Steve's Big Ride in progress

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Glad to be home

3,360 miles – Seattle, Washington, to Washington DC. Nearly $30,000 raised to support the American Lung Association. Stronger legs and lungs. And a lifetime of memories proving what one of my early donors promised I would learn: “That America IS beautiful.”

My Big Ride Across America is finished. I’m back in Anchorage now, glad to be home and even gladder to report a success on all fronts.

I began this project in June of 2011, when I got on my bike to join my friend Ivan Moore’s team for a fall MS Society fund-raiser. Training lasted all summer, and it got me excited about riding again. I kept on training – mostly indoors – through fall, winter and spring. And this June 18 I took off from Seattle with 16 other riders to cross America by bicycle. We landed triumphantly in Washington DC on August 4.

Those are the bare facts. The experience was so much richer than that. Crossing the country at 14 miles per hour gives you a sense of scale you cannot know in an airplane or even a car. Every mile took effort, and we earned them all. If you’re interested in a longer account of how we did it, keep on reading to the bottom of this blog.

Now I have three more messages:

First, a final appeal:  This trip was a mission to support the American Lung Association. If you were waiting to learn whether I would complete the journey before making a gift, I’ve done it – and there’s still time. Here is the link to my fund-raising page online, and I will be grateful for anything you may give:

Second, an invitation:  Each year Patty and I organize a backyard potluck barbecue to gather friends and celebrate the Alaska summer. Please come to our place on Sunday, August 26, from 3-7 PM, to enliven the gathering. We’ll provide the burgers, the hot dogs, and the drinks – and hope you’ll bring yourself and other goodies. Watch for more information over the next couple weeks.

And finally, a big thank-you:  My Big Ride was only possible through the help and support of literally hundreds of others. If you rode with me, if you sent your encouragement, if you gave to the cause, if you helped me find equipment, if you followed my blog, if you shared your knowledge or gave a bit of advice, THANK YOU! This project was a success because of you, and I hope you’ll take some satisfaction from that.

For me, this was a big item to check off the bucket list – and I am hugely grateful that so many friends and loved ones were there to make it possible. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Reaching Washington

The Big Ride 2012 is in the books. Our ride from Poolesville, Maryland, to Washington DC Saturday morning was a delightful conclusion to a seven-week odyssey.

We rose early; it had been a hot, muggy night in our tents and everyone was ready to ride to the end. By 6:15 AM we were on the road, passing horse farms in the Maryland countryside. In the cool of the morning, we rode through tree-lined country lanes and rolling hills leading toward Washington. It was some of the loveliest scenery of the entire trip.

Just before crossing the Beltway – halfway to the finish – we stopped at a Starbucks, lingering for coffee, doughnuts and reminiscing about our time together. Nobody wanted to go very fast today.

Approaching Washington, we rode onto the C & O bike trail, which leads gently downhill to the Potomac River near the edge of the city. It was crowded with runners and bikers taking advantage of a beautiful Saturday morning. The trail finally delivered us to the edge of our nation’s capital and several monuments to our national life – first the Watergate complex, then the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Memorial.

There we found our way onto a trail along Constitution Avenue on the national mall. A feeling of exultation arose within. We’d made it: 3,360 miles on my odometer since leaving Seattle on June 18 – and we knew we’d earned every mile. Everybody who started in Seattle made it safely to Washington. We stopped to take photos of each other in front of the Washington Monument, affirming and punctuating our arrival, mainly for ourselves.

Then it was on to the Old Post Office, a celebratory lunch served up by a past Big Rider, and congratulatory hugs all around. Finally we gathered up for a ceremonial finish in Freedom Plaza, only blocks from the White House. In twos we rode to the finish line, where a throng of Lung Association staff and volunteers, along with families and friends, greeted us with a flourish.

Patty was there to meet me; so were our friends Larry Persily and Paul Brown, plus Paul’s son Rey. There were speeches, medals, an interview for some of us with a local radio personality. Then everybody headed off to deal with shipping bikes home, offloading our gear from the sag wagon, beginning our re-entry to regular life.

But we’ve completed a great task and a grand adventure. 3,360 miles, 48 days, 95,733 vertical feet of climbing, and a lifetime of memories. I’ve got a week now before returning to work, and I think I’ll ponder those things awhile longer. This was a pretty big item to check off my bucket list.

Poolsville, Maryland, to Washington DC by the numbers:

Today’s ride:  39.18 miles
Total distance:  3,360.46 miles
Time on bike today:  2 hours, 46 minutes
Total time on the bike:  224 hours, 42 minutes
Average speed today:  14.11 mph
Maximum speed today:  38.67 mph
Average cadence today:  72 rpm
Today’s climbing:  1,673 feet
Total climbing to date:  95,733 feet
Maximum altitude to date:  6,536 feet
Average heart rate today:  112 bpm
Maximum heart rate today:  154 bpm

Friday, August 3, 2012

Down the stretch

We’re all but finished. Friday’s work on the bike took us 62 miles from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Poolesville, Maryland – which you might call a distant suburb of Washington DC. Saturday morning we’ll cover the last 40 miles to our nation’s capital and the 2012 Big Ride Across America will be history.

We cruised out of Gettysburg early and started past the Civil War battlefields and monuments. Click: An image fixed in my mind. On the left a hazy sun was rising; on the right a full moon was waning. The morning fog shrouded the fields. The shrines and monuments to a decisive battle that shaped our nation were rising in the glow of morning. Lincoln’s famous phrase, “the mystic chords of memory” came easily to mind. This will be one of the places that holds my memory of the Big Ride, and of the country we’ve traversed.

We rode easily, enjoying our well-earned strength on the bike. In about half an hour we reached the Maryland border and stopped for photos at the markers. We paced through the morning, reveling in the ride and our fellowship on the trip. Taking it easy, we could linger over the last few hours of a monumental enterprise. We reached the town of Poolesville, our campsite for the last night on the Big Ride, around noon. A riders-only dinner at a local restaurant capped off the evening and left us feeling both wistful and fulfilled.

Saturday morning we’ll spin the last 40 miles into Washington, finishing in Freedom Plaza not far from the White House. Then we’ll start heading out our separate ways, with bikes to pack up, families and friends to meet, logistics to organize. After the finish I’ll take time to reflect on what it all meant. For now our energies are still focused on getting safely into Washington.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Poolsville, Maryland, by the numbers:

Today’s ride:  62.29 miles
Total distance:  3,321.28 miles
Distance left to reach DC:  41 miles
Time on bike today:  4 hours, 22 minutes
Total time on the bike:  229 hours, 4 minutes
Average speed today:  14.26 mph
Maximum speed today:  36.74 mph
Average cadence today:  72 rpm
Today’s climbing:  2,797 feet
Total climbing to date:  96,857 feet
Maximum altitude to date:  6,536 feet
Average heart rate today:  110 bpm
Maximum heart rate today:  149 bpm

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Into Gettysburg

Success! The 100 miles from Bedford to Gettysburg were all they’d been advertised – hilly, steep, congested, beautiful and challenging. The Turtle Peloton had several equipment problems and the ride took us nearly 12 hours start to finish, but we pulled into Gettysburg this evening happy and safe.

I've written before about The Turtle Peloton – five of us in our late 50s (or more) who've taken to riding as a team. “The Turtles” are Molly Douce, Cookie Chandler, Rick Stark, Jim Sheridan and me. We’ve conquered the last several weeks’ rides together.

For the ride to Gettysburg we had a strategy. There were several long climbs with a 10 percent to 12 percent grade, and a total of more than 7,000 vertical feet of climbing for the day. (By comparison, the seven-mile ascent from sea level to the top of Turnagain Pass south of Anchorage is said to be about a 7 percent grade and 1,500 vertical feet.) The indomitable Molly – who can run all of us ragged on the flats – struggles most on the uphills. Ordinarily we’d all crest each hill ahead of her and then wait at the top. Today we decided to put her up front and follow her no matter how slow the grind.

It worked. The hills were as tough as ever for Molly, but the rest of us just went into granny gear and spun easily uphill behind her. Our heart rates stayed low(er) and we actually enjoyed the scenery. Rather than struggling through every ascent, we just pulled steadily to the top and kept our stress levels low. Molly worked as hard as ever, but with the rest of us behind her she didn’t have to feel like she was always chasing us uphill. All this turned a long, hard day into a long, enjoyable day. And it gave us confidence in the ride.

Pennsylvania has been hilly indeed – but fair, too. Every ascent has been followed by a descent, always fun and occasionally thrilling. On Tuesday we had one long descent of more than 5 miles; today we had one of more than 3 miles.

Equipment problems took Molly and Cookie off the ride at mile 83, but by that time 95 percent of the hills had been covered and the ride was a success. Rick, Jim and I pushed on and were rewarded with a gradual 10-mile descent into Gettysburg that topped off a beautiful day on the bike. We pulled into our quarters at Gettysburg College literally three minutes before a thunderstorm arrived to drench the streets and everyone on them.

We’ve ridden 12 of the past 13 days, covering roughly 1,000 miles during that period. Thursday’s rest day in Gettysburg is welcomed by all – but wistful, too, because our Big Ride is nearly complete. We’re 101 miles from Saturday’s finish in Washington DC, and both eager to finish this accomplishment and sorry to put it behind us.  

Bedford to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, by the numbers:

Today’s ride:  100.66 miles
Total distance:  3,258.99 miles
Distance left to reach DC:  101 miles
Time on bike today:  8 hours, 2 minutes
Total time on the bike:  224 hours, 42 minutes
Average speed today:  12.51 mph
Maximum speed today:  41.68 mph
Average cadence today:  65 rpm
Today’s climbing:  7,179 feet
Total climbing to date:  94,060 feet
Maximum altitude to date:  6,536 feet
Average heart rate today:  109 bpm
Maximum heart rate today:  147 bpm

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Heading for Gettysburg

Our big day on the Big Ride is Wednesday – 100 miles from Bedford to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. We’ve been awaiting this day for weeks, and everything in our last two rides was only a prelude. We’re going to combine more climbing with more distance than any other day in the ride.

The last two days have been roughly similar: about half the day on hilly Pennsylvania terrain, and the other half on a gradually uphill remote rails-to-trails bike route. The ride from Washington to Confluence, Pennsylvania on Monday was 89 miles; the ride from Confluence to Bedford, Pennsylvania today (Tuesday) was 81 miles. Both had plenty of leg-straining challenges.

The Turtle Peloton has stuck together. One day we rode slow on the hills to keep the group close. Another day we helped fix each others’ flat tires. Tomorrow we plan to ride the big day into Gettysburg together and face the challenges as a team. If all goes well, we’ll have a well-earned rest day in Gettysburg on Thursday, then look forward to the last 100 miles into Washington DC over the following two days. 

We’re nearing the conclusion, and the biggest challenge is upon us.

Washington to Confluence, Pennsylvania, by the numbers:

Today’s ride:  88.94 miles
Total distance:  3,077.43 miles
Distance left to reach DC:  282 miles
Time on bike today:  6 hours, 22 minutes
Total time on the bike:  210 hours, 19 minutes
Average speed today:  13.96 mph
Maximum speed today:  41.32 mph
Average cadence today:  75 rpm
Today’s climbing:  2,747 feet
Total climbing to date:  82,353 feet
Maximum altitude to date:  6,536 feet
Average heart rate today:  114 bpm
Maximum heart rate today:  154 bpm

Confluence to Bedford, Pennsylvania, by the numbers:

Today’s ride:  80.90 miles
Total distance:  3,158.33 miles
Distance left to reach DC:  201 miles
Time on bike today:  6 hours, 21 minutes
Total time on the bike:  216 hours, 40 minutes
Average speed today:  12.73 mph
Maximum speed today:  43.36 mph
Average cadence today:  69 rpm
Today’s climbing:  4,528 feet
Total climbing to date:  86,881 feet
Maximum altitude to date:  6,536 feet
Average heart rate today:  111 bpm
Maximum heart rate today:  147 bpm

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Let the climbing begin

Sunday’s ride into Pennsylvania gave us our first taste of the four days of hilly terrain we need to negotiate before reaching Gettysburg. Our ride from East Fairfield, Ohio, to Washington, Pennsylvania, was just 62 miles, but it involved some 4,100 feet of climbing.

We started early on a foggy morning. It was both beautiful and a bit nerve-wracking, since visibility was limited and changing as we rode up and down through hills and valleys in eastern Ohio. Gradually the fog cleared as we crossed the border into Pennsylvania around 9 AM, heading south and east around the far outskirts of Pittsburgh.

From the border on the hills just kept coming at us. There were a few 1- to 2-mile climbs that got our hearts pounding, but the real difficulty was the number and steepness of the climbs. Everything Sunday was either up or down, with very little flat riding. Some of the hills we could just power over, thanks to six weeks of conditioning and strengthening. But most of them were too steep for that – they’d kill all momentum and force us to just grind it out to the top. I spent a lot of time in “granny gear” today.

At the end of the day, my bike computer showed we were at nearly exactly the same elevation as when we started – but we’d put in 4,100 feet of climbing and a like amount of descending to get there. With lovely weather and no wind, we pulled into camp in early afternoon. That gave us a chance to spread out our wet gear in an open field and dry things out.

We’re down to three more big days on the Big Ride – 81 miles Monday, 88 miles Tuesday, and a full century Wednesday to reach Gettysburg and our last rest day. We’re in hill country now, and these will be challenging days. (There’s said to be 6,200 feet of climbing on the century day into Gettysburg.) But we’re feeling strong and eager to get there.

East Fairfield, Ohio, to Washington, Pennsylvania, by the numbers:

Today’s ride:  63.14 miles
Total distance:  2,988.49 miles
Distance left to reach DC:  371 miles
Time on bike today:  4 hours, 15 minutes
Total time on the bike:  203 hours, 57 minutes
Average speed today:  14.86 mph
Maximum speed today:  42.40 mph
Average cadence today:  75 rpm
Today’s climbing:  4,119 feet
Total climbing to date:  79,606 feet
Maximum altitude to date:  6,536 feet
Average heart rate today:  122 bpm
Maximum heart rate today:  155 bpm

More thunderstorms (on Saturday)

Saturday’s ride through northeastern Ohio to a little burgh called East Fairfield was fun, relaxing and, at 62 miles, relatively short. The fireworks came from the sky after we arrived at our campground.

Three successive thunderstorms rolled through the area with lightning, crackling thunder and drenching rains – fortunately, just after most of us had pitched our tents and rain flys. Still, there were a lot of damp people and gear in camp Saturday night.

The day’s ride consisted of fairly gentle rolling hills interspersed with a few heart-pounding climbs. At 62 miles (officially, 59, but none of our odometers agreed with that), this was one of the shortest days of the Big Ride. We had been worried the tradeoff for a shorter ride would be many long, steep hills, but they were less dramatic than we’d feared.

Our route took us through the outskirts of Youngstown, Ohio, famous for its smokestack industries and steel mills. A huge steel mill was right on our route, and it took at least half a mile on the highway to get from beginning to end of the complex.

The terrain here is more forested than any part of the trip so far, and the trees provide both shade on sunny days and some protection on windy ones. Early Sunday we’ll head into Pennsylvania for four more days of riding before the last rest day on the trip, at Gettysburg.

Burton to Fairfield, Ohio, by the numbers:

Today’s ride:  62.48 miles
Total distance:  2,925.35 miles
Distance left to reach DC:  431 miles
Time on bike today:  4 hours, 6 minutes
Total time on the bike:  199 hours, 42 minutes
Average speed today:  15.21 mph
Maximum speed today:  36.74 mph
Average cadence today:  77 rpm
Today’s climbing:  2,049 feet
Total climbing to date:  75,487 feet
Maximum altitude to date:  6,536 feet
Average heart rate today:  113 bpm
Maximum heart rate today:  151 bpm