Those of you following my blog know that Charlie, Kriss and I finished our 3,030 mile, 46-day bike trip across the country last Thursday, finishing in Bowers Beach, DE. With us (and filming the event) as we put our tires in the Atlantic Ocean was my wife, Rickey, who had taken over as our SAG driver the prior week near Morgantown, West Virginia.
What a journey and such good memories! During the past week, I even managed to bring the blog up to date, including the incredible welcome that we received last Saturday at Toni's Kitchen in Montclair, NJ.
As of Saturday, we had raised over $13,000 (now almost $14,000) to help support the wonderful work being done at Toni's Kitchen, which provides wonderful meals and a nurturing family environment to folks in need. It was truly a privilege to be welcomed as a part of the Toni's Kitchen family. I am very grateful to everyone for your interest, encouragement, kind words and of course financial support to Toni's Kitchen. (Donations for Toni's Kitchen are still being accepted - checks CAN be made out to Toni's Kitchen and sent to my address: 14 Marie Terrace, West Orange, NJ 07052).
People have asked me about highlights of the trip. There were so many - it is hard to pick only a few. But here are some that come to mind:
* My traveling buddies - I was truly blessed to have been able to do this trip with 2 great guys: Charlie Ortman, my long-time friend from NJ, and Kriss Wells, my new good buddy from Iowa. For almost 7 weeks, we were with each other practically 24 hours a day - including sleeping and eating many of our meals within the fairly confined quarters of our RV, "Tiggy." Amazingly, we still liked each other when we finished the trip! While the three of us have very different personalities and are somewhat (ahem) advanced in years, perhaps even a bit set in our ways, we managed to make it work somehow, through a combination of good humor, good nature and mutual respect.
* Our SAG drivers - Again we were truly blessed. Starting with my son Jonathan, with whom I started the trip across the country in Tiggy on April 9, and then my brother-in-law, Dennis Barnum, who was our SAG driver for the first week and who largely defined the role of the SAG, we were nurtured, supported, and also bailed out countless numbers of times. Kriss' wife Martha succeeded Dennis and did the longest stint of about 22 days, starting in Sedona, AZ and seeing us across the Mississippi into Illinois. Jay Bowman, a very mature 24 year old, became a good friend and colleague as he guided us through Illinois, Ohio and into West Virginia. And last but DEFINITELY not least, Rickey and Judy Ortman joined us in West Virginia and were there to see us through perhaps the most challenging part of the trip for the SAG driver since we were no longer following the Race Across America route.
* Meeting friends and family along the way - At the very start of our journey in Carlsbad, CA, we were met by Kriss' cousin, Larry, from San Diego, and my old friend, Mary Jo Guy, along with her sons, Richard and Karl, her daughter Lori, and granddaughter for a wonderful send-off. Later we visited my friends Jeanne and Rich Gibian, had a great dinner and spent a wonderful evening with them at their home in Prescott Valley, AZ. In Bloomington, IN, we had a nice visit with Charlie's nephew, Zack, who is a professor at the University of Indiana. In Dayton, Ohio, we had a wonderful visit with my nephew Mike Corbett and his wife, Katie, and their son Jacob. (Just yesterday, June 3, Katie gave birth to Rachel!) And finally we had a great visit in Clarksville, MD, near Washington DC with friends, John and Kathy Clay. An added bonus was a visit by my son Jeremy and his girlfriend, Kacee. Another friend, Danny Paoletti also stopped by.
* Bike Shops - Believe it or not, our various mechanical problems turned into blessings and opportunities to stop at many bike shops, where we were, without exception, provided with immediate, courteous, and inexpensive service, along with lots of good advice and suggestions with regard to routes, places to stay, etc. Bike shops that I recall visiting included: Ramona, CA, El Centro, CA, Flagstaff, AZ, Prescott, AZ, Taos, NM, Wichita, KS, Jefferson City, MO, Alton, IL, Cumberland, MD, and Harpers Ferry, WV. Bike shop people are in a class of their own!
* Experiencing the country in 60-80 mile chunks- I am convinced that bicycling is the best way to see and experience this country. It is truly awesome - the natural beauty, the ruggedness of the terrain, the resourcefulness of its people, the kindness and hospitality of most people we came across. I fell in love with the back roads and riding through farmlands and small towns, hearing the sounds of birds, frogs, crickets, etc., smelling the air, as well as the smells of livestock and fertilizers, swamps and mountain air. The US is incredibly big, diverse, and beautiful. I can not recall ever being bored or tired of any part of the country or scenery:
- In California, we climbed up to 4200 feet in Julian, where it was green and lush, and then there was the steep decline into the desert which was quite variable and beautiful. It also helped to be traveling through it in April when the temperature was still comfortable.
- In Arizona, the Saguaro cactus was a majestic presence on the landscape. There were many challenging mountains and beautiful vistas on the way to Julian, Sedona, Flagstaff and elsewhere. Then there was the barren and rugged Navajo territory that took us 3 days to travel through in both AZ and NM, and which also included Four Corners, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet at a single point.
- In New Mexico we crossed the Rockies and enjoyed the breathtaking beauty, spent a rest day in beautiful Taos, climbed Eagle Nest and continued through the Cimarron Canyon, which brought us to the edge of the High Prairie.
- In Oklahoma, we had strong tail winds that enabled us to go through the 85 miles of mostly farm and pasture land in less than 4 hours and to travel a total of 119 miles and into Kansas on Jonathan's birthday, April 29!
- Those tail winds soon changed to head winds in Kansas, which significantly slowed us down, but Kansas had its charm. One of my fondest memories is seeing the grain elevators several miles from each small town that we would pass through. We also met wonderful people in Greensburg, KS, which had been nearly wiped out by a tornado 2 years ago.
- In Missouri, there were nice flat lands near the Missouri River, but constant rolling hills practically everywhere else. There was the beautiful Pomme de Terre Lake and campground, which is a Corps of Engineers recreation area. There was also the wonderful hostel in Teppets, with the key on the utility pole, and Jimmy's bar across the street.
- Then we crossed the Mississippi into Illinois, where we felt that we were finally getting close to home, and continued through Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia.
- In Pennsylvania, we took a chance on taking our road bikes on the Great Allegheny Passage and were richly rewarded by the best bicycle trail I have ever been on, not to mention the beauty of the land it passed through. The trail ended in Cumberland, MD where it connected to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath that was enjoyable, but a bit more challenging on a road bike than was the Great Allegheny.
- Maryland was probably the most bicycle friendly state, with a great bicycle map and well marked bike friendly roads.
- And finally Delaware was a nice finish with flat roads and light traffic.
Rather than adding to this already lengthy letter, I will end here and once again thank everyone for you interest and support.