Lea's Foundation

About Lea's Foundation
In 1998, Lea Michele Economos, a young woman who died of leukemia at the age of 28, made a dying wish to her parents that others would not face the hardships she encountered by finding a cure for this disease. Her family started this charity to carry on that wish. Today, Lea’s Foundation takes an active role in finding a cure for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and myeloma and to better the lives of people living with these diseases. At the UCONN Health Center, the Lea’s Foundation Center for Hematologic Disorders sponsors research in this field. A new program covers the cost of bone-marrow testing to help recruit life-saving transplants for patients. Also, annual scholarships are given to children with leukemia who are planning to attend nursery school. For more information on other projects carried out by Lea’s Foundation, please visit their website at www.LeasFoundation.org.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

One more for good measure...

As the three of us went our separate ways to enjoy the remains of this summer, I got to thinking I should keep traveling. Cape Cod sounded nice, so I called a few friends and we planned to meet out there for the weekend of the 13th. Of course, it would have felt wrong to drive there, so the trusty Cannondale was in line for its last century (and change). Tom and Greg both had plans for the weekend but one of our classmates, John Paul Shoup was game for an epic ride.

On the morning of August 12th, I left Farmington, CT at 6:00AM sharp heading north toward Simsbury and Bloomfield. After crossing the CT river (using the bike path on the Bissell Bridge aka I-291), I met John Paul 35 miles into my ride at Mitchell's Coffee House in Rockville. We made good time despite the hills of eastern CT and enjoyed what must be the nicest town in the northeast corner: Pomfret. The "Welcome to Rhode Island" sign was a familiar sight on Rt 44 and the gloriously flat roads from there to Centerville on Cape Cod would prove to be 100% necessary. I thought I was fairly well healed after 9 days off the bike, but my knees had other things in mind after the 50 mile mark. Whoever invented ibuprofen, John Paul and I would like to thank you for making the rest of that day possible. Shortly after passing through a few relatively shady streets in Pawtucket, RI, MA greeted us with nothing more than a change in the prevalent license plates going by (admittedly, Tremont Road isn't exactly your average Interstate). Nevertheless, we pushed on toward the Cape and John Paul's first century ride. Once we got onto Rt 6A, the smell of the seawater started to drive home that my coast to coast trip was coming to an end. Thankfully, 6A is also an incredibly scenic road...fully necessary at that point because 1.2 grams of ibuprofen wasn't getting the job done. 13 hours after I started, we arrived in Centerville where Christina's parents graciously offered their house for us to stay. In total, the day ended at mile 165. More impressively, John Paul's first 100+ mile day ended at 130...an incredible leap from his previous long of 42...well done sir.

The next morning, John Paul and I set out for Chatham's Lighthouse beach so I could dip my front tire in the open expanse of the Atlantic. More of Rt 6A was followed by a hefty section of the Cape Cod Rail Trail, both of which helped to ease the pain lingering from the day before. As the Atlantic came into view, I couldn't help but think back to our first day in San Francisco as we dipped our rear tires into the bay near the Golden Gate. The distance in between still seemed unfathomable. As my friends arrived, the final pictures were taken and a bit more closure was at hand. I would like to thank Adam, Noelle, Cait, Nick, and Christina for making the trip out to the cape to be part of the end of my journey. Also, thank you John Paul for fitting those two days into your schedule...I'll remember those rides as some of the best.

Seeing as this is my first and likely last post here, I would also like to thank Tom and Greg for going on this amazing coast to coast journey with me. It wouldn't have been anywhere near as good without you guys. This was easily the best summer of my life, so thanks for making it happen. I would also like to thank Lea's Foundation, our sponsors, and all of our supporters. This trip wouldn't exist without all of you...thank you for your hard work and generosity.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Full Circle

8.1.11 - State College, PA to Bloomsburg, PA - 95mi

Our start to the day was blissfully late. Breakfast didn't start till 7 so our bodies were left to slumber until a civil hour for rising was met. It bothered James to no end that we would be watching the sunrise from our beds instead of our bikes but both Greg and I relished the extra hours of sleep. Once up though, we were treated to a breakfast of such class that had we had such luxury any earlier in the trip, we would have been loathe to return to the standards of plastic wrapped pastries and re-heated pre-made scrambled eggs. We dined on foods actually prepared for us that day and enjoyed a order of Penn State sticky buns of delicious plate-licking quality. The restaurant served breakfast until 11am and if we could have had our way, we would have stayed and eaten until security escorted fully satiated bodies from the building but our bikes beckoned and we could no longer delay the inevitable start to our daily journey.

The route we had mapped for the day began with a bike trail leading conveniently from our hotel to the street allowing us to short cut the longer route by which we entered. We cycled out and were a bit dismayed to find that the route wasn't a dedicated bike trail but instead more of a worn path through the adjacent fields. Never-the-less, we pushed on through the chest high grass, our wheels rolling slowly over the uneven ground, careful to avoid with our tires the thorny bushes that reached out to pull at our jerseys and shorts. With naught but the trampled grass to lead our way, we were forced to proceed slowly and keep a careful eye out for any diversion from the trail. Confounding our progress were a number of side trails that seemed promising at the outset but inevitably led to dead ends. Our progress ground to a halt when we found our route blocked by the edge of a wooded area interspersed with prickly bushes and beyond that, a 5ft tall chain link fence. We dismounted and hunted on foot for any sign of a trail through and, having failed to find that, we sought any route through, around or over our obstacle. We looked far and wide but in the end, we were stymied by both man and nature and forced to retreat. We retraced our route back to the hotel, cleaned the grassy debris hanging from bags, chains, and derailleurs and dejectedly set off on the long road out.

Having spent over an hour bush whacking like Bear Grylls for our non-existent trail (and subsequently cursing the map-makers at Google), we were now only just beginning our ride with the sun already high in the sky. We cursed our overindulgence and regretted our faith in the anonymous creators of Google's walking directions but that still did not change the fact that we had somewhere to be and many miles to get there. We were thrown a curve ball and our only option was to deal with it.

James guided us out of State College, albeit not on our preferred route but we were on our way either way. Luckily for us, today's route took us through the heart of Amish country and our spirits were lifted by the pleasant, peaceful surroundings. Grassy hills rolled around us, dotted occasionally by barns and homesteads. You could almost feel the pace of the world slow and indeed we saw evidence of this as we passed horse-drawn buggies, dress and bonnet clad-women and signs for such things as saddle shops and bridle repair (note: not bridal repair, although this does spark an interesting idea...).

Our afternoon was once again interrupted by thunderstorms and we sat in Subway weighing our options. The late start plus the afternoon delay meant that we still had 40mi to ride with the strong chance of thunderstorms continuing through the night. It was already 3pm and the thought of at least 3 more hours riding through the rain was less than enviable so we looked for alternate plans. We came up with the idea of riding 10 more miles to the next town and making up the difference tomorrow. The weather looked perfect for tomorrow so instead of marching through the storms and arriving late at night, wet and tired, we chose to cut our day short, ride for a bit longer in the rain and rest up for a long day tomorrow.

Our good friends and unwavering supporters, Jerri and Larry at Rideout (donators of the seats James and I used) wanted to get us a room before we finished the ride and were very generous again to come through when we needed a bit of help and called ahead to secure us a room the Holiday Inn. Back on our bikes, we had to ride through a bit of rain and, of course, climb a long, demanding hill but we soon reached our hotel. At least I thought it was our hotel. It turned out that I had gotten directions on my iphone for the wrong hotel, the Hampton instead of the Holiday Inn (perhaps a bit of wishful thinking on my part) and we had overshot our destination by about 5 mi. We again consulted the google map on my phone and located a street route that was as direct a route as we could manage. However, for the second time that day, we were duped my google maps and found ourselves staring at two signs: "road closed" and "no trespassing". The rain had stopped but we were far from dry and our collective patience was wearing thin. We found ourselves at the sports fields of Bloomsburg University and I was able to get directions from a couple (alumni of the University and wonderfully nice and helpful people, the husband on his own road to recovery after cancer treatment) while James and Greg got confirming directions from another woman. After our consultations, we made it safely to our hotel without further complications.
What started out as a great day took an unexpected sour turn but ended on a high note as we enjoyed the hospitality, from afar, of Larry and Jerri (aka Team Rideout).

8.2.11 - Bloomsburg, PA to Matamoras, PA - 119mi

Dressed and geared up ready to go before Greg and I could even roll ourselves out of bed, James, not keen to repeat the mistakes of yesterday, made sure we got an early start to our day. The weather outside was wonderfully cool but also oppressively humid and we were hit early with some big, heavy climbs. Luckily, James had pre-checked our route and assured us that the biggest and toughest climbs were now behind us. Fortunately for him, he was right. Although we did have some modest climbing still to come, the worst was behind us.

The climbing that did lay ahead of us was made easier by the changing scenery as we ascended into the Pocono Mountains, the landscapes of which were reminiscent of the alpine routes we rode out west in the Sierras and Rockies. As we rode, we were transported back to the early days of our ride when our legs were fresh and our eyes worked harder than our legs to take in the beautiful sights of the pine and fir tree forests. Unfortunately, no snow-capped peaks pierced the horizon but we hardly in a position to complain and in any event, we enjoyed the ride immensely. As we traveled deeper into the Poconos, we knew we were approaching the heart of the mountains when signs for outdoor stores and mountain recreation became more frequent than speed limit signs. Our minds loved riding through the mountains and forests, ingesting the sights, sounds and smells that only come with altitude, as did our bodies which were no longer starved for oxygen as we pumped our legs up each climb.

Our trip through the mountains was all to brief and we were soon descending back down into the present. Our journey through the mountains was over but the land was not yet done showing off its beauty. From the Poconos, we entered the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation area. In addition to a beautifully scenic and mostly flat 35mi stretch of road, it hosts a myriad of outdoor activities and 27mi of the Appalachian Trail. Cruising the asphalt we saw historical sites dating back to colonial times while deer and heron were frequently spotted in the surrounding woods and flood plains.

At the Water Gap's eastern border lies the town of Milford and as we passed by the open patio of a local hotel/pub, we were summoned over by an enthusiastic group enjoying drinks in the late afternoon air. It turned out that they were in the area doing a 4 day bike tour of the area and found the hotel, with its attached pub, the perfect place to end their day. They were excited to talk to us about our ride and we were grateful for the opportunity to hang out with like-minded people. We swapped tales and exchanged tips of what to expect from the roads; they had just ridden the roads we were heading onto and we had just come through the Water Gap, which they were heading through tomorrow. They offered us drinks if we stayed to chat but somehow, we (foolishly?) turned down their offer. Our rationale was that once we sat down, we would never get back up so instead we chose to finish the last few miles to our hotel and rest there. Before we left though, the group, dismayed we wouldn't be joining them, gave us some money and made us promise to enjoy a few drinks on them once we finished.

Making good on a promise

Once we reached the hotel, former Dean of Admissions Dr. Keat Sanford, a supporter of the Coast to Coast ride for years, kindly booked us a room. We truly appreciated this as after a long day of riding, having to ride all over town trying to find a hotel willing to help us out can be incredibly draining, so having this all taken care of was a blessing we hope we can some day repay.

We quickly changed and headed to the attached restaurant. We spoke to the manager of the restaurant and asked if they could help us out in any way with dinner. Unfortunately, she wasn't capable of making that decision but while we were speaking, a gentleman we had met and spoke with earlier outside came up and offered to pay for our dinner. The man, Ted, had spent time with us when we arrived at the hotel and was keen to hear about our ride. He said his wife was a avid rider who had fought her own battle with cancer and he was more than kind to buy us dinner.

While we ate, James' dad Bob drove down from the Watertown, CT area to meet us and pick up some of our gear and take it back home so we could ride with less weight back to Connecticut. We had a fun evening with him as we talked and ate before we all eventually turned in for the night.

8.3.11 - Matamoras, PA to Morris, CT - 108mi

Our last day of major riding. We'd been dreaming of this day for the last 6 weeks, through mountains, desert, thunderstorms, and heat. Today we would finish our ride at the home of the Alex's, back in familiar lands. We were all eager to get going and nobody complained about the early start (especially since we were fueled by fresh blueberries from the Alex's farm, the Evergreen Berry Farm). The weather was fantastically cool and clear and with our riding safely back to CT in Bob's car instead of on our bikes, we were able to move quickly through the hills of New York.

Our legs were now powered by excitement and adrenaline as we neared home since we had nearly exhausted any energy reserves our legs may have held. What energy we were able to create from the food we ate was quickly used but we were driven by the thoughts of home, loved ones and the prospect of an evening spent at the home of the Alex's where we knew hearty food and girlfriends waited to greet us (note: the order in which those last two items were listed in no way reflects the relative importance of either).

But before we could relax in comfort, our journey had one more curve to throw us. This time, it came in the literal form of a curve in the road. We had just climbed Wingdale Hill, a miserably long, steep, grueling hill and we were cruising down the steep windy backside, mere miles from the Connecticut border. James headed down the hill while I followed and Greg brought up the rear. We spaced ourselves out for safety so that should the rider in front slow or stop for any reason, the rider behind wouldn't end up as a rear passenger on the same bike. We proceeded down the mountain in our usual fashion: as fast as we could. As is typical with roads in this part of the country, the dense, thick woods encroach on the roads and hover over, watching intently all who pass by. It was an awesome ride down, with small twists and turns that we navigated with ease while the wind whipped by. All of a sudden though, a switchback appeared as the road almost doubled back on itself. Fortunately, James was able to maneuver through the turn safely but becuase of the distance we had given each other, I didn't see James head into the turn, nor did I see the road signs signaling the turn because of the woods and trees that leaned over the road. The first hint of danger I saw was the giant black arrow on a background of yellow that indicated the severity of the turn, but by then it was too late. I sat up from my crouched position and squeezed the brakes with all the strength I had but my brakes, not the strongest to begin with and soft from 6 weeks worth of wear, we ill-equipped to adequately slow me down. I tried to make the turn but quickly realized my speed was far to great and changed my priorities from making the turn to minimizing the damage I was sure to incur. I struggled to remain in control of the bike but as the road dropped off and gave way to a gravel area, I began to lose that battle. I looked ahead at saw a big embankment with a very big dropoff on the other side and understood that my immediate future did not include me remaining upright on the bike. In the gravel, I quickly lost control of the bike and tumbled to my right with both my bike and I coming to a dusty, grinding halt.

The aftermath. In the bike shop getting my wheel fixed.

As I came skidding to halt, Greg came careening through the same turn and off into the gravel as well, although he was able to make a safer and more graceful dismount from his bike. He immediately came over to me and checked to see if I was ok as James doubled back and also came to help. I was up and dusting myself off, cursing the road and myself but soon the reality of our trip came back into focus and we began checking the bike for damage. Our inspection revealed that my back tire now failed to complete its rotation in an organized manner, instead wandering back and forth in its path like a drunken hobo. Greg informed me that my rim was, in the parlance of cycling, "tacoed" and thus un-rideable. I now faced the prospect of having my journey ended less than 10mi from the Connecticut and 60mi from the Health Center.

A snapshot of the map of the road we were on. Note the angle in the road. That's where I crashed and Greg managed to safely come to a halt.

The turn I failed to make

We were miles away from any town, let alone one with a bike shop and our cell phones were working overtime to find any kind of signal. We were at a loss as to what to do next when Chris, an employee from a correctional institute nearby, pulled up in his truck and asked if he could help. As we had been passed by dozens of cars (including one that followed Greg and I down the hill and watched both of us careen of the road) and none of them stopped to see if we were ok, we were more than relieved to accept Chris' help. He was on his way to New Milford, CT so I put my bike in the back of his truck and he drove me down to Straight Line Bikes where Mike, the owner, took care of me. He replaced the rim and cleaned up the rest of the bike (including the brakes) and even gave me a lift back up the road to meet Greg and James. He stuck around and gave us advice on which roads to take to minimize the amount of riding we'd have to do and also which hills to avoid. His help and care for us went beyond anything we could have asked or even hoped for so my thanks go out to him.

Fittingly, the rest of our ride was done in the rain as the grey clouds above sprinkled us from above but now that we were on James' home turf, he guided us through the hills and along the country roads until we saw the Evergreen Berry Farm sign and as we rolled through the fields and past the fruit, we were overcome with a sense of relief. We'd made it to Connecticut, mostly in one piece. On our 45th day, we were welcomed into the Alex's home where we showered, cleaned the road from our bodies, sat down for the best meal of the trip. We were each joined by our respective girlfriends and we spent the evening reminiscing, recalling tales of the road and catching up on local happenings. James treated us to a great firework display before both Greg and I traded the hospitality of the Alex's for the comfort of our own homes. We left our bikes and gear at the Alex's as we planned on returning in the morning to complete our ride to the UCONN Health Center.

8.4.11 - Morris, CT to Farmington, CT - 25mi

Greg and I returned to the Evergreen Berry Farm around noon and gathered all our gear together for our final ride to the Health Center. We wanted to arrive around 6pm so that friends and family would have time to leave work and meet us at the finish, so we planned our ride accordingly. The weather couldn't have been better. Mid 80s and low humidity. We thought back to the baking heat of the midwest and were happy to be rid of that. Our route mostly followed Rt. 6 to Farmington, which save for a couple of hills, is almost perfectly flat. We thought back to the mountains we crossed: the Sierras, the Rockies, the Poconos. We thought back to the never ending hills of Nebraska and leg-battering hills coming into St Louis. We pedaled along the roads relieved to have only minimal climbing to do today. We took note of the noticeable lack of a head wind and we took ourselves back to all the days were we struggled to make any progress in the forward direction; the days when struggled to go downhill; the days when dug deep and found within ourselves the fortitude to push through any and all obstacles to get to our destination. Today was the culmination of not just a physical journey but also a mental one. We had pushed ourselves over 4000mi, through everything that mother nature could throw at us and over every obstacle the land put in our way. We were stronger not just physically but mentally. We left confident that we could do this but we arrived knowing that we did this.

We arrived a few minutes after 6 at the academic entrance to the UCONN Health Center and there to greet us was a crowd of friends and family that we hadn't seen for the better part of two months. We were showered with applause, cheers and confetti (which I'm still finding in some of my gear) and a wave of relief came over us. We hugged family and friends, smiles cemented on our face not just from the pleasure of seeing familiar faces but in the pride that we felt at accomplishing such a feat.

We took our pictures, talked to everyone gathered, and as the sun began to fade into the evening, we each separated with the realization that our journey had come to an end. We still have one more ride to make to the shoreline to dip our tires in the Atlantic which we hope we won't be making alone. Once we have some time to rest, we will make the ceremonial trip from the Health Center to Hammonassett beach, joined by any friends and family that would like to bike alongside us.

46 days ago we left Connecticut and arrived in San Francisco. On Aug 4th we arrived back in Farmington, stronger, more experienced and with the tan lines to prove it. We saw some staggeringly beautiful places and likewise some staggeringly boring places. We are filled with stories and memories from a trip that we will most likely never repeat. Along the way we met so many incredible people and found help and generosity in every place we stopped. For all this, we are grateful. And we are happy to be home.

8.5.11 - Morris, CT - 0mi

The Alex's were kind enough to hold a final celebration at their home open to all friends and family. When we arrived, we were able to meet all the people who had helped us with and without our knowledge and we spent the evening enjoying great food and fantastic company. We shared our stories and tried to answer any and all questions to come our way.

As the sun set, a tower of wood, prepared by friends of James, was lit and the ensuing bonfire was enjoyed late into the night. We sat around with beers in hand, marveling at the flames and watching the embers dance into the sky. The grass was cool as we sat and watched. The conversations were relaxing and time seemed to melt away.

As the flames slowly flickered and faded, we thanked everyone who came out to see and support us. We truly appreciated the kindness and support of everyone and we wouldn't have made it out of Connecticut if it wasn't for the each and every person there.

I'd like to thank Greg, our mechanic, for helping keep all our bikes running smoothly. He's great with a wrench and knows his way around a bike.

And thanks to James, our route finder. His skills with a map and his manipulation of google maps got us through some of the toughest spots on routes that were much easier and more scenic than the alternatives.

You guys made this trip what it was.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


7.29.11 - Cambridge, OH to Washington, PA - 88mi

Our last 16 days of riding have all been over 100 mi so when we looked at the map and saw that our next stop would be less than 90mi from our start, there was rejoicing. We hoped the short day would provide our legs with modest break and allow them to catch up to our steady pace. Our steady progression across the midwest and into northern territories was beginning to take its toll.

The afternoon weather report for Washington called for afternoon showers so much to our dismay, James' decree came down that we were to rise early and try to beat the showers. There was grumbling in the morning but the sluggish movements gave way, eventually, to the hustle of morning preparations. We hit the road in the early morning light, greeted eagerly by our ever-present companion, humidity.

Chasing the sun, we headed east and soon picked up a quiet bike trail. Even in these early hours, we found it to be far from empty but we were glad to see active people taking advantage of this resource. The tree lined trail gave us shade and the early morning songbirds provided a pleasant chorus to the cadence of our pedals.

We left the trail and headed into the hills along country backroads. The narrow, curvy, wooded two lane roads were a welcomed change to the open straight roads through the corn fields we'd become accustomed to and we were able to let our minds wander as were rolled along from town to town.

A quick side note: Ohio is known as the birthplace of aviation but they should be focusing more on terra firma because the state of thier roads is horrendous. They've laid the roads out over beautiful scenic lands but failed to maintain them in any recognizable manner. My lasting impression from there will be the monotonous Ca-thunk, ca-thunk, ca-thunk as my wheels bounce over potholes and clumps of hastily dropped asphalt.

On that note, we left a town called Quaker City and headed up once more into the hills. As we cruised along the top of the hills, we were gifted incredible views of the surrounding valleys; waves of varying shades of green that rippled out to the horizon. Almost lost in their beauty, we all of a sudden found our paved route ending, replaced with a gravel and dust road covered with big, pointy, spiteful rocks just waiting to take a chunk out of our tires or sending us sprawling to the ground. We cautiously proceeded along and down the road all the while hearing the ping and crunch of stones under our tires and waiting for the hiss of air from our tires. We reached a crossroad, saw gravel in all directions and decided to consult our map for the easiest route out. We chose the road that brought us back to the asphalt the quickest despite the fact that it was not the most direct path to our destination. We just wanted to get out quickly before any damage could be done.

What followed was a case of out of the frying pan, into the oven as we escaped the clutches of the gravel road but found ourselves climbing a monsterously steep and long hill. Not only that, but the sun was now high in the sky and we were bathed with the hot, near mid-day rays. Sweat dripping, chests heaving, legs aching, we made it to the top and while the road continued to pitch up and down, none we as severe as that and we managed to work our way into Elm Grove, WV for lunch.

We made our usual Subway stop and began the daily routine of asking the manager if they could help us out with lunch. While the manager went to check with the owner, a guy named Eric quietly came up to us and said that he'd overheard our converstation and that he'd be willing to cover the meal. We were taken aback by his generosity and asked if he'd had anyone in his life with cancer and he replied that he hadn't, he was simply impressed with what we were doing and wanted to help. We took him up on his offer and spent a while talking to him. It turned out, Eric was on his way to Cincinnati to visit a lady friend and the two of them were going to take in a production at the opera that evening. He was an incredibly nice guy who we thoroughly enjoyed talking to and we wished him well on the endeavor.

The rest of our day was fairly uneventful. The hills continued to come at us and as we crossed the tiny sliver of West Virginia that seemed to wedge itself between Ohio and Pennsylvania we pushed through the humidity and the heat. As we move north, the heat is not nearly as high as in the midwest, but of course, as has been the case with the rest of our trip, this area was seeing near record temps. Luckily for us, we'd been forged in the fires of Missouria and Illinois and the north just wasn't bringing the kind of heat that it takes to slow us down.

We pulled in to Washington, PA and found a room at the America's Best Value Inn just as the skies darkened and the rains came. Safe and dry in our room, we were able to relax, enjoy a bit of dinner and rest our weary legs.

7.30.11 - Washington, PA to Ebensburg, PA - 99mi

Our morning started well with a great breakfast and while we ate, we stuck up a converstation with a guy named Carl, a former Navy SEAL turned runner turned mountain biker. Living out now in California, we traded stories with him about our travels and what it's like to put in such long miles, day after day. It was a real pleasure talking to such a friendly guy and it helped start the day off well.

But, then a heavy fog welcomed us as we pulled out of the hotel. The local weather said the humidity was 98%. We were soaked to the bone within half an hour of riding. Wonderful way to start the ride.

The fog shrouded the hills and visibility was less than 100 yards, giving us the feel of riding through some unexplored land. Cars would appear and dissappear like ghosts as we rode into the unknown. It was an otherwordly experience and we quietly rode through the silent morning.

The fog helped keep the sun's heat at bay for the better part of the morning, but we soon found ourselves under the open sky as we continued along the never ending progression of hills. Our route had flavors of highway T, the diabolically steep and hilly section of road leading into St. Louis (which is the yardstick to which every section of road will from now on be compared) and we find ourselves longing for the gentle, laid back, rolling hills of Ohio (except of course, the crappy road conditions). The hills here in PA have a much different personality. They are angry and impatient, eager to climb to the top of each hill and get down the other side.

As we ride today, we notice that there is a remarkable lack of energy in our legs. They've got all the snap and pop of an overstretched rubber band. What we could have easily ascended two weeks ago now takes ages as we inch our way up the sloping road, legs spinning as we crank in our granny gear. We still marvel at the beauty surrounding us as we wind through the country side but our elation is muted as we face each new climb.

Our wonderful back roads eventually dumped us out onto Rt 22, a major thorofare running east out of Pittsburg and we were a bit relieved because with major roads like this, you don't typically get the steep, frequent undulations of the road like you see in country lanes. We began to pick up the pace a bit until we turned a bend and came face to face with the longest climb any of us can remember. Honestly, the cars at the top were tiny dots, indistinguishable from each other. It was a mental gutshot to be staring up at such a daunting climb but with no other option, we simply had to slog our way up. It took us 25min to ascend the three and a half mile long hill and we sat at the top, gased and exhausted tried to recover. The view from the top was amazing and we looked out at the surrounding hills but with fatigue weighing heavy, we had little time to enjoy it.

Massive hill

With such a monsterous climb behind us, we thought that the hardest would most definitely be behind us. Again, we were wrong. One more torturous climb awaited us, eaqually long and equally steep. Again, all we could do was soldier on and as we crested the top, we were able to look down ahead of us and realize our destination was only a few miles on. With the sun already into its downward swing, we had little time to waste. We had tried earlier to call ahead for a room but with several events happening on the same weekend, we were left to scramble for lodging.

Our hope was to find a patch of grass and simply tent it for the night so when we saw a field behind a local hotel, the Red Carpet Inn, we swung by to inquire if they'd allow us to camp. We gave them our story and to our surprise, with only two rooms left for the night, they gave us one. Our outlooks on the day immediately changed and we were overjoyed at the prospect of now being able to shower and sleep in a bed.

The hotel adjoined a separately owned restaurant, the Cottage Restaurant, and after speaking with the owner, Steve, he kindly offered to cover our meal, plus a round of beers. Needless to say, we were elated. The beer was glorious and the meals excellent. Afterwards, we hung around the bar, talking to some of the locals who were interested in our ride. They turned out to be fantastically kind and friendly and welcoming. We'd been warned by the riders of past years that as you head east, people tend to get more cynical and finding help gets much harder, but so far we've been incredibly lucky to have met such generous and caring people. With only a few days left on our trip, we hope our luck holds out.

7.31.11 - Ebensburg, PA to State College, PA - 68mi

One of the best days of riding yet.

We left our hotel with a slight chill hanging in the air. The oppressive humidity was gone and temperatures hovered in the upper 60s so we took advantage and headed out early. With the achingly long hills of yesterday still fresh in our minds, we prepared ourselves for a long day of climbing. But even before the sun's warmth could embrace the mountains, we found ourselves racing down a 7mi, freshly and beautifully paved (ahem, Ohio, please note) descent to finish the first 20 mi section giving us hope that today might infact be easier than aticipated. Once at the bottom of the mountains, we followed the valley north and with little but an occasional small, easy hill to climb, we rolled at a nice clip and made great time. We came to Tyrone, PA and at this point we had to cross through a mountain pass and into the next valley over. Although this one wasn't as flat, it's scenic, winding roads more than made up for it.

The cool temps and low humidity urged us forward and we passed through the valley from pasteur lands to woodlands, farms to towns along some of the most scenic country side yet. Once again, the PennDOT showed us what was possible when you take the time to maintain the roads and all we heard as we rode was the calm whirring of tire on asphalt and we were left to take in all the sounds of nature in these quaint mountain valleys.

By late morning, we had reached State College, home of Penn State University, where James had attended and his father and grandfather before him. Greg and I fell back behind James as he led us through town and pointed out various landmarks.

Lunch was donated by Jimmy Johns, a fantastic sub shop and we followed James to the Berkery Creamery on campus for a desert. For the last week, Greg and I have heard endless stories about the quality of diary products churned out by this establishment so we were eager to put them to the test. We each had chocolate milk and ice cream and they more than lived up to the hype. Absolutely delicious.

While we were there, James had arranged for a journalist from the local newspaper, the Centre Daily Times, to meet with us. Jessica showed up just as we finished off our ice creams and we spent time talking with her. She was friendly and seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing so we were grateful to her for the coverage.

After lunch/desert, we headed out to the Penn State Conference Center/Hotel where James' parents had arranged for us to stay. After a brief stop by the football field to visit the statue of Joe Paterno (a moment of silence was observed by James out of respect for the great coach), we walked in to the lobby of the elegant hotel and were eagerly greeted by the employees. They'd been expecting us and had even put up a welcome sign for us. Their warm welcome was the perfect way to end the days ride.

Joe Pa

Old Main, Penn State

Welcoming us

While there, Josh, a photographer from the Centre Daily Times showed up to take pictures of us to accompany Jessica's story. We posed and cycled around for him and once he'd gotten all the shots, we were able to hit the showers and spend the better part of the day relaxing.

With only three days of riding left on our plate until we're back in Connecticut, and 4 until we reach the UCONN Health Center, we're looking forward to the final push in.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Starting To Feel Like Home

7.24.11 - St. Louis, MO to Flora, IL - 120 mi

The view of the St. Louis Arch and Mississippi River from the Eads Bridge.

With two whole days of rest in our legs and bellies full of food, it was time to pull ourselves away from the comfort and generosity of the Khouri family. We greatly appreciated their hospitality, robust meals, and an additional generous donation of $300 to Lea's Foundation. My aunt and uncle woke up with us at wee hours of the morning (I believe it was 4:30am) to make sure we ate well and see us off.

Our early start gave us the pleasure of seeing the sun rise over St. Louis. But after those two rest days, our legs needed a solid 15-20 miles to warm up and get back into the stroke of things. By that time we had crossed the Mississippi River into East St. Louis; what seemed like the most treacherous part of the trip yet. Fortunately, it was still early in the morning on a Sunday and we were able to pass through the city unscathed-for the most part. At one point there was a crash involving Tom and James clipping wheels, but fortunately nobody was hurt and the bikes were undamaged. The crash occurred behind me, so I didn't see the full incident. When I heard a noise I looked back just in time to see Tom bail from his bike. And with the nimbleness of a jungle cat, he hit the ground running on his feet, a fraction of a second before his trusty steed slammed head first into a telephone pole. Like a cat.

We made it to our lunch destination and just as we set upon our sandwiches, the heavy, dark clouds filled the sky and the wind picked up. In no time, a thunderstorm was upon us, but fortunately we were inside. It was a great opportunity to take our time with lunch and indulge in a little siesta while we waited out the storm. After about two hours the storm passed and we used that window of opportunity to push it the last 25 miles to Flora. The skies were still spitting a bit of rain on us during this last leg, and there were about 4 lightning strikes that were unsettling but we made it to Flora just fine.

The Flora Motel was kind enough to donate a room so we cleaned off, dried out, filled our stomachs, and hit the hay.

7.25.11 - Flora, IL to Bedford, IN - 125 mi


This morning we rolled out of Flora and, like yesterday, continued East on our old friend Rt. 50 (the same road that carried us across Nevada). However this time it was much more populated. We were grateful that the heat we had experienced the past couple weeks had subsided a bit, and we were able to better enjoy the ride. Of note, however, was our passage through the town of Washington where we stopped for lunch. Our mystical machines with their spinning wheels and strange cargo, complete with pilots in skin-tight spandex and hard hats must have been a new sight to the people of Washington. For just as a primitive society may believe a camera to steal their souls with its picture, so must the Washingtonians believe our bicycles would steal their streets from their cars, as they shouted at us to get off the road and use the sidewalk. I guess bicycles are sufficiently advanced enough for them to be considered magic. But I digress.

A fairly uneventful day, we spent much of the route riding through (wouldn't you know it) more corn and soy fields but we made it to Bedford and found a hotel at a good hour where we got to bed early with the intent of another early start in the morning.

7.26.11 - Bedford, IN to Greendale, IN - 102 mi

Thick fog in the early morning.

We rolled our bikes out of the hotel in the early morning and at first I couldn't tell if it was really foggy out or if I were still half-asleep, my eyes still glossed over and unfocused. But the above photo seems to be proof of the former. The fog hung thick for that first hour of our day and in no time flat, our jerseys were damp from the humidity and inability of our sweat to evaporate. It was the kind of fog that was cool, yet thick enough that you felt the moisture condense in your nose and lungs when you inhaled it.

It was a beautiful day on the bikes. The weather remained relatively cool compared to what we had seen during the heat wave, and the road was kind to us with its gentle rolling hills and stretches of flats. It was almost reinvigorating. We arrived in Greendale in the early afternoon and were grateful to the Riverside Inn for donating a room. After our showers and next-day-preparatory-rituals, we dined at the neighboring restaurant, Buffalo's Southwest Grill, where we were befriended by the general manager Audry, who made a donation in the form of picking up the bill for our meals, and to whom we are grateful.

7.27.11 - Greendale, IN to Chillicothe, OH - 120 mi


What a great day of riding! Our route today first took us through Cincinnati, and along the Ohio River. It was here that James had a brush up with a car and its inattentive driver and as I've scored it, he won (he was completely unscathed). Apparently the driver wasn't paying attention when merging and bumped up against the side of James and his bike with the side of his car. I can only assume that the driver deemed James to be alright from inside the car, as he felt a stop was unnecessary.


What about this great day of riding, you ask? Well after leaving the city, our route to Chillicothe was "paved" with serene farms, easy rolling hills, and moderate temperatures. Although these were cornfields and soyfields just like we had seen farther west, there was something different about them. Tom even claims to have seen horses frolicking in a pasture. Yes, frolicking. And about 20 miles outside of Chillicothe, we pulled over to watch two F-16's go into and out of dive-bombs on their training run. We looked up in awe as they buzzed the corn fields around us.

In Chillicothe we me an avid cyclist named Mike, with whom we shared stories and discussed routes before he donated $20. The Comfort Inn in town also came through for us with a donated room, and we were sure to fill ourselves at the neighboring Applebee's, for which the manage heavily discounted our bill. We retired to our rooms for a bit of R&R before the next day.

7.28.11 - Chillicothe, OH to Cambridge, OH - 100 mi

I think we have to wait another 3 years before we are allowed in here.

A third day of great riding conditions. The road was much of the same with its gentle hills but they were a bit more frequent today. The temperature also creep ed up a bit and the humidity was high all day. But we made good time getting to Zainsville, where we stopped for lunch and where two anonymous locals, after hearing about what we were doing, made a $20 donation each. Our afternoon took us through a hilly, yet tolerable, 27 miles to Cambridge where we found lodging and food for the evening.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mid west hospitality

7.15.11 - North Platte, NE to Kearney, NE - 100mi

We started the morning by being joined by a local rider named Paul, whom we had met the night before while hunting for a place to stay. He was nice enough to meet up with us in the early hours of the morning and lead us along the back roads, avoiding the major roads and the morning traffic. We rode and chatted with him for 25mi before we parted ways and Paul returned home and we continued east.

We cruised through the cornfields with the occasional train passing by with its 100+ cars stretched out behind for up to a mile. The ever-present heat and humidity slowed us in the afternoon but we soon reached Kearney and ducked into a Walgreens to cool off and sort out our lodging for the night.

We called the hotels in town and were surprised to find all were completely booked. We learned that there was a big car show in town as well as a basketball tournament and thus all the hotels were sold out. In a tough spot, we scraped our brains for any hint of an idea. After a moment, we remembered passing the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus and wondered if they might have dorms we could stay in. So we called up the Residential Life office and spoke with a wonderful woman, Gayle, who, after talking with us for a bit, waved the $12/night/person fee for staying in the dorms and allowed us to use two of the rooms for the night. We were happy to escape the heat and with an attached bathroom/shower, we couldn't be happier.

After dropping our bags in the rooms, we rode our stripped down bikes a couple miles away to a nearby Applebees where, once again, we were welcomed in by the General Manager and treated to a fantastic meal.

While we were there, we had an amazing experience. A couple overheard us speaking to the GM and another employee about the ride and why were doing it, and they walked over and handed us a very generous donation. We asked their names but they wanted it to be anonymous and thanked and hugged us for what we were doing. It was a very rare, touching moment that reminded us still of the impact we can have. Not long after that couple, we were reminded this time of who it is that we're trying to help. A man walked up to us with his son in tow and told us that his 5 year old son Connor, unsure in the moment and holding with father's leg with a firm grip, had been diagnosed with leukemia at 18months but had since been in remission. He made a donation and stayed to talk with us about our ride and Lea's Foundation and we were happy to see how well Connor was doing. We gave him high-fives before he left and he flashed us a big smile as he and his dad returned to their dinner. These were the kind of moments that make all the hills, all the heat, all the humidity worth it.

We wished all the midwest was this flat.

7.16.11 - Kearney, NE to Hebron, NE - 124mi

Another early start to the day so we could get as many miles done early as we could. The ever present wind still pushed us back while we bobbed up and down on a sea of corn and pastures.
The kindness of Nebraska was still on display as we had to stop at a house on our route because we had emptied our water supply but there was no gas station in site. We knocked on the front door and a young boy answered and said that we were welcome to use the hose to get water. While we were there, the parents returned and were pleased to help us and eager to hear about our ride. After cooling off in the shade and re-hydrating as best as possible, we bid them farewell and cycled on.

A couple of hours later, we were riding the back roads and a car pulled up next to us and passed us a cup full of ice water. It was like being a professional cyclists with a team car to pass us supplies. We had never met the couple in the car and we never saw them again and we don't know how they came to find us, but we were very impressed with their generosity.

After another long afternoon battling the heat, we pulled in to Hebron where we were generously given a room at a local motel and picked up a couple of pizzas for the evening.

6.17.11 - Hebron, NE to Falls City, NE - 124mi

Another long, hot day. The heat just doesn't let up and neither do these hills. While we aren't at the altitude we were at in the west, we still do a comparable amount of climbing. It seemed like for every mile we progressed, there was a matching hill we had to climb. None of the hills were gradual climbs and each required us to shift into a low gear and huff and puff as we climbed.

Today was much like the last. Cornfields, back roads and hot, humid weather. We treated ourselves to frozen drinks from Sonic when we arrived in Falls City, which went a long way to cooling our overheated bodies.

Sunrise over the cornfields

6.18.11 - Falls City, NE to Kansas City, MO - 115mi

What was supposed to be a 95mi day finished eventually as a 115mi day. Our destination was the house of Steve and Maureen Bramley, parents of a college friend of mine, Tyson, and with that came a planned rest day so we got another early start (by which i mean we wake around 4 and hit the road around 5:30) with the hopes of finishing in the early afternoon and enjoying the much anticipated hospitality awaiting us.

We were immediately stymied on our journey when we learned that the over-filled Missouri River had left its banks and taken over some of the road we had intended to take. We were lucky to find some local farmers who had also risen early and they directed us on which back roads to take around the flooding. They failed, however, to warn us of the hills we would face, although in hindsight, it might have been better not to know. Either way, we faced some long, very steep hills and as we crept to the top of each, we saw our ETA to the Bramely's home slip further and further away.

Our next major detour occurred when we learned that the bridge we intended to use to cross the Missouri River in Atchision, Kansas was closed due to flooding. With very few bridges in the area crossing the powerful river, we were forced south to Leavenworth, KA, home of the infamous penitentiary. Despite the conventional view that Kansas is flat, we were forced to ascend a 20mi, 2000ft hill in order to get from Atchison to Leavenworth. It felt like crossing the Continental Divide again, minus the altitude.

During a quick lunch in Leavenworth, I called Steve Bramley to touch base with him and update him on our progress. He said that he would drive out to meet us and at take our bags from us to help us out a bit. Buoyed with that bit of information, we set out through the country roads praying that the road would dodge each hill we saw and keeping a sharp eye out for Steve.

He eventually caught up with us and we eagerly piled our bags into his CRV and followed him as he led us along the country lanes, zigging and zagging as we headed to the KC International Airport where we would meet up with Maureen and together, she and Steve would herd us along the busy streets and highways of KC back to their home.

Their patience with our achingly slow pace was very much appreciated and, in the late afternoon, we rolled through the shaded neighborhood streets and came to a halt, finally, at their home. It was many hours past our original finishing time goal and we were tired and sore and ready to rest. They fed us, helped us rehydrate, fed us more, asked us about our journey so far and showed us to our beds.

7.19.11 - 0mi
Rest day. Much, much needed. We really pushed our legs and minds to make it to KC in the time we did. Our bodies demanded rest and we happily obliged.

7.20.11 - KC, MO to Rocheport, MO - 144mi

The Bramleys showed us an amazing amount of hospitality on our rest day and their generosity extended one more day when Steve offered to drive our bags out to us at the end of the day, thus allowing us to ride for the day with only one bag of necessary supplies. What would take us all day to do on a bike would take less than 2 hours in the car. It was a mildly depressing thought. On the other hand, no bags! What an amazing feeling. Our unburdened bikes zipped along the roads with an ease we had not yet felt.

The ride went well, but we hit a slight snag when we were detoured around a bridge under repair. However, we were able to adjust our route and found that we saved a few miles on the new one. With no weight to carry on our bikes, we made great progress but once again, the heat attacked with ferocity and we were forced to take shelter in a small B&B on the route. The proprietor provided us with ice water and we lay on the floor of her dining room (which was thankfully not yet open for dining so there were no guests there) and closed our eyes for a quick nap.

Semi-refreshed, we began moving about after an hour or so and with the peak of the heat passed, we saddled up again and rode on. After a couple more air conditioning stops, we eventually made it to the town of Rocheport. Rocheport sits on the Katy Trail, a gravel paved route that runs east-west 237mi across Missouri and we planned on riding the trail from Rocheport to St. Louis.

With no campsites available in Rocheport and with the high heat and humidity, the Bramley's extended their generosity even further and paid for us to stay in a B&B and then took us to eat at a beautiful restaurant over looking the Missouri River Valley. Their kindness goes beyond words and I will be forever in debt to them for the help they gave and the kindness and generosity they showered us with.

It was tough to say goodbye but with both parties facing an early morning, we said our goodbyes and turned in for the night.

7.21.11 - Rocheport, MO to St. Louis, MO - 148 mi

Another long, brutal day.
We started off on the Katy Trail from Rocheport and enjoyed the flat, winding, scenic and, most importantly, shade covered trail. We passed under rock cliffs carved by the original course of the river and through the dense wooded areas of the river valley. Most of our early morning ride was spent in the comfort of the shade and although we had our full weight again and the trail was graveled and not paved (the gravel acts like sand to slow you down, especially when it clumps up in small patches where it feels like someone's suddenly squeezing your brakes), we still made good time on the flat route. The trail opened up a bit in the afternoon and with the sun overhead, we were left with little or no shade in some areas.

As we rode in the sun, we wandered from side to side on the trail, hunting for any bit of shade we could find. We would pick up any morsel of shade like a starving man looking for scraps.

Only a couple of miles shy of our turnoff from the Katy Trail, James suffered the first wreck and drew the first blood of the trip. While trying to adjust something on the back of Greg's bike, he lost control of his and tumbled to the ground, the full force of the impact landing on his hip. The graveled trail munched his soft, sweat soaked skin and we were forced to administer trail side first aid.

James showed true grit though and was able to ride the 6 miles to the nearest gas station where Greg's aunt and uncle, Maha and Suhail Khouri, our hosts in St. Louis, were waiting to take our bags from us while we rode the remaining 35mi to their house.

From Washington, MO, we looked at the map and found a road that we thought would be the most direct route to their home. What the map didn't show was elevation. What we rode was 18mi of the hilliest, steepest, most energy draining road we've seen. In the late afternoon heat, we faced hills so steep we had to drop down to our granny gears, which we haven't used since the early days of our trip when our legs were unaccustomed to pedaling uphill. We crept up each hill, head dangling between our arms, sweat pouring off our faces, arms and legs, showering the road under us. Our mouths dripped a mixture of sweat and spit as our lungs heaved taking in massive amounts of air trying desperately to supply our aching muscles with the oxygen they craved. We crested each each, paused to survey the road before us, hoping vainly to see a flat expanse before us, and then whipped down the equally steep, long downhill side gathering as much momentum as humanly possible to take us up the next waiting hill. Hour after hour, we repeated this until our desiccated bodies begged for a break. We finally reached the end of the hills and turned onto the major road leading to the Khouri's house and faced a new peril of being caught out in the dark without all of our riding lights. We hadn't expected to see both a sunrise and a sunset in one ride, yet here we found ourselves, riding the last few miles after dusk. Luckily, with no major hills to retard our progress, we made it to the home of the Khouri's, ironically perched at the top of a hill, safely.

Exhausted. Both mentally and physically. The hills had taken a toll on us we weren't prepared to pay. We shuffled inside and were presented with a feast of Middle Eastern food, which we eagerly and heartily dug in to. The variety of food and the perfection to which it was cooked was exactly what we needed after such a trying day.

We enjoyed the company of Maha and Suhail during dinner but quickly found our beds and fell into a deep and restful sleep.

7.22.11 - 0mi

Rest day. Full of unbelievable Middle Eastern food. Such a pleasure to try dishes that James and I had never seen, most of which we couldn't even begin to try to pronounce. But they were delicious and filling and more than we could have even hoped for.

7.23.11 - 0 mi

Rest day #2. After checking the weather channel, there were hints that the heat could break on sunday, so we gave our tired, beaten, aching, fatigued legs another days rest. And we got more amazing food. Hard to pass that up.

Also had bike maintenance to do. 2800mi on our tires had worn them to the threads and our bike chains were stretched to the breaking point by the stress of the mountains of the west and the constant hills of the mid-west so both needed replacing. Add to that 4 weeks of dirt and grime and together that equals a morning spent sweating and working on the bikes. Still better than actually riding them though.

Friday, July 15, 2011


7.12.11 - Casper, WY to Torrington, WY - 148mi

One hundred forty eight miles. 148 mi. A long, long day made longer by the incessant, rolling hills and the constant headwind. The hills were enough to drive anyone mad; you'd crest one, look around and think, "We are at the highest point right now. It's got to be all down hill from here." But no, at the bottom of the hill would be another hill looming over us, laughing at our naivete, questioning our determination and strength. Then there was the wind. Howling, pushing us back, telling us not to go on. Even the birds gave up and said, "nah, we'll just walk from here."

The only thing in our favor was the weather, which was overcast, giving us a much needed respite from the sun, but the sky threatened to let loose a thunderstorm at any moment. With the conditions as they were, we decided to eschew our usual strategy of avoiding interstates and ride I-25 in order to cut miles off our trip. For 100mi, we battled the wind and hills, heading southeast until we got to our exit. Once off the highway, our change in direction meant that instead of the wind directly in our face, is was now shifted slightly so that it hit us at a 45degree angle. That little change helped immensely and we saw a very small, but none-the-less significant increase in our speed.

Our original destination was Fort Laramie, WY but as we rode through the towns (or more appropriately, occasional clusters of buildings around a gas station), we learned that Fort Laramie had little to offer other than a gas station and historical marker. Faced with a tough decision - thunderstorms rolling in, rain beginning to sprinkle, tornados reported in the area and only our tents for shelter, we decided to push on an extra 32mi to make it to the city of Torrington where they had hotels and supermarkets and even stoplights.

We set out heading east to Torrington and no sooner had we left the sight of Fort Laramie than the heavens opened sand the rain came. For 26mi, we rode through the rain spurred on by the sight of distant lightning. We cranked and we pushed and we gave it all we had as the sun set and darkness fell. By 8:30, we arrived in Torrington, soaked to the bone, totally exhausted and began the nightly hunt for a room. At one of the hotels, we stood in line behind a woman and overheard her conversation with the night desk worker. "you look tired", he said. "I am" she replied. "I've been driving all day and I'm exhausted." Greg, James and I simply looked at each other.

Luckily, we managed to convince a very nice hotel employee to let us stay, but of course, all the restaraunts closed at 8 so we went across to the local market and picked up bits and pieces to cobble together a respectable dinner. We came away with sandwiches, frozen meals and chunky soup.

7.13.11 - Torrington, WY to Oshkosh, NE - 113 mi

No hills! What an amazing feeling to be able to see what's ahead and feel no dread as the road simply follows the curve of the earth. Of course our headwind was still hanging around, reminding us that this ride is never easy.

We were all pretty tired from yesterday's ride. Lethargy permeated our day and we lingered in gas stations and country stores long after our bodies had cooled and our bottles had been filled. As we enter America's heartland, we can feel the heat and humidity rise. Whereas our west, even in the hottest days, the sweat would evaporate before it could even bead up on your brow. Now, however, its pouring off of us like a leaky faucet and we find ourselves alternately drenched with sweat as we ride and crusted with salt when we cool down.

On our way, we passed through the town of Scottsbluff, a major stop on the old Oregon Trail. We popped into Walmart to get lunch supplies, our standard meat, cheese and bread, and while there, we began talking to a local reporter, Rick Willis of the Scottsbluff Star Herald. He was quite interested in our ride and was eager to hear about our journey. He wrote a great piece which can be found here.


For his part, Rick was a fountain of information and pointed us to a much more scenic route than the one we had chosen. It followed the Oregon Trail, passing by the famous Chimney Rock. Rick drove ahead of us as we rode and stopped to take a few pictures of us as we rode but at Chimney Rock, we separated. We really enjoyed his company though and his route was much more fun than the one we would have done, so we are pleased and grateful for his help.

Greg went hunting and bagged a buffalo and a bear. James died of dysentary.

This was as far as I think I ever made it on the Oregon Trail.

We arrive in Oshkosh and head straight to the only restaurant still open (there were only two in town). The wait staff was fantastic and repeatedly granted our request for more bread (quick, easy carbs) and at the end of the night, one of the other diners saw that we were fundraising for Leukemia and picked up our tab. We spoke with him and the group he was with when we found out and he said he appreciated what we were doing and that "you're in Nebraska now. This kind of thing will happen more often."

After dinner, we headed down the street to an RV park where we threw up our tents, rinsed what grime off we could and bedded down for the night. Sadly, sleep was hard to come by as the railroad ran by less than 100yards from us and we were woken during the night by the rumblings of the train on the tracks and the warning blasts from the air horns. It was a long night.

7.14.11 - Oshkosh, NE to North Platte, NE -100mi

Another hot, flat (save for a few hills at the beginning), corn-filled day. You can feel the humidity rise up from the corn fields and wrap around you like a blanket. You breathe it in. It stifles your breath. The only way to escape is to seek refuge in the gas stations and markets.

It was in one the these havens that we met another group of riders, crossing the country west to east. We sat and exchanged tales and tribulations, each giving the other tips on what to expect and things to be weary of. It was fun and interesting to sit down with them and share a common plight, compare strategies and discuss places on the road.

The headwinds still blow unabated. We thought we would have a tail wind if we rode east to west, but no. All day we have to push through the wind. Eastern Nebraska must gasping for air because it's all being used to try to push us back.

After leaving that group and wishing them well, we got back on the road and continued on. While we are happy to be riding flat ground, its tough to break the monotony of mile after mile of asphalt and corn. Our sleep deprived bodies fall into a rhythm that leaves the eyelids woefully under-supported and you have to struggle to keep your mind busy and your eyes off the odometer. Different strategies evolve; songs come into your head, daydreams drift about and stoic determination drives you on. The miles can melt away or they can slowly tick by, one by one, but eventually you see the "welcome to..." sign and rest, and more importantly, food are near.

Lately, we have been frequenting Applebees restaurants and found nothing but kindness and friendly service. In North Platte, the general manager Ryan Walker donated our meal and quizzed us on the particulars of our ride. He was great fun to talk to and we thoroughly enjoyed the meal and the evening.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Over the Mountains

7.6.11 - Alpine to Signal Mountain Campground (Grand Teton Nat'l Park) - 73mi

Fantastic ride. That's the first and really only thing you can say about it. We started the day by heading into Snake River Canyon where we followed the River upstream as it wound through Bridger Nat'l Forest. A spectacular ride filled with distant snow-capped peaks, lush valleys covered with wild flowers and wildlife. Although we were headed uphill for the length of the canyon, we never knew because the beauty of the canyon wiped all thoughts of struggle and fatigue from our mind.

We rolled into the town of Jackson around noon and began exploring the picturesque mountain town. While Jackson has grown into a major tourist destination, it still remains true to it's western routes manifest in the cowboy overtones and wooden sidewalks lining the stores of the historic downtown, which itself could have been pulled straight from a John Wayne classic.

Our purpose for stopping in Jackson was two-fold. First, we wanted to check out the town and do a little exploring but it also served as the perfect rendezvous point for us and Larry, one of the owners of RideOut Technologies. Larry and his partner Jerri founded the company after Jerri, a long time cyclist, felt unsatisfied with the bike saddles on the market and decided to make her own. Together, they developed a bike seat called Carbon Comfort that's more ergonomically designed for comfort. James contacted this company before we set off on our trip and they generously donated seats for each of us to use. James and I decided to use the seats while Greg felt more comfortable on his own seat. Both James and I loved the seats but while in Alpine, one of the supports on mine snapped, leaving me sitting lopsided as I roded and looking like I might at any minute topple over onto the shoulder of the road. We contacted Jerri and told her of the problem and after trying to figure out where she could send a replacement, Larry decided that it would be easier for him to just bring us one. In person. He rode his motorcycle over 350mi from Idaho to meet us in Jackson just so he could swap out my broken seat for a new one. The weather was beautiful and the ride couldn't have been any more scenic so I'm sure he wasn't too put out by having to come all the way to meet us, but all the same, I especially was incredibly grateful for the care he showed us. We had eaten an early dinner while we waited for him but Larry offered us dessert and we weren't about to pass that up so we hung out with him for an hour or so and talked with him. He was an incredibly nice and friendly guy and we could have spent the whole evening enjoying his company, but unfortunately, we had about 30 more miles to go before the sun set and the temperature dropped.

Our original plan was to bike to a nearby campground but when we called to check their vacancy, they had none so we scrambled for a back up plan and found a campsite that had spots. We parted ways with Larry, wishing him a good journey back home, and continued our ride north into the Grand Teton Nat'l Park.
Just after leaving Jackson, we climbed a small hill and came round a corner which brought us into view of the stunning Teton Range. The rocky peaks of the mountains look as if the crust of the earth, wanting to enjoy the beauty of the lakes and valleys of the area, burst through the thin skin of grass and stood towering over the land in silent observation.
The soft glow of the setting sun behind the peaks held us in silence as we rode.

We made it to Signal Mountain CG and the CG manager, John, showed us to an overflow spot where we could pitch our tents. In a dense cloud of mosquitoes, which could have easily brought down a moose, we threw up our dents and swatted at the flying pests as they came in for a bite. Looking like chicken pocks sufferers, we retreated to the safety of our meshed havens.

7.7.11 - Signal Moutain CG - Grant Village (Yellowstone Nat'l Park) - 50 mi
We woke early to catch the dawn sun casting its first rays onto the Teton Range across Jackson Lake. We sat by the water and watched as the orange glow slowly pushed back the vestige of darkness while the lake water gently lapped on the shore. It was a true moment of peace.

After, we brought our things down to the water's edge to escape the marauding mosquitoes and while we gearing up to leave, a camper from down the road alerted us to a small Grizzly strolling through the campsite. He wasn't interested in us so we watched as he moved through the wooded grounds, disappearing into the foliage. We weren't about to follow so we headed out north to the South Gate of Yellowstone.

We had another day of spectacular riding as the rode wound around Jackson and Lewis Lake and several miles south of our destination, we crossed the Continental Divide, the separation between waters draining into the Pacific to the west and the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean to the east. We were disappointed to see that we hadn't crested above 8000ft, so we thought we would improvise a bit.

Our wildlife spotting for the day included a field of elk with foxes darting through, to the annoyance of the elk. We were hoping for a bit of action between the two, but after no movement from either camp, we decided to move on.

At the Grant Village CG, a ranger named Susan was kind enough to donate a campsite to us out of her own pocket. We set up our camp and headed down to Yellowstone Lake to enjoy the a late afternoon lunch by the water. Back at camp, we were joined by two other long distance cyclists, Carlos and Harvey and we shared our campfire with them and talked through the sunset and into the evening. Early mornings awaited all so we retired to our tents, eager to explore the park the next day.

7.8.11 - Grant Village CG to Bridge Bay CG (Yellowstone) - 20mi
Our goal for the day was to head to the Upper Geyser Basin, which housed Old Faithful and numerous other geysers but to get there we would have to cross the Continental Divide twice and twice again on the way back (the Divide isn't just a straight line, it follows the peaks of the Rockies and thus twists and turns with the range so that the road to Old Faithful followed such a route that it passed across a tight bend in the Divide resulting in two very high, very steep, very long climbs). Realising that this would consume almost all of our day, we decided the best bet would be to lock our bikes up at the ranger station and hitchhike the 18mi out to the Upper Geyser Basin. With James' rugged good looks on offer (owing to the 3 week beard he's been working on), it was only a matter of minutes before a van pulled over and offered us a ride. Inside were Joe, Evan and Dana, employees of a local adventure company who had just dropped off a van-load of kids and were on their way to Old Faithful as well. They were great company for the ride and James, Greg and I left them feeling slightly envious of their summer occupations.

We entered the park and made our way to Old Faithful, which was scheduled to erupt soon. According to the rangers, Old Faithful erupts roughly every 60-90 min. If the previous eruption is greater than 3min30sec, the next will be about 90min later. If the previous eruption is less than 2min30sec, the next will be about 60 min later. We waited patiently, eyes glued to the spout looking for any spit or gurgle that may signal an eruption. Then the long awaited splutter and bubbling began and Old Faithful let loose a towering column of steam and water. The power and force of which was simply incredible. The eruption lasted long enough for our photographic demands and soon the steam retreated to its subterranean dwelling and we moved on to explore the outer regions of the Basin. There were dozens of other geysers, each with their own eruption schedule, though some were more frequent than others. The bubbling pools came in a rainbow of colors, each dependent on the type of bacteria growing in them and said bacteria depending on the temperature of the water. The hottest waters are home to cyanobacteria giving the water a clear or blue appearance while the cooler waters are home to protozoa which give it a more orange-brown appearance.

The three of us were struck by nature's power and the forces that we at play under our feet. Yellowstone itself sits atop a MASSIVE volcano (called a caldera) which is the source of the geothermal activity and its sheer power was not lost on us. Nor was the smell. Sulfurous fumes lingered in the air, lending the area a smell reminiscent of eggs long past their prime.

While we were there, we had to grab lunch and it was while we were ordering that a couple, Ryan and Rachel, overheard us talking about Lea's Foundation and the purpose for our ride. Without any hesitation, Ryan walked over to us and made a donation to the cause. We were taken aback by his generosity and thanked them heartily.

To get back to our bikes required another hitchhike and again it wasn't long before we were picked up, this time by a family on the move from Indiana to California. They decided to make a summer vacation of the move and were taking in Yellowstone and graciously offered the spare room in their van to us. We enjoyed the ride back and their kids entertained us with stories of their experiences and which animals they saw and liked. The youngest, a preschool aged girl, loved the horses and had so much to say about fish, animals and her shoes that lit up when she walked, however, most of it was lost on us and only her brothers and mom were able to decipher her language.

With the help of the traveling family, we made it back to our bikes and with afternoon storms rolling in (quite common for Yellowstone)we saddled up and began the short trip to the next campground. We had only ridden a mile or so before the heavens opened up and for the next 19mi (which took about an hour and a half) we were beset with waves of heavy rain and moments of pea sized hail. The temperature dropped into the 50s and we arrived at Bridge Bay CG soaked to the bone and shivering cold. We hurried to the campsite which was, of course, at the distant end of the grounds and up a short but very steep hill and, during a brief pause in the weather, set up our tents and took refuge inside as the rain fell for another couple of hours.
When the patter of raindrops on our tents finally ended, we poked our heads out and were surprised so see the clear blue skies of the late evening.

With a bit of the evening left, we cooked a bit of dinner (packaged camping meals and heated chunky soup) and wandered down to the amphitheater to enjoy the ranger presentation on coyotes. Honestly, we went more for the campfire that was set up there (where we dried our shoes - luckily downwind from the rest of the attendees), but we enjoyed hearing about the history of coyotes in Yellowstone.

7.9.11 - Bridge Bay CG to Cody, WY - 80mi
Today we left Yellowstone. A sad day. We had barely scratched the surface of what the park had to offer yet we were forced by time constraints to leave. We agreed that we had unfinished business with the park and that a future trip would be necessary. We exited through the East Gate and as we followed the north shore of Lake Yellowstone, we would occasionally catch drifts of the sulfurous fumes that served to remind us of the geothermal activity under our feet (or tires, as it were). We left the lake and began climbing up through the mountains following the twisting road as it wove across valley and hill, rising high above the lake until it pressed on through the range and the lake was lost behind a peaked wall of grass, pine, brush and rock.

We eventually crested Sylvan Pass at about 8500ft, the highest point of our entire trip and were greeted with a wonderful ribbon of tarmac that wriggled down the mountainside over 2000ft to the East Gate. Of course we raced down that again topping 50mph; the thrill of a winding road, the wheels spinning wildly under you and the wind tearing at you never wanes.

From east gate, we had another 50mi to get to Cody, but with a tail wind and nothing but a downward sloping road ahead of us, we cruised in no time to the city limits.
Along the way, we followed the Shoshone River as it traveled through the National Forest of the same name and marveled at the canyon walls of red rock and brown stone, at times towering over us and at others simply watching over us from a distance. Towers of rock formations rose in clusters like chimneys of underground dwellings. We lunched by the river and enjoyed a quick nap while the river calmly swept by.

The Shoshone emptied into the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, created by the Buffalo Bill Dam, which at the time of its erection was the tallest in the world. We stood on the walkway overlooking the 325ft drop, buffeted by the howling winds trying to force their way into the downstream canyon.

In Cody, the owners of Moose Creek Inn kindly donated a room and for the first night since Alpine, we enjoyed a nice hot shower and each had a bed to ourselves. For that, we are eternally grateful.

7.10.11 - Cody to Shoshoni, WY - 118mi
We had the three H's today: Heat, Hills and Headwind. The result: a long, tiresome day. We passed from the Rockies (sadly) into the foothills and plains of Wyoming. The highlight of the ride came when we entered Wind River Canyon between Thermopolis and Shoshoni. The towering walls seemed to arch over the road and their steep rise gave the illusion that the road was running downhill, when in fact it was a steady, slow climb along the entire length. The confusion was compounded by the fact that the river flowed in the opposite direction to our travel and while we thought we were riding downhill, that meant that the river was flowing uphill. It was one of the tripiest moments of our trip. The only thing I could do was assume I was suffering from a heat-induced hallucination and the only means of escape I had were the two wheels upon which I sat. We pedaled on, trying to ignore the magic river and focus on the beauty of the canyons. I'd like to take a moment here to thank the caretakers of the canyon because they have thoughtfully added signs along the way, next to specific rock formations, indicating the time period in which they were formed. The result is that as you move through the canyon, you move through time. It was such a fascinating experience. Very nicely done.

We arrived in Shoshoni weary, exhausted and drained. We were eager to eat but all that Shoshoni had to offer were two gas stations. One had a built in fast food store so we went in and a girl named Ashley was kind enough to give us a few burgers and burritos that had been sitting under the heat lamp for a while. We set upon those like starving men before limping down to the motel where we stayed for the night.

7.11.11 - Shoshoni to Casper, WY - 103mi
A surprisingly easy day. The road was mostly flat with a few hills thrown in for fun and the last forty or so miles were a net downhill. We passed through the grasslands of central Wyoming without much to note, except an amazing area called Hell's Half Acre, a small valley or basin that seems to have been formed by some unholy being. Jagged spires rise from a withered and torn floor, the rocks bleached by the sun. The name was quite fitting.

We managed to escape the hottest part of the day which saw temperatures in the high 90s. Our first stop was a UPS store where we picked up a very welcomed package. James had managed to secure a donation of sports drink powder from a company called Shaklee. They had given us a sizable amount to start the trip but our supplies had dwindled and were in need of refilling. Shaklee kindly sent us provisions which will keep us well fueled for the looooong days of riding we have ahead.

We were kindly given a hotel room at a nearby Holiday Inn (one of the nicest we've had to date) and at the recommendation of Ryan from Yellowstone, we headed to Applebees where the manager, Bos, and the General Manager John Allen, very, very kindly donated a meal. Having eaten camp food and gas station food for the better part of a week, we felt like kings as we filled ourselves with the great food.