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%


Kristin said...

I know I'm not alone when telling you how proud I am of you, Bob. And I must confess.... after anticipating the reading of your blog every single day (or at least week-days - but I always made up for it the next Monday...), praying for you every morning as I looked at your picture pasted on my bathroom mirror (it's amazing how much praying you can do when blow-drying your hair), loving the pics, the stories, all your whitty one-liners, frequently wishing I was riding w/ you guys....all fabulous and very inspiring... I believe your 5 "take aways" from your adventure was the highlight of reading your blog for the past 52 days. God bless you Bob. God bless the United States of America. God bless the people who comprise the slums and squatter communities of the Metro Manila area, who will receive benefit from the donations folks have made to IMPACT. And God bless those legs of yours as they take a well-deserved break off the bike for awhile...

carole said...

Hi Bob,
Thanks so much for the kind words on my blog - I am very impressed with your final comments too. I have been trying to debrief by reading several posts from each rider per day. I never had time while doing the ride, and am really enjoying everyone else's entries now. I finally went through all of your pictures and copied and pasted many into my folders so I can make a final CD of pics.
Thanks so much for all of your help and friendship, and God bless you and your family! I will keep in touch - from one coast to the other!!!