Monday, August 9, 2010

Day 30 - Ashland, VA to Williamsburg and Yorktown, VA

I would be remiss not to share the following with you... One of my fears is that an ailment or injury would keep me from completing the ride. I made it through the first 29 days without developing any problems or suffering any crashes, so I was feeling good about getting to the finish line. Last evening, after a quick dip in the hotel pool, I returned to my room to shower before joining others for dinner. I turned on the water, adjusted the temperature and grabbed the shampoo and soap. I climbed into the tub and realized the water was too hot - way to hot. So I tried reaching around to adjust it without getting scalded. Well... my foot slipped and the next thing I know I'm falling out of the tub and end up wedged between the tub and the toilet. My first thought was that I might have hurt myself and wouldn't be able to finish. Luckily, I was fine, and able to laugh at myself, but for a moment I genuinely thought I had been dealt the cruelest blow of all.

It was strange waking up this morning knowing that it would be the last time to go through the routine that had become so familiar. Despite tired legs and bodies, everyone seemed to feel great as we shared our last breakfast together. Waffles, eggs, sausage, and a danish. I won't be able to keep eating like this when I get home...

We rolled out of Ashland and headed through more of the beautiful Virginia countryside. The sun started coming up through the morning fog as we rode east. For whatever reason, I-95 was an important landmark for me. I've lived near I-5 on the west coast and I-95 on the east coast. We started by crossing I-5 and we ended the tour by crossing I-95.

The fog seemed to keep the temperature down as we rode to the first stop at 28 miles, the next at 54 miles, and finally to our rendezvous point. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the day seemed to zip by and the cycling seemed almost effortless. I'll never get the chance to know what the ride into Paris on the final day or the Tour de France feels like, but I'm guessing the feeling is similar. We had ridden so many miles over the last 29 days. There was light at the end of the tunnel. No one had been seriously injured. There was a clear sense of purpose to the pace of the ride today, but it wasn't competitive or aggressive. It was a great day on the bike.

We rode through Williamsburg and down the Colonial Parkway to Yorktown, where we assembled and rode all together for the first time all tour in a double paceline. It was a great sight and a fun experience. The road took us past the Yorktown Victory Center and down to the small beach, where we each posed for pictures with our bikes in the water and then gathered for a group photo. Quite a few people had family and friends there to greet them, so it was a festive scene. We ate lunch at the beach and then rode the 12 miles back to our hotel in Williamsburg. I was worried by legs might boycott those last 12 miles after successfully getting me to the beach, but they gladly joined the fun as our pace started slowly and then increased to a fairly fast tempo.

Back at the hotel we set about the task of boxing up our bikes for shipment home and then got cleaned up for a dinner later at UNO Pizzeria next to the motel. The had a buffet line set up for us with two wait staff serving pizzas. It was funny, because they had no idea how much we wanted to eat and quickly got behind on the pizzas. It was fun to sit on soft benches, eat, chat, and not worry too much about having to get to bed by 9.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and gathered in the meeting room for a slide show of the ride from start to finish. Forgotten moments and scenes were recalled as pictures of places and people showed on the screen. It was a lot of fun to see everyone as we worked our way across the country, especially Flat Stanley who appeared time after time in some very amusing places. After the slide show, we each received a plaque with some pictures to commemorate our successful completion of the transcontinental ride as well as a t-shirt with the climbing profile of the Big Horn climb printed on the front.

At the end of the evening, they auctioned off the big map that I've shown pictures of on the blog. The money goes to support Pac Tour's programs in Peru to help schools and orphanages and cycling teams in the jungle. Pac Tour collects money, old bike parts, jerseys, and other gear and takes the stuff down to Peru. It's a great cause. Jonathon from Australia won the auction for the map with a bid of $1200. What he did next was a great way to end the tour and the evening. He said that he'd like to give the map to someone who would be able to care for and enjoy it for a very long time. He presented the map to Greg, who at 17, was the youngest rider.

It's been a long, hard 30 days. As Susan said in describing the suffering she went through in setting the tandem transcontinental record with Lon and winning the women's division of Race Across America, you'll forget the pain and remember all the good things you accomplish and experience. I've already begun to see what she means.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Day 29 - Harrisonburg, VA to Ashland, VA

I hope you'll not be too upset if there aren't any pictures from today. I took some and will try to share all the pics as well as those taken by other riders at some point. For this post though, I think it's important for me to talk about something other than the ride.

We're getting ready for the run into Williamsburg tomorrow. It's hard to believe we've got less than 100 miles left in this 3,400 mile journey. Being on the bike for that long gives one the opportunity to think and reflect.

First, I want to thank Mary for all her support, encouragement, and love... and for giving me the opportunity to not only leave for a month, but to get in all those training miles beforehand so I was prepared for the challenge. She's put up with a lot of nonsense from me over the years, but this was something different. I was going to spend a considerable amount of time and money to do something without her. She did tell me that she had to let me go, because if she didn't, I'd be grumpy all summer. But she knew that this was important to me and she's been there with love and encouragement every step of the way. I guess that's what a best friend does...

Ed and Olivia have been supportive as well... I think Olivia knows I'm on a bike ride! Seriously, they've helped their mom or at least have not driven her completely insane in my absence. I'm sure they'll enjoy hearing new "suffering is good for you" and "you should never give up" speeches based on my experiences from this ride.

A special thank you goes to my colleagues at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The faculty and staff of the Aviation Institute and the NASA Nebraska Space Grant program have been fantastic. They've kept everything moving in the right direction and accomplished a lot in my absence. I genuinely appreciate everything they've done so that I could not only be gone for a month, but also so that I didn't have to worry about things back at the office.

I'd also like to thank the folks at Bike Masters and Team Kaos for all the rides leading up to this effort. The group rides and training rides provided a good foundation. A number of people also joined me for extra miles over the last few months. I know those extra miles helped prepare me physically and mentally for thirty straight days on the bike. A special thank you goes to Dave at Bike Masters who "got me into this." I'm glad he did and I'm sorry that we weren't able to finish the ride together.

As for today's ride, it was great. Virginia is a spectacular place to ride a bike. The weather was beautiful and the rolling hills provided lots of great scenery. The best thing today though was the variety of people I rode with along the way. My fellow riders have certainly made the last month that much more enjoyable.

Well we're all tired and ready to do something other than ride our bikes, but we've got 90 more miles to go tomorrow. We'll ride to a certain meeting place and then ride as a group to the beach where we'll take pictures, etc. Tomorrow night we'll have one last dinner to celebrate the end of the tour and then people will begin to go their separate ways. It will be an interesting couple of days.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day 28 - Elkins, WV to Harrisonburg, VA

Virginia... the last state on the itinerary! It wasn't easy getting here though. We climbed over ridge after ridge of the Appalachian Mountains to get here... 106 miles and just about 10,000 feet of climbing. The weather was great, albeit cool and foggy in the morning. Relatively low humidity and winds that weren't an influence on the ride either way. The last and perhaps most onerous climb was to the Virginia border at mile 82. The descent from there was fantastic as we flew down the twisting, turning highway before a more gradual descent through the George Washington National Forest.

We started out this morning in cool morning air with fog that made the temperatures uncomfortable during the first couple descents. I was glad that I chose to put on a base layer and some arm warmers. We went down the road from our motel about a quarter mile, took a right turn and started climbing. Not the most knee-friendly way to start the day after yesterday's effort. I made good time on the first climb. Towards the top I decided to get off the shoulder, which was crumbling in places and had some loose gravel. Unfortunately, one of the other riders noted the same thing, but crashed when his wheel slipped on the lip between the shoulder and the concrete surface of the highway. I was ahead of him at the time, but others stopped to help and make sure he was fit to ride. I think he was lucky that he fell so quickly, because he didn't have time to put his hand out, which is the way most collarbones get broken. He got some scrapes and bruises on his face, arm, and hip, but he finished the day and is in good spirits. We've come too far not to finish now, so I'm sure he'll be back on the bike tomorrow.

We saw a lot of caution signs for trucks regarding the climbs and especially the descents. I think the steep grade warning signs are perhaps the most welcome signs for cyclists, since it means we've completed the climb and are ready for some fun and the descent. The roads today, except for the shoulder mentioned earlier and a few stretches of the one lane road, were smooth and clean, which meant we could open it up a bit on the downhills. The twists and turns were enough to keep my top speed 42 mph, but it was fun to coast for 3 to 5 miles at a stretch. Lon told us the other night that during his cross country tandem record run with his friend Pete, the rider in back could actually catch a small nap on the descents in West Virginia. I'm not sure I'd be able to nap even if I trusted the guy in front!

One of the best parts of the day was a diversion off the main road onto a small one lane rural blacktop. It took us up and around a number of farms on the way to the small town of Riverton, where I realized I had a slow leak from my rear tube. I should have changed the tire last night, but I was intent on getting through the trip on the same pair or tires. Well... I pumped it up twice, but eventually had to change the tube. A small wire had penetrated the tire and had pin pricked the tube. With the climb out of the German Valley, most of the weight was on the rear tire, so I had to change it. I changed the tire at the sag stop at the top of the climb. the picture to the right is off Paul and Stan climbing up one of the hills on the one lane blacktop.

I took a picture of the farmhouse in the first picture below because the scene looked interesting. I didn't realize at the time that I'd see the same farmhouse from a different vantage point at the German Valley Overlook. After changing the tire... I had someone take my picture. When I saw the photos tonight in the motel, I realized that the picture of me with the valley below shows the same farmhouse in the other picture. Look towards the upper right hand corner... I think that's pretty cool.
The climb to the Virginia border would have been hard any day, but after 27 days or riding and numerous climbs already today (and a belly full of lunch) it was a challenge. The road surface was good and drivers were, for the most part, courteous. Switchbacks are fun on a descent because they provide an opportunity to hone your bike handling skills. On a climb, switchbacks are cruel, because they give you the opportunity to look up and see how far you have to go, at least until the next turn. The first picture is the view of the road above as I approached one of the switchbacks on the climb to the border. The next picture is a view of the mountains to the west as I stopped along the climb for a photo and a breather. Then, there's me at the welcome to Virginia sign, and finally a picture of the road as it straightened out after the twisting descent and took us gradually down through the George Washington National Forest.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Day 27 - Parkersburg, WV to Elkins, WV

What was originally planned as a 115 mile, 9,500 feet of climbing day turned into a 122 miles with around 7,500 feet of climbing. Whatever the distance, it was a great day. The weather was good, the roads were good, and the scenery seemed to improve with every bend in the road. It's hard to believe that we've only got three more days of riding. Some parts of my body aren't too happy: big toe on my right foot (falls asleep when I'm not on the bike), hands (ache most of the time), shoulder (hurts in the morning, but then gets better), butt (well... what do you expect after over 3,000 miles in 27 days?). In general though, I think I've held up fairly well physically and have weathered the variety of mental and emotional issues as I've encountered them. I am looking forward to sleeping in on the 10th, sipping coffee, reading the paper, and not having to swing a tired leg over the bike. I'm also looking forward to getting home to Mary, the kids, and the dogs after a brief visit to DC for some Space Grant business.

I snapped some pictures this morning from the second floor of the Red Roof Inn. We've all become well-trained Pac Tour riders. Bikes out, tires pumped, and everything checked before breakfast. Once breakfast is served and eaten, everyone returns to their rooms to gather his or her bag and make one last check before returning for the loading of the trailer. Last minute cue sheet changes are noted on "the board" and discussed if something is potentially confusing or if Lon wants to remind us about safety issues. For as tired as people are these days, the routine is important.

We rode on some very pretty rural roads today, including the interestingly named Meathouse Road. While the roads winding up and down the hills and through the hardwood forests were nice, there are constant reminders about the poverty in this part of the country. That's not to say that there aren't well kept homes and nice towns along the way, but there are plenty of abandoned businesses and residences along with old cars, trucks, appliances, etc. alongside the roads. I didn't take any pictures of dilapidated trailers or cars on blocks, choosing instead to concentrate on what's good about the area.

For lunch, we stopped in Weston, WV, home of the now defunct Trans-Appalachian Lunatic Asylum also known in more recent times as the Weston State Hospital. A sprawling 666 acres is home to the buildings that housed the state's mentally ill since the Civil War up until 1994, when the remaining patients were transferred to a new hospital. The place is apparently a favorite stop for tourists interested in ghosts and paranormal activity. We got a brief tour and fortunately no one in our group was retained by the authorities for further observation. In addition to the building itself, I also took pictures of some of the gargoyles created by the masons who did the original stone work on the hospital in the 1800s. The gargoyles were supposed to scare off the evil spirits.

The motels on the trip have generally been good, but some have been a little worn down. Tonight's is OK, but since we're in West Virginia and there are only so many non-smoking rooms, Tim and I are sleeping in a room that smells so bad I can't smell my shoes!! That's bad! I can't remember the last time I had a hotel room with not one, but two ashtrays.

After a long day on the bike, it's important to fuel up again. Most of us walked across the highway to Steers Steakhouse for the buffet. I decided to take some photos to end the post this evening. This was an awesome old school buffet. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, steak, macaroni and cheese, veggies and salads, and last, but certainly not least cobbler with soft serve ice cream.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Day 26 - Circleville, OH to Parkersburg, WV

We made the transition from the flat lands of the Midwest to the the foothills of Appalachia today. What a start! Breakfast inside again, which was nice as the humidity was already quite high outside. We rolled out through Circleville and encountered a fair amount of traffic. Fortunately, most of it appeared to be people heading into town to work as we were heading out. About 8 miles in, the rain started, slowly at first and then with more vigor. I stopped to put on my rain jacket just as it really started to pour. The wind was fairly calm and the road surfaces good so we continued on, but then the skies darkened and the rain got even heavier. Lightning and thunder in the distance made me begin to think about options for cover, but I figured that if I kept going, perhaps I'd ride out of the rain and away from the lightning. Not the case. Soon lightning was crackling over our heads. I should have followed Gerry as he was the first to pull off to the other side of the rural road and seek shelter under the overhang of a barn. I kept going, but soon realized I too needed to seek shelter and ducked under the porch and carport of a house up the road with about seven other cyclists. The picture shows the rain cascading out of the sky and down the road.

I would find out later that lightning struck a telephone pole sending sparks over the road as one of my fellow cyclists passed the barn where Gerry wisely diverted to safety. The good news is that no one got hurt and the rain passed shortly after we stopped. We're hopeful that the system that has been soaking us for the last couple of days has moved on and that our heavy climbing days in West Virginia will be dry and maybe even a bit less humid...

The roads were good and the scenery more interesting as we headed into the hills for the first time in several days. The hills provided the opportunity to exercise our climbing legs and the descents were fun because the roads wandered through lush forests and in ways that left us to wonder what we'd find around the next bend. With the exception of a couple angry pickup drivers, traffic was light and drivers were courteous as we headed to the border with West Virginia.

Alas, I wish Dave was here to see the river we followed most of the day. It is, indeed, a brown river. Despite the rain today and yesterday, it seemed to barely move. What a difference from the rushing rapids of the rivers out west. I stopped on a bridge to snap the photo after lunch and then hurried on since the clouds looked to be forming up for another round of rain. Fortunately, we didn't get wet and the sun came out later.

Along the way today we rode on a very nice bike path between the river and Ohio University in Athens. The campus seemed larger than I expected and looked very nice. I'm guessing it is older than that other university in the state since its founding was in 1804. The picture is of the OU arena.

There was another scary moment on the ride today when I saw the sign in the picture! Sorry Ed, but I've really go no desire to go back there again... It is interesting though to see the same town names used over and over as we move from west to east. I guess the settlers were so tired after trudging over the country that they didn't have much energy left for coming up with interesting new names. I've also noticed some names, like Union Furnace, that suggest a role in our nation's civil war.

We made it to the bridge across the Ohio River and stopped for photos. I've got to remember to zip up... As we were riding across the bridge, we encountered a guy wearing an Ohio State t-shirt. I greeted him with a "how's it going?" and he looked at me like I had insulted him, responding with a grunt. I repeated myself and he defensively replied, "OK..." and huffed off. Not the most articulate person we've met on this trip, but perhaps we shouldn't be surprised.

We made it through Parkersburg and to our hotel, the Red Roof Inn, on the other end of town. Not the most picturesque city we've visited, but nice enough. The Red Roof Inn, however, is quite a step down from the Holiday Inn Expresses we stayed in the last two night. One might say that the Red Roof Inn is for the birds.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 25 - Troy to Circleville, OH

We've been fortunate the last two evenings to stay in Holiday Inn Express facilities. The Super 8s out west were generally quite good, but they seem to be a little hit or miss as we move east. We had to deal with something new last evening - a water main in Troy broke and we were instructed, along with everyone else, to not drink the water unless it was boiled. The hotel did a nice job of providing bottled water, but it was nice this morning to hear that the "boil advisory" had been lifted. So we started our day with clean water, as far as we know, and a decent breakfast inside at the hotel. Temps were already 78 at 7 am, so we knew that we were in for a hot and humid ride. The hope was that we'd get the tailwind that was forecast, but not the storms.

I was tired this morning. It has become more difficult each morning to make the transition from bed to bike, but I'm doing it. This morning, I started out a little grudgingly, but things got better as I teamed up with two other riders through the first 15 miles or so. I learned later that one of my fellow riders, Ann, who is also an avid runner, once ran 143 miles in a 24 period. I don't know about you, but that amazes me. Anyway, I rode with Ann and Brian until the tandem, being ridden by Craig and John caught up to us with four other riders in tow. I didn't hesitate to jump on the back of the train and had a great time as we flew over the rollers for the next 15 miles. My mood went from good to great in no time.

We had picture day at the first stop this morning. We all posed individually with our bikes. With the heat and humidity, the sweat was pouring down my face, so it will be interesting to see the pictures. At the stop, one of the other riders let the pair riding the tandem know that he had placed a brick inside their seat bag! I thought it was picture-worthy. Wes, in the middle, is the one who hid the brick.

We enjoyed our first legitimate descents in days and I managed to snap a picture from the bike of some riders enjoying gravity's gift. We'll have plenty more opportunities over the next three days to climb and descend as we leave Ohio and head into West Virginia. I think my legs are ready - I just hope we don't have the heat we had today. The thermometer on one of the support trailers read 102 F in the shade in the parking lot at the hotel when we arrived. We had a decent tailwind today, which reduces the work load, but doesn't provide much cooling. One of the more uncomfortable moments was having to stop at a traffic light just outside Circleville, where we got to enjoy the full effect of the heat advisory waiting for the light to change.

We arrived in town well before the hotel was able to accept us, so many of us diverted to a great little coffee shop for smoothies and other drinks. It was funny, but because it was so cold inside, and we were all soaked from the humidity, no one wanted to stay inside too long. Hence the photo of some fellow riders "chilling" in the shade on the coffee shop patio. While we were in the coffee shop I saw that there was a severe weather warning for some county in Ohio. Not knowing which county we were in, I asked one of the ladies at the shop where we were on the weather map and she assured me that the storm was well north of us. As it turns out, she makes much better smoothies than weather forecasts. Not long after we got to the hotel, the skies went black and we got the full late afternoon midwestern thunder and lightning treatment. Luckily, all the bags and bikes were safely inside the hotel even though not all the rooms were ready.

I've seen some interesting water towers along the way on this trip, but the Circleville tower may be the best. I guess it's a pumpkin. We have all noticed that as we move east we're seeing more grand old homes in the small towns, much larger cemeteries, and town squares as opposed to simple main streets. But somethings are apparently the same everywhere. I had to purchase a few things tonight after dinner and braved the traffic on the busy road between the hotel and the Super Walmart. Could have been any Walmart in any town in America...

We've got five days left. I can genuinely say that I'm exhausted. Fortunately, there will be some changes in scenery and terrain over the next few days and then we'll start smelling the barn as they say. I hope to have some better pictures from West Virginia and the Commonwealth.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Q & A as promised, but not promptly delivered

I offered quite a few days ago to answer questions people might have along the way. I apologize it has taken so long to get to those questions. I had no idea just how exhausted I would be after the many long rides we had over the last ten days. Our shorter day gives me an opportunity to respond to the more serious questions (Sorry, Smith...)

Doug asked how I manage to get motivated each day. This is something I've thought about quite a bit. I've also talked to a number of other riders. I think the routine is important. It is easier to focus on riding because that's really all you have to do. We don't have to pack away a tent, worry about where or what we might have for breakfast. We don't even worry about what we're going to wear! And everyone is in the same boat, so you know there are people who are just as tired and sore as you are. In general, people have had great attitudes and that is infectious.

A few of the riders who have ridden across the country with other tours have said that they wouldn't recommend this as the first transcontinental experience for anyone, even a seasoned rider, because it's not really a tour, it's a crossing. On the other hand, doing fewer miles per day would make the trip that much longer in terms of time away from family and work. For me, the experience has been great and while the 130+ mile days have been challenging, they have also been rewarding.

A couple people asked about the other riders and their backgrounds. We have the whole mix of folks. Clearly, these are people who love to ride their bikes and many of them have crossed this and other countries by bike before. They are serious about riding, but not in ways that have made the experience seem too competitive or adversarial. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I've ridden with the faster groups, by myself, and with virtually everyone else on the ride. In virtually every case, it has been a good experience.

Doug asked since I'm doubling up on the shorts am I applying chamois cream to both chamois. It hasn't gotten the that point yet, but I wouldn't be averse to trying that if I thought it would ward off problems. I think the issue when riding this many miles day after day is that every little issue with your body has the potential to become significant. Things are good for me for the most part. One problem that I worried about was how my neck and shoulders would handle all these miles, but other than a little tightness now and again, it hasn't been a big issue. On the other hand, or should I say foot, my big toes on both feet seem to fall asleep a lot, even when I'm off the bike. My hands are also feeling it. I had a water bottle next to the bed last night and woke up to have a drink only to discover that it took considerable effort to squeeze the bottle to have a drink.

Someone else asked if I was feeling stronger as the ride progressed. I'm not really sure. Because there seems to be times when exhaustion sets in and others when I feel energized, I'm not sure. I've found myself riding with some of the faster riders more often, but I can't tell if that's because I'm getting stronger or they're dialing it back a little. I probably won't be able to gauge the real impact on my fitness until after the ride and I get back to Omaha and let the body recover more fully.

I hope this answers at least some of the questions. I appreciate your interest in my efforts and your best wishes for my safety along the way. Which reminds me, I watched a young man roll through a four-way stop at a rural intersection today as he was texting. I saw him and stopped, but I'm not sure if he even bothered to see me. Texting while driving is crazy dangerous, not just for cyclists, but for pedestrians and other motorists. Just thought I'd add that public service spot while I was at it. Thanks!