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.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Terrific achievement, gents, congratulations on a job well done, and welcome home!

    When is the ride down to the shore?