Thursday, June 28, 2007

Final Thoughts

The banquet was a lot of fun. There was a buffet dinner with a lot of really great food. Everybody loaded mountains of food onto their plates. Susan was the master of ceremonies. While she can really crack the whip when she has to to keep everybody riding efficiently across the country, she has an amazing sense of humor. She had us all in stitches. And what a memory. She remembered at least a thing or two about every single rider. Everyone got beautiful plaques with pictures that were taken on the Talahina Parkway in Arkansas. The other day I mentioned to Rachel that I had heard only 18 riders had ridden all the miles. It turned out there were 21. Again, I was proud to be one of them. But also somewhat lucky, as I suffered no illness or injury. I was impressed with guys like Brad Reid. He had some knee problems early in the tour and had to miss some miles. But with great character, he sort of readjusted his goals and was riding hard by the end of the tour. I enjoyed riding with Brad for a few days there at the end. A super guy. There were others with similar circumstances and instead of going home, they stuck it out. Bravo!

Lon and Susan each in their own right are considered legends in long-distance cycling. When I first arrived in San Diego I was somewhat awestruck to be in their presence. What I learned was just what down to earth, wonderful people they are. With their vast experience, they were always available for advice and were just extremely helpful as was the entire crew. The organization that must go in to helping 50 riders realize their goal of riding across the country in 17 days is mind boggling to me. But they have it down. I don't recall a single rider ever wanting for anything. As good as I heard PAC Tour was, it was even better. Hey, I'm not becoming a spokesman for their company, but anyone reading these blogs who might be considering a cross-country ride, I enthusiastically recommend PAC Tour.

Its hard for me to believe its over. I feel now like it flew by in an instant. Of course in the middle of the tour it felt like an eternity until we would reach the Atlantic, but I guess that's normal maybe under the circumstances. I'll always remember a lot of the riding, but it was the people that made this such a wonderful experience. I think I was able to take a picture of every single rider and crew member at the banquet. I just really don't want to ever forget these wonderful people. Of course there was a little competition during the riding to see who was riding hard or who would make it to the next motel first. But every day of this tour, there was such a supportive environment. The fastest guys encouraged the slowest guys and vice-versa, just as it should be. When we rode into Tybee Island all together the other day, I felt as if we were a team. Its amazing. You take 50 relative strangers and then 17 days later, you have some really wonderful friendships going on.

Eric Hallam from Colorado Springs, at 30 years old our youngest rider, would write daily messages on his right calf muscle. Like during some of those tough windy days in Oklahoma he wrote, "c'mon wind, is that all you got??" On the last day his message was, "that was fun, what's next?" That's a question I personally have no answer for at the moment. This Elite Tour was a qualifier to ride solo in the Race Across America or RAAM. You are not allowed ride solo RAAM without qualifying to do so. In riding every mile of this tour, I can now race solo in RAAM for the next three years. Maybe a few of the 21 guys will give it a shot. It would certainly be a logical next big challenge for them. We had a couple of guys on this tour who had previously raced solo RAAM and had success. I like to fantasize about solo RAAM but the truth is, I will not likely do it. For one thing, to do it right costs a fair amount of money and I don't have that kind of disposable income. But more importantly, the training required for RAAM would be considerably more time consuming than for this Elite Tour. I was just away from home too much during my training. That put extra stress on my wife and I just simply missed our usual family activities during all those long training rides. I feel I cheated them a bit. We are also going to China to adopt a baby girl sometime in the late spring or early summer of 2008. So I just don't see any RAAM in my immediate future.

I knew Charles Barr for what now seems like a very short time. But what I learned from him during that time will stay with me for the rest of my life. He was about being generous toward others with his time and incredible energy. In his personal and professional lives, he was always about improvement. This was not a young man who could ever be satisfied with mediocrity. He excelled at most everything he did. Although I was older than Charles, the examples he set in his life have been very inspiring to me. I have made it no secret that I originally decided to accept the challenge of the Elite Tour for personal goals. But since Charles' accident, Riding For Charles has consumed me physically, mentally and emotionally for the last 9 months. I always believed in what I was doing and in the character of the person I was doing it for. My goal was always to simply honor the memory of someone I found to be an extraordinary young man. Through the months of training and my efforts during the tour, I can only say with great humility, that I pray I have in my small way achieved this goal. My greatest memory of this bicycle ride will easily be when after spending 13.5 hours riding 206 miles into the wind, I rode up to our motel and saw Eric and Caty Barr. My heart nearly bust out of my chest. I am sincerely grateful for the support they have shown me every step of the way.

I just learned yesterday that through the Riding for Charles project, more than $43,000 has been contributed to the Cleveland Orchestra's endowment of the Charles Barr Memorial Chair so far. Since this project was of my own initiative, I would like to personally thank each and every contributor. As you know, a contribution to the Orchestra's endowment helps to ensure that future generations of music lovers will have the opportunity to hear our great orchestra both here in Cleveland and around the world. Thank you.

Finally, I absolutely cannot close this blog without publicly thanking my wife Rachel. She has been of amazing support. She was supportive during the training, and she dazzled me with her support during the ride. She sent faxes and notes every day of the tour. She sent pictures drawn by my 5 year old daughter. She sent the motel addresses to my family and friends and I received all these cards and letters of incredible encouragement. And she even typed this blog as I dictated my thoughts to her over the phone. (I actually typed this last post). I spoke to her every day and on those few days when I felt exhausted and in pretty severe pain, she only had reassuring, positive things to say. I don't think I could have gone through this whole experience without her love and support. I've been really tired all day and my body is going through some healing, but I feel like about the luckiest guy in the world right now to have a wife like I have.

The Savannah Morning News

It must have been a slow news day in Savannah on June 26th, the day we rode our last miles through town and out to Tybee Island. Just kidding. Actually there was some press there from the paper and they did a nice little article on our ride. The article ran in the front section of the paper on Wednesday morning. To see it, click here. There is a picture of me to click on if you like which at least proves that I did stand in the Atlantic Ocean with my bike. But I must say, when I look at that picture, I have to wonder how a guy with those chicken legs rode all the way across the country.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

June 26, 2007 (Day 17)!!!!!

Today's ride was 142 miles from Dublin, Georgia to Tybee Beach, Georgia (just east of Savannah). I hope with the saddle sores, that the posts of the last few days didn't sound too negative. Last night an angel visited me in the form of Dr. Jon Baker - one of the other riders. I hadn't really gotten to know John during this trip - he was either up the road from me or I was up the road from him- and we never got a chance to talk. But he overheard a conversation I was having about my troubles, and offered a solution. Jon had with him some special bandages that are typically used to cover over sores of bedridden patients in hospitals. I cut off a little piece, stuck it just in the right spot, and man did it ever do the job (!) I had a great ride today in total comfort. It was fun again to be on the bike.

Lunch was at mile 116 today, where we all sort of re-grouped. We then all rode to the coast together. Maybe it was something like what the Tour de France riders feel on their last day. We got to the hotel, which is right on the beach. Everyone walked their bike to the beach and dipped their front wheel into the Atlantic Ocean. A lot of family members were there, a lot of pictures were taken, and a lot of congratulations were said among the riders and crew. Everybody was really up! I think it was a combination of happiness and relief. I'm relieved myself that I don't have to get up at 5:00 tomorrow morning and I don't have to sit on a bicycle seat for awhile.

After I left the beach, I did break down for a moment. I've been focused on this ride for a long time, and now it's over. I thought of Charles and the RidingforCharles project and how that project has also come to an end. It's bitter-sweet. But the Charles Barr Memorial Chair will exist as long as the Cleveland Orchestra does, and through this ride I have come to know Eric and Cathy and am pleased to call them dear friends.

Tonight there is a banquet for all the riders and crew - it'll be a good chance to see everybody for the last time. A lot more congratulations and some goodbyes. I'm really looking forward to NOT riding my bike, but I'm going to miss the guys and the great friendships I've made.

Tomorrow I'll write one more post with sort of an overall inclusive view about my experience. Thanks again for the emails and the cards. The moral support was truly uplifting, and helped me get through some tough days.

Monday, June 25, 2007

June 25, 2007 (Days 15 and 16)

Hello from Dublin, Georgia! Sorry to have missed an entry yesterday, but I was so exhausted last night that I could barely even talk to Rachel :( Yesterday's ride from Camden to Eufaula, Alabama was just very similar to the previous day's rides in the south. Sorry to sound repetitive but - just big, rolling hills - up one, down another and so on, and so on... Yesterday was a little tougher than previously because the hills were a little longer and a little steeper.

When I began this ride, I had two major concerns - fitness was not one of them. I trained religiously but I was concerned about headwinds and saddle sores. I got through the worst of the headwinds with drafting help from my companions - as I helped them also, but I just never imagined the saddle sores would be this bad. So far on this blog I've tried to be careful with my choice of words. A lot of days I remember were very hard. Getting through the heat of the desert was hard; the 206 mile, 13 hour day into headwinds in Oklahoma was hard; the ridiculously steep 13 to 15 percent grades of the Talihina Parkway were hard; but yesterday was the first time I had to use the word "suffer". There was a period of time during the day where I really suffered because of the saddle sores. Rowing and cycling actually have something in common. In rowing you hope for smooth water, and in cycling you hope for smooth pavement. Lon had us on some back roads where the asphalt was topped with something called "chip seal". It's a very rough surface. I guess it helps roads last longer, but it's torture on a cyclist with sore body parts. While riding on this, if you sit it kills your bottom. If you stand to pedal, it beats up your feet. It's beating up your hands the whole time with constant vibration. It's very difficult to get into any kind of cycling rhythm. Most of the time we've had great roads, but we were on this chip seal for a lot of miles yesterday. I know Lon drives all these routes - his planning is incredible - but there were times yesterday, that I actually wondered if he was testing our resolve.

While miserable, the upside of the day was that Charles was on my mind almost all day. Of the many things I knew about him, he was always working hard to better himself. This ride is about honoring a really fine young man, and there was just absolutely no way I was going to quit. I've been preparing for this tour since last September, and for as much pain as I was in, I just felt that to stop riding would have been to quit on Charles, and there was absolutely no was it was going to happen. So, somehow, I just kept going and made it in. I don't mean to sound so negative, and I always try and make cycling as fun as I possibly can, but yesterday was purely about survival. When I first talked to Lon about this Elite Tour, he said it was about survival and indeed yesterday that's what it was all about.

Today (Day 16) we rode 160 from Eufaula, Alabama to Dublin, Georgia. What a different mindset I'm in right now. It's just incredible how on this tour you can feel completely different from one day to the next. Even before the saddle sores, some days you go out and ride really hard and feel great. Other days you try to ride really hard, but just can't really seem to get going and don't feel all that good. It's hard to explain why. I know my sores didn't really heal up last night, but for some reason, as I pulled out of the parking lot this morning and gently eased my weight down on the bike seat, it wasn't so bad.

In the morning, for the first 80 miles, the terrain was the same. Up and down long, steep, rolling hills. It was a tough morning. But in the afternoon, things flattened out quite a bit, and after lunch we breezed on into the motel. The pavement was very smooth today :), which you can imagine I was very thankful for. Toward the very end, however, there was a six mile section of chip seal pavement. It was majorly uncomfortable, but fortunately for not too long. The most frustrating thing that happened today was my flat tire just three miles from the hotel. It was my sixth flat of the entire tour, which is probably not too bad. I'm feeling pretty good right now - I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Tomorrow's ride is (only) 142 miles and relatively flat - of course I'm hoping for smooth pavement(!)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

June 23, 2007

Today we rode 172 miles from Forest, Mississippi to Camden, Alabama. I wish I could say something deep and meaningful about the roads or the terrain, but to be perfectly honest, Arkansas, Mississippi and now Alabama all look about the same to me. My brother Jody, who has a Phd in range management, could probably tell me all about how the trees and vegetation are quite different in these states - but I just can' t really tell. I guess the really big difference about today's ride was the heat. Now two weeks into this ride we've been pretty lucky with the heat. But early this afternoon it got up to 99 degrees and really humid. I was drinking as much as I could at every rest stop.

Since the terrain hasn't seemed to change much in my eyes, I thought I'd share some of the things that go through my mind on a daily basis during this tour. The alarm goes off at 5:30 in the morning, and as I swing my legs out of bed and onto the floor to stand up, I think - "how on earth am I going to get on the bike". But as I put on my sunscreen and dress in my cycling clothes, I gradually begin to feel a little better. It's all about peer pressure - because I know every other guy is having the same thoughts. I take my bike to the parking lot where they have racks set up for us, I pump up my tires, and fill my bottles, and have breakfast. Every day on this tour we've had breakfast in the parking lot. And the menu is always the same. Orange juice, oatmeal, bananas, and bagels. I can't complain, however, because that's exactly what I'd be having for breakfast if I was riding at home. Susan and the crew do a great job having our breakfast ready that early in the morning. After loading my duffel bag on the truck, it's almost time to start the ride at 6:30. My saddle sores are so bad now that I'm not anxious about the ride itself- or the long day- I just fear how my bottom is going to feel the first time I sit on the seat. I usually pedal out of the parking lot of the hotel standing up and for the last three or four days, I sit on the seat for the first time and almost scream out loud (!) The pain is incredible. But each day - somehow - after pedaling a few strokes standing, and then pedaling a few strokes sitting, I just get used to it. By early afternoon it's not so bad. These last few days, if there was one thing I thought would keep me from completing the ride, it wouldn't be my leg muscles, or my knees, or my conditioning. It would be these darn saddle sores. I've tried all the recommended tricks - like alternating seats every other day, and alternating brand of cycling shorts every other day - but I guess I've just had some bad luck with them.

The first hour of riding is always the toughest for me mentally. I look down at the odometer and know there's so far to go. But I try to break the day up into segments. The first rest stop is usually around 30 miles, the second around 60, and lunch is somewhere between 90 and 100. I'm constantly doing math in my head ("I'm a 10th of the way, I'm a quarter of the way, I'm a third of the way") and before I know it, I'm half way. I always know that if I can make it half way, I can make it the rest of the way. The last hour is always tough. I look down at the odometer and see that I've ridden (160, 170 or 180 miles), but I'm just so anxious to get off the bike, get into an air condiditoned room and take a shower, that sometimes those last 15 or 20 miles seem to drag by.

Down-time in the evening is precious because there's not much of it. After getting all my gear organized, getting cleaned up, and getting some dinner, it's nearly time to go to sleep. Just as I'm falling asleep, I'm having those same thoughts of "how am I going to get back on the bike in the morning". All too soon, the alarm goes off and it's another day.

I had been told by veteran riders that there are three big emotional stages during a tour like this. The first few days are the excitement of the beginning of the tour and meeting new people. Somewhere during the middle of the tour there's a real down time emotionally as the body is being broken down and feeling exhausted, and realizing how far there still is to go. The final emotional stage is where the spirits are back up again because you're getting close to the end. I certainly have experience all three of these stages. Right now I'm pretty happy that there are only three days left. I think I'll be happy when the tour is over just so I can rest and let my body heal. I know I'm going to miss the wonderful guys and the great comraderie, but I'm going to be thrilled to not have to sit on a bicycle seat for a while. Tomorrow we go right to the Alabama / Georgia border. I just changed bicycle seats, so I'm hoping for a little more comfort in the morning.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Pictures From The Barrs

Here are some pictures taken from Richard's meeting with the Barrs. It was very nice of them to forward them to us.

June 22, 2007 (Day 13)

Today we rode from Batesville, Mississippi to Forest, Mississippi. The ride was 176 miles. You know, I have to say that basically the terrain during the last two or three days of riding has all looked the same. I wouldn’t want to insult anyone from Arkansas or Mississippi, but judging by the roads we’ve been on, they are impossible to tell apart. But it has been pretty; lots of green, lots of trees; a lot of farms, lots of livestock – (lots of livestock smells that are impossible not to notice)… The terrain has been rolling hills. Up one, down the next – and so on, and so on…

Because I sort of used yesterday’s ride as a recovery day for my knees, I felt great today and pushed pretty hard. I averaged 18 miles an hour. I rode all day with a guy named Charlie Combs. He’s a CPA from San Diego. We chatted a lot and really got to know each other. Then, Charlie, Jim (my roommate) and I had dinner this evening together.

I don’t know how he does it, I guess from his years of experience, but Lon picks really great routes for us to ride on. A lot of the riding today was on some pretty rural roads. One of the things that I’ll always remember about riding through Arkansas and Mississippi is the poverty I have observed on some of these back roads. It was really striking - and while I was riding, it reminded me of how fortunate I am.

I guess I can’t emphasize enough how a ride like this – riding hard every day without any rest days – wears down the body. I basically feel exhausted all the time. Even though I use the strongest sunscreen three times a day, I still manage to get sunburned. I use lipblock and my lips still have blisters. The sun is unforgiving to a fair complected person like me. My knees, my neck, my back, my hands, shoulders – always feel sore. Tonight I even notices that my big toenail is black and blue – I’ll probably lose it and I don’t even know how that happened. Yet still, I get up in the morning, have breakfast with this great group of guys, riders, and crew, and still somehow manage to have enjoyable days on the bike.

It’s been an incredible challenge. Probably even harder than I knew it would be. But with only four days to go, I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel - and I really think I’m going to make it. There’s a Wendy’s next door to our motel, so now I’m going to go get a Frosty and then get some sleep for our 172 mile ride tomorrow.