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...

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