Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Clamstrip 180

So we made it back to the UConn Health Center, and we had a great crew of people waiting for us! NBC 30 was even there to catch our return and interview us about our experiences (just read the blog!)

Here we are: Alex, Loreen, Arturo, and Stacy. I think Stacy's helmet is too small and mine too big. Check out the glove tan. Oh yeah... We ate and drank in front of our home (the health center, since we spend more time here than our actual houses) and celebrated our official return with classmates and other health center staff, including Dr. Bob Bona, who is intimately involved with ensuring money raised by Lea's goes directly to hematological research conducted at UConn and to the service of patients. It was a great time, and NBC captured the debauchery.

While the true end of this journey will be a final ride to Milford and Long Island Sound on Saturday August 21st with whomever would like to join us, I (Arturo) had decided a while back that I couldn't stop at Farmington, but had to keep going until I couldn't go any farther, until I essentially rode right into the Atlantic Ocean with the next services somewhere in France. It was a clean shot to Cape Cod, and just about as far east as you can go in this country, short of eastern Maine. I would keep doing this in the name of Lea's Foundation, continuing to bring support to the cause across the remainder of southern New England.

After a rest day in West Hartford, I set off at 5 am, hoping to make it the 135 miles to Buzzards Bay, MA that day. Hartford was just waking up.

I crossed the Connecticut River as the sun rose and made my way to route 44, which I would take to Pawtucket, RI.

As I passed through East Hartford, I noticed people weren't really smiling or nodding when I did, and I wondered if I had finally left the zone of friendliness. Was Connecticut really the worst? Stopping at a gas station for a quick bit of breakfast, I got to talking to the clerk. After telling him what we had just done and that I was continuing it to the Cape, I headed outside to eat my microwave breakfast sandwich on the curb. As I'm eating, the clerk comes out with a plastic bag telling me to take these ten donuts with me, since I could definitely use the energy! The bag was full of kruellers, donuts, danishes, and maple buns. Connecticut had not let me down, but I wondered why we never got bags of donuts when there were four of us. Finishing these would be a task, but I strapped the bag to my bike and continued on.

As I left, I saw the clerk talking to a lady at the counter, who was staring at me, and as I waved goodbye to them she ran out and screamed "good luck! Stay safe!"

The remainder of Connecticut fully confirmed that it is a hilly freakin' state! On top of this, I decided to remove my front panniers in an attempt to give myself some more speed, but in transferring my tools and other important items to the rear, all I did was set up a terrible weight imbalance that not only made me very unsteady but slowed me down incredibly. I was wondering if I would make it to Buzzards Bay that day after all. By the time I hit Manchester, I was tired! How was I going to pull off 135 miles? Just keep going. Somewhere along the way, I found this guy on the side of the road, and secured him to the front of my bike.

Despite the hills and feeling slower than ever, passing through the woods and towns of eastern CT was nice.

At around 10:00, I made it to Rhode Island, but despite its nickname, I wouldn't be seeing any ocean here.

On the road to Pawtucket, it was nice to see this. A little premature though...

Passing through Pawtucket, just north of Providence, I was at the mercy of some of the worst and most hurried drivers I'd come across on this trip. On top of this, the shoulder slowly disappeared and road conditions were terrible, but eventually I made it across and was so close to Massachussets.

From Pawtucket, 85 miles in, I continued through Taunton, MA and on to Buzzards Bay. I hit 100 miles at 2:15 pm, which was pretty awesome. I was definitely hitting my second wind and was cruising at this point. Days off always throw me off at first. Give your body a chance to rest and all it wants to do is complain. But now Buzzards Bay (and beyond?) was well within reach. Once in Buzzards Bay, I got my first view of Atlantic water, and stopped at Barnacle Bill's to eat some great fish and chips and clam strips.

I was definitely getting tired, so I took a 15 minute rest after eating, hydrated, and then continued to find a way over the Cape Cod Canal. Heading out of Buzzards Bay, I passed this awesome railroad bridge.

I was planning to take the Bourne Bridge across the canal, which would have been doable for a bike, but must have missed it because I was suddenly on a shoulderless highway full of people trying to get over the only other bridge to the Cape, this one the interstate bridge. As I got on the on ramp for the Sagamore Bridge, I saw that cursed no bikes/pedestrians sign that always throws a monkey wrench in things. For a second I considered just staying on and hoping no cops would be crossing at that time. I am very glad I didn't. Instead, I headed down a bit trying to find a bike route over, and finally found the walkway on the other side of the roadway. Seeing the road, I realized if I'd stayed on there would have been chaos on that bridge. There was an awesome view of the canal. I never knew Cape Cod was really an island...

I was now officially on the Cape (!), and at 137 miles with a good amount of daylight left I kept going, planning on camping whenever it got too dark to continue. Passing through Sandwich, I saw a chance to go to the beach on the north side of the cape, facing Cape Cod Bay. I debated whether I should wait till the very end to see the ocean for about two seconds and then thought "what are you stupid?" It's beautiful there. A boardwalk led out over the salt marshes.

There it was, that other coast.

Leaving the beach, I found some discarded color-in kites that had been scribbled all over and then stuffed in a trash can. I had no choice but to hook the T-rex one up to my bike. How could I not? A little down the road, I gave the kite some slack and for a brief moment successfully had a kite flying off the back of my bike, riding across Cape Cod as the sun set. Now that's life.

Route 6A on the Cape is awesome.

It started getting darker, but since at this point I was already at around 142 miles for the day, I had to keep going to 150. Despite passing a number of spots that looked hidden and flat enough to pitch a tent, I continued until I passed it. At 151 miles, I came across a church and thought to ask there. No one was there that late of course, but across the street was a big house with a giant yard that looked almost like an orchard, and I figured I'd ask there since I could tuck away in one corner and not bother them. When I knocked, a 15 year old kid answered, and stared at me with the look of "oh God, who's this guy and why's he at my door at night?" After explaining what I was doing and him being genuinely excited, he told me he was the only one home. He tried calling his parents but since they didn't pick up and he couldn't give permission for me to camp on their lawn, I moved on down the road a little. A few minutes later, I found this old unmanned fire station.

At least it wasn't someone's private property, so I set up the tent so it could stay hidden behind the little firehouse, hoping I wouldn't be woken up like we had been by the forest rangers. I tucked into the tent listening to the cicadas and crickets, overjoyed to have just done 152 miles from Farmington to Barnstable, MA, and not even feeling all that bad!

The next morning I set off to complete the last 25 miles to Chatham, on the far eastern end of the Cape, intending to come back to Hyannis afterwards to catch a bus back to Hartford, probably by way of Boston.

On the way I passed this buffet. Even out here, so tempting.

With ten miles to go, I heard the bell go off in my head. My legs got stronger, I could see the Atlantic in my head. Can't go any farther than ten more miles...

I made my way to the Chatham lighthouse, which I figured way a good destination to end on, and when I got there, I caught this morning session of Cape Cod yoga on Coast Guard Beach. I didn't join in.

It was so great and in a lot of ways surreal to be here, and even riding on my own, people had been so helpful and supportive, giving donations, helping me out, or just shaking my hand for completing this journey.

Cape Cod is amazing, especially when you're biking it and camping along the way. The Lower Cape is beautiful. I'm sorry to say that, to me, the sound just doesn't come close. And after 3,834 miles, it felt damn good to be in that water.

It was crystal...

I don't know if you've heard about this, but there's been a bit of a scare recently on the cape. It seems over the last few years, and especially this year, there have been a growing number of great white sightings off the cape. I was talking to someone on the beach, and they said two years ago two were spotted off shore, while this year it's been almost 15 so far, including one 14 ft. great white two days ago in the actual bay, which is separated from open ocean by barrier islands except for two breaks in the sand bars. The probable reason? A seal boom. More on that later, but needless to say I didn't try to swim across the bay to the sandbars of outer Nauset.

Coming back from the beach, I found this discarded broken umbrella, and decided my bike definitely needed some beach style.

While looking out over the open Atlantic, I met two brothers, Carl and Justin Fasano, who had been coming out here for 40 years to their mother's place in Orleans. Throughout the country, people always see my Nevada license plate and say "Don't tell me you came from Nevada?", to which I answer "actually California". It's always a fun time, and after telling them that I was doing this for Lea's Foundation, they said they could at least offer me a warm shower at their place 5 miles up the road. I took them up on it, and said I'd meet them there in a little while. After spending some more time at the beach and talking to several people, I headed up to get a good shower before heading back to Hyannis to catch a bus to Hartford (you gotta know when to call an end to something, and a bike ride BACK to Hartford would be kind of anti-climactic).

As I was riding along the shore to their house in Orleans, one of the brothers, Carl, pulls up to me on his motorcycle, telling me he didn't think to mention it, but he's heading off cape anyway and could give me a ride to Hyannis, or even Providence since he lives just north of there in Franklin, Mass. He said we could just put the bike on his motorcycle trailer and be set. He also said his brother was about to take their pontoon boat out for a spin with a friend and his two kids, and that I should hop in. Obviously, I said sure. This made me think. The fortunes of biking, and traveling in general, are finicky and at times pretty hilarious. Had I been at that spot by the lighthouse 5 minutes earlier or later, I never would have met the Fasanos. I probably would have gotten some crab quickly, biked back along the same route to Hyannis, and simply gotten on a bus. Instead, I had made it as far east as I could go on my bike, and was about to go even farther east on a boat with some great people to see Cape Cod the way it should be seen and end the trip with a bang. The ridiculous nature of chance made me think about a day the four of us were riding out of Monticello, Utah, about to cross into Colorado.

We had stopped to use the internet at the visitor's center in Monticello, and as I used the computer Alex and Loreen went on to wait at a gas station. Stacy and I finished doing what we needed to do and as I pulled up to Alex and Loreen sitting at a table, I saw directly ahead, creeping towards the road we would take into Colorado, a mini monster of a storm. Alex was anxious to get moving, in the hope we could beat the storm to the road. In my mind, all I could think was, you can't race a thunderhead, but we'd try...

As we sped to make it past the point the storm seemed to be drifting towards, my tire was becoming extremely low on air. I had been having terrible difficulty with my tires the last few days, and the day before had bent my rim a bit riding on a low tire I kept re-inflating just so we could make it to Blanding, Utah. The same thing was happening again, but so as not to hold up the group and just wanting to make it past that storm without getting dumped on, I was pumping my tire up about every 10 minutes. Looking behind us at one point, I noticed Monticello had disappeared, consumed by a completely different cloudburst. Had we been there just 15 minutes after we left, that would have been us. Of course, we now also had a different storm chasing us.

The one up ahead actually began drifting more away from us, paralleling the road rather than smashing into it. We decided to eat a quick lunch when he hit the Colorado border, thinking it'd be better to eat while we're dry than get rained on AND be starving. We enjoyed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches under the welcome sign, and by this point a third storm had appeared to the south, so that now we were flanked by three thunderheads, rumbling all around us, yet so far we were still completely dry.

We were dancing with thunderclouds, not so much playing chess with them as a game of drunken checkers, stopping for various reasons as some darted ahead and others caught up, weaving and darting so dumbly that we were brilliantly elusive to them. Stacy, watching these storms close in, urged us on. "Hey guys, I know it's really nice to have lunch on the border and all, but maybe not when the storms are coming this way." Personally, I figured if they wanted to come get us they would, and if we were going to get wet we would, hungry or not. We quickly got started again and by the time it did finally start to rain on us, my tube was down to about 2 minutes between refills. I knew I couldn't keep this up, so I told Alex to go ahead and catch up to the others while I found a small shed where I could change my tube. Because it was my rear tire, it was pretty tricky changing it by myself, and as I lifted up the back of the bike with my head I wedged the front tire against a corner so it wouldn't roll away from me. All this as my feet sunk into a thick red mud that had formed in the floor of the half-open shack. It was a spectacle I'm sure. While the rain pounded on the roof of the shed, I slowly changed my tube, humming and enjoying the sounds and the shelter of that tiny shed full of chicken wire, rusty nails and mud.

By the time I had my bike all ready to go, the rain had passed, and the misfortune of having a flat when you least want one had turned out to be a blessing. The others, meanwhile, had bolted forward in an attempt to beat the rain and had probably gotten soaked. I got back on the road and, as I pulled up to a gas station, I heard Loreen yelling to me. "They have corn dogs for 79 cents!" This after I had gone on an unsuccessful corn dog quest in Blanding the night before. We ate a couple that had just been made and set off into the toenails of the Rockies...

Meeting the Fasano brothers like that just made me think again about all those things you really shouldn't spend much time thinking about. How a gap of seconds can result in such different ends, how the greatest people we know and the best of friends are many times the result of one in a million chance occurrences. As we set off on the pontoon boat "12 Lil' Pirates", which they called the floating living room, I just laughed.

A hell of a way to end...

At one marina we stopped at to fill up on fuel, a lot of the boats had to be stored dry, and this giant cat would lift them out of the water to take them to their shelf like a little valet service. It was pretty cool to watch.

As we approached Coast Guard Beach, where I had been earlier, we saw the reason the sharks were hanging around so much.

The sound was bizarre. It wasn't the stereotypical 'ar ar' of seals, more like hounds or low pitched crying coyotes. They filled the water too. I'd never seen so many seals like that in New England. I guess the great whites hadn't either. It's a seal buffet out there. I can sympathize.

Carl picked me and his niece Kayla up at a dock and brought us back to the house. I took a quick shower and their mother fixed me a great sandwich on a roll. I talked with her for a short while, and we got ready to go, since we needed to head out to catch the last bus out of Providence at 3 pm.

Kayla, me, Jackie and Ralph. Not pictured: Carl, a great guy. Carl and I drove to Providence and having a great conversation, we made it to the station with about 20 minutes to spare. We said goodbye and as a bus pulled in I got in line, which stretched around the corner. After waiting about 15 minutes, it occurred to me to ask the guy next to me if this was in fact the bus to Hartford. He said New York, and I said "So it probably goes through Hartford."

"No, this is the express. Others may stop but this one is only New York. I know because I travel a lot. " Oh. Good thing I asked. Moving on down the row of buses, I finally found the right one, lucky I wasn't thwarted by my instinct to blindly jump in the line where everyone else was.

As I sat down in my seat on this nearly empty bus (why's New York more popular than Hartford, huh?), I saw a glimmer between the seats. I reached in and pulled out this quarter. I had never seen this one before, it was brand new, and noticing what state it was I just laughed: California. Beautiful...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Litchfield Hills Stole My Spiritual Milk Money... and other stories from the eastern brow ridge of America and the last leg of this endeavor

A lot has happened since our last posting, but the Allegheny Mountains were not our friends in terms of finding access. Sorry it's been a while, but to make up for it, here's a brain dump of our memories to catch you up!

So remember how we got a room paid for us by an Indian physician/motel clerk in Boardman, Ohio? Well he told us to come back at 8 when the owner would be there, and he would ask him if he would be willing to donate or pay for it himself if he said no. When we did return, he asked to see Alex and Arturo's IDs. "Where does it say you are medical students? Do you have proof?" We didn't. "But you can ask us questions". This began a high stakes impromptu gross anatomy quiz through the bullet proof glass of the motel counter, which we're happy to announce we passed (inferior epigastric, baby!). You can forge a medical student ID, but you can't fake anatomy. So he ended up paying for our room. He was an awesome guy, and as it turns out he has a different business and was just covering for the owner (who was three hours late and who he ended up cursing out in Hindi).

Before all this, though, we decided to get dinner at Golden Corral, honestly one of the most amazing buffets in all the land.

Where chefs carve amazing thick slices of brisket for you...

And fountains flow with chocolate.

Unfortunately we overwhelmed ourselves like dogs with bottomless bowls, and Loreen may or may not have refunded a little mac and cheese in the motel parking lot. The former/future physician ended up buying us a room that night, and the next morning we prepared for our ascent into the Appalachians. But Ohio didn't let us go without a fight, and a few incredibly steep hills helped to usher us out and into Pennsylvania. The welcome signs are sometimes subtle, but the lottery always lets you know when you've entered a new state...

Although the hills were steep and grouped one after another, they weren't as bad as we had expected. Still, the heat was once again rising after a bit of a break in Ohio, and the Alleghenies are no joke. Around New Wilmington, we once again entered Amish country, and talked to some people along the way.

We then found an Amish bake stand and got some elderberry pie and an amazing pumpkin roll. Loreen also bought some maple syrup at another stand.

After the quick dip through Amish country, we pressed on through Allegheny towns like Emlenton. This is oil country, and as it turns out there's actually a gas boom going on from New York to West Virginia, with thousands of drillers descending on the Appalachians. This definitely worked to our disadvantage when trying to get motel rooms.

In Shippenville we came across this interesting statue of a, uh, polar bear cupcake dog balancing a teacup on its head? Oh of course. The official symbol of Pennsylvania. It's on the quarter.

Finally, we made it to Marienville, PA right as the sun was setting. This was where last year's riders stayed, but since we wanted to keep our schedule, we actually had to knock a day off between Springfield, Ohio and Marienville. Four hundred-mile-plus days in a row got the job done, and we were pretty happy to have 'lapped' the route from last year. In Marienville, all the motels in town turned us down for donations, so after eating as quickly as possible (Hot Pockets, hot dogs, and pepperoni balls!) we headed into the darkness and found a dirt road just inside national forest land. A few hundred yards in, the road stopped at a gate next to a sign for a wild turkey preserve. Lacking other options, we pitched our tents behind the gate, because who comes to a wild turkey preserve at 2 in the morning in the rain?

We slowly woke up to what sounded like an alarm going off outside our tents, complete with snooze. In a half-dream, Loreen thought "stupid car alarm", until she remembered we were in the middle of the woods. We realized there were also blaring lights shining on the tents, and we stuck our heads out to see a giant truck in the darkness with huge floodlights on, honking to wake us up. BEEP, BEEP, BEEEEEEP, BEEEEP, BEEP -pause- BEEEP BEEEP BEEP BEEEEP BEEEEEP BEEP. After hustling my shoes on, I went up to the driver's side praying they didn't have guns, and it turned out to be a pair of pretty unhappy forest rangers. They said we weren't allowed to camp there since it was an access road for the forest service that needed to be clear in case of emergency, that we needed to "vacate immediately" and that maybe we could find something a mile down the road but maybe not. They stayed there with their lights on us as we shoved our soaking tents into their bags in the rain, and the truck trailed behind us down the dirt road before speeding off and leaving us to the darkness once we hit the main road. Since it was almost 4 am at this point, we decided it was pointless to find a new spot to camp, so we rode a half mile back to a gas station and had coffee and breakfast waiting for a little light as dawn approached. Around 5 am, the mist rolled in and it got really cold. We had been told by other riders to just dump our cold weather gear once we hit Kansas, but we were definitely happy we hadn't. We started off once it was light enough, destined for Galeton, PA about 98 miles away.

The mist was pretty awesome. During the day we happened upon a couple of Llama ranches. OK, really they were alpacas, and man they looked goofy, like giant poodles with bowl cuts. Sorry alpacas, we call em like we see em. You're really soft though.

In towns like Port Allegheny the signs of mining and the industry of these mountains poked up.

Just past this mill, we saw this car show in the town park. There were some really amazing ones, and while we were wandering around a woman had us come to the central gazebo to get our names and what we were doing. A little while later they announced that we were in the crowd and to shake our hands if you saw us.

Stacy's vote was for this '67 Camaro SS. The tiger in the back sealed it for him.

We needed to continue on through Coudersport and on to the small town of Galeton. After a major climb coming out of Coudersport, we reached the Potato City hotel/restaurant at the very top of the hill (Denton Hill, if it has a name you know it's not good), which we decided to ask for a room despite being 13 miles short of Galeton. Although he said he couldn't at first because there was a big festival going on and only had two rooms, our pathetic desperation and tiredness from our 3 am truck alarm wake up call eventually got to him, and he ended up giving us two rooms with a shared bathroom. Potato City rules!

Some other cars from the show passed us earlier in the day only to show up at Potato City.

The next morning we started off towards Towanda, and being 13 miles behind our plan we knew we had to make up a little mileage, fortunately it was just a giant downhill to Galeton. Unfortunately it was all a giant downhill, and it was freezing! We survived.

Somewhere along the way we passed this dinosaur:

I guess this sign is telling us we need to take a southern bend now...

We reached Towanda in fairly good time, and this is where all the drillers made it impossible to find a motel room. It sits on the banks of the Susquehanna, which eventually runs into the Chesapeake. Since we were on the Allegheny River not long before, which is one of Pittsburgh's "three rivers", leading to the Ohio and eventually the Mississippi, somewhere after Coudersport we must have crossed the Eastern continental divide- that is, the ridge where drainage to the Atlantic and to the Mississippi/Gulf of Mexico split. I suspect it was Denton Hill.

In Towanda and (again) with no place to stay, we turned to our next hope for a roof (we were sick of getting rained on) and called churches. After a few calls, Father Martin Boylan at St. Paul and Peter's was kind enough to offer us the rectory's covered porch, complete with fan! He also let us shower, watch TV if we wanted, and brought us cherries, chips, water, and a bounty for breakfast the next morning.

We chatted a little while into the night, and the next morning we were off, but not before we could get a picture (a lot of times I don't get pictures of the best people and occurrences because you get lost in the moment, you know?). Thank you Father Martin! He gave us the number of the church in Honesdale, where he used to be, if we needed another place when we got there.

Somewhere along the way, we found a bizarre outcropping of a green/black/reddish glass-like mineral. Loreen and myself being amature xeno-geologists, the identification was simple: Kryptonite. We took a little bit and kept it in our bags, so even Superman couldn't stop us now...

Out of Towanda, we entered what are called the Endless Mountains. Quite right. We did catch this view at the top of one, and right down on the left bank of the river is where Marie Antoinette had a retreat built in order to escape the French Revolution. She missed the flight, but some servants, workers etc. were there, eventually blending in to the surrounding cultures.

Through all this, have you noticed no mention of any great disasters? Now bikes sawed in half by a rogue mining machine, no tragic events fording a river, no stitches? Oh wait. Stitches. Despite us having surprisingly good luck through most of Pennsylvania and not mentioning it to keep it that way, as we neared Carbondale, Alex fell with his bike getting started up a hill (you have no idea how easy that is, which really sucks if you can't clip out of your pedal in time). He slammed his knee a bit but just wanted to push on, but as he zoomed up the hill I noticed a fairly big gash along his calf. "Uh, Alex you've got a pretty bad cut, maybe we should get a bandaid on it". Stopping, we saw it was pretty deep, and as we were sitting on the side of the road with Alex contemplating if he should just keep riding with such an open cut a car pulled over. Keep this is mind: when we're changing tires or resting on the side of the road on top of hills or anything else that doesn't need help, people always stop and ask if we need it. Every time we crash, sprawled out on the side of the road applying zip ties to our latest piece of broken equipment and licking our wounds, people just keep zooming by. An interesting phenomenon, so you can understand our luck when the woman who pulled over within 2 minutes of us stopping was an off-duty EMT who, after looking at the gash, said it would probably need something and offered to drive Alex with his bike in her car to the hospital in Carbondale, about 15 miles away. They went and the remaining three set off to find him there. Why they built the hospital at the top of an insane hill in town we don't know, but we did find Alex enjoying a turkey sandwich and Wheel of Fortune while he waited to get it stitched up.

The staff was awesome and really supportive of our ride, and the charge nurse even offered her empty cabin a while north of Carbondale. Unfortunately it was out of our way, otherwise we would have been all over it since all the motels we called weren't having it and dusk was lurking. Six stitches and a teen Jeopardy tournament later (they just throw them softballs man), we endeavored to make it to Honesdale before the darkness took hold and the road became terrifying. We failed. Someone put a ridiculous series of hills on the east side of Carbondale, and we eventually had to stop in a field since the batteries in all our lights were all nearly dead and the roads in PA are more accurately mini canyons of potholes, gashes, and just straight up abysses. The field happened to be right by a prison and may or may not have been prison grounds, but we made camp and hoped not to awaken to police lights and a tactical team surrounding us. Thankfully it was someone's property and as we were getting ready for bed the owners came by and said we could camp wherever we wanted and thought what we were doing was great. A break.

The next morning, we continued through Honesdale towards the New York border. We crossed the Delaware River into Narrowsburg, NY, and were now officially back in the hood! By noon we stopped at a gas station in White Lake outside of Bethel and got some good cheese steaks and subs. If it rings a bell, this is where Woodstock took place, and a guy we met at the Marie Antoinette overlook told me there are still a bunch of old hippies who never left Woodstock, and that it can be a pretty weird place. We were just passing through though, and there were just a few signs of what happened almost exactly 41 years before.

Arturo got a psychedelic lizard dude at the gas station since his bike had gone too long without some new bling.

Again, where the DOT fails in informing you of entering a new state, the lottery always picks up the slack.

We passed through a major Hasidic community in Woodridge and Fallsburg, NY, in the Borscht Belt of the Catskills. I really wish I'd gotten a Knish...

It was beautiful as sunset approached, but we knew we wouldn't make it to New Paltz before dark.

We did come across this beauty, which I am comfortable saying is the last pay phone in America, hidden somewhere in the sanctuary of the Catskills.

We unsuccessfully tried some motels along the road in Kerhonksan, and Loreen's sister Nan, brother in law Ronnie, nephews Alex and Zachary, and boyfriend Steve met us. Since there was no camping anywhere nearby, Ronnie and Nan were incredibly generous and paid for our room part way up the mountain towards New Paltz. They also drove us to New Paltz and got us a great dinner. Thank you so much guys! You were amazingly supportive!

The next morning began right off with a long moutain to get over before New Paltz. Stacy's chain began acting up, skipping, snapping and catching, each time painfully jolting his knees. We tried the few fixes we knew to help, almost made it disastrously worse, and finally made it somewhat rideable as long as he kept in one gear on the rear cassette and just shifted with the front derailleur. Stacy made it over the mountain in two gears.

The bike shop in New Paltz wasn't open for another hour and since we were trying to make it to Alex's house in Woodbury, CT for a BBQ at 4, Stacy said he could deal with it and just keep going since there probably wouldn't be anything like that mountain. He was right, it was way worse. Heading into Poughkeepsie we crossed the Hudson on an awesome pedestrian and bike walkway that must have cost millions to build. It's awesome to see resources put into amazing things like that! Straight down that river to the center of the universe...

We met this 69 year old on the walkway who said he'd done some shorter bike touring before, then told us about his father who used to swim across the Hudson every day and also down river 15 miles. Would put us all to shame. We continued through Poughkeepsie, and taking a shortcut (is that ever a good idea?) we hit an absurd mountain that just wouldn't quit. We were soaked with sweat, and Stacy said he hadn't been that wet since he biked up Monarch Pass, Colorado wearing his windbreaker and wind pants because he was too lazy to take them off. We thought we were all set once we left PA. The Taconic Mountains had other ideas. So would the Litchfield Hills, and with every climb as we literally raced to make the BBQ, now by 4:30, then by 5, the hills got worse and just kept coming. We entered Connecticut with little fanfare, but it was so good to be back!

In all honesty though, we all agree that the day from Kerhonksen to Woodbury was in the top two or three of worst hill days of the entire ride. New York and western CT may have worse climbs than the Rockies. Not as high or as long, but steeper, sustained, and humid as all hell. This on top of the fact that Stacy was still working with basically two gears (remember "the hills can't be any worse"?). It just wouldn't let us have it easy till the very last mile. At least on one of the hills, I did manage to pull an apple off a tree while riding, and the part that wasn't rittled with worm holes was amazing. One of the best apples I've eaten, but maybe circumstance played a role too.

In New Milford, Loreen's sister Nan and brother-in-law waited on the side of the road, cheered and hooted, and gave us Powerade and water. Again, so awesome! We made it to the BBQ at exactly 5 pm, and a crowd cheered us as we made it up Alex's illegally steep driveway (they needed to get special permission from the town). We had a great time that night, and drank some home-made wine and good beer, ate great Filipino food, and had a lot of great conversation. A lot of Alex's family was there, and Stacy's mom and girlfriend Carla also came up, as did Nan, Ronnie and Steve, our superfans! Even though we still had 30 miles to go, it was definitely good to be home.

The next day we started by 7:30 to make it to the Health Center by noon sharp since we were going to have people greeting us there. The hills were not terrible, and we were making great time. Before we knew it, we were basically home.

At this point, let me explain something about this ride. As we've slowly pushed east, we've kept our eyes out for signs we're getting closer to home. In Missouri CVS reappeared. Later, Dunkin Donuts. Indiana brought us Popeyes, Ohio White Castle, New York Stop and Shop. The trees became familiar, old stone walls appeared in the woods, eastern accents rang in our ears. Like slowly coming out of a dream, our waking world returned piece by piece until all things around us were in their usual place, like we'd never left. Had we even gone? Had someone just painted these tan lines on in our sleep? Planted these memories in our minds? This is hard to say, but we are not so much philosophers, so to us the point is moot. In any case, when the churches started looking like this, we knew we were in CT.

So far, the lizard was enjoying the ride.

When we saw this sign, holy crap. Smooth sailing...

To be back where there are really good delis...

We stopped at Loreen's SCP site on route 6 in Bristol. Stacy tried the blood pressure machine. A bit high. Too many gas station burritos?

Crazy Bruce's! Almost there!


Back for real.

Since we were over an hour early, we stopped at Truffle bakery on route 4 in Farmington. After we told them what we had just done, they gave us this amazing brown sugar chocolate chip coffee cake to enjoy. Seriously go here, they have amazing stuff and donated to help us!

We chilled in the hope that, barring a meteorite smashing us in the last mile (entirely likely given our luck), we had really made it.

Yup, we did...