Monday, October 21, 2013

Final Thoughts on a Bike Ride

What a summer!  I can still hardly believe that between June 16 and August 5, I rode my bike for nearly 50 straight days, averaging 80 miles a day and pedaling from coast to coast – Oregon to New Hampshire – biking approximately 3700 miles.

I had to miss one day of the ride between Rochester and Syracuse, New York due to some fluid retention. Fortunately I was cleared to continue and finish the ride, but even as we dipped our tires into the Atlantic, I knew I would have to go back and complete the 93 miles I missed. I was not going to settle with an asterisk behind my name – “He rode all the way across the country – except for 93 miles.”  So in early October, Tam and I loaded the bike into the car, drove to Rochester and met friends Chuck and Judy from North Carolina. For the first 20+ miles, on a very foggy and chilly October morning, Chuck and I rode on the old towpath of the Erie Canal. It was wonderful to see all the activity along the canal, from joggers, cyclists and dog walkers to rowing crews on the water.  For most of the rest of the way, we rode through several small towns on the gently rolling terrain along route 31, skirting the northern edge of the Finger Lakes. We finished the last few miles going through the park along Lake Onondaga and finished at the hotel where my fellow riders stayed earlier this summer. All day long I kept imagining the group riding through two months earlier. Ride completed! Asterisk removed!


It’s been over 2 months already since the group finished the ride at the beach at Wallis Sands State Park just south of Portsmouth, NH. I’ve ridden a bit since then, but nothing more than 60 miles except for the 93 mile “make up” day. I think of the ride almost every day. I look at the pictures regularly, hoping to recollect some of the images and relive a bit of the experience. I still miss my riding buddies from America by Bicycle and have been in touch with a few of them. I guess there are a few final thoughts as I close the book on my Big Bicycling Adventure Across America.

First of all, we have a beautiful country. The land is rich, diverse and productive – from the tall pine forests in the Northwest to the gorgeous mountains in Oregon and Wyoming to the farm fields of Idaho, South Dakota and the Midwest. There were many breath-taking vistas as we came upon some of our nation’s mighty rivers and the gorges carved out over the millennia. We rode along pristine small streams next to roads canopied with tall trees. We saw the “amber waves of grain and purple mountains majesty” as well as miles of corn fields, bean fields, potatoes and cattle ranches as we rode “from sea to shining sea.”  As a consequence, Tam and I have added a lot to our bucket list of places to visit during our retirement.

The people we met along the way were spectacular. From coast to coast, I met people who were interested and intrigued by our adventure, but they encouraged us and provided help, even going out of their way to make sure some strangers got to the store to pick up supplies. I met people from various walks of life, backgrounds and circumstances, but found that most have very similar goals. They were very willing to share part of their story and talk about their dreams, hopes and fears. None of those that I met were seeking fame or fortune, but wanted to have sufficient income so their children wouldn’t have to worry about having enough to eat or a roof overhead. They hoped they were teaching their children to be honest, how to live with integrity and a concern for the well-being of those around them, and they hoped their children would be able to chase their own dreams as they got a bit older.
I felt privileged to spend a few moments with each person I met and was a little sad that our encounters were so brief, most likely to never see each other again.

While I was with other riders most of the way, there were many times I was by myself and had plenty of time to think.
It struck me that the ride, like much in life, is about persistence and perseverance. To be sure, there were some peak moments like finally cresting after a 6 or 8 mile climb to be treated to a breathtaking vista, coming upon some of our nation’s mighty rivers and the gorges carves out over the millennia or riding along a quiet stream on a road canopied with tall trees. But there were many stretches, even days, when one mile blended into the next, into the next, into the next…  Sometimes the scenery didn’t seem to change much (one corn field looks pretty much the same as the next) and a lot of the ride was a matter of simply “keep pedaling” and make it to the next stop. Sometimes we were treated with warm days and the wind was at our back and the terrain not too difficult. But there were days when it was a bit chilly, or the winds were against us or we had to go uphill for miles at a time.  Sometimes you have to work hard to just stay on the bike and keep pedaling, knowing that by doing so, you will eventually reach the end.

I guess life is like that at times. There are peak moments and sometimes the road seems easy and things sail in our favor. But there are other times that are more challenging and it’s a struggle just to get through. One day seems pretty much like the day before. You learn, though, that the more you persist and persevere, things eventually become a bit easier and you reach the goal.  You learn that you can do difficult things.

Now that the trip has been over for several weeks, I realize that the miles and miles, including, perhaps especially, the difficult parts, made me a much stronger cyclist. Had the road been all downhill with the wind at my back, the ride would not have been nearly as memorable or as satisfying. Sometimes we’d like things in life to go a bit easier, but it’s the challenges we face in life that make us stronger and build our character. We need to test ourselves in order to grow.

While I probably will not make another cross country ride again, I plan to take several multi-day trips in different parts of our country. Riding a bicycle is a great way to see and experience the world around you. I encourage you to get on a bike, even if it’s only for 5 or 10 miles. You never know how far you will end up going.


Be well. Do good.



Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Day 50, Monday August 5

Day 50, Monday August 5  Manchester to Portsmouth, NH   52 Miles

My apologies for being a couple days late on this post.  I can scarcely believe it, but I just finished riding my bike across the United States and part of Canada. I’m not sure if the reality of this will ever sink in.

We left the hotel this morning about 7:00 for our last ride of this great adventure. As expected, even this last day had some tough spots. The first 15 miles or so were mostly uphill with a few fairly challenging climbs, but then things evened out and we could take it easy the rest of the way. Amy and I rode together, mostly at a fairly relaxed pace, just kind of savoring the last few miles. At one point, three guys were standing in their yard and stopped us to ask where we were going. They had seen a number of riders, all in the orange “America by Bicycle” jerseys and wondered what was going on. They were pretty amazed when we told them what we had been doing these last 50 days. They wished us well for our last few miles and we headed into Exeter, NH where everyone planned to stop at the local coffee house/bakery to have a cup of coffee and pastry. It was only about 10:00 by this time and we were not scheduled to meet at the junior high school in Rye, NH, 11 miles away, until 11:30. Other customers at the coffee shop were amazed at what we had just done and congratulated us. Most riders began pulling into the junior high school by about 11:00. There was time to say our good-byes and take a group photo before the beach.  At 11:45, the group pulled out for the last 3 miles, led by a police escort. What a sight – about 40 orange jerseys, riding in a group at about 15 mph.  We turned a corner and saw the ocean and started hollering. When we got to the beach, there were dozens of people lined up, cheering us for the last few hundred yards. What a feeling. Fifty days ago, we left the Pacific Ocean and we had now arrived at the Atlantic!

When we arrived at the sand, took off shoes, carried the bikes to the ocean and dipped our wheels.
Friends of one of the riders had brought champagne and we all toasted our accomplishment, feeling about as giddy as you could feel. It was hard to know what to do.

About 1:00, Tam and I finally said our good-byes, packed the bike into the car and headed west toward home. We made it to Syracuse, NY, close to where we had stayed less than a week earlier. We finished the drive back to Columbus by 4:00p on Tuesday, August 6, still trying to make sense of what I had just accomplished. I was exhausted and energized all at the same time.  It felt so good to be back home, to sleep in our own bed. It felt good to not have to get on the bike this morning. Now is the challenge of trying to get back into a “normal” routine, whatever that will be.
Remember, I’m still trying to figure out this retirement thing. One thing I know, the house needs painting, so I’ll be busy for a while.

I hope you’ll give me a few days to think about this and let it sink in. In a few days, certainly in less than a week, I will have some final thoughts about this adventure. To family, friends and those I’ve met along the way, please know how much your comments and encouragements meant. They kept me going in many ways. I hope you’ll stay in touch. You can always post a comment on the blog or Face Book. If you’d rather, my email is

Thanks for following my adventure. I hope you enjoyed it half as much as I did.  It might sound a bit strange, but I think I’ll take a bike ride tonight.

For now, Be well. Do good. May God bless you.




Sunday, August 4, 2013

Day 49. Sunday, August 4

Day 49. Sunday, August 4  Brattleboro, VT to Manchester, NH. 77 miles

We left the hotel this morning, heading east across the Connecticut River and into New Hampshire. For most of the first 10 miles or so, we headed uphill, climbing from 300 feet above sea level to 1000 feet above sea level. A the bottom of the hill, we passed through Keene, NH and then for the next mile and a half to two miles, climbed an 8 to 10% grade hill. We certainly had to work the first part of the day! 

After the first SAG stop at mile 32, we left some of the mountains behind and the road became undulating most of the rest of the day. There were lots,of ups and downs, but they were mostly very enjoyable. (Hard to believe that I actually liked a lot of these hills!)  I still had to,work,to get over several of them, but the harder ones were a bit shorter. The route today had us going through a number of quaint little New England towns like Antrim, Bennington, Greenfield, Francisville and Gofftown. The homes were Federalist and Victorian styles and stereotypically New England looking. For several miles, we followed the very scenic Piscataquog River. The road was lined with a canopy of lush green trees that were so thick, it was hard for the sunlight to reach the road. Simply beautiful!
In one of the towns I pulled into a parking lot to ask directions of a guy parked on a motorcycle. He was very interested in the trip we were taking and asked if I was doing it for a cause. When I told him that I had just retired from Catholic Social Services, Dave told me that his,parents adopted him in Nebraska through Catholic Charities. I can't tell you how many people I've met through the years who have been adopted through Catholic Charities agencies. Amazing.

Today, I wore my special tuxedo jersey. When I walked into breakfast, I got a lot of stares, some compliments and even an ovation from several people. riders were snapping my picture all day.
I got to to Comfort Inn hotel about 12:45 and the rooms weren't ready, so a few of us and Tam crossed the street to go to the local Applebee's. My riding shirt was a big hit there as well.  

Our waitress was Larissa and she was very interested that we were just about finished with a cross country bike tour. Her mother, Margie, and 11 year old daughter, Lydia, just happened to be there as well. You could sure tell that these three pretty ladies were all related. they each had the same beautiful smile.  Lydia was fascinated with all these bikers in strange clothing and wanted to hear about our bike trip. We learned that Margie had retired just yesterday from a 33 year career in the military. She retired as a Master Sargeant and had served overseas as an assistant to the chaplain. Her husband is a former Navy SEAL, having served in Vietnam. He currently works for a contractor in the Middle East. This is certainly a patriotic family that we all owe our gratitude.
Larissa has been waiting tables and tending bar for 16 years because she meets a lot of fascinating people and enjoys hearing their stories. This trip has certainly taught me that. Everyone has a story and most are willing to share it. I've met a lot of great people these last seven weeks, including Larissa, Margie and Lydia. My regret has been that I've not had more time to listen about their lives.

Hard to believe that tomorrow will be the last ride of this trip, completing our trek across America. It will be a bit difficult saying good-bye to these folks that 50 days ago were strangers but who are now friends. We've shared an experience that few get to do. Incredible.

Be well. Do good.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Day 47. Friday, August 2

Day 47. Friday, August 2. Little Falls to Latham, NY. 75 miles

Fabulous. Another great day on the bicycle. I'm glad to report that the swelling in my legs is all but gone and my ankles are almost back to normal. Those compression stockings seem to be working - and they are such a fashion statement!  The skies cleared up with large, puffy white clouds. The temperature was about 80 - perfect riding weather.

Today we followed the Mohawk River all day.  After the first few climbs of a couple hundred feet (altitude, not length) we were rewarded with a spectacular panorama of the Mohawk valley.  The pictures just don't do it justice.   This is an area Tam and I agree we'd like to visit again. We went through a number of picturesque small towns, including Canajoharie, Amsterdam and Fultonville, named after Robert Fulton, inventor of the steam engine. I'm not sure he lived here, but no doubt close by if not here. For about 17 miles or so, we were on a bike path. Very nice. We also touched into Schenectady before getting into Latham. I got in just before one, so I had a nice chance to shower, put my feet up, take a nap and go out for a milk shake and ice cream with Tam. Such a nice day.  

Hard to believe we are down to the last three ride days. Tomorrow, we enter Vermont and will be there just one night. Tomorrow is filled with several long, pretty steep climbs. We've not seen anything like this since maybe Wyoming. Hopefully I'll be able to find the climbing legs in time. The theme for tomorrow is gear down and take it as slow as I need to.

Be well. Do good.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day 46. Thursday, August 1

  Day 46. Thursday, August 1o Little Falls, NY. 79 miles

I'm back on the bike! After one day of extra rest, it felt good to get back in the saddle.
When I got back to the group last night, I think every rider found me and warmly welcomed me back. Having spent the last six weeks with this group, you get pretty tight and want only good things for everyone. I told them that there were still some issues that I'll have to check out once back in Columbus, but not enough to ground me. I will take it easy the rest of the way and not press too hard. I need to get the swelling down and the fluid out of my lungs.

The day started out very overcast with a strong chance of rain, mid 60s, increasing during the day to mid 70s. Yuval volunteered to hang back and ride with me. The first 25 to 30 miles were fairly flat and a pace of 17 to 18 felt very comfortable. I stopped a couple of times along the way to put my feet up to help drain fluid. As we pulled out of the first SAG stop at mile 33, it started to rain, keeping a fairly steady drizzle most of the rest of the day, so out came the rain gear. Funny thing about riding in the rain...once you get used to the idea of being wet, it's no big deal. Once in a while I got too close to Yuval's back wheel and got an extra spray right in the face.

The second half of the ride presented a few more ups and downs, so between the hills and the rain, the average speed came down. We were able to keep a pace of 14 to 16 pretty comfortably. Today we entered into the Mohawk River valley, passing through a number of picturesque towns, farms and fruit stands. Much of the day was next to the old Erie Canal. Yesterday, the group rode about 25 miles on a bike path that was part of the old tow path.

With about 10 miles left, POW, my back tire blew. We tried to find what may have caused it to blow, but finding nothing, we proceeded to change the tube. On rides like this, it's easier to fill the tube using a CO2 cartridge that pumps air in quickly - POW! It blew again. This time when we looked, we saw the tire (not the tube) had a rip in the sidewall. No way I would be able ride on this! Fortunately, one of the support vans came by just then. We threw the bike and me into the van, drove about three blocks to a gas station, waited five minutes for the mechanics van, and Jim had a spare tire. In ten minutes, tire changed and we were back on the road. It felt good to finally pull into the hotel, get out of the wet clothes and into a hot shower.

We are in Little Falls, NY tonight. This town used to produce a lot of cheese. As roads developed in the 1920s and 30s, and as refrigeration became more common, they found they could transport the milk a lot further. Consequently, much of the local cheese production slowed and the farmers began to ship their milk to NYC and parts of New England. This county produces much of the milk used in these areas.

I forgot to mention earlier that when I was in the hospital in Rochester, Tam drove up, fully expecting to take me back to Columbus. She will be with us the rest of the way. It's so good to have her here.

Thanks, Yuval, for staying with me today.

Thanks to all of you for your thoughts, prayers and support.

Be well. Do good.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Day 44. Tuesday, July 30

Day 44. Tuesday, July 30. Niagara Falls to Henrietta (Rochester) NY. 85 miles

Today was another beautiful day to be on a bicycle. Temperatures began in the 60s and got to the mid 70s. The roads were in very good shape. The first 30 miles of the ride were pretty flat, so we were able to keep a nice pace. Because I had been feeling like I'd been pushing a bit hard lately, I hung back and rode mostly by myself, still keeping up a decent 17 to 19 mph pace. The last 50 miles were more rolling hill and farm fields. Nothing too difficult, very pretty and fun to ride. I pulled into the LaQuinta hotel and ended the ride about 1:30 this afternoon.

I met some pretty incredible people today, but let me explain how that came about.  For the past few days, I have had some swelling in my lower legs. I have tried a number of things to reduce that, but it was not going down, even over night. Not painful, just a very full feeling in my legs. Today it was a bit worse. Our group leader, Jeff, had a compression stocking that I used. It helped a little, but not totally.
So when we finished the ride today into Rochester, we thought it might be best to have some folks check it out. Strong Memorial Hospital, part of the University of Rochester medical system was close by, so I went for some tests.
As you might imagine, everyone was interested in what I've been doing the last six weeks, that I've ridden 3,200 miles.  they thought these funny tan lines were a bit fun.  I had a real fan club forming here at the hospital.
They did a Doppler ultrasound on my legs to see if there were any clots forming. That was clear. They also did an EKG and an x-ray of my heart to see that everything was in order. One problem- a little - stressing little- fluid build up in my lungs. There were some concerns that my heart may not be working properly, so the recommendation was to stay the night for observation and have an echo-cardiogram in the morning.  Dr. Adler  and his PA were terrific in explaining the potential problems to me, even though they knew I was anxious to be on the road to the next stop and finish the ride.

I  also met Rosa, an LPN who initially took my history, drew some blood samples and tried to prepare me for some possible bad news. Rosa is the mother of 4 kids, ranging from early 30s to a 12 year old son still at home. She began to tell me of her interest (and talent) in art - drawing, painting and sculpting. She just completed her bachelor's degree in art. Along the way, she has won some exhibitions. She recently entered a juried paint show, winning a second and third place. What's amazing is that she had broken her right hand and had to do this all with her left! Some of her instructors have told her she will go a long way with her talent. She certainly has the drive!  When Rosa was 5 years old, in Spain, she was involved in a fiery car accident. Her mother and another passenger were killed. She was the only survivor. Her father was following in the car behind. A few years later, a brother drowned while saving her from an undertow while swimming in the Carribean.  So much adversity. She has adopted the name "Phoenix Rose," to signify her rising from the fire and ashes. How appropriate. Rose, you are an inspiration. I wish you lots and lots of success.

My nurses, Cheryl, Melinda and Chadwick have been terrific as has the entire staff, including Jerry who did the echocardiogram. And the docs are beyond spectacular! Dr. Gasser, the cardiologist and Dr. Sarnoski, the internist in charge of my care, were very thorough, answering all my questions. The results of all the tests (I hope I'm relating this fairly accurately, Doc) is that there is no evidence of a clot, the ECG was normal, but there is a bit of an enlargement of all four chambers of the heart. The question is whether it's intrinsic, or related to all the strain and exercise I've been doing these past few weeks. So,  as we are so close to the end, I will be able to finish the ride, but I have to take it easy, slow down a bit (Amy, Yuval, Anne, Gail, Jane, Katie and Gary, I won't be able to keep your pace. Ride on!), and make sure that someone is with me. And I will follow up about my heart in Columbus. I missed one day.
If you're ever sick in Rochester, Strong Memorial is the place to come. They have just earned their second magnet designation and the staff is outstanding!!!

On Tuesday night, I also met a woman here with her adult son who was in for some testing. She should be on the Rochester Chamber of Commerce. She transplanted here 30 years ago, but loves the area and really sells it. We are in The Finger Lakes region, so there are lots of recreational opportunities in the area. Of course there are local wineries to visit, as it is a great grape growing area.  In 2007, Rochester was ranked first in "most livable city." Rochester is home to Kodak, Bausch and Lomb and Xerox.  Rochester is also the home of Frederick Douglas, so lots of things named "North Star," the name of his paper. Susan B. Anthony was also from Rochester. Harriet Tubman
lived nearby in Auburn, NY.  Rochester is also home to a huge toy museum.  Seems like a lot to do and see here in this area and its an area I hope to spend more time in - just not right now.

As you might imagine, I am disappointed not to be riding today (Wednesday), or complete the entire ride but it seemed like a choice between being smart and being foolish. And I will be pedaling on to Portsmouth!

Be well.  Do good.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 42. Sunday, July 28

Day 42. Sunday, July 28. Brantford to Niagara Falls, NY. 75 miles

What a day for a bike ride! The temperature was in the70s. The roads, for the most part, were in excellent condition and largely straight and flat with a few hills and rills, just for thrills (sorry for that). And a nice wind at our back. All that added up to a great day on the bike. For much of the day, I rode by myself, not trying to push too hard, but with the conditions, I often found myself just cruising along at 20 to 22 mph.
At one point, I rode up to someone not in our group and rode with her for a mile or so before she turned off.  Angie related that that she was out for a 90 minute ride. She is the manager at a blood testing service and likes to ride on the weekends, having just started cycling last year. She said she ran a marathon last year and now has her goal of riding in the Gran Fondo (Big Ride) of Niagara in September, where several hundred riders, perhaps thousands, will come together to challenge themselves to an 80 mile ride. It's not a race; the pace is whatever the rider sets it to be. You can stop and get a sandwich along the way or charge through. Just a nice time to be on a bike

Toward the end of the ride, I joined up with Ann, Gail, Gary and Yuval and we came into the Niagara Falls area together.  We came right to the Falls, got off the bikes and walked around a bit, taking in the sights, dodging as many of the other tourists as we could.
At the Falls, a couple stopped to ask about our ride. We were all wearing our orange America by Bicycle shirts. Most folks get rather impressed about our adventure, especially now that we are so close to the end. I learned that Bob and Dorothy are from Connecticut, but stopped by the Falls on their way home from Cleveland where Bob just finished competing in the senior Olympics! He competed in the triathlon and finished 13th out of 19 in his age category (I would guess late 60s or early 70s. He certainly looked trim and fit. Good for you Bob. Together they have two adult children. They related they tried to teach them the virtues of honesty and hard work.  They have been married 43 years and have never been to the Falls, so they plan to take three days and take it all in. 

Then we lined up to cross the Rainbow Bridge and enter the U.S. we simply got in line behind the cars. Traffic was moving so slowly, we walked the bikes across the.bridge. A nice photo  in coming
into New York, half a mile ride to the hotel and we're in. One of the riders, Rick, is from the Finger Lakes region. His wife, Cindy, was there with champagne! What a way to celebrate the end of the ride!

Don with Karen and Nazree
Sunday night I was joined by former colleagues at Catholic Social Services - Karen Washbush, director of development and marketing, and Nazree Gore, controller. We had an enjoyable supper catching up on what is happening at CSS. We had a lovely day together on Monday, driving up to Niagara in the Lake, a nice little tourist town on the Canadian side. had a great lunch at an Irish pub and then a fabulous ice cream cone. we topped it off by stopping by one of the local wineries. Karen and Nazree sampled; I napped.  While there we ran into Todd and Kim, a couple from Ohio celebrating their first wedding anniversary. Kim won over $500 last night playing the slots. Congratulations, Kim and Todd.  Thanks for making the trip, Nazree and Karen! I enjoyed it.

Be well.  Do good.