I’m back in La Canada now after a couple of celebratory days in Charleston. I’m trying to tie up loose ends and it sure is easier working on my iMac rather than my iPad. I’ve updated the donor/contributor information and we’re up to 151 individual donors (the list of donors has been updated, too) and total donations/pledges are up to $66,618. I never could have imagined how many people would be following my journey or want to make a contribution to make this world a better place. I’m really humbled by your generosity and caring.
Sitting here in my “man-cave” and looking out on our back yard under sunny, warm, skies helps me put the journey into perspective. You see, I believe I had a notion of riding across the country as a romantic adventure, seeing the country via backroads, embracing middle America, and that the primary challenge would be a physical one. Let’s face it – it was a Trek Travel fully supported trip with excellent accommodations, all meals provided, a masseuse along, and guides that would lead the peleton and break the wind! So if I trained properly and lost sufficient weight and had the right gear (and gears), I would emerge the conquering hero. Yes, I was 65 years old but I was strong and mentally tougher than the kids in their 40′s and 50′s. I’m sure that’s how most of you saw it, too.
But reality, ah yes, reality, grabs you by the throat, stares you in the eye, kicks you in the groin, and, in essence, says “Okay, sucker, try this on for size. You think you have what it takes? We’ll see what you’re made of!” Doesn’t that sound like life itself? It should, because the journey I’ve just experienced is analogous to life; albeit a safe challenge because I could just get in the van if it got too tough for me (as others on the trip did) but in life you can’t escape the challenges.
So back to my journey. Reality reared its head and threw at me extreme weather conditions, hail and freezing rain as a surprise at 10,500 ft without proper clothing, bone-chilling cold, debilitating head winds, rain, terrible roads, no shoulders, busy highways, semis flying by you within a foot or two of you, angry commuters, vicious dogs, day after day after day of 100 mile rides with major climbing, riding by myself because no one else’s pace really suited me, and guides who weren’t there to pull you along (in fact, didn’t really ride that much). “How you doing now, sucker?” said reality.
So the trip became far more a mental struggle and it was a spiritual journey as I found out what I was made of and realized that many people were being influenced and inspired by my efforts (I drew attention to myself and my cause and there was a price to be paid for that attention and focus).
So I’m sitting here trying to articulate what the trip meant to me and I’d tell you that it was life changing because reality took that romantic adventure notion and stomped on it. Good. Life isn’t a romantic adventure nor is life always fun or fair and life definitely isn’t a vacation. Adding “meaning” to our life requires experiencing sadness to know happiness, experiencing despair to know enlightenment, overcoming obstacles to know accomplishment, to love ourselves before we can allow others to love us and the greatest learning of all is that we can’t do it alone! We need the love, caring , compassion, and support of others and we need to love, care, be compassionate, and support others, in turn. That’s it! That’s what the reality of this trip has reinforced for me. And I was awed by America – its beauty, diversity, people, and opportunity – and dismayed by the urbanization of America evidenced by the boarded up towns, the abandoned homes, poor infrastructure. And I was taken with the contrasts of the deserts, the mountains, the plains, the rolling hills, and the lakes and rivers. Tennessee was, to me, the most beautiful state. There was no least favorite, just different. I’ll never forget Kelsey Harrison, who was running across the country east to west.
And I’ll never forget the price Brett paid for taking on the challenge of a cross country ride. He was never out of our minds for a second as we realized “it can happen to any of us.” It’s dangerous out there on a bike on roads and in conditions that we normally wouldn’t venture out on.
In closing, I’d like to borrow from “The Hollow Men” by T. S. Elliot:
Between the idea and the reality; Between the motion and the act; Falls the Shadow
Between the conception and the creation; Between the emotion and the response; Falls the Shadow
The “Shadow” Elliot is referring to is the purgatory we face by our unwillingness to act, our unwillingness to make a decision. In all of our lives with all of our struggles, we want to avoid the “Shadow.” One of the other riders offered a quote from Dr. Seuss which many be more suitable as a final message -
“don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”
I am so blessed; I truly mean that. And at this moment I am happy, very happy, and emotionally spent. Let me tell you why! I woke up this morning and had some lovely e-mails from many of you (and I will reply, I promise, over the next few days) but one, in particular, stood out and it was from Malone and he shared some loving words and told me he was proud of me. So I set out happy and, yes, I cried a little. So we wander along on our final ride into Charleston and at one point we meet up with a police escort that guided us for 8 miles through Charleston and we had an entire lane to ourselves, a bunch of proud peacocks all decked out in our Trek XC jerseys. And we arrive at a pub where we rendezvous for the final 7 miles and we had a beer and some appetizers. So I open my e-mail and there is an e-mail from Morgan with a video of congratulations (that took her 11 1/2 hours to upload to YouTube) and so I’m sitting by myself at a table outside (relevance of location in a moment) and there I go crying again. The video is so touching. So I’m sitting there red-eyed and I hear someone say “hello, there” and I look up and it’s my oldest sister Shirley, age 72, and behind her are two of her amazing sons, Rick and Mike, and their beautiful female partners, Laurie and Pam. I was stunned and thrilled and I tell you, if my heart wasn’t so strong, I would have had a heart attack right there. I was reeling with joy and surprise. It turns out that Shirley et al had just driven 19 hours straight from Sault Ste. Marie, Canada to surprise me (yes, Cayce was in on it). Okay, so another crying jag and much hugging. You see, I love all my brothers and sisters equally but Shirley is just special because she reminds me of our Mom so much and she just lost her loving husband of 52 years, Tom, in March and we seem to have grown closer through my epic challenge. So I need to leave Shirley and head off in our group to our final destination. We get about a mile up the road and there’s Shirley, Rick, Mike, Laurie, and Pam at the side of the road congratulating me and all the Trek XC riders with lovely home-made signs. A few more tears. So then we arrive at our final destination at the Atlantic Ocean and there’s Cayce and the Casey’s and the Youngs, all decked out in newly minted congratulatory t-shirts welcoming me along with Shirley’s family. A few more tears. Then the dipping of the bike in the Atlantic and more tears in recognition of what I’ve accomplished and how loved I am. I’m hoping I’ll be able to upload all the pictures we took.
So now we’re about to go out to dinner (all 11 of us) to celebrate Cayce’s 55th birthday. More tears on the way.
So now you can understand why I’m so happy and emotionally spent. So I was going to offer some perspective on my experience over the past 6 weeks but I think I’ll save that for tomorrow.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, for staying with me. Now, let’s see if the pictures came through.
Phew! Wow! I can’t believe it! 110 miles today and some scary times on the roads but it’s over. Fini! So I get to my room in the Middleton Inn and I call Cayce to tell her I was in my room and safe and sound and asked her where she and the Caseys and the Youngs were and she said “Middleton Place” and I was in shock because that is right next door (Cayce did not know where I was staying). So, as fate would have it on this glorious day, I got to see Cayce early (pictures below).
There’s also a funny picture below of my bicycle outside a shop I stopped at for a drink, a “bait and tackle” and “snack” stand. I couldn’t decide if I wanted a hamburger or crickets so I opted for a drink.
In essence, this trip is done as tomorrow’s ride is basically celebratory with a police escort through Charleston and on to the ocean for photos. So as I was out on the road for 8 hours today (damn, I’m glad that’s over) I thought through what the experience has taught me? The one lesson that stands out is how we seem to be losing the art of communication in today’s techno world. Here’s what I mean. My father-in-law, Bob Malone, is 84 and doesn’t have a computer and doesn’t text but he still wants to stay in touch. Cayce would print out my blog each day and fax it to him and he would call Cayce and talk about it. My oldest brother, Randall, has lost much of his sight but was very into my journey so his wife would read him the blog each day. Then Randall would call Cayce and want her input on how I was doing. My oldest sister, Shirley, doesn’t have computer access right now so our cousin, Dorothy, would call Shirley and read her the blog and relay Shirley’s thoughts to me via the blog. I actually wrote postcards to Bob, Randall, and Shirley and mailed them on rest days. What a gift it is to remember that our world of texting and e-mails will never be replaced by actual human contact. And so many of you who would not normally be in touch actually e-mailed or texted or passed messages along through Cayce and shared sentiments that touched me. The point is that we need to reach out to to those we love and share our feelings and please don’t forget that personal touch and conversation will never be replaced.
The most significant learning is that this epic challenge has changed my life, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I’ve grown as an individual understanding the importance of setting goals, planning, allowing for “reality,” ensuring a long enough time frame to allow better decisions to become habits, and not giving up. A parallel is that I see the importance of a support structure for all of us as we tackle difficult goals. Cayce, of course, was key for me but the biking group also provided tremendous support as there were days when I might have wanted to get in the van but seeing others take on the challenge or encourage me to stick with it kept me focused. Other days, I was the support for others. In the same way, all of you need a support system as you take on challenges. It’s difficult to go it alone.
I’ve been humbled by what all of you have done to sponsor WISER, Young Life Capernaum, and Project Goal. Please go back to the web site and read about the amazing work these groups do. Through your support, you are making a difference in this world. And please go back to the web site to honor your pledge via credit card or PayPal as soon as you can. I am trying to get an e-mail reminder out but it’s tough to squeeze that in.
This has been a very personal journey for me, obviously, and I am happy to have shared it with you and awed that so many people have been interested. Now I need to transition back to a “normal” life and as I do, I’ll be forever influenced by your kindness, support, interest, and love!
I’m happy and content right now! May God give me the strength to maintain that. More tomorrow, hopefully.
So, another day, another 100 miles. It’s absolutely surreal that for 6 weeks, I basically get up at 5:30 a.m., power down a huge breakfast (quantity, not quality), go ride 100 miles, arrive at the next hotel, shower, do minor tasks (like blog and e-mail), power down more food, done by 7:00 p.m., and to bed around the 8 p.m. timeframe. The variables are location, weather, amount of climbing, and personal health. Today, I rode 104.8 miles that had 4,745 ft of climbing. It was a beautiful ride but the roads had no shoulder and about 20 miles were bone shaking rough but because it was Sunday, traffic was light and what traffic there was was mostly church-going families. The semis and the cyclist-hating pick-up drivers were on a day of rest preparing for another week of marauding and mayhem. And weather was perfect. It seemed even the dogs take Sunday off.
3,000 + miles behind us and only 141 miles left, 108.7 miles tomorrow. Keep in mind that’s another 7 to 8 hours on the road tomorrow. I am so eager to return to “normal” where a ride up Angeles Crest Highway that is 19 miles one way and about 4,500 ft of climbing and takes a little over 2 hours will be an enjoyable training ride. I want to get back to cycling for fun and fitness on a schedule that suits and pleases me! And I want to get back on my mountain bike, too. Larry Oaks, who is on his 3rd XC trip, told me this morning that he thinks I’ll go into a funk for about a month “missing” this journey we’ve been on for 6 weeks. I don’t think so!
Okay, what else. Meet Tim, who is the youngest in our group at 44, and is the strongest rider and, in my opinion, most liked in our group. He is an extremely affable and interesting person. Tim has competed in a stage race that ran the length of Africa, from Cairo to Capetown. I finally got this picture of him but it had to be in “civvies” as I just don’t see him on the road.
And before we’re done, I want to offer a huge thanks and expression of love for Glenn and Merrily Gumpel. Glenn & Merrily have been supporters and partners in philanthropy of mine for years. It was Glenn who got me going raising money for charity on this ride when he said he’d give me $5.00 a mile for any charity of my choice. Merrily has been a tireless supporter and cheerleader and contributor and I value and respect her immensely.
Cayce and the Casey’s (Tim & Louise) and the Youngs (Phil & Liz) arrive in Charleston today and they’ll all be there Tuesday when I ride in with the group! I’m so excited and thrilled they’re going to help me celebrate this awesome accomplishment.
Okay, more tomorrow! I have so much I want to say about what this has meant to me and how inspirational and motivating it has been to have all of you follow these blogs and offer your support.
Sorry, I should have added this to today’s blog. Thanks to a significant pledge from Gary Zentmyer and another generous contribution from William Young, both of La Canada, total donations and pledges have gone over the $65,000 level. Details are on the web site. Don’t stop now, friends!
Gary Zentmyer e-mailed me and said “it’s in the bag, Don” and he’s right. This was a watershed day (good descriptor as I crossed the Eastern Continental Divide today – see picture) as we left the mountains and we now have a mostly flat 244 miles to go. We left Asheville this morning in crisp and cold weather but under sunny skies and the 4,466 ft of climbing was mostly in the first 22 miles as we climbed out of Asheville to get out of the mountains and head towards the ocean. When we took the picture of me at the top of the climb at 2,880 ft at the Eastern Continental Divide, I was almost giddy. When I got to the bottom of the 6 mile descent, I stopped in Chimney Rock for a delicious triple shot non-fat latte and friends Chrissie and Dave and Christian (my European friends who love stopping for coffee, too) joined me. There’s a picture of us there and my mood was very positive. Later, we crossed into our final state of South Carolina and you’ll see a picture of me as we’ll as one of the three amigos, Larry and Kelly Oaks and Father Bruce, the three amigos who have ridden across the country together. How exciting it was to cross the SC state line.
I think back on the past year and I’m very proud of the fact that I trained well and prepared and researched to the extent that I’ve had no physical or mechanical problems over the six weeks it has taken to get across the country. What a tremendous feeling of accomplishment to have overcome all the horrible weather and other conditions to ride with strength and confidence. Make no mistake about it. It’s harder to do this at 65 years old than at 55 or 45. But I nailed it.
Now I want to be done and get back to a “normal” life of good health and fitness and good habits. Cayce has been tremendously supportive and I know that hasn’t been easy for her. And I have to tell you that I have been moved and motivated by all of you who have been following these blogs. There is tremendous support in La Canada but well beyond La Canada, too, from my extensive loving family in Canada, to friends around the world. Amy Neilsen asked me how I find the time to blog and e-mail each day and I told her that I felt an obligation to tell to like it is for the hundreds of people following my epic challenge. I’m so honored and humbled by your interest and support!
Okay, let me post this with the fun pictures I took today. I’m going to be sending an e-mail to all of you that have pledged a per mile donation to go back to the web site and use the credit card or PayPal facility to honor your pledge. We’re doing some good, gang! thank you.
That was one tough day today. One very tough day. That’s not a complaint, just reality; that’s what I signed up for. 90 miles of riding, over 6,000 ft of climbing, in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. Wow, I really felt it in my legs and loved every second. Weather was perfect biking weather in that the sun was out but it never got hot; I never took my toes warmers, arm warmers, leg warmers, or jacket off. The country is beautiful as we rode along rivers and canyons. We rode through Hot Springs, NC, which is located at the confluence of he French Broad River and Spring Creek; home to the only known natural hot spring in the state. The Appalachian Trail runs along Bridge Street in downtown. I got seriously lost around mile 67 but I followed route signs and made numerous stops at service centers and found my way to Asheville. I rode by myself, which I prefer, and I stopped at mile 58 at a really cool coffee shop and had a triple espresso latte. Very cool day.
So Cayce suggested I tell you a bit about the support we receive from Trek Travel each day. There are two 15 seat vans; one has a trailer that hauls luggage, and the other has day bags (small bags that we have access to to put on or shed clothes depending on the weather) and lunch. The vans cover the front group and the lagging group. Every 15 miles or so there is a van parked at the side of the road to provide water and snacks. And for those not able to handle the riding (not me, I swear, but others have certainly taken advantage of the option), they can jump in the van. Also, if anyone has a flat or mechanical problems, the vans can and will help if they are in the area. So far, I have only had 2 flats (I changed one and a guide changed the other) and I have had both tires replaced because they wore out. I have also replaced the cleats on my shoes twice (I have used 3 sets). My derailleur has been adjusted by the guides a few times. The bottom line is that the Trek Travel guides provide the most important service in support on the road. Of course, the accommodations and the meals are very important but when you are out riding 100 miles a day, it’s very reassuring to see the Trek Travel vans out there.
I also want to start thanking some of you for helping me get here. Let me start with thanking Jack Horne, whom I love, for his dedication to helping me train and to push me. Jack and I have ridden at least 4 centuries together plus many hard training rides. The fact that I was ready for this tour was reflective of Jack’s help. Further, Jack and Cary are major contributors as sponsors. And I need to thank Bob Meeker and Gary Zentmyer who have really helped me. Of course, you know that Emma Ejwertz, my personal trainer, and Anne Frazee, my massage therapist, have really been major contributors.
Tomorrow, I leave NC and enter SC. 4 more days of riding including 3 days of tough riding tomorrow and Sunday and Monday. But this dude is ready to wrap this up! I’m tired but eager to be done. Day after day of 100 mile rides for 6 weeks now. Surreal!
I’m tired. Satisfied and fulfilled, but tired. I want to be done. But there’s all this riding still to do. Yesterday, as I shared, was a big day and a long day. Today was 107 miles with 5,464 ft of climbing and so it should have been a shorter day, except that we entered the eastern time zone and so we lost an hour, which meant I arrived at the hotel at 4:30 instead of 3:30. No big deal, you say, but it cuts into my recovery time. Oh we’ll. It is what it is. Did I mention I’m tired?
It rained through the night last night but it stopped a little before 7:00 am which meant no rain when I departed Crossville but wet roads for a while. In summary, it was cool in the morning and so I wore “cold weather” gear and the reality was that the skies never cleared and it never warmed up so I never shed the cold weather stuff. Great biking weather really and so it was a terrific day on the bike riding through beautiful eastern Tennessee and into the Smoky Mountains. Many lakes and rivers throughout the ride and the country is hilly and gorgeous. I just love being on the bike here. Well, I continue to be chased by these vicious country dogs but I’m so pissed when it happens that I actually startle a few of the dogs with my verbal attack.
We enter North Carolina tomorrow with an 88 mile “climbing” day into Asheville so I’ll need my rest tonight. I really like Asheville. I’ve spent time there with my brother Dale mountain biking and with Cayce earlier this year.
I’ve included pictures of Dave Edwards and Marquette Kelly. Not only are they a great guide duo but they are engaged to be married (which will take place right after this trip is over). Dave is 45 and this is his 5th XC trip. Marquette is much younger. The two of them have been very helpful and supportive to me and I really value them as people and guides.
There’s also a picture of Tara Clausen, the masseuse, and Tara has been part of every Trek Travel XC trip they’ve offered (as Dave has). Tara is the one not in bike clothes.
I’m sorry these last blogs are not as interesting. For me, I just want to jump into each day’s ride and complete it as quickly as I can while staying in my comfort zone. 4 more days of riding.
This will be a short blog because my schedule got compressed because of the length of the ride today. I didn’t get in until 4:45 and did laundry, took a shower, and had dinner. But the news is all good. A difficult ride because of the 125 miles and the amount of climbing (7,470 ft) but the weather was good, conditions of the roads good, and I really rode well and strong but I’m glad it’s over. 107 miles tomorrow with 5,464 ft of climbing so it will be another long and difficult day but the weather forecast looks good and I’m eager to get on with it!
Meet Rob Kirk, a 63 year old Australian who is the 2nd strongest rider in our group but just look at him. He’s a rake and let me tell you, very strong.
I’ll try and provide a more interesting blog tomorrow. There’s some positive news re Brett – check it out at http://brettsrecovery.tumblr.com.
We’re staying in the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville and it’s delightful although we looked like a bunch of vagabonds in their formal dining room last night. I’m sure the wait staff thought we would clean them out of their hot dogs and Kraft dinner! Ah, never judge a book by its cover!
So, here we are at Day 33 of a 40 day trip, just 575 miles and 6 days of riding to go! We’ve ridden 2,640 miles so far and they have been a very difficult 2,640 miles with the extreme weather conditions we’ve endured but yesterday made up for it all and the weather outlook for the next week looks promising. But to be sure, I went to a local bike shop and bought more cold weather gear! Just in case another Taos day emerges I’ll be super prepared. And there are some difficult days ahead. Tomorrow alone is 125.3 miles and 7,470 ft of climbing. To be followed on Thursday by 107.1 miles. You get the picture. There are no easy days, just some easier days and some harder days. And as I’ve shared before, I’m on top of the biking component; I’m very strong and fit and conditioned to long hours on the bike. I’s the weather and other conditions (traffic, roads, dogs, flats) that add to the stress.
A couple of stories for you. Like the day I pulled over for a break and a rancher in acid up pulled over and rolled his window down. To my surprise, he didn’t want to comment on my sexual persuasion or the stylishness of my biking shorts but to see if I was okay. That led to asking me where I was from and what I was up to. That led to him telling me that he liked to ride his bike and if he didn’t have to go and feed his cattle he might like to ride with me a while. Just an unbelievably super cool interaction with a genuinely great American. I think we both parted thinking that as much as we all seem different, we’re all the same. We want a decent life for ourselves, a better life for our kids, we all respect hard work and dedication, and we’re innately interested in others. The second story happened when I was on the ferry crossing the Mississippi River and I got chatting with a group of ladies (and one young boy seeming embarrassed that his mom and aunts and grandma were talking to me and were trying to get him out of the van to come meet this odd man) and the gals wanted to know what I was up to and wanted all the details. Well, I have that schtick down now so I told them of riding 35 centuries in 40 days and how we battled the elements and endured conditions that would make the Donner party cringe and in my mind should have had them in tears of sympathy for me and when I was done the apparent dominant female looks at me and asks “so do you do this every year?” T which my eyes bulged and veins popped and I silently screamed “are you crazy?” But then then just said in a quiet tone “no!” That wonderful interaction with these delightful ladies just reminded me that you can’t put in words the experiences and emotions I’ve gone through. It’s just too personal. The last story is of a couple in Oklahoma who engaged me in conversation (something that generally just takes a quick glance or a slight alteration in a breathing pattern) and so I told them of the story of this 65 year old struggling to bike across America. Somehow, they got the URL of my web site and the next report I get is from Cayce that a couple from Oklahoma mailed me (DSBAA2012) a check for $25. It’s that sympathy thing again that worked on Dave Parker ( and on Phil & Liz Young, Jeff & Nancy Marderosian, and Mike and Nancy Casey yesterday). Wait till I get to the point of telling about biking without shoes in the snow and having to fend off the wolves! The donations are going to flow in!!
Which nicely brings me to an update of the sponsorship component of the ride. We’re now over $63,000 with 141 individual donors and I think/hope more is coming.
So to new introductions. Meet Tom Miller of Mineapolis (photo is of him in street clothes in Printer’s Alley today). Tom is 64 and recently sold his rather large health care company and sends his grand kids postcards from the road. A terrific guy. Meet also Larry (56) and Kelly (50) Oaks from Houston Texas. They one a sheet metal fabrication business that is now being run by their children. But here’s the amazing fact. This is their 3rd XC biking trip with Trek Travel. I’m still trying to understand that. They a an incredibly nice couple and, as you’d guess, very strong riders. The last photo is of me in Printer’s Alley in Nashville today. I’m down a little more than 10 lbs since the start of the ride and I certainly haven’t had that as a goal. I take in, like everyone else here, an enormous amount of food, but you just can’t eat enough to cover the calories burned by being on a bike 8 hours a day. ALERT: this is not a desirable weight loss program!!! It will be a challenge to start cutting back on the intake this next week and for the weeks that follow so that I can maintain my present weight and fitness level. I don’t know I’d I’ve shared this but I’m signed up for a half-marathon (running) in Las Vegas on December 2nd and I’m committed to a sub 2 hr half. I did that because Cayce and I will be in Africa and Spain for the better part of November and I want to start running again to keep fit and that goal is my motivation.
I’ve also included a photo of the Cumberland River that I took at mile 70 yesterday. I took it because it was incredibly beautiful to see all the fall colors on the trees on the banks. I don’t know if the iPhone photo will do the beauty justice but I’m including it anyway.
I’m tired. I’m really tired. I want to be done but I’m sure once I’m back on the bike in the morning the “smell of the barn” will take over and pull me in to Charleston. Miss you all, but especially Cayce and Morgan and Malone. It has been a long time away from Cayce, in particular.