Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Home Again--Life's Journey Continues

Back home again in the Great Northwest! It’s hard to believe that it has been two weeks now since we crossed the finish line in Washington, DC. The re-entry has been quite surreal, with periodic thoughts that the Ride was a dream, or an out-of-body experience that I’ve been watching from the sidelines. As promised (or threatened) here is my last entry on the 2007 Big Ride Across America blog. I was hoping to have some grand revelations and epiphanies to share with you in this last entry. While they are light on the “grand,” here are some things that I learned (or re-learned on the 48-day voyage) that have been rattling around my foggy brain since the legs stopped cranking a fortnight ago.

I have never been an athlete, so I never really experienced the totality of being “in the zone” during an athletic event. I don’t want to diminish the importance of physical training. The 1,600 miles that I rode this year before the Big Ride began undoubtedly helped me face the challenges along the way—particularly the hill climbing and century rides. What I didn’t realize was the extent to which my mental focus developed and expanded in the early weeks of the Ride. This focus put out of my mind any thought that was inconsistent with, not supportive of, or a drain of mental energy from achieving the goal of reaching Washington, DC. This focus became more and more acute as the ride went on, as did its importance. One of the many gifts provided by the Ride was the intense sense of the present—the NOW. Each moment brought its own challenges and offerings. “Tomorrow” or “next Thursday” was not very relevant in facing and embracing the day to day ride experience.

There were definitely days or moments that you just didn’t feel like riding, or, reached a certain point along a day’s ride (say mile 72 of a 110 mile day when the temperature hits three digits and you’re just out of gas) when you think to yourself: “OK, that should do it for today…time for a cold one and a nap”—and you want to stop. You can’t. You don’t. You just keep on riding. This was to become a metaphor for life and the many courageous people I met on the ride—teammates, support staff, and everyday people we encountered along the way—who had recently battled and transcended (or are still fighting) serious life-threatening illnesses or facing other major life challenges and crushing losses. They heroically “just keep on riding” –even when there are times they feel that they just can’t. I have been humbled and inspired.

People frequently have asked “How on earth do you ride 3,300 miles?” The analogy talked about on the Ride was “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” It sounds glib and trite, but it’s true. One needs to quickly jettison the thoughts of this being a 3,300 mile ride in 48 days across this vast and immense nation. The concept is just too overwhelming. Part of the focus mentioned earlier is that there are 40 individual day rides. The goal of each ride is to complete X miles, safely and, hopefully, enjoyably—then live to ride another day—then start a new ride all over again.

Most people mean well and want to do the right thing. Their motives are usually pure, although their methods and means may at times seem questionable. The ability to consistently give other people the benefit of the doubt when things (large and small—usually small) start to go sideways--and manage (and regularly adjust) expectations-- is critical to completing and enjoying the Big Ride.

I was privileged to have participated in this truly grand adventure. What makes up a grand adventure? Of course it’s different for everyone, but for me for an adventure to be "grand" it has to have sufficient unknowns, risks, challenges, fun, laughter, and feelings of well-being, joy, pain, and discomfort. It must nourish the body, spirit, and soul, and hopefully "make a difference" in some small way. This was one.

I am eternally grateful to have experienced the Big Ride Across America, including the many weeks of preparation and fundraising leading up to it and the Ride’s impact on how I navigate life from this point forward. First and foremost, I thank my best friend and life partner Betsy, and my tremendously supportive son Eddie, daughter Becca, sisters Paula and Karen, and all my dear friends and extended family members. All have been wonderful. I want to express my deep and sincere gratitude to my ride sponsors, and the many who have offered their well wishes and encouragement for the months preceeding and during the Ride. My sponsors have truly made a difference with their generous financial support of ALAW's lung health and clean air programs.

A huge gear-truck-load of thanks to my fantastic Big Ride Teammates; our outstanding Support Crew; and all of the incredible people I crossed paths with across this great and beautiful country—my Ride experience was richer because of you.

Finally, I thank my dear, departed Dad Ed, who gave me so much in his brief but full life. His spirit was my inspiration throughout the ride. Thanks are not sufficient to express my feelings of gratitude to my beloved Mom, Eleanor. Everyday I realize and rediscover strengths and gifts she has given me to face life, and challenges like the Big Ride. When my Dad suddenly passed on many years ago and left her with three very young children, she truly taught me the meaning of “you just keep on riding—and living, and loving.”

To the readers of this Blog, thanks for visiting over the past few months, offering your words of encouragement, and putting up with my so-called jokes and musings. I’ve heard some of your groans many miles away. But as Martha Stewart would say, “That’s a good thing.”

In love and friendship…until the next adventure,


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Day 48--The Last Day's Ride to the Promised Land-and the Finish Line!

We left our camp at Clarksburg a bit earlier than usual to meet the tight scheduling of the DC arrival festivities. For me it meant kicking up my pace a couple of more notches than usual. Though not Pennsylvania grades, the hills were fairly challenging on this short, 57-mile final leg into DC. There were no "gimmes" here on the last day. We quickly rolled though suburban Montgomery County, rapidly crossed the DC beltway (I-495), then abruptly found ourselves on the Capital Cresent Trail for about 7 miles. For those from the Seattle area, this trail is like the Burke-Gilman on serious steroids or perhaps more appropo, the San Diego Freeway. It was a beautiful Saturday morning and a fire hose-like rush of hundreds of bikers and joggers were weaving and passing each other in both directions at warp speed. About halfway along the trail, we crossed the line into the District of Columbia! The adrenalin was really pumping.

By around 10:30 am we passed the Watergate and Kennedy Center and found ourselves navigating the streets around the National Mall, dodging tourists and tour buses--trying to find the Food Pavilion at the Old Post Office. There, Costas, a former Big Rider, hosted our team at his Greek restaurant. We dined on Souvlaki, Spanokapita, and Baklava, and began our goodbyes and picture taking. Thank you Costas!

After lunch, from the Old Post Office, Minnesota Vern, New Jersey Barry, and I were requested by our support crew to stage the flow of finishing riders for the final leg of the ride to the park across from the Lincoln Memorial. Vern, Barry, and I then rode in last to the finish line area. The final few blocks were a blur--with a couple of minor, wrong turns--and a quick recovery by all.

The finish was an amazing feeling, rolling through the well wishers...looking for, and immediately riding past my own wonderful pod of Betsy, our son Eddie, and dear friend Celia (all pictured with me).

There was a brief closing ceremony with one of the national leadership of the American Lung Association, Pollie McCloskie our Ride Director, and our entire Ride Team.

After more well wishes and meeting family members and friends of other riders, Betsy, Eddie, Celia, and I took a few pics and walked back to the hotel.

Whew! Pretty surreal.

What an experience!!

I will be doing one last update to this blog over the next few weeks to try to capture some of my reflections. I am still digesting all that has occurred on this incredible biking adventure...and what I have learned (or re-learned) about this wonderful journey called life.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude and thanks to my wonderful family, dear friends, generous sponsors, and unwavering supporters for your love and encouragement every step of the way.

I dedicated my ride to my long-departed Dad, Ed Minkoff. His spirit was clearly there with me.

The journey continues,


Days 46 & 47--From the Ghosts of Gettysburg into the Land of Mary

Day 46 (August 9) in Gettysburg was our last rest day. I wimped out and got a hotel room at the TraveLodge, four blocks from the camp at the local middle school. It was a typical rest day...laundry, naps, and a little sightseeing.

A few more gusty, thunderstorm fronts blew through. A group of us met Brack and Jean Anne Hattler at the Gettyburg Hotel for dinner. It was wonderful seeing them both since they had to leave the Ride in South Dakota. Brack seemed to be healing well from the accident--both Brack and Jean Anne continue to be inspirational to us all with their positive energy, love, and support. They are a big part of the heart and soul of this team!

Gettysburg is truly a town of ghosts...both Union and Confederate. Here was the site of the bloodiest (most casualties) battle in US History--including the two World Wars. On our way out of town on Day 47 (August 10), an eerie fog hung over the Gettysburg National Cemetery and the site of Lincoln's legendary address (pictured). There were clearly many untold stories hanging heavily in the mist.

Through the fog and over rolling hills, eight miles into the day's ride, we crossed the Mason-Dixon Line--the historical dividing line between free states and the former southern slave states. There, teammate Arizona Kelly and I traversed the Pennsylvania--Maryland State line (pictured).

The remainder of the 54-mile ride was fairly uneventful, and quite hilly at the end. Once in Clarksburg, MD, we camped at a very beautiful and quiet county park and had a final dinner together at an area restaurant.

The adrenalin and anticipation was building.


Days 44 & 45--The Pop Quiz and The Final Exam

We left the tropical village of Confluence in the early morning of Day 44 for the 84-mile ride to Bedford, PA. Briefly jumping ahead, the very challenging ride on Day 45 from Bedford to Gettysburg is known in Big Ride Lore and Legend as "The Final Exam." Well if that's the Final Exam, then Day 44 is a tough Pop Quiz.

The Day 44 ride started in Confluence at an elevation of 1,353' above sea level, gently rising to 2,106' in 31 miles along the Allegheny Highlands Trail (pictured). This beautiful trail is, like the Youghiogheny Regional Trail the day before, is another abandoned railroad. The Allegheny Highlands Trail follows the beautiful Casselman River (pictured). Though the grades on both trails were not terribly challenging, negotiating their semi-hard surface with road bike tires was very energy-consuming. The surface was in fairly good condition with a thin top layer that had the consistency of kitty litter mixed with cookie dough.

Upon leaving the trail at mile 31, we soon climbed steeply to the town of Berlin, continuing to climb to about 2,800' to the 9/11 Flight 93 Temporary Memorial near Shanksville at mile 57. This very moving "people's memorial" is at the location of the crash of the plane that was intended to hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, but, through incredible bravery and fortitude, the crew and passengers overcame the hijackers and forced the plane down into this remote Pennsylvania area. Briefly visiting the memorial, reading accounts of what occurred, and surveying the surrounding area took my breath away and brought a tear to my eyes.

The climbing continued to mile 66 and the summit of the Allegheny Mountains (pictured). The rest of the ride was generally downhill to our camp at Bedford at mile 84. It was another hot, humid, and hilly tropical day in PA. The day's scenery was spectacular.

Having completed the Pop Quiz, I was ready to take the "Final Exam" on Day 45 from Bedford to Gettysburg. This ride was a century ride with a seemingly endless succession of amazingly steep grades to climb over its 105 mile route.

My right knee was healing and feeling well through the Pop Quiz Ride and I felt I was ready for "the Final." I don't have much to say about the day's ride to Gettysburg other than it lived up to its billing as the hardest day of the whole Big Ride--including any of days in the Rockies or Cascades. It included a 1,000 foot elevation gain in 5 miles, cross-crossing the Penn. Turnpike, and countless other inclines that just seemed to lead to more climbing. I reached the mountain lake (pictured) at Cowans Gap State Park at the halfway point (mile 52)--then gutted it out to the last water stop at about mile 75. From that point, there were rollers, then a gradual climb at mile 85, with a sweet downhill run into Gettysburg for the last 15 miles or so.

It was on my coasting downward that I realized that although there were two more riding days to go, the biggest challenges were over. I felt a huge wave of emotion--joy, gratitude, disbelief, and a feeling that my Dad's spirit was riding with me. At that very moment, I felt a cooling tailwind gently pushing me along to the ride's end at mile 105 in Gettysburg...and the last rest day for the body and soul before the final push to DC.


Days 42 & 43--Bye Bye Buckeyes, Hello Penns-hill-vania

At 6:30 am on Day 42 (August 5), we left New Waterford, OH for Washington, PA. The ride was fairly short that day (59 miles) but quite varied in a number of ways.

First, we had been riding through the agricultural heartland of midwestern America for several weeks--mile after mile of corn, soybeans, other vegetables and fruits, and dairy cows. Eastern Ohio was no exception as we continued through the rich and rolling farmland. We even passed the renowned agricultural icon "Manure Acres" (pictured), listed as a must-see in all the Fodors and AAA Guidebooks.

The previous day we caught our first real glimpse of America's industrial heartland, passing through once-bustling Warren, OH. Warren was once the home of the Packard Motor Car Company. Statues of the recognizable Packard hood ornament were well placed along the main drag, a symbol of an era long gone by. Just out of town we rode by an industrial area (pictured) featuring a Coke Plant (no soft drinks) and a steel mill. Today, following a long, steep, descent through a pretty wooded area, we rather abruptly found ourselves in the depressing industrial milltown of Midland, PA.

As we discovered at the Illinois-Indiana state line, there was no "Welcome to Pennsylvania" sign at the Ohio border, as the pavement condition changed on the descent. So, as a lame surrogate for a state line welcome sign, I offer the facade of the Midland, PA Post Office (pictured).

Leaving Midland, we crossed a bridge over the Ohio River that is closely flanked by two massive cooling towers of the local nuclear power plant. Our team was warned by the local police that we had better not take any pictures of the bridge or nuke, else our cameras would be confiscated by Homeland Security. Hence no pics here--please use your imagination.

Shortly thereafter, the terrain became much more hilly, and weather changed from warm and overcast to rain. Soon, lots of rain. Many of us spent some time at a local watering hole in Burgettstown (just 10 miles from camp) waiting for the heavy rain to let up a bit. It didn't let up much. The intensity slowed momentarily as I arrived in camp outside Washington, PA, and pitched my tent in the drizzle.

Day 43 was intensely humid and hot--almost tropical. The morning was warm and moist as we left camp and rolled through the town of Washington, up Beau Street (a street as steep as many in San Francisco), and out of town to join PA Bike Route S. We went through a beautiful county park complete with a postcard-quality covered bridge (pictured).

After rolling through the homely town of Monongahela and over the river of the same name, we soon hit the junction with the Youghiogheny (pronounced Yawk-a-genny) Regional Trail. We followed this bike trail, an old railroad right-of-way that hugged the pretty Youghiogheny River, for 52 miles. Over that distance we gained elevation from 769' to 1,353' above sea level--a very gradual rise.

We concluded the 92-mile ride that day at our camp at Confluence, PA. The air was hot and as laden with moisture as it could possibly be without raining. There wasn't a dry eye in the house...or a dry anything for that matter.

More to come,


Days 36,37, & 38--From Hoosiers to Buckeyes--and a Scare

We left Valparaiso for Kendallville early on Day 36 (Monday, July 30), our last full day in Indiana. This was a century ride and then some--flat, but very long. The scenery consisted of more corn and soybeans, with an occasional dairy cow herd to spice things up.

One thing that was very clear was that the citizens of Indiana wanted no part of the previously-reported merger of the states of Illinois and Indiana into a combined state of "Illiana." There appears to be a huge corn roots movement in Indiana to block the impending union of the two states. Hundreds of yard signs (pictured) proclaiming opposition to Illiana dotted the countryside. "We Hoosiers are not going to stand for this--it's a downright stupid way to solve people's problems with trying pronounce Illinoise (sic)," exclaimed Seymore Buttonwillow from nearby Meathook, IN. Judging from the passionate Hoosier forces against, I wouldn't put my money on the merger happening any time soon...and I've learned firsthand to never underestimate the power of a Hoosier once they have set their minds on something.

Great hospititality continued as Larry (pictured), a participant in the 1999 Big Ride Across America, put out a fantastic food stop along the day's route in his hometown of LaPorte, IN. [NOTE: While mentioning the wonderful hospitality and food in Minnesota last week, I neglected to mention the incredible dinner and desserts provided in Madison, WI by fellow rider Wisconsin Bob' s family and friends and the Wisconsin branch of Arizona Dan's family--many thanks to all! ]

Day 36 was a pleasant, long, humid scorcher. We concluded the day's 115 mile ride at our camp outside Kendallville, IN.

On Day 37, we entered the state of Ohio (pictured).The morning did not start well. On an early (and rare) hill, I downshifted into a lower gear halfway up. My chain slipped off and got jammed between the chainring and frame, causing the crank to suddenly cease turning. I had no time to uncleat my shoe and promptly fell over on my right side. Fortunately, there were no cars or bikes behing me. I did a quick assessment and saw that I had a couple of scrapes on my right knee. I put the chain back on, wiped off my minor abrasions and continued thinking about how easily I got off with that one. By the end the day's 73 mile ride to Napoleon, OH, I could barely bend my knee. I iced it down to reduce the swelling and tried not to think about the potential of having to stop riding. The next couple of days before the rest day would be touch and go.

Fortunately, the following day's ride (Day 38) between Napoleon and Sandusky, OH is the flattest day of the entire trip. I took it very slow and easy for the 90 mile ride and slogged through with lessened but continued stiffness. The true test would be the next day--from Sandusky to Burton, OH--with 60 miles of flats and about 35 mile of hills. I would then see if my knee was improving sufficiently to even think about taking on next week's very steep runs through the hills and mountains of Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.

More to come,


Sunday, August 5, 2007

Gee this sounds familiar...Erroneous Triplicate Posting

As you may have noticed, my most recent blog update was posted three times (in triplicate). I have tried to delete the extra posts remotely through the PDA without success.

I will correct and remove the redundant postings as soon as I can get to a real computer. It may be a little while. Thanks for your understanding and for following the blog.


Days 39, 40 & 41--I've got this Erie Feeling and the Eastern Ohio Shuffle

The Day 39 ride from Sandusky to Burton, OH was fantastic. It was a 95 mile run that was about two-thirds flat land initially, with a 30-mile finale of steep hills and rollers going into Burton. Regarding my injured right knee, I had much more strength and range of motion in the morning starting out. The knee got stronger as the day progressed, and I was able to climb the hills late in the day with virtually no pain. With the rest day coming in Burton, I felt positive about my ability to take on the steep hills of eastern Ohio and hills and mountains of Western Pennsylvania.

The ride itself was quite interesting and varied. We first followed the south shore of Lake Erie over several rivers (such as the Vermillion River pictured as it flows into the Lake), through several towns and suburbs, then right into the heart of the City of Cleveland. After a majority of rural and small town riding since leaving Seattle, navigating the bike through downtown Cleveland was quite exciting, dodging buses, workers, and tourists. From downtown, we followed a beautiful parkway through the Case Western Reserve University campus and commercial area, then up through the older suburbs of Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights. At that point, the high humidity gave way to heavy thunder showers and lightning as we followed the very hilly, forested, winding highway to the village of Burton.

I was thrilled to complete the day's course knowing that I could continue the ride to DC with confidence in my hill climbing, and enjoy the rest day in Burton. I was also excited to meet up with mom Eleanor and sister Karen who came in that evening from Detroit, and sister Paula and brother-in-law Brad who came to Burton from Granville, OH near Columbus.

We spent the rest day, Day 40, in Burton, a compact town with a town square...well an oval really. Mom, Karen, Paula, Brad, & I (all pictured) hung out at all the exciting town spots...Joel's Restaurant, Kogan's Village Eatery, and the Burton Laundramat (just me at the laundry).

Burton and many of the surrounding towns are home to several Amish farms and communities. Amish people traveling by horse and buggy are very common sights on the local roadways. It is considered bad form to take pictures of the Amish, though photographing one of their buggies with handsome beast of burden (pictured) is permitted.

We had some wonderful family time and lots of fun. I had a rejuvenating day off to prepare for the final eight days on the Ride.

Back on the road, the Day 41 ride took us 73 miles from Burton to New Waterford--our last camp in Ohio. The ride was hilly and beautiful through more Amish and Mennonite country. The right knee is doing well. Please knock on some wood for me. I am very thankful and fortunate that the knee injury was not more serious. Many thanks to my teammates and our support crew for their encouragement and support.

Onward to Pennsylvania. More to come.