Many days have passed since I have been able to sit down and write about the moments and the adventure that led to my arrival at the Atlantic Coast, to the end of my journey. Since my last blog posting, I have made it to Boston, MA and back home to Burlington, Vermont, where I face the relentless challenge of transitioning back into everyday life. And as I am desperately trying to make a seamless re-entry, I find it meditative to finish my journey in writing, to reflect on the final moments on my trip in the same way that I was able to reflect at the end of each day by writing my blog. In short, the transition hasn't been easy, but I am taking it one day at a time, just as if I was on my bike, but I will have much more on that later. For now, and more importantly, there are many people who still think that I am technically in Ohio, so, here is my attempt to recreate the many day's events that led me home.
On Sunday September 30, I took a rest day because my cold from the previous day had gotten the best of me. My uncle thought that I felt feverish the night before, and I had a pretty awful case of the chills to confirm it while going to bed that night. Needless to say, it was a much needed day off. I slept in, and still caught the free breakfast (although I really had to hurry to get enough food because they were closing the breakfast area). I didn't leave the hotel the whole day, and it was a beautiful thing. I had to treat the day as a recovery day rather than a sick day, as I knew I couldn't take more time the next day if I still wasn't feeling well. Lindsay's family friend (and former neighbor) had taken the time, and the initiative, which we are grateful for, to arrange interviews for us in Buffalo, NY on Wednesday morning, so it meant that I couldn't arrive in Buffalo any later than Tuesday night; I had two days to go 200 miles. So, I couldn't allow myself to acknowledge in the next two days that I was not feeling well, it was simply not an option. The underlying purpose of this trip is to raise awareness about this disease in addition to raising funds, so our interviews in Buffalo was an opportunity that I just couldn't pass up. I met an employee at the motel who worked in the small kitchen next to the breakfast bar. By the questions that he was asking I could tell that he was rather new, but he was also a very conscientious and hard worker. As he was mopping the floor he asked me why I was riding my bike. And after I opened up to him a bit, he shared with me that he had kidney disease that had already taken one of his kidneys, and his other kidney was slowly deteriorating. After being in and out of hospitals for the last 5 years, he was unable to work: he had already had multiple operations this year, I believe he said four. His health conditions prevented from working until now, and this was his first job "in years." He said that he was still very fatigued, but was optimistic that he would gradually adjust to the physical demands of his job. He was thrilled to be able to work, because that meant he had medical insurance. He was a very nice man. His story certainly put my cold into perspective.
The next morning, I bundled up and left the motel by nine, my fatigue out-winning my desire to leave earlier as the thought of getting out of bed was devastating to me at 6:30 am. It was a beautiful fall day, and I was trying to do my best to keep my spirits up and trick my body into feeling better by feeding it lots of Vitamin C and zinc (Cold-Ease), while using the beautiful hints of fall to distract me. My plan for the day was to get to Erie, PA. As I left Streetsboro, OH that morning, which is about 20 miles or so outside of Cleveland, I was using both Google Maps and the Adventure Cycling Maps to navigate. I stopped at a gas station about 25 miles into my day to get some much needed DayQuil, and try to warm up. The crisp morning air seems to grow cooler by the day and forces me to layer. As I ride, I sweat, especially with the hills, and as soon as I stop, my body cools and my shirts that have become damp with sweat cool rapidly, it seems, and my body struggles to fight off the resulting chill.
While I was locking my bike to a part of this particular gas station, another customer was intrigued by the load that I was carrying, and we started chatting and he asked me what route I was taking. I stand by the idea of being as vague as I possible when I ask people about route advice. For example, when I was headed towards Shelbyville, KY, I asked two people about the best way to Louisville, which is just West of my actual destination. I did this for safety precautions, so the people who knew I was alone didn't know my route. That day, Adventure Cycling wanted to take me up to Ashtabula, OH, which is on Lake Erie, and then head East towards Erie. I asked the man about it, (I didn't catch his name) and he said to avoid Ashtabula all together. He told me that it was not a safe place, and when he said with earnest "If I was your father, I would not want you biking through there," I figured that I should really listen to him and take his advice. He gave me another route to take, when I went inside started talking two the attendant and another customer, I received two more routes that I "should" take. Sometimes having so much information, while I appreciate their help, is somewhat overwhelming as it gets to a point where you don't know what route to take, so terrain becomes the distinguishing factor, and I have to ask them about that (and hope they are somewhat accurate). So, I collaborated all of them and took my own, with help of Google of course. I also have to admit that I had to find out which route had a Subway and how far into the trip it was. This is important, cause I have to fuel my body somehow, and it really narrowed down what path I would take.
I was able to get off the main road and take a beautiful bike path (that reminded me of the one I took to London, OH to see Amber) and arrived in Jefferson, OH. Here, I asked the ladies behind the counter at the Subway about the conditions of the roads nearby (I still had several options), and more specifically, if Route 167 is hilly (I really should know not to ask these questions by now because knowing about what I will be going over won't change the fact that the hills are there). In response to my question "Is 167 hilly?" I was told: "No, it's flat... but it is hilly and has lots of curves." ...So it looked like I was on my own...with headwind to keep me company. However, in the lady's defense, she was half right: it was hilly.
It was a long day, and I pushed myself through every mile, all 108 of them, and landed right outside of Erie. It was extremely difficult to find a hotel, so I didn't get in until about 7:00. By that point, I had no voice, I was chilled to the bone, and all I could think about was showering, taking NyQuil, and getting to bed. I didn't even feel like eating, but of course, it was a must. I pushed myself that day because I knew that getting to Buffalo meant two things: 1) Seeing Lindsay, which was the most exciting thing I could imagine happening to me at that point, and 2) Doing interviews to raise awareness and potentially more money. Nothing was going to get in my way, not even how awful I felt.
The next morning was tough. My muscles ached from the day before, my body hurt, and I didn't feel like myself, and I had a long day ahead of me, but knowing that Lindsay would be at the end of it was great motivation. Lindsay's sister, Emily, lives in Angola, NY, right on the outskirts of Buffalo. Our plan was to meet further North in Hamburg, as I was supposed to have a drink with a family friend that I haven't seen in ages, and then Lindsay and her dad would come pick me up and take me the couple of miles to Angola (since it would have been completely dark at that point). Lindsay's dad drove her up so she could bike back to Rochester with me the next day.... Oh plans... we just don't get along, do we??
I woke up to rain. Cold, cold rain. My first goal was to get through Erie, which was not very easy because I ended up going on the main road, which is high in traffic. The weather alternated sporadically between full fledged down-pour to a chilly mist. I didn't enjoy either, but the mist was much more preferable. I stopped at a gas station to try to warm up, but it was a failed attempt, and in fact, the contrary happened, because my sweat dried and I became chilled. I knew that the only way to get warm again was to keep moving, and not too much later, I hit the New York boarder and was absolutely thrilled, because it meant that for the first time in three weeks, Lindsay and I were in the same state. It meant that I was actually going to see her, that the void would soon be filled.
Around 44 miles, I reached Subway, just in time for my tire to get soft. My blood sugar was low enough that I knew that I needed to address the food issue first, and then find a gas station afterwards to deal with my tire. I was also trying to coordinate a meeting time with our family friend, Fran, to meet later, as well. I found an auto repair shop, and after I inflated my tire, I realized that it just didn't want to hold air, as it became soft, but not totally flat, only moments after I put air in. So, I went ahead and changed my tire. I couldn't find exactly what caused the puncture, but I was hoping that the new tube would at least get me to Hamburg and I could fix it completely once I got to Emily's house. I should have known that seeing a few drops of water on the inside of the tire was bad sign, because it means that there was a hole in the tire itself and the dirt and water could get inside of the tire. Of course, at the time, I didn't think about that, and went about changing my tire.
Changing the tire caused enough time to go by that Fran and I decided that meeting in Hamburg was just not in the cards for the day, unfortunately. It is really hard to coordinate these things, even a few hours ahead of time. After I struggled to get the tire back on my bike (my left hand was still being finicky and weak), I made it about 2 miles down the road and noticed that my tire was completely flat.... I was pretty much riding on rim. As luck would have it, I was right across the street from another auto repair shop. It was 4:50 pm. I walked in and asked if I could use their air compressor to check if it would hold any air. The very nice mechanic, Chris, that helped me, attached the air compressor to the valve adapter and started to inflate the tire, and as soon as the air went in, it came out. You could hear the air escaping, and it was loud. He looked up at me at that point and I returned his surprised look with wide eyes. He inflated the tire again to see where the air was coming from in case the tire could be patched, and when we put our hands over the tire, we could feel air rushing out from more than one point... more than two, even: It was leaking from multiple points of the tire. I knew what that meant, but let him say it, as Chris looked at me and said, rather nonchalantly, "Well, I guess your tire is blown." Yes. My tire. Not my tube, but my tire, and I didn't have a spare. Because the tire was blown, the dirt and water make itself inside the tire and rub against the tube, causing it to be punctured in multiple places. It was 4:58 when I asked Chris when he closed, and I received the dreaded response of "5:00 pm." The next bike shop was in Hamburg, miles from where I was, and they closed at 6:00 pm. I was in panic mode, mainly because two of our interviews the next day entailed us riding our bikes, and I would need a working tire to do that. I offered him money to bring me to Hamburg so I could get a tire, but he said he wasn't able to do so. And that is when I had the brilliant thought: It was 5:00 pm, which meant Lindsay was just getting out of work and hadn't yet left Rochester!!! I called her, and being who she is, didn't hesitate to agree to go to the bike shop on her way down to get me a tire. What a friend.
Chris offered drove me to the next town so I could meet Lindsay after she drove from Rochester (90 minute drive). But, by agreeing to do this, however, he had to unhitch a trailer, move things in his truck, and leave his dog in the shop and pick him up afterwards; it wasn't just a quick "throw the bike in the back of the truck" kind of deal, and I really appreciated him doing so. It had come up in our early conversation that I had come from San Francisco, and he laughed and told me I was crazy. While he was getting his truck together, he kept shaking his head in disbelief, with a smirk on his face. Because I was so focused on the tire and the interview, I neglected to fill him in on "why" I was crazy, and what brought me here; I was preoccupied. But when I had a plan, and things started to come together, we started chatting a bit more about the trip and I explained to him that we were fundraising for brain cancer research. And all of a sudden, I was no longer just a crazy girl riding a bike, obsessing about getting it fixed for an interview. I had a purpose, I had a cause, a goal, and you could see his demeanor change as he decided that he wanted to be part of that, to help in some way, to drive me down the road so I wasn't stranded outside of his shop. All of a sudden, he suggested driving me to the bike shop in Hamburg. And then he thanked me, and told me that his dad had passed away from cancer. It has been incredible to meet such extraordinary people who want join me on this journey, to be a part of it, to help in some way. The truth of it is that a lot of people want to do good things and help others, but I think get caught in the fast paced nature of everyday life. The point is that the desire is there, and that is what is important. I have come to believe that this is a quality within most people, but sometimes it needs an opportunity to come out: People can be generous; very generous. And the people I have met, in every state, whether it is Carla taking a picture for me in Missouri, or the man in the suspenders in the diner who bought my lunch in Kansas, or the guy at the store who bought my groceries, have all stepped up and helped me out to show their support, to do something foot other people, and it has been beyond touching. I have also been taken aback by how much cancer can unite people. Every cancer is awful, and nearly every person I have told about the cause of this trip has been affected by some sort of cancer, in some way, and not just brain cancer. The majority of those people have given me their blessing, their time, their story, or have done something to help me. It is their way of doing something, their way of conveying their pain, suffering, loss, and meeting on the common ground of understanding and hope. I asked Chris if I could buy him gas or a six pack. He laughed at me one more time and said "No, put it towards the cause, and just be safe." The kindness from the people I have met along the way will be something that I will never forget.
And so there I sat, on the sidewalk of the Rite Aid in a small Western NY town, my bike and I resting against the store wall. And while my bike was unusable, and I was exhausted, sick, and freezing, covered in dirt and grease, at that moment, but things couldn't get better: Lindsay's sister, Emily, was on her way to rescue me from the cold, and Lindsay was driving to Buffalo from Rochester. As I sat there, a true sight to be seen, I found much humor and truth to Nate's response as I told him about the day's events: "There's never a dull moment, eh?"