COLUMBUS, Ohio, –
May 25, 2018, Day 27 - 104 miles; 2,887 miles done; 0 left. It’s almost unbelievable to see the zero there. After four long weeks, we’re finally done. We left Vidalia this morning under overcast skies as opposed to the forecasted thunderstorms and ended the ride at Tybee Island (east of Savannah) with the sun shinning on us as we dipped our feet and bikes into the Atlantic Ocean. As the final act of our ride, I had the honor of pouring water taken from the Pacific Ocean into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s been an amazing journey, and I don’t think that I could have imagined a better way to end my military career. We live in a beautiful and vast country and I’m thankful for the privilege to have been able to see it from my perspective on a bicycle. Along the way, I’ve made some great friends and have learned so much about the sport of cycling. Tomorrow seems a little empty without the routine of getting ready for the next day’s ride. And it will take some time for all of this to sink in. I will make one final post about this trip once I’m back home. - I’m grateful for the Good Lord’s Grace in keeping all of us safe during this ride. I’m also thankful for all the prayers, well wishes, and encouragement from so many friends and family along this journey. They gave me strength when I had none. Lastly, I couldn’t have done this without the love and support of my better half and my kids. Thanks again for allowing me to do what I love.
May 24, 2018, Day 26 - 101 miles; 2,783 down; 104 left to go! It’s incredible that this journey is coming to an end. Seems like only yesterday when we all met up in Costa Mesa, California and dipped our wheels into the Pacific Ocean. Tomorrow we ride for Savannah and will dip our wheels into the Atlantic Ocean ending a cross country ride that took us across nine states and four time zones in 27 days. It will take me some time to digest the significance of what we’ve accomplished, but I know it’s a journey I won’t soon forget. There are so many memories floating around in my head and I hope that I will be able to put them down into words. - Today we got lucky and were able to ride for about 70 miles without any rain, but that soon changed. Like yesterday, we were once again drenched from head to toe and rode the last 30+ miles into Vidalia soaking wet. We did see some lightning but that line of storm was ahead of us so we were relatively safe and weren’t forced to stop our ride. Did I mentioned that riding in the rain is no fun? The splatter from the rain and the puddles gets into everything, especially the face. Our goggles/glasses are useless once they’re wet. It would have really helped to have goggles/glasses with wipers today; we missed a couple of turns and our hotel because we couldn’t see our route cue sheet/bike computer so we ended up doing some extra miles. My toes, but especially my fingers, have taken a beating from being soaked all the time. And like the past few days, we had our miles and miles of rolling hills. If I ever complain again about riding or running up a hill in Ohio, someone please remind me of this trip. I’m tired physically and am anxious to be done but deep down inside, I know that I will miss this ride. Some of us were talking at dinner about how we probably won’t ride back to back century rides for a long time. After all, who does that? Only crazy people, right?
May 23, 2018, Day 25 - 95 miles; 2,682 down; 205 to go. Today was a day of decision. It started off with a torrential downpour so we delayed the start of our ride by an hour and a half. Once there was a break in the rain, the tour director gave us the option of riding. Half of us chose not to ride but the “horsemen” decided to ride since they thought they could get ahead of the next storm. I think that if we were familiar with the route, all of us would have chosen to ride, but since none of us had ridden the route before, some of us were hesitant to chance it. Even with the break in the rain, there’s no telling what lurks beneath a puddle or whether a trail could be washed out by the rain. The horsemen were confident in their abilities so they rode ahead while the rest of us decided to visit the Infantry Museum on Fort Benning. By the way, the museum was pretty impressive. We only spent a couple hours visiting the museum but could have spent the whole day there. We later met up with the horsemen at the hotel and the pictures that they took proved that we made the better decision. The route ran along the Chattahoochee River and it had overflowed across the bike trail. Half of the horsemen rode through the flooded trail, while half of them sought out an alternate route. According to Glen, one of the horsemen from Germany, he said that their decision to ride through the flooded trail was “pretty ****** up.” As you can see from the pictures, the water level was pretty high. At one point, Glen’s water bottles floated out of his water bottle holders. He stopped and the water bottles just floated to him! Dave, another of the rider, said that he was hesitant to take a drink from his water bottles because the flood water had covered the top of both of his bottles. When the tour director and the other three tour guides saw the pictures, they were in disbelief that the horsemen chose to ride through the flooded route. While I respect the horsemen’s decision to ride, I don’t think the risk was worth it. A lot of bad things could have happened today that would have ended their ride; fortunately nothing did. There’s a difference between taking a calculated risk and just being reckless... - The tour provided another opportunity to catch up with an old co-worker from a deployment. Kyle Mead thanks for making time to see me. It was wonderful to catch up and to meet your lovely wife. Tomorrow, we ride for Vidalia. Forecast calls for more thunderstorms. Hopefully, we’ll be able to ride...
May 22, 2018, Day 24 - 113 miles; 2,887 done; 300 to go; eight states down; one more to go; now in Eastern Time Zone. Hello from Columbus - the other Columbus in Georgia. Today’s ride was a difficult day. My legs really needed a recovery day after all the climbing that we did yesterday, but unfortunately we had already used up our two days of rest for this trip. The first twenty miles weren’t too bad since we didn’t have any major hills, but that soon changed after our first pit stop. For me, riding is a bit like running. Once I stop running, it’s always hard to start again because the muscle memory in my legs want to keep going. And so each time we stop, the leg muscles take a while to get going again. I mentioned earlier that my legs were already tired from yesterday’s climbing, so it was a struggle to get in the 113 miles today with 4,450 feet of climbing. As if that wasn’t hard enough, the heavens opened up today and we rode through two major rainstorms today. Luckily, we didn’t have the thunder and lightning, but there was a lot of water on the roads and at times it felt like we could have been swept away by the deluge. I don’t think that a bicycle hydroplanes but I don’t want to test out that theory. The positive side of riding in the rain is that your speed picks up because you want to get out of the wet clothes as soon as possible. I’m so over with riding in the rain; already checked off that box twice. I can only imagine what people must think of us when they drive by in the rain and we’re pedaling like mad people... I’m so over these hills too. I’ve lost count of how many times “Come on!” “Really, another hill?” “Are you kidding?” “Good Lord!” and other less pleasant words have come out of my mouth... Yesterday, I didn’t get a chance to take any photos so today I had to snap a photo of the welcome sign for Tuskegee even though it was pouring down rain. You can see the raindrops in the photo. Tomorrow is supposed to be an easy day - only 95 miles (our second non-century and lowest mileage ride on this trip). We’re on our way to Perry and our route should take us very close to Fort Benning. The weather forecast calls for rain. Should be an interesting ride, minus the rain.
May 21, 2018, Day 23 - 116 miles; 2,474 down; 413 to go. WTH?! What the hills?! My legs are jello. These hills never seem to end. I don’t know what’s worse... climbing the mountains out west or these hills down here. Out west, you knew that you had some major climbs and once that was done, you were done. Down here, it’s so disheartening when you round a corner and see a hill and another hill, and another. Just when you think you’ve built some momentum going down a descent, the steep grade of the upcoming hills kills all of that so your legs ache as they grind away trying to get over the next hill. And that cycle went on and on all day from Tuscaloosa to Prattville. In total, we climbed over 6,000 feet so my legs are on ice right now trying to recover for tomorrow’s ride. To top that off, we had an easterly wind so not only were we climbing all day, but we also had to deal with the wind. But the real icing on the cake today was the rain. We didn’t get the thunder and lightning, but we did get very wet. My wet weather jacket worked to a point, but everything gets wet eventually and after a while the jacket just traps in heat so it’s almost better to ride without it. There were a lot of expletives like “foot” and “shoot” that came out of my mouth today and I think more will come out in the next couple of days as they are going to be very wet ones. (Back when I was a captain, one of my instructors started using the expletives “foot” and “shoot” and they’ve stuck with me.) The good news about the rain is that it kept most of the dogs at bay. We did get a few chasers, but nothing like the past few days. I didn’t get any photos because I was focusing on trying to stay dry and to get done as soon as possible. - Tomorrow we cross into Georgia and will be back into Eastern Standard Time. We only have four days of riding left, and what used to be an insurmountable mountain of miles (2,887) to scale has become but a small hill (413) left to climb. - The day ended on a high note, when Col Matt Harnly took time from his pre-command course at Maxwell to pay a visit. Thanks, Matt, for making time for me and for dinner. It was great to catch up!
May 20, 2018, Day 22 - 109 miles; 2,358 done; 529 to go; seven states done; only two to go. This morning we left Aberdeen, Mississippi and made our way towards Tuscaloosa, Alabama. At mile 19, we unceremoniously crossed into Alabama marking the completion of the seventh state on this trip. Our route took us primarily on county roads so there was no sign to mark the state border except for what our ride leader had spray painted on the road. Speaking of our ride leader, this is his home state and I think that he found the hilliest route possible to Tuscaloosa. Oh the hills! I never imagined that this part of Alabama could be so hilly. It seems that we did nothing but climb up and descend down hills all day. The hills and the humidity causes me to sweat so much that when I’m done, my shorts and shirts are caked in salt; my black riding shorts have a pronounced white stain from my dried sweat. I lose so much salt during the day that I’m taking salt pills/packets to replenish what I’m sweating away. As usual, we were chased again by dogs and once again we had to deal with the pop up thunderstorm. Fortunately, we were clear of the path and only caught a few raindrops. The rain had cooled the air so that was a welcomed relief to a very hot and humid day. Being caught out in the thunderstorm yesterday had made my bike computer unusable this morning so I had to rely on my paper cue sheet and my phone. I’m proud to say that we didn’t miss any turns. Hopefully, my bike computer will be dried up by tomorrow’s ride. The hills were tough and my legs are tired from all the climbing. Tomorrow’s ride to Prattville will be the fourth highest climb on this trip (hard to believe), so it’s going to be an even harder day. Riding into Tuscaloosa was uneventful; we didn’t have enough people to form the O-H-I-O so I just snapped a couple photos of the stadium as we rode by. Probably would have caused a minor SEC - BIG Ten issue anyway...
May 19, 2018, Day 21
- 137 miles. 2,249 done; 638 to go. Today was just a strange day. Everything started off normal when we left Senatobia and made our way towards Aberdeen. We had the usual humidity and the dog chases. We’ve come to expect the dogs as a part of our ride when we approach a house but it’s no fun when you’re trying to outrun a dog or two going up a hill. It makes the heart do double duty... I didn’t expect Mississippi to be so hilly. Today we actually climbed over 4,700 feet over 137 miles - our fifth highest so far on this trip. And then the strangeness began. First, one of my spokes on my back tire broke. Not really sure what caused that, but it’s never happened to me before. Once we got that fixed, then the real strangeness began. The weather forecast called for a 30% chance of rain so we really didn’t give it much thought. Big mistake! Suddenly, we (Jim and I) found ourselves trying to outrun a series of thunderstorms with our bicycles. Realistically, that’s not doable so we hunkered down at a gas station and waited for the thunder and lightning to pass. Seeing that it wouldn’t, we called in our mechanic and he dropped us off a few miles away from the storm. Once we got going again, the storm caught up to us. This time, we found shelter on the front porch of a home. Luckily, there weren’t any dogs around. We called our mechanic again, but he was picking up the other riders too who had also been caught in the storm, so we sat and waited on the porch. While we waited, the owner (Larry K.) of the home came home with his family. Obviously, Larry was curious who we were, but once we explained what we were doing and how we had gotten caught in the storm, he opened up his home and asked us in. He wanted to feed us but we declined since we had just eaten so we settled on a bottle of water. Larry was very kind and generous to offer up shelter and food to two complete stranger. Once again, the kindness of strangers is a real thing and I am grateful for people like Larry. Seeing a break in the storm, we tempted Mother Nature again and continued on our bikes and had success for oh about a mile before she unleashed her wrath again so we sought what little shelter we could find under a tree until the mechanic could reach us at mile 116. And that was the end of our ride for today. It was disappointing not to finish the entire route, but it wasn’t worth the risk of being struck by lightning. Tomorrow we cross into Alabama and will ride into Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama. Perhaps I can get some of the riders to do the O-H-I-O sign on campus; as long as no one is around...
May 18, 2018, Day 20 - 113 miles; 2,112 down; only 775 to go; six states done; three to go. Today was a hard day for me. My legs didn’t have any strength so today’s ride was a struggle. I think I lost too much electrolytes yesterday from the high humidity and didn’t do a good job at replacing them; I’m making that my top priority for tonight. - Normally we eat breakfast at our hotels before we leave, but since our hotel only had a continental breakfast, we were treated to a special meal at Waffle House. Our foreign riders were curious about grits, but no one wanted to experiment. We left Brinkley, Arkansas for Senatobia, Mississippi this morning under almost fall like conditions. It was chilly once we gained some speed and there was an eerie fog that blanketed the area for as far as we could see. Initially we stayed on back roads and had to deal with unleashed dogs chasing us but it wasn’t quite as bad as yesterday. The cool air and the sweet smell of the Honeysuckles in bloom more than made up for the occasional dog chases. We then got back on the Civil War Trail, one of Arkansas’ four Heritage Trails (we’ve already been on the Trail of Tears Trail and the Butterfield Trail - just missing the Southwest Trail). After a short ride on the Civil War Trail, we got on Highway 49 and crossed the Helena Bridge over the Mighty Mississippi River. The experience of riding a bicycle over a very long (3/5th of mile) narrow bridge with no shoulder with traffic is not something that I would want to repeat. My knuckles are still a bit white from grasping the handlebars so tightly. Still, the experience of seeing the Mississippi from that perspective is pretty cool. I had wanted to stop and take some photos from the bridge but the lack of a shoulder made that impossible. We did manage to find a spot to snap a photo of the Mississippi sign marking the completion of six states down. One of the things in Mississippi that really jumped out at me is the Kudzu plant. It’s everywhere! Historical accounts say that the plants were brought here from Asia for shade and to help with erosion, but it’s gotten out of control and has become quite a problem. Tomorrow’s ride to Aberdeen, Mississippi will match our second longest ride of this tour at 137 miles so it will be a long day. We’ll also have many pop up hills so I’m hoping that I’ll find my legs again. - Another benefit of this ride that an old friend from high school stopped by to say hello. Amy Brechtelsbauer Coats it was wonderful to see you again after so many years. Thank you so much for making time to see me. Seeing your friendly face (and your daughter) was a great way to end the day.
May 17, 2018, Day 19 - 102 miles. 1,999 down; 888 to go. Today’s ride from Conway to Brinkley, Arkansas was a relatively easy day. We didn’t have any major climbs; just some small hills that popped up here and there. But, oh, the humidity! We must have had at least 80 percent humidity because I was drenched in sweat for almost the entire ride. I labored through the first 50 miles or so until a gentle breeze made the ride bearable. Unlike previous routes, today we rode mainly on back roads and through some small neighborhoods. The problem with this route is that it seems that almost every house has one to four dogs in their yards. I guess these dogs don’t see many bicyclists because they always wanted to chase us. Most of them are chained up or are in fenced yards, but the ones that don’t have come after us; sometimes even crossing the street. Some of them respond with a firm command to stay or stop, but not always. I don’t blame the dogs; they’re just protecting their homes, but it sure does cause our heartbeats and our bike speeds to spike up. - A neat thing happened today. Martin, one of our riders from Switzerland, who is nursing a leg injury started about 15 minutes behind us. At about mile 27 he passed us (Jim and I) but then suddenly stopped a mile later. As we approached, we thought he was hurt or was having mechanical problems because he was looking down. When we reached him, we asked if he was alright, and Martin said that he had stopped to move a small turtle off the road and put it on the grass. Most of the animals that we’ve come across on the roads aren’t alive. Martin said that they don’t have turtles where he’s from so seeing a live turtle was special to him. I thought that was the neatest thing and snapped a photo of him and the turtle that he had saved. - Tomorrow, we cross the Mighty Mississippi and will have just over a week of riding left until we reach Savannah. It has been an awesome, once in a lifetime journey filled with memories that will last for years to come. I think I will miss it...
May 16, 2018, Day 18 - 122 miles. 1,897 down; 990 to go. It’s hard to believe that we’re under 1,000 miles already. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we started this journey and the total of 2,887 was so daunting. It seems the hardest part of doing anything difficult is taking the first step. My other passion is running, and sometimes getting out of the door is the hardest thing to do especially when the weather isn’t cooperating. - Today we left Fort Smith behind us and made our way to Conway, Arkansas. Our route took us along the Trail of Tears (Bell-Drane Route) on which Cherokee Indians were relocated west of the Mississippi River. We had some cloud cover but the humidity made it feel like we were swimming instead of biking. Along the way, we passed by Fort Chafee. According to my massage therapist from yesterday’s day off, Elvis got his military haircut at Fort Chafee. There is a museum about Elvis’ time at Fort Chafee, but we didn’t have the time to stop and see it. We also passed through Paris, Arkansas - a neat little town, and crossed the Arkansas River. Along the way, Jim and I stopped at a bridge going across Lake Dardanelle and snapped a photo of the lake. I was also able to snap a photo of a large Arkansas Razorback sign hanging from a cliff; I think the person who hung this banner truly deserves the “number 1 fan” title. Speaking of Jim, he wasn’t feeling too well so I pulled him for most of the trip until we were about five miles from our hotel. The route from Fort Smith to Conway was captivating. If it wasn’t for the dogs chasing us and the debris on the roads, it would have been almost perfect. The debris caused a lot of flat tires today; only one person escaped without a flat tire today and that wasn’t me. I had one at about mile 90 and Jim had back to back flats between 115 and 117. At that point, Jim threw in the towel and I finished the ride by myself. - This ride also provided an opportunity to catch up with an old co-worker from Iraq - Christopher Lawton. We served together in Iraq and he is currently stationed in Little Rock. Chris is one of those natural athletes and plays a mean game of volleyball. There was a time when he scaled a T-Wall like Spider-Man (tall concrete barrier) to retrieve a volleyball that we thought was beyond reach. It still blows my mind how he did it...
May 14, 2018, Day 16 - 106 miles; 1,775 down; 1,112 to go; five states down; four to go. Hard to believe that we only have ten more days of this. This morning we left McAlester, Oklahoma and after being forced to ride over more rolling hills, we finally arrived at Fort Smith, Arkansas. When I say forced, we (the riders) all feel that there’s a conspiracy going on with this tour. It seems that instead of taking the most direct route, we always take the most hilly roads, and our hotel is always at the end of the town/city that we come to and they always seem to be uphill... I shouldn’t say this, but I’ve finally found my legs. Actually, I found them a few days ago. Physically, my legs are fine and they don’t bother me anymore. It’s the heat and the humidity that I’m not used. I’m always hot and praying for shade or some cloud cover on the route but both seem to elude me. With all this sun, my face, arms, and legs are starting to get a pretty good tan. Even applying sunscreen at every stop doesn’t seem to help because we’re sweating so much. On today’s ride, I started the ride with Norman, one of our riders from Australia. Norman rode across the U.S. back in 2006 but did the northern route and wanted to do the southern route this time. He has a very pronounced accent so it’s a bit hard to understand him. Still, it was good to chat with him and he kept me company until the second pit stop. There’s another rider on our tour who’s done the northern route before and is back again for the southern route. I don’t think I would come back again, but perhaps that opinion will change once I finish. Ah, no. I don’t think so. During the ride today we came across some very small towns. Some of them you would miss if you blinked. Every once in a while, you come across some that take great pride in their towns like Hartshorne, home of MLB player Warren Spahn and Jockey Rick Wilson. We also stopped in Poteau - named by the French for the Poteau River or Post River. A lady going by the name of Karen was kind enough to let us use their building for our lunch break. During our break, she told us a little about Poteau and handed us some bracelets announcing Poteau’s claim as having the “world’s highest hill.” In spite of the hills (and more cursing) today was a good ride. It’s nice to finally see green trees everywhere as well as green lawns; a big change from a few days ago. - Tomorrow is our second and last rest day, and then we’re on our final push towards Savannah. Conway, Arkansas is our next stop and we’ll be less than 1,000 miles to go. Looking forward to sleeping in a bit and my massage.
May 13, 2018, Day 15 - 144 miles; 1,669 done; 1,218 to go. Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there. Thanks for all that you do! - As Forest Gump said, “I’m tired.” Today was a very long day. These 144 miles are the farthest that I’ve gone on a bicycle. Whoever said that Oklahoma is flat needs to either drive or ride the route that we took today. It seems like we had rolling hills for the entire 144 miles. I’m so tired of the rolling hills; it seems like they never ended. As if the rolling hills weren’t enough, we also had to deal with the sun. It was so hot and there wasn’t much shade so we just wanted to get done with the ride. When we left Chickasha this morning, it was already 70 degrees so it was going to be hot one. Fortunately, the winds today weren’t as bad as yesterday, so I decided to ride solo until our first pit stop. Most of the riders are faster than me and I knew that I couldn’t keep up even in a pace line. It was going to be a long hot day so I kept a comfortable pace for me and caught up with one group of riders at the pit stop. I then hooked up with Jim, and rode with him until lunch at mile 77. Soon after lunch, Jim started to have some problems with exhaustion. He doesn’t eat very much for lunch, and I think his body was struggling for fuel. He was having dry heaves and started to struggle really hard on the bike. He’s pretty stubborn (like me) and didn’t want to stop so I hung back with him until mile 108 when I snitched on him and texted one of the tour guides that he was having problems. They then pulled him off the route and took him to the ER to get some fluids into him. He’s back now but I’m not sure if he’ll be riding tomorrow. Other than the rolling hills and Jim’s episode with exhaustion, I did have a snake slither across the road in front of me so I had to do some quick maneuvering not to run over it. Speaking of roads, there are a lot of roadkills here, especially armadillos. They’re everywhere; I’m surprised Oklahoma’s not called the Armadillo state. When they pulled Jim off the route, I ended riding the rest of the 34 miles alone to the finish at McAlester. Those were the longest 34 miles and I did a lot of talking to myself (and cursing the hills) and kept thinking about how good the Braum’s ice cream was going to taste. I normally don’t take pictures of food, but someone once said that no pictures means that it didn’t happened, so I took a photo of my double scoop of pralines and cream and rocky road ice cream from Braum’s. I also had a triple hamburger. I don’t know how many calories that adds up to, but I’m sure that I’m still in a negative balance of calories burned versus calories taken in. - Tomorrow we ride into Arkansas and will have our second and last rest day in Ft. Smith.
May 12, 2018, Day 14
- 121 miles. 1,525 down; 1,362 to go - more than halfway done and back on the road again! Today was a good day. The day off yesterday was a blessing in disguise. The new bike held up well, and my legs got an extra day of rest for the 121 miles today. I’ve gotten a couple of comments about my bike seat and the lack of cushion on it. Having more cushion actually causes more rubbing especially for long distance rides. My seat is called an “Infinity” seat and it’s designed to have less weight but provides the right support in the right places. It’s not for everyone and we all have our own preferences regarding our seats. - This morning we left Elk City and headed to Chickasha, OK. I wonder if the winds ever stop blowing in this area. Looking at the way the trees lean here, I don’t the winds let up very much. The winds were blowing all day, all night, and all day today. If they were blowing from the west, we wouldn’t complain, but the southerly and south easterly winds blowing in excess of 20 mph didn’t make any fans out of us. Riding over a hundred miles is hard enough, but to ride into the winds or with a crosswind is no fun. Today was definitely not a day to ride solo, we pretty much rode in three groups to work against the wind. In spite of the winds, today was still a good day filled with some neat moments. At about mile 40 we had some cows that had gotten loose and ran across the road in front of us missing one of our riders by about 20 feet. Then at mile 50, we officially crossed the halfway point on this trip. It’s hard to believe that we’ve ridden more than halfway across the country in just 14 days. Without my cheat sheet, I would lose track of where we came from and where we’re going to. Honestly, the days blend into one another so this “blog” will help me to relieve the trip when I’m done. Not sure that I would want to get on a bicycle anytime soon when I’m done, but I’ll definitely look forward to reliving the journey. We also rode by the town of Nowhere, OK. It’s neat to see how the landscape has changed from state to state. From the scenery to the people, it’s fascinating to see the changes. I had intended to get some ice cream from Braum’s today, but our group was so hungry that we stopped at a Dairy Queen and got our dessert there instead. Tomorrow, we head out to McAlester, OK. Our hotel is right next to a Braum’s so it will be our motivation to get there. It’s our longest ride of the tour at 144 miles so it’s going to be a very long, hard day. I will definitely be having a few scoops of ice cream when we’re done.
May 11, 2018, Day 13 - 103 miles. 1,404 down; 1,483 to go. Four states down; five to go. After being decommissioned at mile 80 yesterday with my broken bike, today was a day of patience and finding solutions. As I mentioned earlier, our route took us to some small towns that don’t have bicycle shops so today was spent trying to figure out how to get back on the road. Last night, we spent the night in Pampa, TX. Unfortunately, there were no rental places around so we drove the mechanic’s van down to Amarillo, TX (about an hour away at Texas speed) and got a rental car. When I say Texas speed, I mean very fast. It’s wide open down here and I think the posted speed limit is just a suggestion. This morning, while the rest of the group rode on to Elk City, OK Jim (who also needed to get his bike repaired) and I drove to Norman, OK in the rental car to the only bike shop close by. When I say close by, Norman is about 3.5 hours away. Fortunately, Jim and I were able to get our bike issues fixed. Jim needed a new tire rim, and I ended up with a new bicycle. The carbon frame on my bike will need to go to a specialty shop in California. The good news is that we’ll both be back on the road tomorrow. So after we got our bike issues fixed, we dropped the rental off in Oklahoma City and the mechanic’s van picked up us so that we could join the group in Elk City. (If for some reason that you can’t ride, you just ride in the mechanic’s van until you get to the hotel. We’ve had a couple of people who have ridden the SAG [support and gear] van during the rides so there’s no shame in SAGing it.) The weather forecast for tomorrow calls for more wind so it’s going to be a tough ride. Still, we’re all looking forward to it, because we’ll be at the half way point during the ride tomorrow. While it was frustrating not being to ride today, sometimes you just have to go with the flow, especially things that you can’t control. Patience. - A friend asked what VAM meant on my stats. It’s actually an Italian acronym that stands for average ascent speed. I didn’t know that until I came on this ride. Actually, my knowledge of cycling has increased significantly on this trip. Being on my bike for almost half a day and talking to the other riders about bicycles has made me appreciate the sport of cycling even more. I’m the novice cyclist here so I’m absorbing everything (nutrition, hydration, recovery, maintenance, riding techniques, etc.) like a sponge. - Tomorrow we ride to Chickasha, OK. A friend recommend that I try out Braum’s so I think that I will reward myself with some of their ice cream tomorrow.
May 10, 2018, Day 12 - 111 miles; 1,301 done; 1,586 to go. Today we made our way from Dalhart, TX across the panhandle of Texas to Pampa, TX. From the weather forecast, we knew that it was going to be a very tough day with the wind even we had a generally downwards ride. We were headed east, but unfortunately we had a southerly and south easterly wind so the wind was either blowing us sideways or backwards. My brother asked me if I ride with other riders, and the answer is that it depends. I normally ride alone because I like to take my time to see the sights and to stop and take photos. With the winds working against us, I decided to ride with TJ - our rider from Chesapeake, Virginia. Just like in life, sometimes you need a helping hand so TJ and I agreed that we would ride together since going alone for 111 miles against the wind is just insane! With winds in the 20s and gusts up to 40 mph, we got into a neat groove. TJ would get out in front of me and pull (ride in front to block most of the wind) while I drafted behind him. He would pull for a mile, and then I would pull for a mile. We did this for about 80 miles and were like a well oiled machine. A bonus from doing this is that I got some great quality time talking to TJ about his family and vice versa; we also shared some war stories about our times being deployed. The thing about riding like this (a pace line) is that you have to be focused on what the person in front of you is doing all the time, so there’s really no time to sight see or daydream since anything can happen in an instant. One of my relatives asked me what time of equipment I used. Well, the answer is that I USED to ride a Cannondale Synapse bike. As I mentioned earlier, riding in a pace line can have its drawback, which leads back to the “USED” to ride a Cannondale Synapse bike. At mile 80, TJ was pulling me up a steep hill with the wind in our face. Suddenly, he stood up which made his bike roll backwards just a little. Unfortunately, I was right behind his wheel and his bike’s slight backwards roll caused my front wheel to bump into his back wheel and I plopped over. I escaped with just some minor scrapes on my right knee and shin, but my bike didn’t fare so well. The fall did some serious damage to my bike - essentially making my bike unrideable. The chain mechanism can be fixed, but the carbon fiber of the back frame makes it unsafe to ride, so I’m sidelined for tomorrow ride into Oklahoma. So instead of riding tomorrow, I will be spending the day looking for a either a replacement frame or a new bike. Unfortunately, the places we stay in are small towns that don’t have a bike shops so the closest place is about a three hour drive from here. According to the tour guides, at least one rider on every tour has to replace a bike, so I guess I’m keeping the stats true. TJ felt so bad about the accident, but things happen. On a positive note, I get an extra of rest... the wind is supposed to be just as rough tomorrow. And there are still many, many more miles to go.
May 9, 2018, Day 11 - 96 miles. 1,301 done; 1,586 to go. Three states done; six to go. In the overall scheme of things, today was relatively uneventful. We left Tucumcari, NM (elevation 4,091) and made our way to Dalhart, TX (elevation 3,983) along Highway 54. It was mainly a two lane highway and had a lot of trucks on the road. Around mile 54 we crossed into Texas and into Central Time Zone, where we’ll be until we get into Georgia. After eight consecutive days of over 100 miles rides, the 96 miles today almost seemed too easy. Almost! The first of two highlights for today were the multiple snakes on the road. They must be really cold, because they’re laying out in the middle of the shoulder of the road - and Texas has wide shoulders! The other highlight for today was the four miles of “feed lots” right before we got into Dalhart. The “feed lots” were acres and acres of cattle being raised out in the open. We had a southeasterly wind all day, so we were riding into the wind most of the day. With the ambient temperature being in the mid 80’s and with the aid of the wind, we were treated to the aromatic smell of dung for more than eight miles out. Just glad that no one had a flat tire here - it would’ve added insult to injury. Needless to say, this wasn’t a good way to end a ride. Tomorrow we head to Pampa, TX with another 110 mile ride. Hoping to see less snakes and a less aromatic ride.
May 8, 2018, Day 10 - 110 miles; 1,094 down; 1,793 to go. Today was another long, hot, and hard day but it also had its moments. We left Las Vegas, NM (elevation 6,424) and made our way to Tucumcari, NM (elevation 4,091) along route 104. We were treated to some amazing views of the mesas, buttes, and plateaus along the way. It’s a scenic route that doesn’t see much traffic and the road just seems to go on and on. I normally ride my bike to the right of the solid white line, but when I saw a dead snake laying there, I began riding to the far left of the road. Like I said, there isn’t much traffic on this road so it was pretty safe to be on the inside of the white line. Along the way, just before the town on Trujillo, we had a 3.5 mile descent down with some technical turns with a 9% grade. My bike computer clocked me at 42.7 mph at one point. My knuckles were white from my death grip on the handlebars. It was so scary, but oh so much fun at the same time. We also had to deal with “the wall” climb at mile 67. When I turned the corner and saw “the wall,” my spirit sank. I think a civil engineer decided to play a cruel joke on people when he/she designed this 8% climb that went up for almost 3/4 of mile. With the sun beating down on me, my lungs searching for air, my heart aching from pumping blood and oxygen, and my legs trying to fight gravity with each pedal, my body was telling me stop. I figured that if I stopped, I would have to walk my bike up the hill anyway so I put my head down (like my high school track teacher used to tell me) and just kept pedaling and pedaling until I crested the hill. I paused to look back and snapped a photo of the climb. Today we also went over 1,000 miles; that’s a lot of miles in just over a week.
May 7, 2018, Day 9 - 137 miles; 984 down; 1,903 to go. Today was another brutal day, but it was a great one. We left Albuquerque, NM (elevation 5,312 feet) and immediately started a 22 mile climb out of the city. The weather was a cool 41 when we started but we quickly warmed up with the climb. Our route took us on part of Route 66 (near Tijeras) where if you slow down to 45 and drive over the rumble strips, you’ll hear the song “America the Beautiful”. The first sign says to “Slow Down To 45 MPH” and the second sign says “To Hear The Song”. I must have been distracted by the pain from my quads because I missed the first sign, but I managed to snap a photo of the second one. We continued our ride through Cibola National Forest and Pecos National Historic Park. Once again, my photos don’t do justice to the majesty of these landmarks so you’ll just have to take my word for it. They are truly something you must see for yourself. - Before our journey started, our ride leader told us that if we made it to Albuquerque then we could all make it physically, and the rest of the journey would all be mental. I’m not sure what he’s talking about because our 7,624 feet climb today to Las Vegas, NM (elevation 6,424 feet) is our second highest climb on this whole trip. I think what he meant to say was that it would be mostly mental because we still have a lot of miles to go. My body still aches all over and ice has become my best friend. I use it all over. Actually, I’m sitting on a bag of ice right now to help my gluteus. - Tomorrow, we head out to Tucumcari, NM. It’s only 110 miles but the ride leader used the term “the wall” so I’m sort of worried about that because the hills aren’t my strong points. We’ll hit the 1,000 mile mark tomorrow so I’m excited about this milestone.
May 5, 2018, Day 7
- 136 miles; 847 done; 2,040 to go. - Even though my body still aches and the desert sun was relentless, today was a good day. It’s still very hard, but I think my body has finally given up trying to fight the pain. Although tomorrow is a rest day, our group leader told us that it’s not good to just sit around. It may feel good doing nothing, but we’ll pay for it on Monday. His advice was to do something, so I think that I’m going to walk around and explore Albuquerque. - We left Gallup (elevation 6,468 feet) this morning under very cold conditions and made the climb up to the Continental Divide. After a short photo op there, we began the “descent” down to Albuquerque (elevation 5,312 feet) using both Historic Route 66 and I-40 East. I stopped several times to take some photos, but the iPhone pictures don’t do the landscape due justice. It truly is wide open and breathtaking out here. My bike ride also made me realized how many things I’ve missed when I’m in a car and have been so focused on a destination. On a bike, I’m averaging less than 20 mph, so I’m noticing things like the smell of the area (trees, plants, livestock, etc.) and get to appreciate a landmark or formation for a long time because I’m not flying by it. Sometimes, you’ll even catch the humor of town, like when I passed the very small town of San Fidel and saw a sign that said San Fidel, New Mexico “Geezerville.” Wished that I could have stopped to asked what that meant but there didn’t seem to be anyone around. I’m sure that’s an inside joke with the locals. Regardless, it put a smile on my face. As I mentioned earlier, today was a good day. It was a long and hot day, but the descent into Albuquerque was worth it. I took a short video of the descent before fear got the best of me and I put the phone away. - Looking forward to the rest tomorrow.
May 4, 2018, Day 6
- 132 miles; 711 down; 2176 to go. Two states down; seven to go. Mountain Time Zone. - Today, the day of reckoning finally came. My body has started to rebel after six consecutive days of hard riding. The palm of my hands are numb from the constant vibration. I even wore two pairs of gloves today, but that didn’t seem to help very much. My quadriceps and my calves are screaming with each pedal and worst of all, my gluteus is very, very sore. The padded riding pants and the lubricant cream help, but the 700 miles of constant jarring are taking their toll on my body. I’m glad that our first of two rest days is coming up after tomorrow’s ride to Albuquerque. The next one won’t be until May 15. I’ve scheduled a massage for Sunday so I hope that will help with the recovery. - Today’s ride was full of frustration. Of the 11, I think only one escaped without a flat. Some of us (including me) had multiple flats. At last count, I believe the number was over 12. We started out in cool weather from Winslow (elevation of 4,850 feet) but it quickly warmed up. Last night, our support team said that we would have a gradual climb to Gallup, New Mexico (elevation of 6,468) but I guess their perspective of gradual and mine is very different. As you can see from the chart, it was uphill most of the way. Combine the constant uphill climb with a very tired body at altitude makes for a not so fun day. The desert sun is very intense and there wasn’t much shade so that didn’t help either. I guess I’m complaining, but no one forced me to do this. I knew that this would be a challenge, especially this section out west, but I had no idea how tough it really was. Training in Ohio was woefully inadequate. I’m just glad that this western portion is almost done. Tomorrow should be better. We have a little climb to the continental divide and then we drop down to 5,312 feet into Albuquerque, where a much needed day off will be appreciated. - I’ve been asked about how much food I take in during the ride. Honestly, I don’t know. I just know that I’m always eating. I have some energy gels that I take during the ride. At our pit stops, I’ll eat some salty food and pick up a couple of bananas to eat along the way. For lunch, I’ll make a sandwich and also grab more salty foods. For dinner, it’s depends on where our hotel is, but mostly, anything with carbohydrates and protein is ideal - Subway seems to close by, and we also have some Mexicans restaurants to choose from. - We’re not allowed to listen to music during our rides, so most of the time, I just focus on the solid white line in front of me and just grind it out. Looking at the GPS counting down the miles is too painful so I set my bike computer to show the elevation/grade changes so that I know how much pain I can expect that’s coming up. Sometimes, I’ll even sing a cadence or two to take my mind off the pain.
May 3, 2018, Day 5 - 108 miles; 579 down; 2,308 to go. All of us very tired and very sore. You can see it on our faces and our walk. Five days of hard riding without rest are taking its toll. My body is exhausted and I just want to go to sleep but know that I can’t ignore both the bike and the body maintenance. We started this morning with a 40 mile climb out of Cottonwood (3,314 ft elevation) to Flagstaff (6,910 ft elevation). We knew the day was going to be tough, but the climb from mile 32 to 34 was excruciating. It was only 646 feet but stretched out over two miles in a series of switchback climbs at elevation that most of us weren’t used to. It was pure torture and nearly broke my will. Compounded with tourist traffic on a two lane road, it made for a scary climb as well. The scenery was breathtaking to look at so that helped to take my mind off the pain signals that my legs, lungs, and heart were sending to my brain. As much as I enjoyed the scenery, I don’t think I’ll miss it anytime soon unless I’m in a car. After cresting at Flagstaff, we were rewarded with a steady descent on I-40 East to our next stop. Along the way, we rode by Walnut Canyon National Monument and Meteor Crater (two places that our family has visited before on vacation) and ended the ride in Winslow, AZ, where I was standing by the corner, but didn’t see girl in a flatbed Ford slowing down to take a look at me (credit to the Eagles’ “Take It Easy”). Tomorrow is a long day but no major climbs - 132 miles to Gallup, NM (a new state and time zone). Lord, please give me strength! Today’s ride was painful, but the beauty and the expanse of this land amazes me. It’s taken us five days to come this far by bicycle on paved roads, and yet I wonder what it was like for the early pioneers as they made their way out west in their wagons over rough terrain. I can only imagine how tired they must have been at the end of each day. - - My older brother asked where the other riders are at. In our group, we have six riders who are really strong riders. We call them the “Six Horsemen” because they know how to ride. They ride like the riders you see on the Tour de France - they ride in pace line to share the burden of being out front and move at a really fast pace. And then there’s the other five of us “normal” riders. We start out anytime from 30 to 45 minutes ahead of them but they eventually catch up to us and pass us. Our support team sets up “pit stops” along the way and leap frog so that there’s always a vehicle to help the last rider and a vehicle is in reach of the first rider. Sometimes, our support team hold up the Six Horsemen for us to catch up.
May 2, 2018, Day 4 - 104 miles. 471 down, 2,416 miles to go. Today the mountains and the weather humbled me. We left Wickenburg under great conditions and made our way towards our first major climb to Yarnell Pass (elevation 4,850 feet). I’ve done some hard physical stuff before but this climb ranks as one of the toughest. At times, I found myself barely climbing and probably could have walked faster. When I crested the summit, I was so happy and felt such joy at reaching the top. Once over the first climb, the weather and the landscape started to change. When I first saw the “white stuff” on the ground, I didn’t give it any thought but when I started to see more of it, I took a closer look and realized that it was snow. The temperature got cooler and I started to see real trees on the descent. Speaking of descent, there were some pretty good ones, and I exceeded 40+ miles on my bike! Really scary and really exhilarating as well. There were also several switchbacks turns so it made for an exciting “descent”. Our next major climb was to the town of Prescott. However, prior to even getting there, I got caught out in the open at mile 80 in the storm that had dumped the snow that I saw. I first knew I was in trouble, when I saw the angry clouds rolling across my route. Then I heard thunder and saw lightning. At this point, my only focus was to find shelter. Then the wind picked up, and then I started to get slammed by the sleet. Seeing no shelter, I just pedaled until it became too painful to deal with the sleet. Fortunately, I spotted two small sheets of plywood that had been discarded. I laid my bike down, plopped down on the side of the road, and used the plywood as a makeshift shelter from the sleet. I stayed there for about five minutes before a pickup truck stopped. People often talk about the kindness of strangers, and today I was the beneficiary of that kindness. An elderly gentlemen going by the name of Tony F. (Last name withheld for his privacy) stopped his pickup truck and offered me a seat so that I could get out of the snow/sleet and get warm until the storm passed. The climb to Prescott at 6,000 feet was very tough as well but the view was breathtaking. Tomorrow will be our last hard day of climbing, so I’m looking forward to the following day. - Looking back, today was a day of many first for me. I normally don’t ride in bad weather, but really didn’t have a choice. I also experienced the true and genuine kindness of strangers - another car stopped to as well to check on me after I had gotten into Tony’s truck. And then, there’s the pain and thrill of climbing a mountain. - I have a new appreciation for the power of Mother Nature being caught out in the open. I also have an even more respect for those who have the courage to tackle mountains, whether it’s climbing, biking, or running. - My brother asked me what I think about during my rides. I think most of the time, my thoughts are about food, water, and how tired I am. I have a bike computer (and a paper copy of my route) to keep me on track so the rest of the time, my mind is thinking about avoiding the hazards in the roads. It’s dangerous to daydream so my reflection time happens when I’m done for the day.
May 2, 2018, Day 3 - 115 miles. 367 down, 2,520 miles to go. One state down, eight to go. — Today, my body and my mind had numerous battles. I’ve never put this kind of mileage together in a week, so it was hard going to say the least. My body wanted to stop so many times, but my mind pushed through it. I have to admit that my body won a couple of battles today. At mile 98, I stopped to take my gloves off. As I unclipped my left shoe and put it down, my mind told my right foot to unclip as well. Sadly, my right foot didn’t respond right away and both my body and my bike just plopped over to the right. Fortunately, I had picked a soft spot to stop, so the only injury was my pride. They say that falling over using bike shoes with cleats is a badge of honor, so I guessed that I earned mine today. My quadriceps were screaming today for me to stop. Honestly, my whole body aches. My calves, my hands, my lower back, my feet - they all ache from the jarring on the bike and the lack of recovery time. Ana, one of our rider, is doing a study for her thesis paper on the topic of exhausting. She’s measuring our speed, heartache, etc. to see when we’ll reach exhaustion on this trip - I think I’m almost there. — So today we rode out of Blythe, CA and made our way to Wickenburg, AZ. It was a lot of climbing - not the really steep ones, but the long slow steady climb. Honestly, those are the worst because they just go on and on and on... We rode on I-10 for about 30 miles and then got on US-60 for 80+ miles. These 80+ miles were the most boring miles that I’ve ever been on. It’s so desolate and the landscape doesn’t change. I think the most interesting things I saw were dust devils. We were told by our ride leader to steer clear of dust devils since a blowing circle of sand — In case you’re wandering what my daily routine consists of, here it is. Get up, eat breakfast, get dressed for riding, put on plenty of PF 50+ sunscreen, load bags, and ride. After the ride, shower, eat dinner, go over route/ride for next day with group leader, do maintenance on bikes (clean, lube, check tires, etc.), stretch/roll muscles, stretch some more, get ready for next day’s ride, and then sleep. It took a couple of days, but it seems like we’ve all gotten our individual routines down. — Tomorrow’s ride is supposed to be our hardest ride on this trip so we’re all anxious about it. It has a huge elevation gain and some technical downhill descents, so more to follow.
April 30, 2018, Day 2
- Today was a hard day. 135 miles and lots of climbing from Palm Springs to Blythe. Tomorrow we cross into Arizona. I’ll state the obvious and say that the desert is very hot. Even the slight breeze that we got was warm. Went through 10 25 oz bottles of my electrolyte drink mix and guzzled down some pickle juice to stay hydrated and to replace the salt that I lost today. Leaving out of Palm Springs was nice, but then we hit the desert and I hit a major wall. The slow steady climb (as you can see from the elevation chart) and the heat did a number on me. It took a lot to keep pushing through the climb out of the canyon. It was like climbing up a winding hill that you could you never see the end of it. Fortunately, I caught my second wind and then the fun began. Once we came out of the canyon, we got back onto I-10 and rode on that for about 65 miles. As promised, I took some videos of what it’s like to ride a bike on a major interstate. The ride itself isn’t bad, it’s dealing with all of the debris that can puncture the bike tires and make for an even longer day. One of our riders has had four flats already; I’ve been lucky and have had only one. The other “fun” thing riding a bike on an interstate is dealing with both exit and entrance ramps. When you’re in a car or a motorized vehicle, it’s fairly easy since you can accelerate past most dangers. Being on a bicycle, a lot of things move so much faster so we have to be extra careful. Even though you look back and there are no oncoming cars, that can change in an instant given how fast some cars can go. And then there’s the “oops, I forgot my exit” maneuver. Fortunately, we haven’t had any issues so far. The biggest headache has been the flat tires. From broken glass, nuts/bolts, pieces of rubber tires, to even a broom, there are all kinds of hazards to our tires. I carry an extra tire and three tubes with me when I ride. Even though we have a trailing mechanic vehicle, you don’t want to wait all day for help. The other nuisance are the rough shoulders - for the most part, the shoulders are nice but we do hit some uneven sections where the shockwaves travel all through your body. — Tomorrow will be another test. We’ll see how my body reacts to three back-to-back 100+ miles on a bicycle. I think an ice bath might be in order for sure...
April 29, 2018, Day 1
- First, thank you for all the well wishes, words of encouragement, and prayers. They mean a lot to me and gave me strength today - there were a lot of times when I need it! Having said that, OMG! What a day! Completed the first day of riding from Costa Mesa to Palm Springs. 117 miles down, 2,600+ miles to go. Took almost eight hours and a lot of effort, but what a rush, especially the second part of the day. We started with a dip in the Pacific Ocean and then we were off. We have 11 riders in the group and four very experienced support staff. Our riders hail from Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Florida, Wisconsin, California, Virginia, and of course OH-IO. The foreign riders are very, very strong and they’re in a league of their own - humbled to be riding along such strong and very friendly riders. This ride really took me and most of the group out of our comfort zone. I never imagined that I would be riding on an interstate, but that’s where our route took us. It was both exhilarating and scary at the same time. We had a pretty strong tailwind so we got cruising up to almost 38 mph on the interstate! It was great when the wind was to our back but there were a few times where we had the same wind but as a crosswind, so that wasn’t so fun. I had to lean most of my body weight into the wind just so that I wouldn’t get blown onto the freeway. Compound that speed with interstate traffic and you get the picture. Apparently our route tomorrow will take us on the interstate again for about 60+ miles - that will be something to write about. I’m tired and a bit sore, but I guess we’re all in the same boat. No videos today; I wanted to see how today went first. I think tomorrow’s route will be a good venue to record some live videos.
April 28, 2018 - Feeling very nervous and anxious about the start of the bike ride across the US tomorrow. It’s been a challenge training for this ride; Spring was late in its arrival and I wasn’t really sure how to train for this kind of punishment on the body and mind, so I’ll just take it one mile at a time and enjoy the journey to Savannah. I’m also curious to see how I’ll change from this experience... 117 miles to Palm Springs tomorrow. I think I’m going to be very sore.
April 2, 2018 - As a young refugee who had just arrived to this country, one of my fondest memories is of what appeared to be an endless sea of abundance that this country had to offer. Our sponsors had just picked us up from the airport and on the way to their home, I remembered how vast the fields of corn and wheat seemed to stretch. In spite of all its flaws, we live in a wonderful country and indeed have much to be grateful for... Fast forward many years, and after a lifetime of service in her nation's army, I have an opportunity to ride my bicycle across this great nation of ours with other bicycle enthusiasts. We will begin this journey on April 29 in Costa Mesa, CA and ride east with Savanah, GA as our final destination on May 25. We will be averaging 113 miles over 27 days. It will be both physically and mentally challenging, but I look forward to the challenge and the opportunity to once again take in the wonderful abundance that this great nation has to offer... I will do my best to capture photos and videos so that you may follow along. Please pray for our safety and a strong wind to our back (and no potholes in our paths).