitors center as well as attended a brief presentation by a National Park Service Ranger. What surprised me most was how the Women's Rights movement was born out of the Abolition and Temperance movements but even more so, was how the Second Great Awakening and Christian revivalist Charles Finney had an impact. Finney preached that men and women are equal before God and that women can and should interpret Scripture for themselves. Two points that I am in complete agreement with. I left feeling very thankful for being a part of a denomination that values and promotes women in ministry, was started by a woman—Aimee Semple McPherson, and currently has a number of called and gifted female pastors on our own church staff—any one of whom I would willingly follow.

After Seneca Falls, we reached our SAG stop and I finally removed my remaining rain gear and left it in the van. I wouldn't need it for the rest of the day. I rode alone for the next stretch and enjoyed a chance to stop whenever I liked. I saw some scenic but small waterfalls in Throop, NY and then found a great place for ice cream in Elbridge, NY. Actually, Tom, Alex, and Hans had already found it. But, I was happy to drop in and join them. I ordered "Lobster Tracks" flavor ice cream, largely due to the name. But, it was a tasty blend of caramel, chocolate, and vanilla. I think it was the Maine equivalent of Moose Tracks.

After Elbridge, we came to Camillus and entered the Erie Canal Park. After looking around the museum and store within the park, two helpful ladies suggested to Hans and me that we ride about a mile down the Canal Pathway and see the newly constructed Aqueduct. An aqueduct is essentially a water-filled bridge designed to carry a waterway over a ravine or river. The ride on the former canal towpath was wooded, quiet, and idyllic. At the aqueduct, which was almost complete, the canal was flowing several feet above Nine Mile Creek. We continued on the pathway, resumed our route, and rode through the outskirts of Syracuse to Liverpool. On the way, I passed Armstrong Road. I smiled thinking of how Lance was currently doing in the Tour de France—and how I've cycled about the same number of miles he has this month.

In Liverpool, I made a stop in town at a local barber shop. I needed a haircut and the local barber was the right choice. Dave, the barber, was suitably impressed when I told him where I had ridden from. He gave a great old-school cut and told me it was guaranteed to make me faster. I'll find out tomorrow, because my ride was done just a few miles down the road when I found our hotel. But, I'll bet he's right.

Tomorrow, we ride 79 miles to Little Falls, NY. We wrapping up this ride very quickly. We have just five more days left until we arrive in Portsmouth, NH and dip our front tire in the Atlantic Ocean! My wife, Susie, and my kids, Kyle and Bethany, are flying from Seattle to Philadelphia tonight for a few days of touring on their own and then they'll see me in Manchester, NH the day before we finish. It will be great to both be in the same time zone. Even better to see them on Monday!

For more photos from today's ride, visit http://gallery.me.com/eternaldesign2#100512
For more about the Ride for Impact, visit http://www.rideforimpact.org

Dist: 71.74
Time: 4:57:45
Avg: 14.4
Max: 33.0
Cumulative Miles: 3,597
Cumulative Flats: 5
Elev Gain: 2,206 ft.
Max Elev: 1,002 ft.
Avg Climb: 2%
Max Climb: 9%

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Day 46 - Hamburg, NY to Canandaigua, NY

"Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like " — Bicycle Race, Queen

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday's drenching is yesterday's news. Today looked very promising. Sunlight was shining through the hotel windows during breakfast. It was a pleasure to once again ride my bicycle. And, with less than a week left to our Cross Country Challenge, I'm making sure I relish every moment. Today's first stop was a fun one. About 8 miles into our route, we stopped at the Pedaling History Museum in Orchard Park, NY. Carl Burgwardt, the owner and museum historian, gave a tour of one of the world's largest collections of antique and classic American bicycles.

We learned the history of the bicycle, beginning with the "Draisienne"—a two-wheeled walking machine invented in 1817 by Baron von Drais—to the high wheel "Ordinary" or "Penny Farthing" which was the cause of many a head injury. "Because the rider sat so high above the center of gravity, if the front wheel was stopped by a stone or rut in the road, or the sudden emergence of a dog, the entire apparatus rotated forward on its front axle, and the rider, with his legs trapped under the handlebars, was dropped unceremoniously on his head. Thus the term "taking a header" came into being." (pedalinghistory.com) These bikes were followed by the hard-tired "Safety" bicycle and the pneumatic-tired "Safety" bicycle which was common in the 1880s and 1890s. We could have spent the entire day in there. So many bicycles including a wide array of bikes from the 1950s and 1960s. Carl and his wife who own the museum are trying to sell the collection so they can retire. What you wouldn't be able to replace is his knowledge of each and every item. He's a walking cycling encyclopedia. ("cyclingpedia"?)

After leaving the museum, we had to play "catch up." We had only ridden 8 miles and it was now nearly 9:30 a.m. Our route took us out of Orchard Park, which is an attractive suburb / old town outside of Buffalo, and through East Aurora, Porterville, Marilla, and Alden. I passed residential areas, farmland, a few streams with small waterfalls, and some more corn. Our first SAG stop was in Alden at a gas station. I had to laugh at my "second breakfast" I purchased inside: Starbucks bottled Frappucino Mocha and a large chocolate chip cookie.

The next 38 miles were entirely on Route 20 with no turns. I was ready for a diversion when I spotted a road sign directing me to "Bethany." For those who may not know, my 11-year old daughter's name is Bethany. I turned left and found myself smack in the center of town—which included a Volunteer Fire Dept. building, a Town Hall, and about a dozen homes. I took some photos of Bethany's namesake town and returned to the route. I wonder if anyone named Bethany lives there.

Our second SAG stop was in Avon, NY. I found this entertaining because I was just in Avon Lake, OH two days ago. Avon Lake is bordered on the south by Avon, OH. Now I was nearly 300 miles east of there, but still in Avon. Our stop was in the parking lot of another diner. It was highly recommended I go inside and order a burger. I'm glad I did. I downed a vanilla milkshake and a cheeseburger that was twice as big as the bun. Man, I love eating like this, but it all will have to come to an end in less than a week. Or—I'm gonna have to keep riding 90 miles a day!

The remainder of our ride into Canandaigua was along Route 20 East. We passed a church with a sign outside advertising, "FREE COFFEE WITH EVERY SERMON ENDURED." Hmm. Interesting sales tactic. We passed a store with some old vehicles parked on the lawn. One was a truck dressed up like Mader from the animated movie, "Cars." I stopped, turned around, had to take the photo. And then, we were entering Canandaigua.

Canandaigua sits on the north end of Canandaigua Lake. It's a resort town and as I rode past the lake, I could see the appeal. The water was crystal clear and it beckoned me to take a swim. Families were playing on the beach and at a playground. Couples strolled along the crushed gravel path along the shore. A storm was brewing in the northeast and preempted my ride into the town center. I got enough rain yesterday. I made it to the hotel and was showered and dressed before the skies opened. Glad I missed that one.

Tomorrow's ride to Liverpool, NY will pass four more Finger Lakes. I'm planning to take my time and see the towns bordering those lakefronts since it's a short 69 miles. The forecast calls for rain, unfortunately, but I'm willing to pay my dues for the incredible weather we've had up to now.

For more photos from today's ride including A LOT from the bike museum, visit http://gallery.me.com/eternaldesign2#100504
For more about the Ride for Impact, visit http://www.rideforimpact.org

Dist: 98.4
Time: 6:34:51
Avg: 14.9
Max: 35.0
Cumulative Miles: 3,525
Elev Gain: 3,890 ft.
Max Elev: 1,141 ft.
Avg Climb: 2%
Max Climb: 11%

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Day 45 - Erie, PA to Hamburg, NY

saturation point — 1. limit to scope for expansion: the point at which no more can be added; ... 2. limit to absorption: the point at which the greatest possible amount of a substance has been absorbed by a solution at a given temperature

Today I was saturated. There is a point in cycling when you can no longer get any wetter. Our ride out of Erie, PA and into New York State was possibly our wettest yet. But first, a little about our rest day in Erie, PA.

I was blessed to have an offer from my high school friend, Lori (Lalak) Lee, to drive me to Avon Lake, OH—my hometown. I hadn't been back to Avon Lake since 1988, a year after moving to Seattle. I originally hoped I could get to Avon Lake, but had decided it wasn't going to work out. Then Lori made her offer.

We drove the two hours from Erie to AL and spent the day visiting many long-time friends—Paul & Molly Dunford (longtime family friends and former Jr. High science teacher); Bob & Mary Koren (former Scoutmaster); Tom Lyman (mystery surprise guest invited by Korens and former scout leader); Dell-Ann (Schaeffer) Lewis (high school friend); Larry & Sue Johnson and Megan & Kyle Boatwright (long-time family friends); and Nick Rusinko (high school friend). We drove all around town to see what had changed and what was still the same. I was surprised by what was just like I remembered it. But, there is plenty that is new. We also enjoyed dinner with Lori, her husband Steve, and adorable boys, Camden (5) and Rylan (3). I greatly appreciate her willingness to be my chauffeur for the day!

We left Erie on wet roads and the promise of more rain to come. Unfortunately, I was woefully underdressed for a rain day. I had reached into my luggage this morning and pulled out what I thought was my pair of arm warmers. The luggage trailer was loaded and locked when I realized what I had grabbed was just one leg warmer. Add to that, I had chosen to only take my lightweight windbreaker and not my heavier, waterproof rain jacket. But at the start of the day, I wasn't worried. The weather wasn't too cool and the rain was very light.

We had some occasional views of Lake Erie, but for most of the route, homes or private retreats blocked the views from the road. We did ride through several vineyards. This corner of Pennsylvania, and even my hometown of Avon Lake, benefit from the glaciers that descended and then receded during the Ice Age to form the Great Lakes. "The glacial ridges left behind by the glaciers are the basis for ideal growing conditions for wine grapes and many fruit trees. The well-drained gravel-loam soils and the moderating effect of the lake on spring and fall temperatures combine to create the perfect growing environment for healthy vineyards and premium wines." (Chautauqua Lake Erie Wine Trail). Leigh and I stopped at the Mazza Winery. I'm not a wine connoisseur in the least, but I tried a sample of their "ice wine." It's a very sweet dessert wine that is made from dehydrated grapes cultivated in January when they are frozen and still on the vine. At about $90 a bottle, it wasn't bad!

When we left the winery, the rains had started again, falling harder now. We reached the New York state line and put on jackets. Ten miles down the road, we stopped at the Daniel Reed Memorial Pier in Barcelona, NY. There we had a great view of the lakeshore, bluffs, beach, and marina. Had the day been in the 80s or 90s, I might have taken a dip in the water. Today, I was already plenty wet and getting wetter.

Twenty miles farther, in Dunkirk, NY, was our SAG stop ("Support and Gear"), but today it was definitely a SOG stop. I was now soaked to the bone. I kept the stop short, ate a bunch of food quickly, and rode on. As I was riding through town, a man stepped out of a business, saw me riding by drenched, and gasped. I think the translation was something akin to "What the heck? That's crazy!" I couldn't agree more. But, ride on we did.

Now I just put my head down and rode. In Silver Creek, at mile 60, I went inside a Rite-Aid to use the facilities and buy a Starbucks bottled coffee. While in the restroom, I stood in front of the hot air hand dryer for about 20 cycles. That helped a bit. Until the rain started again. I rode through a portion of the Seneca Nation's Cattaraugus Native American Reservation which was largely gas stations, smoke shops, and small diners. The road had heavy traffic, mostly trucks, but was thinly populated. Lush, green Northeastern woodlands bordered both sides of the road.

I rode through the outskirts of Hamburg to find the hotel in now pouring rain. My sole concern was to not get killed by the passing cars and trucks spraying me with rain water from three-inch deep gutters and swollen storm water drains. There was probably many interesting sights to see within Hamburg. But, I didn't stop for any of them. Today was not a day for sightseeing. It was a day for endurance. And, thankfully, I endured. Once I found my room, I placed myself and all of my wet cycling clothes in the shower. I'm now clean and dry, but there's an inch of grit covering the floor of the tub. Jackets, shorts, shoes, gloves, and socks hang from our window and over the air conditioner in order to dry. I'm afraid to check the weather report for tomorrow...

Tomorrow's ride will be 95 miles to Canandaigua, NY which is on one of the Finger Lakes. If the weather is decent, it should prove to be a beautiful ride. But, I can't complain too loudly. The weather for 44 days has been near perfect.

To view photos from my rest day in Avon Lake, OH, visit http://gallery.me.com/eternaldesign2#100466
For more photos from today's ride, visit http://gallery.me.com/eternaldesign2#100496
For more information about the Ride for Impact, visit http://www.rideforimpact.org

Dist: 82.81
Time: 5:30:23
Avg: 15.0
Max: 34.5
Cumulative Miles: 3,426
Cumulative Flats: 5
Elev Gain: 1,688 ft.
Max Elev: 713 ft.
Avg Climb: 1%
Max Climb: 7%

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Day 43 - Youngstown, OH to Erie, PA

"We're in Pennsylvania, we're in Pennsylvania! We're almost there! We're almost there!"

That refrain was a song I sang as a six year-old on my way with my dad to Camp Fitch on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Camp Fitch is a YMCA camp that we attended when I was in Indian Guides. We passed the sign for Camp Fitch this afternoon and I remembered this song. It kind of fits even today. We're in Pennsylvania, and we're almost there... to the Atlantic Ocean, that is!

Today's ride was a fun one. The day was unseasonably cool, but great for cycling. Our route out of Youngstown was north through Mineral Ridge and Niles. Then we found ourselves on more rural roads that reminded me a bit of Whatcom County back in northern Washington. The roads were far better than yesterday's roads and the terrain was fairly flat which made the riding easy and enjoyable.

We hit our first "Road Closed" mid-morning. Michelle, our ride leader, gave us instructions on how best to navigate this construction area. Basically, it was a ditch where a new stormwater or stream pipe was being laid. We carefully walked over the dirt and rocks and got over safely. This was just a warm-up for the next "Road Closed" section. Just a mile or two further, we found the second obstacle. This one was far worse. The road was torn up and concrete blocks and rebar lay scattered in a 10-foot deep crevasse. Four of us guys crawled down into the canyon and we began handing bikes from one side to the other. By the time we finished, nearly a dozen bikes had been carefully carried over the rocks. We laughed at Young Bob's bike (he's the 73 year old that shares my name). It was the heaviest one! We wondered if he used lead pipe for the bike frame! After all the bikes were over, each of the riders scrambled across the gully. My mountain-climbing experience paid off. I've climbed more technical scrambles. Just keep a constant three-point contact and you'll be fine.

Once that obstacle was complete, we had smooth sailing. We reached our first SAG stop at a restaurant. Some went in and enjoyed strawberry shortcake. I held off and just gobbled up the usual biker food plus a few chocolate chip cookies from the Perkins restaurant last night. (Thanks TJ and Krista for donating your kids' uneaten cookies!) The next 40 miles went by quickly. I enjoyed riding with Leigh, Chris, Jim, and Hans. As we neared Conneaut, I was looking forward to seeing my high school friend Lori (Lalak) Lee and her two boys who were planning to meet me on the route.

I had seen a couple of signs for a covered bridge, which Ashtabula County has a lot of. I passed our turn and found the bridge just a quarter mile down the road. I rode through it a few times, took a few pictures, and enjoyed the moment. Not many of these in Washington state. Then I got back on course.

Around the corner, across from a winery, I saw Lori and her boys up ahead. They were sitting in chairs at the side of the road. As I got closer, I could see chalk marks on the road. They had written, "WELCOME TO CONNEAUT. GO BOB GO! WELCOME AMERICA BY BICYCLE!" Wow, just like in the Tour de France when they paint rider's names and encouragement on the roads leading up the Alps or Pyrenees! I pulled up to them and gave hugs and handshakes. Lori's boys, Camden (5) and Rylan (3) had signs and noisemakers. Despite being a bit hungry from waiting all morning in the sun, they were excited to see me (at least that's what I'm imagining!). We took a couple of photos, then I pedaled on to meet them again at our second SAG stop, Richardson's Root Beer stand and drive-in in Conneaut.

As I rode the few miles into Conneaut, I crossed under I-90. It's amazing to think that this same interstate runs all the way to Seattle. In fact, I bike on it fairly regularly. Not only that, but it crosses just south of Avon Lake, OH where I grew up and where I'll be going tomorrow. I turned the corner and saw the drive-in ahead. This outdoor root beer and burgers drive-in reminds you of the 50s. The place was packed. I parked the bike, joined Lori and the boys in line, and then got my order and scarfed down a tasty cheeseburger, fries, and the best root beer float I've ever had. We visited for awhile and made plans for tomorrow in Avon Lake. She's agreed to chauffeur me around AL and take me to see some old friends and places. I can't wait.

After leaving Conneaut, we rode parallel to Lake Erie, though it wasn't yet in sight, and entered Pennsylvania. I really enjoyed seeing all the place names referring to Lake Erie. It sure brought back memories. We entered Lake City and I saw the Lake Erie Community Park and figured this would be a good opportunity to get some lakeshore views. I hollered to Leigh and Hans who were with me and we rode through the park and then saw the lake. For those of you who have never been to the Great Lakes, there's a reason it's known as the "North Coast." It almost looks like an ocean. You can't see the Canadian side. It's just water all the way to the horizon. Both Leigh and Hans were impressed. Hans asked in his Swiss accent, "We are at the wrong coast?!"

Now we continued on through Presque Isle and the Erie. The city had just hosted the "Roar on the Shore" Motorcycle Rally. All the bikes had left town, but the city was awash in litter and the remains of what had to have been a pretty sizable party! We navigated the city streets and found our hotel. For a Sunday afternoon, the city was empty. I'm not sure what Erie's finest qualities are, but so far, it has the looks of an urban city in decline. I think I'm glad I'm going to Avon Lake for my rest day. The other cyclists can find something fun to do in Erie, but I think the majority of them are headed to Niagara Falls.

After our rest day, we'll head northeast into New York state and ride 82 miles to Hamburg, NY. The end is in sight! We only have eight days left until we reach our final destination, Portsmouth, NH!

For more photos from today's ride, visit http://gallery.me.com/eternaldesign2#100458
For more about the Ride for Impact, visit http://www.rideforimpact.org

Dist: 100.5
Time: 6:24:22
Avg: 15.6
Max: 42.0
Cumulative Miles: 3,343
Elev Gain: 2,008 ft.
Max Elev: 1,083 ft.
Avg Climb: 2%
Max Climb: 9%

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Day 42 - Wooster, OH to Youngstown, OH

"The infrastructure, Jerry, it's crumbling!"—Kramer, "The Pothole", Seinfeld
Today, I discovered the worst roads in America. Now, admittedly, I've only surveyed 3,200 miles of roadway thus far. But, after today's ride, I have determined that the roads in Northeastern Ohio are among the worst in terms of road surface. We had heard from Gerard, our ride leader, that today's route left a lot to be desired. We had no idea how bad.

Our day started well. The weather was unseasonably cool with cloud cover and a forecasted high of only 71. I was enjoying the quiet morning and decided early that I was going to take it easy today. We were rolling along through more farmland and rural homes when I noticed we had entered the city limits of Orrville. Something seemed familiar about the town name. When we turned onto "Smucker Road," it finally clicked. We were in Orrville, OH, the home of Smucker's—as in jams, jellies, preserves, and spreads. I did some quick iPhone research and saw that the Smucker's factory was in the center of town which was just 2.5 miles off route. It was early in the day, why not check it out? I doubted there would be a factory tour or visitor's center open on a Saturday at 8 a.m., but it would be fun to at least take some pics of the place.

I found the factory and rode past some of the buildings when I met Don. He was sitting outside waiting for someone to bring him his mid-shift meal. I introduced myself and explained what I was doing then asked him about the factory. There are 400 employees at this facility where they primarily make the individual packets of jam and jelly you find in restaurants. Don packages them in the boxes for shipping. I was surprised to learn that the fruit is shipped by truck or rail from California. Wouldn't it make sense to have a processing plant closer to the fruit groves? Don said at one time Smucker's did have a California plant, but they closed it after determining it was less expensive to have production in Ohio and ship to and from this plant. Before I left, I took my photo with Don when another employee came out. Don called to him, "Hey, this guy's riding his bike from San Francisco!" While I didn't get any free samples, it was fun to see the home of Smucker's and get some first-hand info.

Back on the route, I had added about five miles to my 92-mile ride and now was at the back of the pack. I caught up with Brian in Canal Fulton, home of the St. Helena II and a landmark on the Ohio and Erie Canal—at least that's what the Canal Fulton Heritage Society sign said. I caught the rest of the group at the first SAG stop in Greensburg. After enjoying some of Amy Benson's zucchini bread, Chris and I rode on. And that is when we began encountering the worst roads in America.

Pontius Street in Hamilton County, OH—I was amazed at how bad this road was. I'm at a loss to adequately describe the inferiority of this asphalt. It's one thing to encounter potholes. But someone on the county road crew had made an attempt to repair these roads... over and over again. As we rode along, we dodged, ducked, dived, dipped, and dodged holes, cracks, and patch after patch after patch of mismatched, mis-colored asphalt filler. Descending a hill usually brings some relief. You can relax and enjoy the downhill. Not on these roads. We were in a constant state of bone-jarring alert. By the time we reached New Baltimore, it was time to take a break. The New Baltimore Ice Cream stand was just what we needed.

After a refreshing lunch of hot dog, soft pretzel, and vanilla shake (I love being able to eat like this!), I faced the roads of terror again. The afternoon was a slow slog of avoiding holes, crevices, and bumps. The final relief came when I reached the last 10 miles of the ride and got on the Mill Creek Metroparks bikeway. Ahhh. Smooth pavement. I sailed at 19 mph, renewed by the absence of all that I had endured for the last 50 miles. I even found a shortcut, albeit back on bad pavement, that saved me three miles on the final approach to the hotel.

After a shower and route rap, I got to enjoy dinner tonight with my high school friends, Krista and TJ Schmitz and their adorable kids, Mallory (16), Noah (13), Jonah (10), and Micah (6). We had great conversation talking about high school, marriage, kids, family, and life as nearly 40 year olds. They'll tell you they lead a boring life, but boring is bliss. I can tell their life with each other and those kiddos is anything but boring! I was blessed to spend time with them and for them to drive an hour and a half round trip to spend a few hours with me. (And my offer still stands to put Noah in the America by Bicycle luggage trailer for a few days!)

Tomorrow should be another fun one. We'll head north to Conneaut where I'm hoping to be greeted by another high school friend, Lori (Lalak) Lee and her two boys. They even promised to ring cowbells and write my name on the road in chalk, just like Tour de France fans do for Lance! After Conneaut, we'll leave Ohio and enter our tenth state of the ride, Pennsylvania, as we finish in Erie, PA for our final rest day on Monday—which I'll be spending by heading to my hometown of Avon Lake, OH for the day and then joining Lori, her husband, and boys for dinner. We're only nine riding days away from the conclusion of this amazing journey when we reach Portsmouth, NH on July 28!

For more photos of the terrible roads, but pleasant scenery, visit http://gallery.me.com/eternaldesign2#100435
For more about the Ride for Impact, visit http://www.rideforimpact.org

Dist: 95.42
Time: 6:52:33
Avg: 13.8
Max: 38.0
Cumulative Miles: 3,242
Cumulative Flats: 5
Elev Gain: 3,883 ft.
Max Elev: 1,398 ft.
Avg Climb: 2%
Max Climb: 13%