Archive for the ‘Post-ride Logs’ Category

The final day in retrospect

August 3, 2008

As the regular blog readers know well by now, the ride officially ended a week ago Monday, with a final 70-mile jaunt across the eastern shore of Maryland and a bit of southern Delaware. The final day took us to a beautiful state park in Maryland, called the Assateague, famous for its lovely beaches and wild horses. While the ride was about as pancake-flat as a ride can be, for some reason my body was having a rough go of it, a strange occurrence given that right now I am, probably, in the best shape of my life. As a result, my father rode point for much of the day, which was to me a happy occurrence and a just reward for a man who, at 70 years of age, has done something that can only be described as phenomenal. As we rode mile after mile it was a real joy for me to sit on my dad’s wheel and enjoy drafting off of him, rather than the other way around. I was very proud of him as we rode the last few miles, past the fields and the trees and the increasing signs that the seashore was close by — the sandy soil, the fresh breeze, the inevitable increase in claptrap tourism. Our final stop before the beach was at the Assateague national seashore visitor station, a brief respite ostensibly to figure out where my mother had disappeared to in the van. In reality I think it was an attempt by both of us to savor the last moments of the ride and, in some poignant manner, prevent it from finishing. It’s likely that we’ll never do something like this again, not together anyway, something that at that moment needed no articulation.

Both my father and I were happy that the end had come, as the grind of the previous 45 days had taken its inevitable toll on us and on my mother. But at the same time the last day had a sad quality to it, as all of us knew that something special was coming to an end. I remarked to my parents that the three of us hadn’t spent this much time together since I was living at home in high school, whereupon my mother said that even then we didn’t have this much time because all of us were working. It was then that I realized that I probably hadn’t spent this kind of time with my parents since I was a toddler, a thought that just about brought me to my knees.

I must say that the final mile was bittersweet, the culmination of many years of planning and six weeks of doing. The distance from the visitor station to the beach took us over a bridge spanning the distance between the mainland and barrier island. Fittingly, the bridge was outfitted with a gorgeous, separated bike/ped bridge, perhaps the nicest single piece of infrastructure we encountered in the entire country. The final procession to the beach and the water was a mirror image of the same procession in Oregon, back on June 8, on the eve of the first big day over the coastal range. As we did to the Pacific, my father and I lifted our bikes onto our shoulders and trudged through the heavy sand down to the water’s edge, past a line of gawking sunbathers who, as they did at the beach in Oregon, weren’t sure exactly what it was that we were doing. Only one gent figured it out, a middle-aged man who came over and excitedly shook our hands as he confirmed his suspicion that we were completing the journey of a lifetime.

Dad and I then proceeded to perform the ritual of the American cross-country tour, the dip of our front wheels in the Atlantic, the symbolic complement to the rear-wheel-in-the-Pacific dip we had performed many weeks before. After all three of us posed for photos, my father popped a small bottle of champagne, which he had purchased not ten miles up the road at our last liquid-replenishment stop. We toasted to each other, then to Ian, and finally to all who had come along for a part of the journey. Finally, my dad and I — still clad in full cycling outfits — bodysurfed the waves of the Atlantic. This was perhaps the single most joyful experience of the entire ride. The Atlantic’s water was cool and salty and inviting, the waves large enough to push the body around but small enough to be manageable. I could have stayed in the water for the entire day, and I know my dad felt the same.

We returned to my apartment that same night. After a few days’ rest, my parents left on Friday, a bit more than 48 hours ago as of this writing. All of us had to get back to our real lives, me to my dissertation, them to their neglected house and friends and varied pursuits. As they pulled away in the van, I knew that yet another milestone had been reached in my life, one that, to be frank, was not entirely pleasant. True, we had done something that I will never forget and that will make for many good stories down through the years.¬† We had seen America in a way that few have a chance to do. We had spent much good time with one another. Yet such a thing will never occur again in my lifetime, the chance to do something so unusual and intense and lengthy and to do all of it with my parents, and parts of it with other family and friends. Life, as my father used to say when discussing the temporary nature of his installation art, consists of a series of impermanent experiences. These experiences are summed into an existence. They are embodied in individuals’ memories or in a few cases documented, partially, in the written word or some kind of visual recording. But the sad truth is that nothing is permanent, much as we try to make it so.

I haven’t written in quite some time, as things were somewhat chaotic during both the last week of the trip as well as upon my return to D.C. However, my plan is to rectify this problem with a bit of writing-in-hindsight reports, with this entry as the first. The last week of riding in particular yielded some very interesting experiences — the steep, unyielding hills of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, the danger of the coal trucks of this region, the near-miracle that was the Great Allegheny Passage Trail, the ride over the Eastern Continental Divide (which my father insists is an oxymoron), the majesty of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water, the beautiful chaos of the C&O Canal Trail, the strange and moody Paw Paw Tunnel, my mother’s increasing apprehension about a Deliverance-style encounter, lunch at Antietam Creek, and our return to the big city.

Until then!

Three guys and a gal

August 6, 2008

We are now home and it feels great to be here; to sleep in our own bed, to cook our own meals and in our own kitchen, to walk in our own yard, and to relax in our own furniture and in our own way. I must confess, though, being here is not without mixed feelings.

I know I’ll never experience anything quite like this journey again. How unique it was¬†to be able to travel this way across the United States; to bike the most secondary of¬†rural roads,¬†to drive through the smallest of rural towns,¬†to engage with all kinds of people from all walks of life, and to experience the wide variety of geological masterpieces and terrain¬†this country has to offer.¬† There are¬†places we saw and things we did that will never be replicated.¬†To think I’ll¬†be driving on primary major roads again to get me where I need to go saddens me. These roads, in many ways, have taken¬†those unique experiences from us.

But the thing that made this journey so special for me was the three men I kept company with 24/7.¬† What a great group of guys.¬†They¬†had¬†a terrific sense of humor which kept¬†me laughing much of the time, even when the stress level rose to¬†“oh dear, now what do we do?” Someone always seemed to break through with appropriate humor. They kidded each other and also with me. Certain words were bantered about like mumser, and schlepping, and butt butter, and sissy spandex,¬†and cattywumpus, and these words were used over and over again throughout the trip.

Each¬†worked hard¬†and rode some days until they couldn’t turn the pedals anymore. I especially remember the cold, rainy weather in Oregon, where they ended the day full of mud, tired and wondering what they’d gotten themselves into. I can see them climb the highest of mountains, hurting because of the height and thin air. Or when they rode the flats through intense heat and high winds. All this while I sat in¬†a comfortable,¬†air-conditioned van outfitted with a Sirius radio. I wasn’t sure whether I should feel sorry for them, be embarrassed because I wasn’t out there suffering too,¬†or tell myself this was¬†the condition of my job. I confess, I chose the latter.

Our grandson, Ian, was such a delight to have along. Being 17, then 18 years, helped keep the energy of the trip on a whole other level.  His humor, his use of electronic gadgets, his music, and his teenage personality delighted us and gave us all fodder to use with and against him. All in fun, you understand. He could ride like the wind and often found himself way out in front only to be reminded to stay close for safety reasons. And he looked terrific in his spandex outfit with many looks from young gals observing us along the way. We missed him when he left the ride but we felt his presence when dipping into the Atlantic. A job well done, Ian

Then there’s our son Peter, whom we were¬†constantly with for¬†two months. We haven’t spent this much¬†consistent time with him¬†since he was a preschooler. What a¬†treat that was. He was as serious and sure of this ride as anyone and was determined to finish. He was the out-front guy, the one his dad drafted. Dan would always say what a great rider he had become and what a great pace-setter.

Peter has a very dry sense of humor. He would kid, conjole, and tell funny stories that broke us up. He had nicknames for the most unexpected and mundane things. But surrounding this humor was a serious side as well and when he felt passionate about something, he let us know. These convictions always brought about interesting conversations and sometimes, long nights. We knew he gave up a lot of time that would have been spent working on his dissertation.  But he stuck with the trip and we appreciated that sacrifice. I might have copped out altogether had I that kind of responsibility. Thanks dear Peter for putting up with us for this long and the very best to you, always.

And then there’s hubby Dan. The organizer, the leader of the pack, the motivator, the determined one. He worked long and hard hours for 2 years on this trip. I swear he knew every road, every crevice, every mountain, and every town we were going to ride¬†on or going through. He contacted bike clubs, state transportation departments, and individuals to get their opinions on roads and trails. We had more maps than AAA and all organized according to the daily trek of the ride. And then, during the trip and in the¬† evening, he’d double check his maps and charts and software and have us ready to go the next day with a definite destination in mind. We were dependent on him for the roads to take and without him and this knowledge,¬†we would still be wandering around the U.S.¬†trying to get to the Atlantic.

Another area of expertise was nutrition. Dan studied this like he did the roads. He bought books on nutrition for bikers, he consulted with two nutritionists (both extended family members), he talked with other bikers, and he read labels¬†on foods and beverages to get the best for the trip. In fact, he bought such a huge box of energy bars that 90% of them are still uneaten. They all ate so well that no one lost weight during the first half of the trip. (Two out of the three wanted to lose something!)¬†It wasn’t until they recognized this¬†fact that they decided to eat¬†less and normal foods. They ate this way¬†for the rest of the trip. This helped and they had as much energy as before. And they lost some weight and ended up looking great in those outfits!

Dan was the motivator too. He’d be the first one up in the morning, without fail,¬†and the cheerleader, always reminding us to get out on the roads before it got too hot. I can remember many mornings when we all wished he’d¬†lay off, get lost, go eat breakfast, do something so that we could stay in bed and sleep. But not so. He was determined to ride and held his ground on that point. Of course, we’re glad he did or we wouldn’t be home yet!

For me, it was great to see my husband be this involved with his son and grandson. It was a bond that grew richer with every mile. And the¬†memories they share will remain¬†a lifetime. I was so proud of him as a rider too. He never once wanted to quit or not ride on any given day. And he rode all those miles without having to stop because he couldn’t do it. When he stopped to rest¬†it was to eat, refresh his drink, or relax and not¬†because¬†he couldn’t pedal anymore.

I feel so fortunate to have¬†been¬†their support driver. I confess, I had trepidations in the beginning not knowing what I was in for. Could I deal with three men? Could they deal with me? Would I get lost, dent the van, not feed them properly, get bored, miss golf (yes, I did), and miss home. I can honestly say,¬†all¬†these concerns went unfounded (except driving in the Appalachians). I loved every minute of being with them. They treated me like one of the guys to the point I had to remind them that I really wasn’t one of them. It was a busy time but delightful¬†with experiences I will cherish forever.

Someone asked me if I’d do this again. I knew the answer right off. Without hesitating, I said son Peter and I had a conversation about this exact same thing. As a result, Peter promised me that if he ever plans on doing something this outrageous again, like sailing solo around the world, he¬†would not tell his dad about the plan.¬† Guess that answered¬†her question.

Love you guys

Jean, Mom, Grammy

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