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.