Sunday, November 4, 2012

Days 51-53: Getting to Lindsay

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?"

Monday, October 8, 2012

Day 50: Eight years

Before breakfast, I decided to tackle my tire that was giving me some issues the day before. I took the tube out and put it in the sink to look for a leak, but couldn't find anything (I do have to admit, however, that I wasn't looking as diligently as I did in Illinois when I patched my tire). I decided to change the tire, anyway. Everything was going well until I tried to blow up the tire using my CO2 cartridge. The cartridge didn't seem to want to engage, and when I pulled the cartridge away from the adapter, a piece shot out and I was afraid that I had hit Marie, who was watching earnestly as I worked. I think she sat back a bit after that! Whoops! We decided that the adapter was now missing the piece that punctured the cartridge, (it was somewhere in the room) and I would need to take the tire to a gas station... after breakfast, of course.

We went downstairs for breakfast, where we had the breakfast special of eggs, sausage, and pancakes (George had bacon because he is trying to eat as much as he can before the world-wide bacon shortage takes place (yes, it is a real thing)). Marie and George brought a small container of Vermont Maple Syrup. Talk about a treat. It was absolutely scrumptious and a wonderful little taste of VT (one of many). I am used to the syrup congealing before it reaches the food, so even the texture was a nice change, let alone the decadent taste.

By the time we finished eating, went to the gas station for air, and packed up my bike, it was about 9:30, and I needed to get to a bike shop to get a CO2 adapter. The closest bike shop that was open was in Ashland, so we headed up that way. I should also take the time to mention that I woke up with a lovely cold, so we made a quick stop for cold medicine and then I was off, sadly. It makes sense that my legs and my body were completely exhausted yesterday since I was apparently coming down with something.

A few miles in, I noticed that there was a familiar bumping feeling as I rode, even though my tire wasn't flat. Right away, I knew that my tire wasn't seated correctly, and pulled off to find that part of the tire was pulled off the rim, (really good thing I caught it). I deflated the tire so I could tried re-seat it, and inflated it again with one of my cartridges and new adapter. It was a tad better, but not perfect, so I decided to see if I could get to the next gas station (not that I knew where one was), or somebody with an air compressor so I didn't blow through the CO2 cartridges that I had, (I still haven't changed my front tire, and I am trying to be as cautious as possible with supplies to make sure that I am prepared). I found a garage sale, and asked if they had an air compressor or pump. The pump that they had didn't work, and so I decided that I had to use a CO2 cartridge as my tire was mostly deflated from the faulty pump. My attempt to fix the problem failed, again, and the tire felt the worse that it had been all day. I was worried at that point that it might have something to do with the rim, and as it is somewhat dangerous to ride with a tire that is not seated correctly, I decided that I had to get to a bike shop. The closest one that would really do me any good was in Medina, as I didn't get a good vibe from the guy at the last shop. Luckily my aunt and uncle were still close by to save the day. I didn't think I would see them again so soon!!

They brought me to a wonderful bike shop in Medina called Century Cycles, and I was feeling quite guilty for missing the mileage, even though it was for maintenance/breakdown purposes. I later came to the conclusion that I will be technically be riding more than "coast to coast" as my trip will total just shy of 4000 miles. I am lucky that George and Marie were able to help, (as I could have potentially needed to get a ride from a stranger), and that this didn't happen to me in, say, Kansas, and the nearest bike shop was more than 100 miles away (then I would have felt very guilty).

Century Cycles had just opened up in this particular location only three days before. I had a long conversation about biking and my trip with a very friendly lady named Cathy, who worked the floor, as Ed was taking a look at my bike in the back. He took one look at my bike and believed that the brakes were actually rubbing on the rim and causing the issue, as they must have been hit or rattled at some point. He deflated and then re-inflated the tire, and then made me test the bike out in the parking lot. Everything felt good. Cathy gave me a T-Shirt with their slogan "Define your life, ride a bike," and Ed didn't charge me for his services after he found out why I was doing the trip. They also took a picture of me to put on their blog, which was such a privilege: http://blog. , scroll down to Sept 29). They were so nice, and so thoughtful. The atmosphere in the store and the people who worked there were awesome, and it is what you look for when you walk into a bike store. They were passionate spot cycling, and were eager to help the customers that walked through their door, and more often than not, shared their passion. They practiced "personalized" biking, or tuning in on what would be most beneficial to their customer rather than most profitable. The store reminded me a lot of Onion River in Montpelier, VT.

It was 2:00 pm, and we decided to get a quick bite to eat after we left the shop. As we were indulging in sandwiches (other than Subway, how nice), I was thinking about what Ed had said, and it dawned on me that I hadn't even clipped the wire back into the cantilever brake when I had the felt the worst of the bumping, so it may not have been the brake. I decided to call Ed and tell him that, and he advised us to bring the bike back to him.

Ed took the bike for a ride out back, and adjusted the shifting, and informed me that I needed some work done to my axle and bearings when I was done with the trip as it making the frame shake a bit as I rode. He said that I could wait until I finished my trip to take care of it, and that I could get by with some touch-ups that he made. I asked them if I should get new cleats, as it was getting harder to clip in and out of my pedals, and when I held my foot up so they could see the bottom of my shoe, both Ed and his co-worker were shocked at what they saw. Ed said that they were "the most worn down cleats" he has ever seen, and his partner said that I wouldn't have made it out of Ohio without getting stuck in my pedal. Attached is a picture of the new cleat next to the old. I had to raise my seat to compensate for the difference. I kept the old cleats for nostalgia purposes. Ed had me give the bike a spin out back with my new cleats when he was done, but without panniers. He and Cathy started laughing at me when I took my first pedal and had a hard time balancing without my bags, as my front tire moved back and forth many times before I found my center of gravity. The bike feels so different without all of that weight.

At that point, it was about 3:15, and Marie and George decided that they would stay another night as they didn't want to face a 6.5 hour drive to Michigan, and I think they were concerned that I was starting to feel very lousy at that point. I was exhausted physically, and the steep hills to Streetsboro certainly didn't help, but I forced myself up them: I wanted to accomplish some mileage that day, if for no other reason but for my dad, as it was the eight year anniversary of his passing.

It is honestly very difficult to fathom that eight years have passed, and I can honestly say that many of those days were spent dumbfounded and partially paralyzed by the fact that he was gone at all. There are many times when something would happen in my life, even something very small, like finding a good ice cream spot or something that I had seen, and I would think to myself "I can't wait to tell Dad about that." And as soon as that thought crossed my mind, just as quickly it would hit me that I couldn't do that, and I would get fierce twisting of my stomach, a knot in my chest that would threaten to rise to my throat. I just didn't want to believe that my father, the man I looked up to most, was gone. I didn't want to believe the ways that he suffered. I was so hurt, and so angry. So angry.

It hit me in Kansas, and I know exactly when, and I am pretty sure I could describe exactly what I was passing as I realized this. It was the first day of the bad winds; my first taste of what the wind in Kansas are capable of. Towards the end of my 100+ mile ride, the majority of which I spent infuriated by the wind that was successfully slowing me down the entire day, it dawned on me that I really couldn't be angry at the wind: it was part of nature, there was nothing that I could do about it, there was nothing to be angry at. I had to accept it, acknowledge it, to let it be and focus on the rest of my surroundings.. The good things. And as I was thinking that, it hit me that I just couldn't be angry (or as angry) anymore about the fact that I had lost my father, that he had died, because he had lived and I had had the opportunity to have known him, to love him, and to call him Dad. It was like the wind: it just is. There is nothing I could do about it, except cherish the memories and accept that it had happened, as nature does. I can now only be angry at the fact that brain tumors exist, and that is what had put me on my bicycle.... That is a fight that can, and is being fought.

That is not to say that I miss him any less. There are so many things that I wish I could do with him, even small things that people may seem insignificant, like even drinking coffee, watch a ball game... I have a list of conversations that we could have. I would give anything to go snowmobiling with him, to have a beer, to help him clean his cars from the auction. I would give everything to see the twinkle in his eyes one more time as he is cracking a joke, or from merely smiling. I can't. What is important, however, is that I once could.

My father has given me many gifts. He has given me an incredible childhood, one that was undoubtedly cut short, but that some people never get to experience. He gave me unconditional love. He has given me countless memories. He has given me his love for people. He has given me the gift of loving to laugh. And, among many other things, he has given me the courage and the strength to embark on this journey, to dismiss my fears, ignore my vulnerabilities to just do it; to open myself up to the world and see where it may take me.

Throughout the last eight years, I tried to grasp that he is still with me, through various signs. Now, I know it, feel it. For example, my family sees his spirit reflected in the presence of the dragonfly. I cannot begin to count the times I have seen dragonflies on this trip, and I don't exaggerate when I say that when I have looked up from my bike to taken in the beauty of my surroundings (or to try to distract myself from frustration our physical exhaustion/pain), I have seen a dragonfly the majority of those times-- sometimes just one, sometimes a couple, but they are there. Lindsay would see them too, when I wouldn't. What is more is that I would see them flying with me, past me, at me, when I didn't think it would be possible to fly in the conditions, like rain, or wind. The glimpse of those dragonflies in the hardest parts of my trip dissolved my fears, my frustration, whatever bad thing I might being feeling, and replaced them with "I'll get through this, and it will be ok." I have been calmed by its presence, I could find strength to get through it. I remember fighting the 21 mph crossings the day after this revelation came to me, and I looked up and saw a dragonfly to my left, flying next to me for a moment. This may sound a bit peculiar, but I laughed, put my head back down, and said, out loud, "Some wind, huh Dad?" The dragonfly flew off. What is really notable here is that it wasn't fighting the wind, it was flying in it.

I'm finally beginning to fully understand the message that Rev. Susan Kittredge left in my father's eulogy, partially because I think I am finally ready to. Towards the end of her beautifully written tribute to my father's life, Susan directed her words to my mom, my sister, and myself: "You will begin to see his presence differently; he will not speak in words you know; he will be with you in other ways... He will cheer with you from the sidelines, sit with you in your quandaries, be present with you in your joys and in your sorrows. Know now in ways that we can only begin to understand, that he can go and still remain." I am realizing that when I get that stabbing reminder that he is "gone" when there is something that I just can't wait to tell him, that there is a good chance that he already knows.

So Dad, thank you for all that you were, and all that you are now. Thank you for helping me find who I really am. I am beyond proud to be your daughter, and to have the privilege of carrying on your legacy.

"A part of you had grown within me, and so you see, it's you and me together forever, never apart, maybe in distance, but never in heart." -- Anonymous

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Day 49: "Re-entry Phase 1"

Shannon and Amber took me to a wonderful breakfast the next morning after dropping their son off at daycare. Shannon made me get extra food, and told me he would not be satisfied if I didn't. It was delicious, and I'm glad he encouraged it, as I usually can eat twice as much as the typical human being these days. After everything that they had already done, it was so nice of them to take me out to breakfast, not to mention that I'm fairly certain that it was the best breakfast I had in what seems eons.  Thank you Shannon and Amber, for everything!

In the wonderful package that my mom had sent, I found Ziploc bags upon Ziploc bags of snacks, granola bars, chocolate, licorice, apples, trail mix as well as some of Nate's fleeces to layer with as the days are getting cooler and it is getting harder to stay warm--it was like striking gold. Unfortunately, I had to pawn some off on Amber because I simply couldn't fit it all into my bags. And as I was all packed and ready to go, it was hard for me to thank them for all that they had done because I couldn't really find the words to convey it to them, and I could feel myself getting choked up, and it felt as though I just kind of ended up repeating myself to try to make that lump in my throat go away.

I left their lovely home to head towards Mansfield, OH, to meet my aunt and uncle that were travelling down from Michigan to visit it with me. What??? Being in a home and then hanging out with two very amazing family members within 48 hours?? It was really hard for me to grasp, and I was just on top of the world. I kind of felt like someone should pinch me.

It took forever to get out of the Columbus, and I am beginning to realize that it is a good idea to try to circumvent cities where possible (I didn't really have a choice today), as the extra distance could account for the same amount of extra time from the stopping and starting. I was able to spend some time on a bike path, where I passed and then started talking to two bikers, Ken and Ron. We eventually stopped for a few minutes and chatted, and then they invited to me to have coffee with them at a cafe that they frequent just up ahead. Normally, I probably would have accepted the offer, but I told them that I was in a rush to see my Aunt and Uncle, and really couldn't wait to get there. I went ahead, and after taking the wrong path, I ran into the men again. It was nice to meet them, both times.

Once I got out of the city, I was on some back roads and noticed that my back tire was soft. I stopped and borrowed someone's air compressor, but it simply wasn't doing the trick. The headwind was atrocious, and I just felt like my legs didn't want to take me anywhere. After I found a Subway about 45 miles in, I stopped at an auto garage to add air to my tire, and was hoping it would hold as I was not going to be near another town for quite some time as I put myself back into the hands of Google Maps. They took me on a road that was pretty much a patch work of awful pavement, and then onto gravel roads that consisted of the big pieces of rock, up a hill. The day was beautiful, and I was excited to see my family, but the roads still got the better of me and I really just wanted to scream.  I really had to try hard to keep it together.

I had originally wanted to make it Ashland, OH so I could get in extra mileage, but at the rate that I was going and the headwind I as facing, I didn't think that I would get to Ashland until 6ish, best case scenario. As my aunt and uncle were close to Mansfield (the town before) and not quite at Ashland, I decided that it was more important to spend time with them than to try to make it 16 extra miles.

My final stretch to Mansfield didn't go as smoothly as I would have liked. There was a detour on Route 42 (that would take me right to Lexington and then to Mansfield), and unfortunately, the reception I had was not enough to tell me where to go or even register where I was. I finally flagged down a woman and her daughter coming from the alternate route, and she gave me directions to bypass the area of construction by taking a dirt road that would eventually reconnect with it. It was really my only option at that time. Apparently there was construction a bridge ahead, and she thought that I would be fine to cross it, but I didn't want to go out of my way to find that I couldn't cross it, so I decided not to chance it.

The dirt road was well-packed and less gravelly, and reminded of the dirt roads that you find in Vermont before they have been grated. When I finally reached the main route again, it was late, and my uncle and I decided that for the purpose of time, it might be best that he met me in Lexington, a few miles south of Mansfield. On my way to meet them, I got stopped three times by police officers that were directing traffic on a one-way road. All of them started asking me questions as to why I was crazy enough to not only be biking through Ohio (which I don't get) but to be crazy enough to bike from San Fran. I also got held up because after they were done talking to me, they had to let the cars behind me go first as I obviously can't go as fast and the shoulder was obsolete due to construction.

Finally, I made my way to Aunt Marie and Uncle George, who were standing at the street corner waving and clapping as I pulled into the parking lot to meet them, and I was overwhelmed with excitement and happiness, and I could feel a knot starting to form in my throat... For the second time that day. I just couldn't believe that I was with them, and it just meant the world to me. They had driven down from Traverse City, Michigan, (which is no hop, skip, or jump) to meet and spend a night with me. As my Aunt had said, "I felt like it was about time that you just needed a family hug," and so they decided to drive 6.5 hours to give me one. It meant the world to me, and I once I received their hugs, it was clear to me that she was indeed correct, as realized how much I actually really needed one.... Or many.

Aunt Marie refers to our meeting and my visit the night before with Amber and Shannon as "Re-entry Phase 1;" it will be the first part of my transition back to my regular life. She and I are both anticipating that it won't be an easy one, after storming time on the bike and in solitude.  Out would have been hard to transition regardless of whether Lindsay was able to make it the while way or not.  My time in Rochester with my family and Lindsay she considers to be "Re-entry Phase 2," and then my arrival in Boston will begin "Phase 3."

We enjoyed a glass of wine in the motel after I showered, and Aunt Marie had spread out all of the protein bars, energy gels, and recovery powder that she had purchased from a local bike store. It was quite the spread!!!! I am so grateful for her kind gesture, and surely, it will get me to Boston, with some energy to spare! We went to a steakhouse about 20 minutes outside of town and enjoyed a delicious dinner, and it was so nice to catch up. Not only are they both incredibly generous people, but the two are some of the funniest people I know. We finished up the night trying to map out a route for the next day after they showed me pictures from their recent trip to Germany.

Like yesterday, I really can't find the words to describe the happiness that their visit evoked. I am so glad to have been able to share a part of this adventure with the two of them, and it was do nice to have the two of then face to face and tell me that I was almost there, and to keep pedaling.  It was the refresher I didn't know I needed, and that is the beauty about family and friends: they can pick you up when you don't even know you are down. George and Marie are not only two people that I love dearly, but their support throughout this journey, especially in the last nine years has been phenomenal.  They have always been there to support my mom, my sister, and I,  responding to our harder moments with love, laughter, an ear, insight, advice and so much more. They are the kind of people that bring out the best in you, the kind of people you would want as friends, and I'm lucky enough to call them family.

Yes, it was a wonderful say the least.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Day 48: A little taste of heaven

It was more than one hundred miles to London, OH, where I would meet my boyfriend's sister, Amber, and her husband, Shannon, and their son, Nevan, for the first time. I filled to the brim with excitement. Less exciting was that the whole day was forecasted for rain. As I was leaving the hotel, the clerk at the desk held the door open for me as he saw the kind of load that I had (it was feeling particularly heavy that morning, even though I had recovered from the blue cheese fiasco). He was surprised that I was headed out into the rain, and I told him that it wasn't necessarily going to be fun, but I had no choice. When I got outside I took a moment to take in the temperature and my surroundings, and I'm pretty sure I had a smile on my face.  It didn't reflect my enthusiasm (or lack there of) but the fact that I thought this was a big cruel joke.

Fort Mitchell, where I sought refuge the night before, was only a few miles away from Cincinnati. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see a "Welcome to Ohio" sign, but it may have been because I was trying to understand where the lady on Google Navigation was trying to take me and I totally missed it. There were a few times there that she didn't make a whole lot of sense, and we had some disagreements (yes, I do think of her as company sometimes). Cincinnati, as a city, was really nice as far as bigger cities go, and the suburbs that I went through to get out of the city were beautiful and well kept, ad I poised beautiful condos that over looked the river. The rain even started to subside a bit as I left Cincinnati and got on a bike path that took me the majority of the remaining miles to London.

The bike path itself was quite the treat. It is called the "Ohio to Erie Pathway" and I was able to follow it all the way to London (the only draw back is that there are no Subway's right on the path, so I had to leave the path to find one). I was away from the rushing traffic and canopy of gray clouds, and instead I was sheltered by the trees. Everything was green and lush, with hints of the changing colors to transition into fall. The fallen autumn leaves of red and gold blanketed parts of the path, along with pieces of broken branches and nuts. I saw plenty of deer, and cats, and many different birds, including Blue Jays. Besides the rushing wind, the melodies from the songbirds were the only thing I could hear if my headphone fell out, or if I stopped to soak in my soltitude in it's absolute and refuel.

The most common critter I saw were the squirrels and chipmunks, and the squirrels looked exceptionally plump. They would wait until the last second to race in front of me, and if I got to close, you could see them freeze and agonise over which way to go to get away from me. Many of them made the right choice, while others decided that the best way to ensure their safety was to run right in front of me. It is hard for me to admit this, but I did run one over, but I am pretty sure only partially, because I looked behind me after I heard and felt a big "clunk," and didn't see a dead squirrel. Nonetheless, I was horrified and felt extremely bad, and while I slowed down and tried to collect myself, I began to grow more concerned about my spokes (I'm sorry, that sounds cruel, but I really need my spokes to be in good condition so I can get to Boston), than I was for the well-being of that innocent squirrel. There, I said it.

I stopped at Subway 40 miles away from London, and I met some of the nicest people I had seen since Kansas. I was covered in dirt in this point and they were amazed that I was riding in the cold, rainy weather. When I answered their questions as to what I was doing, they were truly grateful for my stopping in and sharing the story with them, and for making this trek in general. It was really touching.

My mom, Linda (she truly is a gem), had sent me a package full of treats to the London, OH post office, and knowing that I would only be passing through London once and it was nearly 2:00 pm, I called to make sure that they would still be open. They closed at 4:30, but the supervisor said that should would be around until 5:00 pm. I also contacted Amber, Nate's sister, and let her know where I was, as well as how incredibly dirty and disgusting I was (picture attached, and please keep in mind that I had 3 more hours after this picture was taken to accumulate a significant more amount of dirt). Dirt had been caught in the water that was spraying up from the ground the whole day, and onto my legs and my bike. I think it is safe to say that I have never been this dirty on this trip, and naturally, I was meeting Amber for the first time. I truly had debris from the bike path everywhere: on my panniers, in my chain, on my brakes. I was most definitely a sight for sore eyes. I met a headwind that slowed me down significantly, and I realized that I would arrive shortly after 5, which I felt bad about for keeping both Amber, her family, and the lady at the post office waiting. I called the post office, and I was told that it was not a problem, she would be glad to wait, and I am so thankful for her kindness.

When I finally made it to the post office, the hugs waiting for me were absolutely priceless (although I was trying not to cover them in dirt). It was wonderful to meet them, and be around such wonderful and friendly people. Soon after my arrival, the ladies from the post office came out and gave me my package. It was so, so sweet of them to wait. One of the lady's father was an avid cyclist, and once she found out what I was doing, she ran to her car and came back with a donation, that she said was from the "London, OH Post Office." She also took a picture of her handing me the package. It was just so sweet.

Amber had come prepared with towels that I could clean off with and sit on so I didn't soil their truck. Shannon, Amber's husband, situated my bike in the back of his truck, (by himself, which means he is very strong) and we were off to their home. I got to sit next to their incredibly adorable son, who didn't quite know what to make at me for the majority of the car ride, and was probably quite content that I was engrossed in wonderful conversation. Shannon and I hosed off my bike when we got to their house, (he handed me the hose, which resulted in me spraying him with water and dirt by mistake).

I honestly can't find the words to express how much meant to be welcomed into their home, especially after Shannon had just lost his mother a few days before. And, for the first time in almost two months, I ate a delicious home cooked dinner around a table, in a real home. I showered in a shower full of kids toys and big bottles of shampoos and soaps. I did laundry. I sat on one of the world's most comfortable sofas and ate Ben and Jerry's (Amber got four different kinds) in a porcelain bowl with a metal spoon. And in doing all of this, I was surrounded by wonderful company, which really made everything else even better, and so special.  It is really the people who make the home.  It was so nice spending time with and getting to know Amber and her husband, they are both just kind, lovely, and incredibly generous people. I also enjoyed being able to spend time with their son, who was racing around and showing me how he could ride his trike around their house (the kid has got some skills, I can't lie). It is amazing how kids can really bring so much joy and laughter with their innocence and spontaneity.

At one point, Shannon and I were looking at possible routes for the next day, and he pointed out that I was in central Ohio, and I was kind of surprised about that. I honestly couldn't believe that I was already there. Seeing that I was trying to absorb this, Shannon chuckled as he zoomed out of the map, and, pointing to San Francisco, said "Look, this is where you started, all the way over here." It was a first time since Lindsay had left that I had taken a moment to look and actually take note of the progress; of how far I had actually come. And honestly, I just couldn't really believe it. More over, I couldn't believe that I was so close to Rochester, to Boston, to the end. It was a sobering reality check, to say that least, I'm glad that they were there so I knew that I wasn't really loosing it.

That night, as I was falling asleep, their cat, Valentino joined me, just when I thought things really couldn't get any better, (I am a cat lover). Alright, I was officially in heaven.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Day 46 and 47: No more blue cheese dressing, please

As I was thoroughly enjoying my bagel on Tuesday morning, my attention tuned into the Weather Channel that usually remains background noise during breakfast as I try to fight my morning "stooper." There was a forecast for severe thunderstorms, capable of hail up to the size of a nickel, and winds up to 40 mph. Great...

I quickly finished my breakfast and rushed to investigate the weather forecast online. The storm was just West of me, but was about to hit Louisville, and then Shelbyville. I looked outside, and it had already started to rain, and we are not talking a sprinkle, either. Originally, my plan for the day was to make it a nice and easy 60 miles or so to Williamstown, KY, just south of Cincinnati, and then the next day I could go to Xenia, OH, and then just West of Columbus to stay with my boyfriend's sister. And as thunder started booming, I realized that I was stuck for at least a little while.

The rain and lightning was absolutely relentless. The hotel agreed to let me wait until 12 pm to decide if I was stuck there for the day or not before charging me for another night, and by noon, the lightning was still flashing. So, I really didn't have another choice but to stay.

Naturally, three hours later it started to clear up, and I was stuck as I wasn't sure what to do, because I had a few hours of daylight still, and I could still make some mileage that day. The forecast for the rest of the week was showers and thunderstorms. Unfortunately, I had already paid for the hotel for that night, and I had the option of staying, enjoying my recovery day, and splitting the next two days into two long days, or loosing money by trying to make some miles. I don't like wasting money, and I hadn't had a full day off in two weeks, so I stayed put. I went next door to Walmart and got a new toothbrush and a razor and lotion, and also some food. I was craving carrots and dip (I haven't had carrots in the longest time), so I bought some blue cheese dressing to go with them and so I could put some on the dehydrated Buffalo Chicken mix that I had waiting for me back at the hotel. This day was looking pretty darn good!!!

So, I enjoyed one of the messiest sandwiches ever that I created via microwave, (ciabatta bread, chicken buffalo stuffing, avacado, blue cheese, and american cheese melted perfectly... it sounds pretty good right?) I neglected to go ahead and refridgerate the blue cheese dressing, and about 5 hours later, decided I would enjoy the carrots and dip. Mmmmm. Not so much.

At 3:30 in the morning, I woke up with a twist of nausea in my stomach, and I knew, as I tossed and turned, that things were not going to end up well for me. And, sure enough, one hour later, I found myself violently ill in the bathroom, trying to rid my stomach contents of the blue cheese dressing.

I fell back asleep, and woke up to a really tough decision. The thought of food was nauseating, but I hadn't thrown up in a couple of hours. I also knew I needed to make some mileage today and couldn't afford another day off. So, I mustered up energy to get up, and forced down a bagel. I started talking to a lovely younger couple from Chicago. The husband had been up for the majority of the night concerned about the weather. He told me that there had been 37 sightings of hail and 7 tornado sightings in the county over night. "I just wanted to make sure that my truck was okay. That is how I lost my last one." I have to say, he had more energy after the one hour of sleep that he had, than I would have after 10 hours of peaceful sleep. And as we chatted, the Weather Channel was focusing on the storms going through the area. We checked the weather online, and I saw that I had a window of opportunity beginning at 10:00 am to make it near Milford, OH, so I could still make it to Columbus the next day. Otherwise, the weather would trap me in Shelbyville again the next day with more thunderstorms. As I have said before, the rain is okay to ride through, it is just the electric storms that I try to avoid, as I have an Aluminum frame. I truly had no choice but to get on my bike and ride as far as I possibly could, nausea or not.

It was a tough morning. I had a bit of tailwind, which helped, but the hills did not do much to help my stomach situation, as the heavy breathing really roughed it up a bit. I must say the the smell of worms after the rain is not one of the things that is not conducive to settling an uneasy stomach. Neither is the smell of roadkill, and it seemed as though there was a surplus of dead animals on the side of the road that day, and everything was extra "fragrant."

I was really just trying to hold down the food that I kept feeding myself, because I knew that I needed it for fuel for my ride. My stomach and my mind were at war the entire day. I just had to suck it up. It was totally worth it though, because I knew I had some exciting days ahead of me (visiting with my boyfriend's sister on Thursday and then my Aunt and Uncle from Michigan on Friday). The thought of seeing friendly, familiar faces put me on cloud nine.

I found Subway for lunch, and chose a sub other than Black Forest Ham so I didn't ruin it for myself in case I did get sick again. There was an elderly couple there, and the husband asked if I was part of the cycling event that was going on in town, and was curious to know what it was. We started chatting, and then he went and sat back down with his wife. As he was leaving, he came back over to me and said, "I need to thank you for fighting this, because I am a cancer survivor. It has been nineteen years now." He told me that he admired my courage, but my response was that it was his courage that should be admired:. All I do is get on a bike each day, while he had to fight for his life. A couple at another table said that they just lost their friend to a brain tumor. And again, I found myself just find myself speechless, and reminded again as to why I got on my bike again today. This disease affects so many people.

I knew that there was a chance of rain around mid afternoon, and as I left Subway, the dark storm clouds from the West started getting rapidly closer and closer. I had been making very good time, and was trying to ride as fast as possible to stay dry and beat the clouds. But alas, they were quick to catch up, and I found myself on the side of the road huddled under a tree as the thunder and lightning began. There was nothing I could but wait out the storm, and it didn't really bother me that I was sopping wet and getting cold, because I was so excited about the fact that I had just hit the 3000 mile mark, one riding day after I entered the Eastern Time zone. I realized that my journey is slowly coming to an end. It is hard for me to fathom that 3000 miles have gone by already, and that I have less than 1000 to go.

I can't say how excited I was to lay down for the evening, after yet another sub from Subway. I was exhausted. I had pushed through the day and 89 miles, and it was a relief to be out of the cold, in a warm shower, and then in a warm bed. I think I probably could have gone to bed at 8:30 if I hadn't been distracted by lovely conversation over Skype. I was just so looking forward to the fact that tomorrow I would be in a real home for the first time in six weeks.

Day 45: the road to Shelbyville

I woke up Monday morning to a cold, cold morning. Because I had signed a waiver that I wouldn't "cook" anything in the hotel room, (which was odd, because there was a microwave in there... Did someone call ahead and tell these people what a wonderful cook I am?), I decided it was the "right thing to do" to take the stove outside and boil water, even though I have used the stove indoors plenty of times before. A 70 year old man was out smoking a cigarette. He and his friend were in Kentucky to pick up a sports car (I can't remember what kind), and he was originally from South Carolina. "Do you know where South Carolina is?" I am no geography genius (I forgot that I was going to cross the Mississippi), but I would hope that most people know the general location of the Carolinas.  The man may have just taken a look at my hair, (photo attached), and questioned what was underneath...

Riding early in the morning in the cold fall air, it seems as though the humid air becomes heavy, and you can feel the difference as you ride through it; it almost feels like you are being sprinkled with the morning dew that has left a sparkle on the landscape around you. It adds to the chill of the air. At this point in the morning, the world around you is still waking up, and the sun's energy isn't quite enough to awake the wind's ferocity for the day. There is, however, a "direction" to the air; the air is energetic, it is constantly moving. Although it may not be strong enough to result in the movement of leaves or long grass, the morning air is still moving around you. On a bike, it is less subtle, because you are able to feel it's resistance as you ride. I usually look to the grass or bushes on the side of the road or the trees to see what the wind is doing during the day, because it sometimes feels as though it is coming from all directions. But at this time I have to really focus on what it feels like to know where it is coming from. But when I stop to drink water or find my location, it is hard to feel again. It is a revitalising feeling to be able to stand and try to feel the energy from the air around you, to try to focus on the world outside of you and how you interact with it; focus on what is happening in the moment, step outside of yourself to remind ourselves that we are constantly surrounded by energy and life. It can take you away for a moment as you try to still yourself and try to find the movement in the "stillness" around you.

I stopped at a gas station, about 15 miles in to my ride to warm up with some coffee and grab a quick snack. I was full of excitement as I knew I was about seven miles away from the Eastern Standard Time zone, the fourth and final time zone of the trip: the thought of which is completely surreal. This is a huge milestone, because I am finally in my "home" time zone; I am almost home.... Home. What a wonderful, yet far away, thought. (Attached are the pictures of the sign, including my attempt to do a handstand).

I know this will sound peculiar, but have really struggled with the coffee stations in the Mid-West convenient stores. None of them are the same, and I often find myself really having to look for where the coffee is as there is so much cappuccino and hot chocolate machines, and sometimes the coffee itself is in a machine (you press a button for coffee, strong coffee, or decaf). I have also found that powdered creamer is the standby for most of the gas stations I have been to, and it is stored at very interesting locations, away from the coffee station.  At this particular gas station, I couldn't figure out the spicket, and fumbled for a good minute or two trying to figure it out. Once I realized that I was fumbling with the spicket cover, and there was actually no coffee in this particular kraft, I must have made a face, because the man that was sitting at a table nearby let out this laugh. I looked over and he was shaking his head with a smile on his face, as he was chomping on a big bear claw. I told him that I was secretly hoping that he didn't see that. He answered me with a bigger smile, and a chuckle as he took another huge bite out of his donut. Glad I could amuse him.

Route 60 really was a wonderful ride. The shoulder was not too bad, and neither was the traffic, until I got closer to Louisville. It was a bit overwhelming, as I was travelling on a stretch with many stores and businesses. And while I had to be cognoscent of the glass and metal in the shoulder, it far more important to be weary of drivers that were looking to turn, or were made that I was not on the sidewalk (which was also crowded, (and bumpy), and I can assure you that it could have been hazardous for people waffling uh the opposite direction with the wide load that I am carrying. At times like this in traffic, you hope for the best, but expect the worse so you are 100% focused on what you are doing in the world around you, and what other people could do. I found myself constantly trying to be one step ahead of the game.

I found a Subway, and indulged in my regular black forest ham creation. A police officer was sitting at the table next to where I put my helmet when I walked in. He asked me where I was coming from, and when I told him, his eyes got wide, as he had just taken a bite. And then he just had this look of "are you nuts" as he shook his head, and I knew what he wanted to say. "I know, you think I am crazy, huh?" He smiled and shrugged, and pretty much acknowledged that I was correct.

It took me forever to navigate Louisville, but I got smart halfway through and used "Google Navigation" with one headphone in my ear so I could hear what the phone was saying and keep an ear on the traffic, etc. It definitely cut down on time as I didn't have to stop as much to check the map, but the stoplights and stop signs do add up. What was interesting to me was that although I was starting and stopping all of the time, I was doing so in my third chain ring, which basically means you are in your lowest gears. Six weeks ago, in San Francisco, I was doing much of my starts at lights and stop signs in my first chain ring, as my legs weren't accustomed to all of the extra weight I was carrying. It is exciting to see how much stronger my legs have gotten over the last few weeks, and that now, the starts are second nature to me! Pretty amazing!

Shelbyville was about 20 miles outside of Louisville, and I have to say I passed some of the most gorgeous houses I have seen, with beautiful lawns and landscaping. I really could have stopped and taken a picture of every house I saw, because each was so ornate and unique and absolutely huge, but I felt as though I had stopped and started enough for one day in the city (it really is exhausting after a while, getting a good pace, stopping and then having to start all over again at each stop). I told my sister later that night that if we had been driving with my dad on those roads, we would have needed him to let us drive, because he would have been rubber necking so badly as he passed this  landscape that it simply wouldn't be safe (he loved looking at houses and land).

Finishing the day with another 94 miles under my belt, I hit up Subway for the second time that day, (i apologize door any envy I may be creating) and, exhausted, found a place to rest my legs for the night. (The door to the hotel was open, so I practically rode my bike inside, slowly, which really startled the lady at the desk... whoops).

Later, I was on the phone, sitting at the guest computers in the lobby so I could look at the weather for the next day or so. As I was gabbing away, I looked over at the display of brochures to my left, that held about 60 different brochures. I had glanced at the display a few times that night, not really paying attention, but this time one of them caught my eye. The top of the brochure was red, and in white lettering, it read "The Stephen Foster Story." It was incredible. I am beginning to see, more and more, that even though I ride in solitude, I may not be making this journey "alone."

Day 44: Kentucky, where are you?

I left early Sunday morning, and it was wonderful because I beat the chaotic church traffic. Google Maps sent me on a rat race from the get-go. I am not sure why, but they had me touring through all of these small development areas, that were nice, but just not where I wanted to be. Like Adventure Cycling, it tried to take me on roads that were less traversed in the city (there are really no such thing as "quiet roads" in the city, by the way), but I am pretty sure that it added a bit of distance to my ride. The kicker is when I was 10 miles in and I was led into Alcoa, a highly secured power plant. I was stopped at the gate by security, who didn't really want to believe that I was riding my bike across the country for charitable purposes... he was very skeptical, but I guess that is what he gets paid to do. "No one told me that you were coming." I told him that I didn't know I was coming there, either, but that is where Google Maps led me, and all I wanted to do was leave Evansville and get to Owensboro, KY, (in one piece) He told me he was going to need to get me an escort through the plant, but as he called into the main office, and they informed him that I wasn't allowed in, and also that this used to be the old "Darlington Rd," but it was bought by the power plant  and they didn't think Google had updated it. So the security officer got out the map of his plant and showed me how to Yankeetown (where Darlington Road was supposed to take me) in a different fashion.

His route worked, no problem, but then there was a detour in Yankeetown and the road I needed to take had been closed. I followed the detour signs, and when I finally got to the connecting road, it was a rocky road. I don't want to say gravel because the road consisted of small chunks of lightly colored rock, not even close to gravel. The map showed that it went on for a few miles. I decided that this wouldn't be a good idea for my tires, or my time, and tried to look to see what other roads were around to connect me to the county road that would eventually lead me to Owensboro, KY. I found the main route again (which I should have just stayed on originally), and turned off on a side street to try and find the county road. A lot of the roads were gravel, so I was trying my best to avoid them, but then found myself by a "marina" by a river that was full of RV's and mobile homes on stilts so they would be protected if the river flooded. The "County Road," as it was marked on Google Maps, was about as wide as one lane on a regular road, and then it turned to this awful sandy road with big rock chunks. I was thoroughly unamused, because I had only gone about 23 miles and it was already 11 am. So, naturally my next thought was: "If I wanted to play in the sand I would have gone to the beach.... And not with my bike... WHAT IS THIS?!?!" Don't worry, because the sand eventually went away, and the gravel road got so rocky that I had to get off my bike and start walking... for quite some time. These roads are fine for what there were intended for: Trucks pulling RV's or boats, but not bikes, bikes with panniers, or your typical small sports car. If I had kept going, I would have rattled my brain and my tires to a crisp. I felt as though I might as well have been trying to swim through a gravel pit. It was just infuriating.

As I continued walking, a lady and her husband drove up in her truck and asked me if I was okay. I told them the situation, and she offered me a ride to the paved road that was a long ways away. I jumped at her offer, but then looked in her truck that was filled to the brim with old boxes, and we both realized that we didn't have a place for my bike. She asked me if I needed anything, "even a Coke?" I graciously declined the offer, but told her I could use a couple of beers at this point... jokingly. She didn't pick up on that and headed towards her truck and said "I have those, you want one?" She was very sweet, but I don't think it would have helped the situation in the long run.

So, I carried on, and a few minutes later I was stopped by someone else in a truck (which is amazing because I hadn't seen a vehicle in a long time, and now I had just seen two trucks). The guy was about 65 or 70 years old, very thin. He told me he was headed out towards Rockport and would gladly give me a ride to the road that would take me to Owensboro. It was music to my ears. He also explained that he was friends the lady I had just talked to, and she had stopped him as they passed each other and told him I could use a ride. I was so thankful. His name was Alva. He explained to me that the area I just passed was where he spent most of this weekends in the summer as he had an RV that he would stay at and then fish during the days. He lived about an hour away, and headed to the small marina on Friday nights. "I would stay there all week long, but the trouble is that I like drinking with my buddies too much and I wouldn't go to work, so I have to force myself to come back on Sunday." When he dropped me off, he wished me luck and then told me "Be careful out there, they'll run ya down in Kentucky." I'm pretty sure that he really meant to watch out for the drivers, but it is not one of the best send offs I have had in a while, I must say, but I was certainly grateful for his help and generosity.

It was a huge relief to cross the Kentucky border, as I was able to pick up the Adventure Cycling map back up in Owensboro and have an actual route (or so I thought). I stopped for coffee, chatted with Lindsay for a bit (which made my day), and then headed off against the wind, but was able to make up some considerable time. I stopped for lunch in a small town called Lewisport, that allegedly had full services according to the map, but that wasn't the case. I had gone about 60 miles at that point, and as I ate I studied the maps and realized that I had very limited options for lodging for the night. I could either go North 7.7 miles out of my way and pick up the route again tomorrow, or go 70 more miles to Brandenburg. It was 2:00 pm, and the wind was certainly making itself noticeable. Using Google Maps, I realized that I could go off route to Hardingsburg, 27 miles from Brandenburg, and I could get to Brandenburg easily the next day. I also decided to take Route 60, to get there and cut about 12 miles off of my travels. Route 60 is more heavily traveled, and certainly wouldn't be appropriate for a group of touring cyclists, which is what these maps are made for. However, the shoulder was fairly wide, for the most part, and it is not a problem for an individual cyclist. It is very stressful to not know where you should go, our how far you can make it. I have had to become more realistic, especially after traveling alone, and end my days earlier rather than potentially getting caught in the dark. Ultimately, where I end up lies in the hands of the hills, the weather, the wind. I may be able to think that I will be able to fit 70 miles in, but it always takes more time than I think, especially with stops. This is the most nerve wracking part of the adventure: trying to figure out where to stop for the day when there are few resources available to you.  Your decision comes down to safety, I have to be okay with a quick change of plans or not going as far as I had wanted.

When I finally got to Hardingsburg, after 94 miles of beautiful rolling hills, I inhaled Subway and I took a while to study the map, and realized that if I paved my own path to Milford, OH and left the Adventure Cycling map, I could cut off 70 miles.... Nearly a whole day. That is a significant amount of miles. If I did take this "new" route, I knew I would need to make sure that my route was on fairly safe roads and had stops along the way, checkpoints, if you will, in case I had a break down, etc. So, Shelbyville, KY, it was, via Route 60 through Louisville, KY. And as I put all of my marbles in "this" basket, I could not help but hope that Google Maps wouldn't do me wrong, even after today.

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." - Ralph Waldo Emerson.  I may not necessarily "leave a trail," and my new route will most likely present me with a few obstacles or it may not have been the best option, but it is part of the adventure, with an added element of surprise. I'm willing to take the risk of a set back due to routes for 70 miles of biking. And so, I made the decision, and I suppose that the rest will follow.  For now, full speed ahead, and embrace the "unknown."