Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 48 - Washington, DC

On June 20th, twenty-six of us rode out of Seattle.  It was a cool and overcast Seattle morning.  For the most part, we were complete strangers.  Each of us probably harbored at least some doubt as to our ability to actually ride a bike across the country.  Today, all twenty-six of us rode into Washington, DC.  The sun was shining when we arrived in our nation’s capital.  The BIG RIDE Across America for 2011 has officially ended.  It was a bittersweet day.
When I woke up this morning, I realized that there had not been much dew and my tent was almost completely dry.  I was thankful to not have to deal with a wet tent on the last day of the ride.  As I was sitting in my tent packing up my things for the last time, I heard a strange sound.  One of my tent poles snapped and broke.  It was a sign.  My last night in my tent.  It was meant to be.
Our ride today was very short by BIG RIDE standards, about 40 miles.  According to Charlton, today was our final exam.  Today was not the day to let down our guard.  We left Poolesville and rode on quiet country roads, flanked by lovely homes and beautiful horse farms.  We then got on the Capital Crescent Bike Trail, a paved rail trail that runs for 11 miles from Silver Spring, MD to Washington, DC.  It is the most heavily used rail trail in the US, used by more than 1 million pedestrians, runners, cyclists, and rollerbladers each year. 

As would be expected on a sunny Saturday morning, the trail was crowded and we had to ride slowly.  I rode behind Dick and Noel for most of the time on the trail.  Noel repeatedly told people, “We just rode our bikes here from Seattle.”  He said it in a way that made it sound like we just woke up this morning and rode our bikes here.  We are definitely not superhuman, but we are indeed a very special group of people.  We were all wearing our BIG RIDE jerseys, which made us stand out. We definitely attracted some attention.
Before we knew it, we were in the heart of DC.  We saw the Washington Monument, the distinctive stark white obelisk, which defiantly pierced the summer sky.  We rode by the Kennedy Center and the infamous Watergate Building, which I immediately recognized.  One of the younger riders asked me how I knew that the Watergate Building WAS the Watergate Building.  I think I was showing my age when I responded, "I just do."  For at least half of our riders, Watergate was just something in a history book.

We stopped at the Old Post Office Pavilion and were treated to lunch there at the Greek Taverna, owned by Costas Poppas, a BIG RIDER from 1998.  The food was delicious and the portions were generous.  It was a wonderful feast that included gyros, salad and baklava.  It felt like the Last Supper.  I know that I will need to immediately curtail the practice of consuming such large amounts of food.

The Old Post Office was our staging area for riding to the finish line, located a mile away at the Capitol Reflecting Pool.  Charlie had lunch with us, but needed to depart immediately afterwards to catch a plane, so only twenty-five of us actually rode to the finish line.  We were sent off in groups of two bikes.  I rode to the finish line with Kim.  We were the third group to go.  Dick and Noel went first.  They were followed by John, Margaret and Bernie.  (Three riders on two bikes as John and Margaret are on a tandem.) 
As Kim and I set off on our last mile, we could see the Capitol Building in the distance.  We were nervous and we were riding on gravel, which added to our nervousness.  We just hoped that we wouldn’t fall.  As we approached the finish line, we saw Bridgett and Charlton.   Appropriately, they were the ones to award our medals.  Kim received hers from Charlton and I received mine from Bridgett.  The tears were flowing as I hugged Bridgett and then Charlton. 
I looked for my family.  A large group had come to greet me.   My son Brian, who I haven’t seen for over a year.  My parents.  My sister BJ and her two daughters, Amanda and Nicole.  My sister Tammy, her husband Bob plus a group of Bob’s relatives.  And two of my cousins, Rob and Stephen.  It was an overwhelming and emotional experience.

When the finish line festivities came to an end, we rode to the State Plaza Hotel for our last visit to the gear truck.  It was the "Enterprise", our "Mother Ship" for the last seven weeks.  It was difficult to say good-bye to my fellow riders.  Lots of hugs and lots of tears.  I will miss each and every one of them.  As we rolled across the country together, we became a family and formed a special bond that few will ever know or understand.  I will miss Charlton, Lynn and Rich.  We were indeed fortunate to have such an amazing crew with us on this journey. 
Many of us are spending the night at the State Plaza Hotel and had dinner there.  While we were at dinner, my sister Tammy surprised me with an amazing gift.  She has been following my blog and turned it into a scrapbook, complete with my postings, most of my photos, our route for each day as well as a selection of cycling quotes.  It is a work of art.  I was again overwhelmed with emotion.
I will be spending the next few days in DC and then heading to the Northeast for a few days to visit friends and family there.  I am taking the train back to Seattle.  Everything about going back to my "real life" is going to be an adjustment.

I will definitely miss writing this blog.  It has been a labor of love and I want to thank those of you who have been following my journey.  Writing this blog has not been easy.  There were many nights when I was extremely tired and I often had less than ideal conditions to work in.  Your comments and words of encouragement kept me going.  I will never know the vast majority of people who have read or who will read this blog.  The power of the internet is amazing.  This blog has been and will continue to be viewed by people from all over the world.

I am incredibly thankful that I was able to have this experience and there are a few messages that I would like to share:

First, I have had many people say to me, "I could never do something like that".

My response is, "Yes, you could".  If this is something that you WANT to do, you CAN do it.  It is much harder to make the commitment and to set aside the time than it is to actually do something like this.  You can do far more than you think you can - and that doesn't just pertain to riding a bike across the United States - it pertains to just about every aspect of your life. 

There has been at least one rider who has done this ride with just one leg and there has been at least one who has done it on a hand bike.  There were two riders this year alone who have battled obesity - and won!  There have been MANY riders who lived sedentary lives for many years.  There have been riders who had smoked for many years.  One of the BIG RIDE veterans we met, Fred Husak, had smoked for over 40 years.

You are not too old.  There have been many BIG RIDERS who were in their 70's - it's time for someone over the age of 80 to sign up.  You can take the time off from work.  And your family will survive without you for seven weeks.

Second, we live in an amazing country with amazing people.  There are extraordinarily beautiful places in every state and there are kind, generous and supportive people everywhere.  There is probably no better way to truly appreciate our country (or probably any country) than on a cross country bike ride. 

This experience has renewed my faith in humanity and given me a new found sense of patriotism.  When I embarked on this trip, I was disenchanted and disheartened with our country.  At the end of this journey, I am truly proud to be an American.  It is not our government or our politics that I am proud of, it is the wonderful people who make up the very fabric of our nation.

Third, thanks again to all of my supporters!  Your generosity meant the world to me. 
Finally, life is short.  You don't know how much time you have left.  Enjoy every minute. 

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.
- Mark Twain

Take care.  Ride safe.  And never forget that every breath is priceless.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 47 - Poolesville, MD

The BIG RIDE routine has defined my life for almost 7 weeks.  On our riding days, Charlton hands out the cue sheets when we are eating breakfast and gives us our “cue sheet talk” for the day.  He starts every talk by saying, “Today is Day Number….”  When he gave us the talk today, it really hit home that we are so close to the finish line.  Today is Day Number 47 – we have only one day to go.
Today is a very special day for one of our riders.  It is Geena’s 18th birthday – what a momentous way for her to spend the occasion – I am certain it will be a birthday that she never forgets.  Glenn Kramon (Caitlin’s dad) also rode with us again today – it was great to have him back with us.  Glenn and Caitlin also picked up some bagels and doughnuts for us to have with our breakfast.

We found out first thing this morning that we were going to have a detour today.  It was nice to know about it before we headed out.  It added about 6 miles to our route.  Our day that was supposed to be about 63 miles turned into a 69 mile day.  According to our cue sheets, we were supposed to cross the border into Maryland at Mile 4.4 – and there was supposed to be a sign.  Because of the detour, we were not really sure when we crossed the border and there was no “Welcome to Maryland” sign.

About 10 miles into the ride this morning, Kenny was riding behind me and told me that my rear tire looked a little low on air.  I was surprised as I had pumped it up right before I left this morning.  He had a pump with him, so we stopped to put some more air in my tire.  When I got to the first rest stop, I checked it and noticed that it was low again.  Rich was at the stop, so I told him about it.  I knew, of course, that it needed to be changed.
My flat tire luck ran out today.  I have managed to get this far in my cycling life without having to change a flat.  I have always had a nice guy do it for me.  And truly, I have never actually ASKED anyone to do it for me.  They just offer to do it.  When I get a flat, I just pull over and wait for a nice guy to come along.  When they ask me if I need any help, I just tell them that I don't have a pump with me.  (I do, of course, carry a spare tube.)  Shameless, I know, but as a female cyclist in the Seattle area, it works like a charm.

This was my third flat on the BIG RIDE, so I have been very lucky.  I know that several of the riders have had more than 10 flats.  Rich changed my first flat and Bernie changed my second flat.  I was hopeful that Rich would change my flat today.  Unfortunately, he looked at me and said, “You’re going to change it.”  As luck would have it, there were at least 10 other riders at the rest stop and they were all quite amused by this situation, as it is well known amongst the group that I have never changed a flat. 
The cameras started flashing as I changed my tire.  It was complicated by the fact that it was the rear tire.  I know how to take off my front wheel, but have never taken off the back one.   With Rich’s guidance, I did get the tire changed.  I am not sure if I could do it again.  It would take some practice.  I also know that I will ALWAYS be glad to have a nice guy change my flat tires for me.
There was some additional excitement at our lunch stop today, although I didn’t see it.  A large truck hit a narrow bridge right near the stop and one of the wheels flew off.  It sounds like Rich had to take some heroic action to prevent the wheel from hitting his vehicle.  Somehow, the truck managed to drive off.  We are lucky that nothing worse than that happened.

We are spending the night in Poolesville, MD.  Bridgett from the ALA was back with us this afternoon.  We had a reception and dinner at a restaurant in town tonight, Bassett's Fine Food and Spirits.  Bridgett congratulated us and presented each of us with certificates.  Charlton said a few words to us as well.  He gave us some very sound advice.  Either keep riding your bike or stop eating.  Good advice indeed.  Our bodies have become accustomed to burning a LOT of calories every day.  In order to burn those calories, we need to eat a LOT – thousands of calories a day.  Eating enough sometimes became a challenge for me.  I would often eat as much as I could, ride 20 miles and find myself ravenously hungry again.  Just going back to normal eating habits is going to be a huge adjustment. 

Cindy surprised us tonight as well.  She has been making pot holders while on the trip out of fabric depicting scenes from Washington state.  We thought that she was planning to sell them.  Instead, she gave one to each of us.  Cindy has been an integral part of our group - she has been a leader, a surrogate mother, a nurse and a good friend to each of us.

It is almost impossible to explain what I am feeling today.  There have been times in my life when I have been tremendously happy as well as times of deep sorrow and sadness.  I am not sure if I have ever experienced both so acutely at the same time, but that is what I am feeling now.  Although I am thrilled that I accomplished something that I once considered nearly impossible, I am overcome with sadness knowing that this ride will end tomorrow.  With the exception of sleeping in a tent, I am going to miss everything about this experience.
I often look to music to try to explain how I am feeling.  The song that comes the closest is the Bryan Adams song, “Summer of ’69”.
Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Ya - I'd always wanna be there…
Man we were killin' time
We were young and restless
We needed to unwind
I guess nothin' can last forever - forever, no
And now the times are changin'
Look at everything that's come and gone
Those were the best days of my life
Back in the summer of '69
I am looking forward to tomorrow, but am dreading it as well.  It is going to be very hard to say goodbye to my fellow riders.  Without question, the Summer of 2011 has been the best summer of my life.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Day 46 - Gettysburg, PA (Rest Day)

Today was our last rest day.  I spent the day with my sister BJ and her daughters exploring Gettysburg, which is steeped in the history of the Civil War.  The Battle of Gettysburg was fought here from July 1 - 3, 1863.  It was the turning point in the Civil War and also the battle with the largest number of casualties.  Gettysburg is still a reminder of this tragic chapter in American history when our nation was acutely polarized and our citizens took up arms to settle their differences.

We toured the notorious battlefield which is dotted with approximately 370 cannons and over 1,300 monuments, markers and memorials honoring those who were killed, wounded, captured or missing during the battle.  I was surprised to see monuments from states on both sides of the conflict, a sobering tribute to those who fought and died here.  It is a grim reminder not of what was won, but rather of what was lost, on these sprawling hills.  The history books will tell you that the Union Army won the Battle of Gettysburg.  The truth is that the loss of human life far outweighed the victory.

The two armies suffered between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties in the three day battle, a slaughter on an unfathomable scale. Union casualties have been estimated to be 23,055 (3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded, 5,369 captured or missing). Confederate casualties have been more difficult to estimate, but the most definitive work puts the number at 23,231 (4,708 killed, 12,693 wounded, 5,830 captured or missing).  The number of total casualties from the Civil War is mind boggling.  Approximately 625,000 Americans lost their lives in the three year conflict.  To put this in perspective, 58,000 Americans lost their lives in the 20 year long Vietnam War. 

It is difficult for me to comprehend the logic behind the Civil War.  I see war as something that is always evil - never good.  It can be debated that war is sometimes a necessary evil - but that doesn't change anything - it is evil nonetheless.  Likewise, slavery is morally reprehensible and always evil.  But a war fought over the issue of slavery strikes me as sheer lunacy.  

Strictly from a numbers standpoint, the South never had a chance.  The population of the North at the time was about 22 million, more than double the population of the South.  The population of the South was about 9 million, and, of that total, there were about 4 million slaves.  It was a recipe for disaster from the start.  The North had more people and more resources.  And the war took place almost entirely in the South.  It certainly doesn't seem like there is much of a home court advantage in the game of war.  Confederate casualties totalled nearly 500,000 (289,000 dead and 194,000 wounded), nearly 10% of the free population and 20% of the free male population.  If the fighting had continued, the only men left in the South would have been the slaves. 

Slavery was NOT unique to the United States, but it was ONLY here that it took a major war to end it.  By the mid-1800's, the writing was on the wall and the abhorrent practice of slavery was dying a slow death around the world.  Before our Civil War, slavery was ended peacefully through compensated emancipation in dozens of other countries including Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Mexico and Peru.  Within 25 years of the Civil War, slaves were freed in Cuba and Brazil, the last two western countries where the practice was legal.  If the Civil War had never happened, 625,000 lives would have been spared and slavery would likely have ended of its own accord within a relatively short amount of time.

Slavery started in the American colonies well before the formation of the United States.  The first slaves were brought to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.  In what ultimately became the United States, slavery became common in the South with its agriculturally based economy.  It was less common in the North where the economy had an industrial base.  Slavery was a point of contention in our country's history from the beginning.  By the 1860's, the practice was entrenched in the Southern economy.

When Lincoln was elected in 1860, he pledged to keep slavery out of the territories that had not yet become states.  It was that position that prompted eleven states to secede and form a new nation, the Confederate States of America.  It was the secession that provoked the war.  I think a 5 year old could have figured out that a war was a ludicrous way to end this conflict.  Sadly, as history has shown us repeatedly, grown men often don't seem to understand that two wrongs never make a right.

We also visited the Shriver House Museum, which is dedicated to explaining the civilian experience during the Battle of Gettysburg. The museum is located at what was once the home of George and Hettie Shriver.  George Shriver was born in 1836.  His father was a prosperous farmer.  When his father died in 1852, George inherited his father’s farm.  He married Hettie Weikert in 1855 and they started a family.  Four years later, he sold a portion of the farm so that he could start his own business.

He bought a piece of property in town which could accommodate both a home for his family and his new business, Shriver's Saloon & Ten-Pin Alley.  The saloon was going to be located in the basement of the home.  The backyard was large enough to accommodate the ten-pin alley.  By August of 1861, he was almost ready to open for business.   At the age of 25, George Shriver felt secure about his future.  He was married and had two children, 5 year old Sadie and 3 year old Mollie.

But there was a problem.  The Civil War had begun and George felt compelled to serve his country.  He volunteered for service on August 27, 1861.  He expected to be home by Christmas.  Unfortunately, that was not to be the case and the story of the Shriver family did not have a happy ending.

As the Battle of Gettysburg began in the fields outside of Gettysburg, the roar of the cannons could be heard in town.  As the noise grew closer, Hettie decided to leave with her children and seek safety at her parents' farm located about three miles south of town.  She did not know that they were jumping from the frying pan into the fire.  Her family's farm sat between Big Round Top and Little Round Top where some of the worst fighting occurred.

When the fighting stopped, there were wounded and dying men everywhere.  Hettie and her family helped the hundreds of wounded soldiers that filled and surrounded the Weikert farm.  At one point, surgeons had mounded a pile of amputated limbs higher than the garden fence.  On the morning of July 7th, Hettie returned to her home in town. What she saw along the way was appalling. Almost 8,000 soldiers and 5,000 horses and mules were killed during the battle. The stench was overpowering. She walked by rifles, swords, canteens, belts, broken wagons, shattered caissons, ammunition, cartridge boxes, blankets, shoes and knapsacks. She saw buildings which were destroyed, bloody scraps of uniforms, and body parts as well.

When Hettie reached her home in town, she found that both her home and the ten-pin alley were being used as a hospital. The town of Gettysburg had about 2,400 residents. There were more than 26,000 wounded soldiers – more than 10 times the population of the town. She discovered that Confederate soldiers had occupied her home while she was gone. They had helped themselves to all the food in her kitchen, fruits and vegetables from her garden, supplies, clothing, blankets, linens, curtains and tools. A number of Confederate soldiers had set up a sharpshooters nest in her attic.

Five months after the Battle of Gettysburg, George Shriver was granted a four-day furlough to spend Christmas with his family.  He was a changed man when he returned.  He had been away for over two years and had seen things he could not even begin to describe.  George returned to duty near Brandy Station, Virginia and was taken prisoner during a cavalry skirmish on New Year's Day, 1864. He was sent to the horrific Andersonville prison camp, where he died on August 27, 1864, exactly three years after he had volunteered for service.

The Shriver home today appears much the same as it did when it was first built in 1860 for the young Shriver family.  Guides in period dress recount the harrowing story of the Shriver family's experiences.  The tour was intriguing.  It brought the Battle of Gettysburg to life and gave names and faces to a few of those who lived through it.

The Gettysburg Address was delivered by Lincoln on November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery, four months after the battle ended.  The war, however, raged on until Lee surrendered in Virginia in April of 1865.  Although it is one of the best known speeches in United States history, scholars have long disputed the exact wording.  The Bliss version below is viewed by many as the standard text:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.  Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Do Lincoln's words ring true today?  Do we live in a country where we "all men are equal"?  Or have we again found ourselves in a society that is acutely polarized?  Not by "slave" versus "free" but by the "haves" versus the "have nots"? Has "government of the people, by the people, for the people" been replaced by "government of the people, by the corporations, for the corporations"?

Interestingly, the following quote has been widely attributed to Lincoln:

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."

- U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864 (letter to Col. William F. Elkins)

This quote was first attributed to Abe back in 1896 - and it's authenticity has been challenged ever since. A quick internet search regarding this quote reveals hundreds of comments debating the issue of whether or not Lincoln actually wrote this.

The irony is that it doesn't really matter whether Lincoln said it or not.  Someone said it. And they said it over 100 years ago. Regardless of who said it,the words are sobering and prophetic.

A special thanks today goes to Jeff who works at Gettysburg Bicycle and Fitness.  Noel had a problem with his bike pump which he has been trying to get fixed.  It needed a new part and he has been unable to find it.  Jeff took the part out of one the pumps in the store and now Noel’s pump is good to go again!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Day 45 - Gettysburg, PA

We woke up to rain this morning.  Another day of having to pack up a soaking wet tent.  Our cue sheet for the day said, “Huge day on the bike.  This is the final exam.  The first 40 miles features several big climbs and treacherous descents.  Last 60 miles is more rolling into Gettysburg.”  
This is the day of BIG RIDE lore, the day we have all heard about as the hardest day on the BIG RIDE.  When Charlton gave us our “cue sheet talk” this morning, he told us that he had complete confidence in our abilities to successfully complete today’s ride.  He said that he is much more worried about the days AFTER today as he is concerned that we will treat those days as though the ride has ended and let down our guard.
I found the ride today to be challenging, but definitely did NOT think it was the hardest day we have had on the ride.  There are 4 H’s that we have had to deal with – hills, headwinds, heat and humidity.  We had the potential for all 4 today, but we got lucky.  We only had to deal with the hills.  It rained most of the day, so the temperature stayed cool and there was little wind.  We rode through some beautiful country today, but I didn’t take ANY pictures as I didn’t want to get my camera wet.
Our first rest stop today was right next to a Starbucks.  Several of us went in to get a coffee and something to eat.  When we descend on a place like that, we are often asked what we are doing.  People ask questions about the ride – how far we ride each day, where we sleep, etc.  In most of these situations, I have found that people regard us as something of a curiosity.  I noticed a difference today when we were in that Starbucks.  People congratulated us.  We are no longer seen as a group of people who ARE riding their bikes across the country.  We are now seen as a group of people who HAVE ridden their bikes across the country.  We have a mere 100 miles to go.
I still have the feeling that this has all been surreal.  How on earth did I ride my bike over 3,000 miles?  It occurred to me today that I haven’t.  It has been nothing more than a series of 20 – 25 mile bike rides.  That is really all that I have done.  I ride for a while, see one of our support vehicles and stop.  I get something to eat and drink and talk to Charlton, Lynn or Rich for a few minutes.  Then I get back on my bike and do it again.  It has simply been a series of smaller rides.
People often ask how one trains for an event like this.  There is no single answer to this question.  Several riders never rode their bike for more than 100 miles in one day before this ride.  I think there even a few who never rode more than 50 miles in one day before the ride.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this approach to anyone unless they are young, strong and very determined.  But it can be done.
When we first entered the state of Pennsylvania, we were on some rough roads and I was concerned that the entire state would be that way.  It turns out that the roads improved and Pennsylvania has emerged as one of my favorite states to ride in.  I have been very impressed with the cycling routes in the state.  In addition to the vast rail trail system that we rode on the last two days, Pennsylvania maintains a series of routes on its roads to provide cyclists with bicycle routes that cross the state.  These routes were created throughout the 2000s.  Much of the credit for this system goes to Former Governor Tom Ridge, an avid cyclist. 
Most of our ride today was on BicyclePA Route S, which runs from the West Virginia border to the New Jersey border.  The route passes through the southern part of the state, passing to the south of Pittsburgh and to the north of Philadelphia.  The route was well marked and easy to follow.
Our stop for the day is Gettysburg and tomorrow is our last rest day.  Our official stop for this rest day is at Gettysburg College.  My sister, BJ, who lives in New York, drove to Gettysburg with her two daughters, Amanda and Nicole.  I will be spending my rest day with them in a hotel, enjoying the luxury of real sheets and towels.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Day 44 - Bedford, PA

We were given the option this morning of riding the first 31 miles on the trail OR riding on the road for a shorter distance with a lot of climbing.  More than half of the riders chose the road option as they felt they had enough of trail riding yesterday.  I chose the trail option as I find riding on the trail to be extremely relaxing, although I felt guilty for choosing the "easy" option.  It was a nice peaceful morning with a hint of fog.  We were again riding on the Great Allegheny Passage, this time on a section of trail that ran along the Casselman River for most of the way.

Just outside the town of Rockwood, I ran into Stan, who was stopped at an information booth.  My bike computer had stopped working and I mentioned to Stan that I might run into town to look for a new battery.  Stan told me that he had a new battery with him, so we put it in, but my computer did not respond.  I realized that I needed to find a bike shop and get a new computer.  I wondered where the nearest bike shop might be.  Stan and I walked about six feet forward and a miracle occurred.  A bike shop was right there and it was open!  I had a new computer installed and was on my way again quickly.

We stayed on the trail until Meyersdale, which is home to a historic rail station.  We rejoined the riders who chose the road option at this point.  From Meyersdale, we headed east.  We rode past the Casselman Wind Power Project, a wind farm with 23 wind turbines.  Eight of the turbines sit atop a rehabilitated surface mine.  The former mining site is now home to the farm's operation center, collector transformer and interconnection facility.

The Flight 93 Memorial was on our route today, the site of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93, which was hijacked on September 11, 2001, killing all 40 passengers and crew members as well as the four terrorists who hijacked the plane.  Visiting the memorial was an extremely emotional experience.  Although the 9/11 tragedy occurred almost ten years ago, the horrendous memories from that day came flooding back. 
When most of us think about 9/11, we think about what DID happen that day.  The shocking images from the collapse of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center are forever seared into our memories.  When we think about Flight 93, it is almost as an afterthought.  It was the fourth plane.  The one that failed to reach its intended target.  But it is EXACTLY that fact that makes the crash of Flight 93 so significant. 
The Flight 93 Memorial reminds us about what DID NOT happen that day.  It is widely presumed that the intended target of Flight 93 was the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.  If the events of that day had played out differently, the Capitol Building might not exist.  Visiting the Memorial was especially appropriate on our journey across America as the Capitol Building is our final destination. 
On that tragic day, Flight 93 was scheduled to depart from Newark Airport at 8:00 am.  It was headed to San Francisco.  Although the plane had a capacity of 182 passengers, the flight carried only 33 passengers and seven crew members.  Due to airport congestion, the plane did not take off until 8:42 am.  The three other hijacked flights all departed within fifteen minutes of their scheduled departure times.  
Shortly after Flight 93 became airborne, the events that were unfolding on the other three planes became known and air traffic officials began issuing warnings.  The passengers and crew on Flight 93 made 35 airphone calls and two cell phone calls from the flight.  Ten passengers and two crew members were able to successfully connect.  They were able to find out what was happening on the other three planes and they were able to provide information about the hijacking and the ensuing passenger revolt on their flight to people on the ground.

We will never know what would have happened if Flight 93 had taken off on time.  It is likely that there would have been a very different outcome.  Ultimately Flight 93 crashed less than 20 minutes flying time from Washington, DC.  Unquestionably, it was the quick and heroic actions of the passengers and crew members that prevented the hijackers from succeeding.  Our country owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the heroes who were aboard Flight 93.  As our law makers are now haggling over the debt ceiling issue, Flight 93 is a somber reminder about a debt that can never be repaid.

After leaving the memorial, we made our way to Highway 30, which we were on for the rest of the day.  This stretch of road is part of the Lincoln Highway, the first road across the United States.  It initially ran from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco and passed through 13 states:  New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California.  In 1915, the "Colorado Loop" was removed.  In 1928, the road was rerouted through the northern tip of West Virginia.  As a result, there have been a total of 14 states and over 700 cities, towns and villages through which it passed at some time in its history.
The Lincoln Highway was America's first memorial to Abraham Lincoln, predating the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. by nine years.  As the first automobile road across America, the Lincoln Highway brought prosperity to the communities along the way and has been called "The Main Street Across America."
We had a nice climb this afternoon.  We climbed Bald Knob Summit, with an elevation of 2,906 feet.  I enjoy climbing far more than descending.  Descending is the scary part.  Our cue sheet appropriately advised, "Caution on the steep and winding descent.  Control speed, feather brakes and cool rims if necessary."


I did hear some national news today.  Apparently, the threat of the United States defaulting on its debt obligations is over, for the time being anyway.  The debt ceiling, which had reached its cap at $14.3 trillion, has been raised to $16.4 trillion, an increase of a mere $2.1 trillion.  I hadn’t found anyone who seemed seriously concerned about this crisis.  I also haven’t heard anyone particularly glad to hear that this situation has been resolved.

We are again spending the night in a campground, the Friendship Village Campground.  Again, there are no hotels nearby.  It will be my fourth night in a row in my tent, the longest stretch of tent camping I have had on the BIG RIDE.  And it is starting to rain...                                                  

Monday, August 1, 2011

Day 43 - Confluence, PA

Our cue sheet for the day told us to expect big, big hills.  We did have some big hills, but only at the very beginning of the day – the steepest had a grade of 17%.  We left Washington and headed east on Route 136.  At about Mile 18, we entered Mingo Creek County Park, a beautiful park with little traffic, a creek running through it and a delightful covered bridge.   We rode through the park for a few miles and then got back on Route 136. 

When we reached West Newton at about Mile 35, we got on the Youghiogheny River Trail (YRT) which we stayed on for the rest of the day, slightly over 50 miles.  The YRT is part of the Great Allegheny Passage.  The Great Allegheny Passage is a multi-use rail trail that occupies abandoned corridors of several railroads in Pennsylvania and Maryland.  It is part of a network of trails that connects Pittsburgh to Washington, DC. 
The entrance to the trail in West Newton is guarded by a statue of a rifleman made entirely out of railroad spikes.  The statue was crafted by metal sculptor Bill Secunda.  It pays tribute to a band of pioneers who stopped here in 1788 to build boats before continuing on to explore the Northwest Territory.  The rusting spikes are a fitting material for the statue as they reflect the abandoned rail line that was used to create the trail.  Despite his rust and the fact that he is a squatty fellow, he was a hit with the ladies in our group.  It must be the moustache.

The trail has a crushed limestone surface, so we couldn’t ride very fast.  I found riding on the trail to be very relaxing.  No worries about cars or missing a turn.  No hills – the average grade from West Newton to Confluence is only .212%.  The Youghiogheny River was to our left and there was a wonderful canopy of deciduous trees that provided shade most of the time.  It must be a beautiful place to ride in the fall. 
The trail was quiet and peaceful.  But it wasn't always that way.  There was a time when this area was bustling with activity as this was the site of a large coal processing operation for the Pittsburgh Coal Company.  Railroad cars filled with coal once rumbled along the now abandoned tracks.  In 1890, 78 men were employed here and 58,307 tons of coal were shipped.  By 1950, there were 500 men working here and 500,000 tons of coal were shipped.  The operation ceased in 1956.

This site is close to the site of one of the worst coal mining disasters in the nation.  On December 19, 1907, a gas and coal dust explosion at the nearby Darr Mine killed 239 miners.  An inquiry into the disaster concluded, not surprisingly, that the Pittsburgh Coal Company was not at fault.  The explosion was presumed to have occurred in an area that the Fire Boss had cordoned off, but a group of miners had entered carrying open flame lamps.  The company permitted the use of open flame lamps in the mine, a practice it abandoned after the tragedy at the Darr Mine.

We were treated to lunch today by another BIG RIDE veteran, Fred Husak, who did the ride in 2000 at the age of 62.  Coincidentally, it was the same year that Lynn did the ride, but they didn’t remember each other as there were several hundred riders that year.  Fred lives in Scottdale, PA.  After working for a company called Lennox Crystal for 36 years, he was unexpectedly asked to take an early retirement.  The company went bankrupt the year after he left (most likely due to his absence).  Fred realized that he wanted to do something important and meaningful at that point in his life, and the BIG RIDE seemed like a perfect choice.  He had smoked for over 40 years and supported the mission of the American Lung Association.
Fred and his wife, Rose Ann, and daughter, Bethany, treated us to a wonderful lunch.  They provided sandwiches from Subway as well as chips, drinks and cookies.  We think they had advance warning about James Lynn, our Subway fanatic.  Fred maintains a binder which contains a wealth of BIG RIDE history.  It was fun to look at it for a few minutes.

As we approached the town of Ohiopyle at about Mile 77, we crossed a bridge where we could look down and see people rafting on the Youghiogheny River.  It looked like a great way to spend a hot afternoon.  When I got to the town of Ohiopyle, I saw an ice cream shop and stopped for an ice cream cone.  Within a few minutes, several other riders stopped as well.  I am so going to miss my afternoon ice cream cones when the ride is over.

We are spending the night in the town of Confluence, a small town with a population of about 800.  The town is appropriately named as it is the spot where the Casselman River and Laurel Hill Creek join the Youghiogheny River.  For the third night in a row, we are spending the night in a campground and there are no hotels nearby, so it will be another night in my tent.

It is a $12 dinner night.  It is Monday and we quickly found out that most of the restaurants here are closed on Mondays.  We also quickly found out that a place named the Lucky Dog Cafe IS open on Mondays.  Lucky for us.  We probably should have called ahead and advised them that a crowd of hungry cyclists was going to invade the place.  They have great food with a Mexican flair.  Kate M. and I shared a delicious helping of fried ice cream for dessert.  We might as well enjoy being able to eat like this while we still can!