Saturday, July 28, 2007

Relaxing in Chicago-Some Time for Reflection

We made it to Chicago on Tuesday (it is now Saturday), but I was so excited to be showering, reading Harry Potter, and hanging out with Chicago friends, that I haven't had the time to really post until now. I realize it's been just a little over a week now, and of course in that week a lot has happened-we made it through Ohio, where I got to go to a non-denominational church's production of Esther and attempt to match Armin at a $4.99 all you can eat pizza buffet; we made it through a visit to my mom's clownshoes second cousin's house in Elkhart Indiana (Ross's blog will provide more details on this, as I will below); we made it to a bike shop after Armin had been biking without five spokes for 80 miles or more; we made it to the Indiana Dunes, despite another clownshoes type woman's best efforts at killing us (more on that below); and we made it to Chicago, where I got to see friends, where I got to eat breakfast at Orange (omelettes, cinnamon pancakes, and frushi were in abundance), my favorite breakfast place in the world, where I got to eat eggless brownie batter at Kitsch'en and where the all you can eat sushi buffet attempted to best me but failed to win!

So now that I have a little time on my hands before we pedal off again tomorrow morning, I thought I would attempt to gather some of my thoughts and reflections on the trip.

On Rumble Strips
Rumble Strips=Danger Strips. We hit some rumble strips on our first day of riding as we left New Jersey. These devices, ever so helpful to sleepy drivers, are particularly scary when you are on a bike. I was quite sure at least one retina would detach as I hit these the first time, not to mention the pain in my hands. In Ohio, we spent our last 10 miles of a 90 mile day navigating a 12 inch stretch of shoulder bounded by a danger strip on one side, and a patch of gravel on the other. I had never pedaled so quickly and tensely, just ready to be done for the day, and out of harms way from those danger strips!

On Being Hard Core
For those of you who know me well, you of course know that the whole reason I am doing this trip is so that I can be hardcore. In order to assure my hard core status, I bought one of those cool earings that all the hard core kids wear. You know the ones I'm referring to-a silver hoop with a ball bearing closure. Well, in my infinite coolness, I was unable to get the darn thing into the second piercing I have had in my ear for years now, much less slip the ball into place, which for those of you who are not hard core, I must explain does not merely screw in, but must be popped into the hoop, so that the small divots on either side of the ball fit snugly into the hoop, properly ensuring one's hard core status. As I said, in my infinite coolness, I was unable to get this hoop in myself, but after lying on the floor for 30 minutes at my sister's house in Vermont, as my sister struggled with with my ear, and I finally understood why dog's prefer lying up on the bed to nap, my sister was able to get the earing in. The effect was instantaneous-my swollen red ear, with my new hoop made me a hard core kid. Once I put on my spanking new "Biker Chick" jersey, with a picture of a yellow chick on it, well, I was pretty much unstoppable. I was hard core. Hell, I biked to Chicago from New Jersey in two weeks. Clearly I AM hard core.

Well, that's what I thought anyway, until we got to the bike shop in Indiana. Here at this bike shop, our extremely competent bike mechanic Josh, soon to become Armin's new friend crush, shattered my illusions of my hard coreness. Just when you think a silver hoop, a bike jersey, biking cross country, and not showering for 10 days is enough, you meet the cute, friendly bike mechanic who cycles 40 miles a day to work, and mountain cycles, including a trip coming down Colorado's 14,000 Pike's Peak (I have hiked this mountain, and I promise you that not even the silver hoop makes me want to ride a bike down it), all on a UNICYCLE. Oh yes, a unicycle. And of course it is one of Josh's dreams to to cycle cross country, but not on a bike. On a unicycle. Oh Josh, Josh, Josh. You who are the truly hard core, without even trying, or having any fancy piercings. Armin has truly picked a worthy friend crush. As for me, well, I'm just going to go back to bicycling cross country, and I'll try to think of another reason why I am doing this trip, since it surely won't ensure my hard core status...As for mountain unicycling, apparently this small subculture really does exist, and I am sort of convinced Josh is their leader.

Other hard core people we have come across include the family the doing a road trip from California back to California this summer. As the parents saw our loaded bikes they informed us that they had done a cycling trip through Mexico for 3 months years back before they had kids, until the husband fell sick with malaria and they had to bus it home. When their bikes broke down, they would use rocks to pound out derailleurs and the such. But you know, I am perfectly happy hitching to a bike shop when the time comes, speaking English, and bitching about the non-malaria infested mosquitoes that seem to love me so much.

One more side note on being hard core-another one of Ross, Armin and my hard core friends helped inspire this adventure, so much so that I think he'd be amused to know that some days when we are struggling with something or other, we say "WWRJD?" and make our decision from there. Thanks Ryan, and thanks for the package!

On Being Clown Shoes
In attempting to describe some of the wacky, zany people we have met on our adventures, I often refer to individuals as "crazy." Bernadette, a friend who is a mental health professional, and who I am staying with in Chicago, politely pointed this out to me, and it has become my quest to find a new way of properly, and less-offensively describing these people, while still maintaining the color of their personalities and Ross, Armin and my interactions with them. So, another friend suggested a better term might be clown shoes. I think this term really is appropriate in so many instances, as it speaks to the strange comic relief many of the clown shoes people we have met have provided to our trip, as well as their quirky personalities, while also alluding to the fact that their actions and our interactions with them are sometimes just a bit too out of the ordinary to leave us entirely comfortable. If I am being offensive to any clowns out there, I do apologize, but you have to admit guys, a lot of people think you're creepy. I don't want to reinforce stereotypes, but if the clown shoe fits...

Ross seems to attract a lot of clown shoe personalities. While Armin and I are carrying our gear in saddlebags, Ross is towing a bob trailer. As he is the fastest biker of the group, he usually gets to towns first. His trailer really seems to draw the attention of the clown shoes, and I often ride up to find some man or another asking Ross all sorts of questions about his trailer, including if he thinks you could stick a motor in it, so you could motorize your bicycle, and get over some no doubt draconian laws preventing mopeds from going over 30 mph, or some such thing. As Ross does have a degree in electrical engineering, but not law, he can clearly only answer a part of such questions.

My interactions with clown shoe folks had been quite limited, until we hit Indiana. There had been one reporter in a small town in Pennsylvania, where Ross was getting his bike fixed, who was a little clown shoes, but the interview was brief, and a good way to the pass the time as we were waiting for Ross's bike. But in Indiana Ross, Armin, and I went to stay with one of my Mom's second cousins. Sandy and Tom were super friendly folks, but turned out that they were uber helpful in the most unhelpful of ways. They insisted on meeting us at a gas station off of route 20, rather than just giving us directions to their house, as it was too complicated. So, they very kindly met us at the gas station, and then led us, with their flashers on, to their house 10 miles away. At the 5 mile point they said they were going to pull over to give us a breather, as we quickly yelled "no!" We just wanted to get there, and following a car at 12 mph, while others cars were whizzing by at 55mph, hardly seemed safe. Once we got to their house, and settled into the back yard, where we would be camping for the night, Sandy and Tom regaled us with stories about life in Northern Indiana; fed us dinner; introduced us to their 80 year old Dutch neighbor, who wore wooden shoes, and kept fish and pigeons in his back yard; and let us get to bed. In the morning Sandy insisted that we sleep in, as we needed a bike shop, and they wouldn't open til 10. So she got us breakfast, called the bike shops, and told us that they were backed up for days-seeming to imply that we would have to stay there for a few more days. We couldn't handle this. We needed to go. We felt as if our freedom had been taken away from us. After convincing Sandy to give us directions, rather than lead us back to route 20, we decided to chance finding a bike shop along the way, and left Elkhart, IN behind, luckily finding a bike shop 6 miles up the road (see above for details on Josh) that helped us out, and let us get back on the road, able to make our own decisions again, until...

On Clown Shoe Drivers
We were almost to our campground by the Indiana Dunes, biking along a 55mph two lane road, with a decent shoulder, when a car made an erratic turn in front of me, but rather than turning, the car pulled onto the shoulder. I gave the car a wide berth, as the driver side door flew open, with utter disregard for my biking safety, and all of a sudden I hear a woman's crazed voice scream, "Excuse me, Ma'am!" I was petrified. Ross and Armin were far enough behind me that I couldn't see them, and I was convinced one of them had gotten hit. She comes closer, looking a little frenzied, in her early 90s one-piece button up (with several buttons missing) floral skorts outfit, with her long wispy hair whipping around, and proceeds to tell me that there is a much nicer route to be biking on. And then asks me where I'm going. By this time the young boy, maybe 4 or 5, who was in the car with her has climbed out of the car, playing on the shoulder of the road, and Ross and Armin have caught up. Explaining that she is a biker too, otherwise she never would have stopped us, she gives us directions to a bike path and a road that have less "pollution" than the road we're biking on. We are a mere 3 miles from our campground at this point, but rather than asserting myself with kind clown shoes offering advice, I accept this alternate route, just as I accepted Sandy's offer to meet us at the gas station rather than giving us directions to her house. We bike down to the bike path, and it is unpaved shell and limestone, and looks incredibly unappealing to ride on at the end of our day, with our loaded bikes. So we continued on to a different road she recommended, while also realizing the woman is following us with her flashers on. What is going on? Of course, just as this is happening, fate would cause the vegetables i'm carrying on my back rack to come flying out from under my bungy cords, causing Ross, Armin and myself to stop, at which point the woman asks us again where we are going. We are not clear if she is intending to make sure that her directions were correct or if she wants to follow us there, but luckily after this interaction, we didn't see her again.

On Sacrificing Safe Driving Because of Being a "Biker Too"
Other bikers really seem to feel a kinship with us, such as the woman above, as she sacrificed safe driving to provide us with helpful directions. Similarly, a couple in Pennsylvania pulled up to me at the top of a large climb, as I am topping out at 4.5mph. From their large truck, which is pulling some sort of large trailer, they slowed down to my speed, and decided to have a conversation with me. As i struggled to push my pedal around each time, they asked me where I'm going, where I'm coming from, and informed me that they were "bikers too," and that the drivers don't really like bikers out here for the next stretch so we should be careful. Great! If the people that do like bikers are stupid enough to talk to me at the top of a huge hill, where there is little shoulder, what were the other drivers going to be like? Fortunately though they told me this was also the last of the hills, so it seemed as if my luck was turning around. However, the hills seemed to last for at least 10 more miles, but interestingly enough all the cars gave me a wide berth on that road, leaving the "helpful" couple to be the most unsafe car I had to deal with.

On Finding Housing
It often falls to me find housing for us at night, although Armin is certainly not shy about asking. But after our second night of looking for places to pop up our tents, we found that people are generally more receptive to a female asking for lodging. Also, I kind of get a high when someone finally gives us a place to sleep for the night, so I volunteer to go up and talk to people. So far so good, and we've met some really nice folks. We always try to leave a thank you note, and one of Ross' cards with a link to his blog, so that people can follow our progress if they like. Thanks to everyone that has allowed us to sleep on their property so far, or who has pointed us in a helpful direction. What was initially the scariest part of the trip for me has now become the most exciting.

Get Out Now
So, I think that's as much as I can muster right now. We are heading out again tomorrow morning, and it is definitely time. You've been great Chicago, and Chicago friends, but after spending an hour waiting in line today at the post office I realize I am ready to "get out now." This saying is apparently an old running cheer my brother in law's cross country team used to yell to one another. I find it helps me to yell this as I'm climbing a big hill, or when it's time to leave Chicago. So bring on the numb hands, and the sweaty bike clothes. Back to the pedaling.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

In Ohio-Day 12

So we did it! We made it to Ohio, and we got to keep going. After our bikeshop adventure early in the week we rode our longest day (although the shortest distance to our destination since 20 of those miles were retracing our steps) and stayed at a children's day camp outside of Chardon, just 10 miles east of Cleveland. A very nice woman offered us the spot when we were looking for housing in Chardon (we met her in a knitting shop. Note to other touring cyclists out there-knitters are kind folks. Seek them out if the churches don't come through), and she said the camp was just 10 miles up the road. Well, 4 stop lights later (she said it would be 2) we turned onto Cedar Road and we schlepped into a really nice campsight for the night. However, this experience made me realize just how useless vague references to measure are. As we were looking for Cedar Road and getting fairly frustrated, passersby aided our search by commenting that Cedar Rd was "still a ways," or "just a few miles up." Not helpful people! Not helpful.

But the campsite was great-there was a pool and some pavillions, and we met some people swimming there who were kind enough to invite us to their house for food and even a place to stay. We declined however, as we were already unpacked, and knew we were getting a shower the next night. The woman who invited us told us that her brother had done a non-supported, solo cross country trip in the 80s, going from Cleveland to LA, 260 miles, in 26 days! Armin, Ross, and I all marveled at his accomplishment, and keep discussing the logistics of it. Now that we are in flat, flat, flat Ohio, this seems a little more doable, but after biking 90 miles yesterday, I'm not really sure I want to do another 90 today.

We left the day camp early on Thursday morning, and meandered our way through Cleveland. We hit a lot of traffic, but I was able to overlook this when I saw the gigantic Whole Foods on the road. I called ahead to Ross, and we stopped in for some free samples-bread, cheese, lemon poppy pound cake, brownies, fresh cherries, pineapple, and oranges. It was great. I also picked up some really good dill hummos, some fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, a blueberry muffin, and these new Luna Teacakes. I tried those for the first time this morning, and they are quite good.

We got soaked after our Whole Foods excursion, but kept biking through, hitting up a bike shop so Armin could get his gears fixed (he had been missing his first and second chain ring since we entered Ohio), and then headed on out to Westlake, a western suburb of Cleveland. Here one of Armin and Ross's friend's mothers put us up for the evening. She gave us pizza for lunch, let us do wash, shower, and fed us bbq chicken, fresh corn, salad with feta, stuffed tomatoes, and Great Lakes Brewing Company beer. And for dessert we had Mitchell's peach icecream and caramel fudge brownie icecream. It was great. We even got to sleep in a bed. It's amazing how these little things can mean so much after being on the road for 10 days.

We left Westlake early yesterday morning and put in a good 90 miles. It was flat, easy riding, and a little bit boring. The day was fairly uneventful. Although I did stop at Tofts, a local icecreamery in Sandusky Ohio-I had cake batter ice cream with bit of fudge and pieces of cake in it. It was cheap, delicious, and plentiful. After the great icecream the night before I have vowed to start eating more icecream.

We ended last night in Woodville Ohio, where Officer Dave gave us permission to set up our tents in a nice park. We had a nice pavillion again, and fresh water right there, and some friendly middle schoolers going by on BMX bikes that would stop to chat. All and all it was a good night, made even better by my Whole Foods dill hummos, and the ever favorite Mac and Cheese, with canned chicken and green pepper. Mmm. Gotta love it.

We're off to Montpelier Ohio tonight, and then after another 75 mile day tomorrow, we'll hit Elkhart Indiana, where my mom has a second cousin who is letting us stay in her backyard. Then off to Notre Dame, the sanddunes of Indiana, and on to Chicago. We'll see you on Tuesday Chi-town! Can't wait.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Through PA and Back Again-Day 9

Well, we did it. We made it out ouf PA, and crossed into Ohio. And then Ross broke two spokes :( So, we examined the damage, inquired at an insurance office near where we broke down about local bike shops, and set up camp for the night in their backyard, with their begrudging approval. The plusses of this situation-I got to bike down to the lake we had just passed for a swim, which was the first "shower" I had since last Monday. It was so, so amazing-I can't even beging to describe.

The rest of the night was a bit of a wash as it was raining, so after dinner (couscous, black beans, and green peppers, which i wrapped in a tortilla wrap smothered in hummos-really excited about having finally found hummos. I had been looking for days.), we all went to bed, and slept approximately 12 hours. We are now in Lineville, waiting for the bike shop to open. Well, Armin and I are here, but Ross is still walking his bike the 10 miles to town, hoping to hitch a ride at some point. Sigh. I hope this doesn't happen in the Dakota's!

So, out of PA again later today hopefully, and then tomorrow to a friend of Ross's house outside Cleveland. A real shower? And perhaps laundry? That'd be great.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Through the Endless Mountains-Day 7

Still in PA, but made it through the endless mountains. Our last night there we got to camp out at the base of Denton Ski Mountain. It was my heaven. We ended early for the day, and i did wash in the creek there, and then i climbed up most of the mountain to journal and to get a better view (very smart given my appropriate mary jane croc hiking shoes). We made a fire and sang while Armin played the Ukulele-we are getting quite accomplished with Country Road, and Cracklin' Rosie. We can't wait to hit up karaoke in Chicago. It really was an amazing campground.

The days are going by well, and we are falling into a routine. My right hand is continually numb, so it's a bit of a challenge to type, so I'll keep this short, but just wanted to write a quick note to let everyone know that we keep on keepin' on, and that we'll be out of PA in the next day and a half-we are in Union City for the night and about to hit up a Chinese Restaurant for dinner!

One last thought: I am in desperate need of a shower. No big food updates for today, as things are fairly repetitive, but if something amazing comes up I'll let you know.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Endless Mountains, PA-Day 5

I am in a place now called the Endless Mountains. When we ask people when they end, they just laugh...I'm tired, but it is beautiful. We are still travelling on Route 6, and really are just paralleling Western NY right now. Two days ago I passed under 81, yesterday we saw signs for Elmira, and today we were close to Corning. I never really how close beautiful parts of PA were.

So, things are going pretty well. We slept in til 6am today, and woke up in a cloud, after spending the night in Mainesburg, a town of 75 people apparently. We stayed in a local park, with a few gazebos and a water hookup, next to the park managers house. It was great, except for a freezing cold morning that left my hands inoperable, and me a bit grumpy. But, after warming up, and heading 20 miles out of Mainesburg, we stopped at a great bike shop in Wellsboro, where they looked at, and hopefully fixed, Armin's tire once and for all (he has gotten a flat every day), and looked at my front deraileur, which has been slipping. They were really helpful, and excited for us and our trip. After that we've continued in the Endless Mountains, in state park territory and near the PA Grand Canyon. Since it's a Saturday, we are seeing all sorts of people biking, camping, etc. It's been nice. A few more miles today before we set up camp.

That's it for now, as Armin and Ross are waiting. but as always, a quick food recap. Pay special attention to last nights dinner:

-Bunny Grahams
-Luna Bar
-Orange Soda (The store in Mainesburg didn't carry any juice)
-Couscous, Rice Pilaf, Corn, Avocado, and Canned Chicken Jumbalaya (our own concoction at our camp site, and actually quite good!)
-Oatmeal with Peanut Butter
-Luna Bar
-Turkey Sandwich
-Kashi Crackers

Friday, July 13, 2007

Still in PA-Day 4

Well, we have been happily pedaling along since I last wrote. The hills keep coming since my last post, but we are starting to fall into a rhythm with them, figuring out how to use our energy the most efficiently and not burn out. It's such a feeling of exhilaration when you get to the top of a mile or a mile and a half climb, and don't need to stop immediately. Of course, this could be because the hills are a more gradual grade than what we saw our second morning. Nevertheless, it's defintely rewarding.

I think we are all getting stronger already, which is really nice because now I find I can enjoy the scenery more, and the little stops, and just let my mind wander more freely over the terrain, without focusing as much on the biking aspect. Yesterday morning was particularly beautiful. After leaving Carbondale at 6am, where a kind couple, Ed and Judy, let us sleep on their lawn, we were on a windy backcountry farmroad that felt just like home, as you're heading up Webster Street Road, on the back way to Titus. The climbs were long, but luckily most of the downhills were equally long, propelling you up most of the hill. There's really nothing better than flying down a road at 35mph, and knowing that afterward you don't even have to endure the work of climbing back up!

After our morning ride, Ross and I waited for Armin for a while in Tuckhonack, a small, friendly town in PA. I stopped briefly at the library, but spent a better part of the time reading HP 6. Can't wait for 7. Armin got lost on his way to Tuckhonack, after a detour to a bike shop, so we left without him, meeting him in Laceyville instead, where the Mayor (THE MAYOR, can you believe that?) gave us permission to sleep by the river. It was beautiful. And refreshing. We had dinner at a restaurant in town (the ONLY restaurant in town) and talked to some friendly local folks, before heading back to the river for bed. Sleep really does feel good. I love crawling into my tent and sleeping bag, reading for 20 minutes and then falling off to sleep...the last two mornings have been a bit cooler though, so when the alarm goes off at 4:30, it's hard to crawl out of bed. Luckily, since I'm the only one setting an alarm, I can snooze as long as I want. Today I finally got out of my cozy cocoon at 4:55, and we were out on the road again by about 6 or 6:15.

So things have been good. My hands are a bit numb at night, and it's hard for me to grip things between my thumb and forefinger, but Armin reminds me that biking cross country is not neccesarily good for you, and this is merely one of the consequences. My butt has also been pretty sore, especially after long climbs, and after an inquiry to the boys, I realized that maybe you're not supposed to be wearing underwear with your bike shorts (sorry if that's too much info)-whoops. I'll let you know if i find out anything conclusively...

Okay, so back to the road for me, but of course, a quick laundry list of food consumed yesterday and today:

-Luna Bar
-Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Pop Tarts (I couldn't resist them. I know I wanted to eat healthy, but now is my chance to eat really bad, good stuff without too many conseqnences.)
-Quaker Cheddar Snack Mix (see above note)
-Peanut Butter Tortilla Wraps
-Trail Mix
-Grilled Chicken, Salad, Mashed Potatoes, Corn on the Cob, and Bread
-Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwhich
-Power Bar
-Chocolate Chip Cookie (Given to me by a nice lady at the library in Burlington, PA, where I currently am. She had seen me yesterday at a differently library further east, and stopped me today to ask me some questions. We are quickly becoming celebrities around here! That was the second person today to say they had seen us yesterday. So if you happen to be going along PA Route 6 West in the next couple of days you might see us too!)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Into PA

Day 2
Well faithful readers, you will be happy to know that we made it safely to PA yesterday. It was a great first day-we left Armin's just a little after scheduled, and meandered our way through Jersey, managing to get lost within the first 15 miles, but a friendly police officer put us quickly back on track, so that we could attempt to bike through a military base without success, requiring a military police escort out. Luckily, a friendly biker, and military personel himself,Click Shrek, stopped to chat with us outside the base and led us to route 15 North, so we could get back on track. As Click led us along, chatitng amicably with Ross, he kept pointing to different spots in the road, and as I got closer I realized that he was pointing out hazards-potholes, drainage grates, etc.- for those behind him to watch out for. What a nice guy!

Route 15 was fairly uneventful, aside from Armin's police escort. 15 was a two lane highwayish road, with a decently sized shoulder that seemed to dissapear here and there. So, when the police saw Armin climbing up at 2mph, they told him it looked a bit unsafe, and that they would follow him to the top-what nice guys!

The rest of the day was pretty steady riding, with a break at a farm stand, where i got some fruit and we were able to fill water, and a break at a 50s car hop, where Ross and I sat in the shade as Armin caught up. We also had an awesome mint chip milkshake. After the car hop, with about 40 miles or so under our belt, we were pretty tired, and it was really warm. So, the afternoon went slowly, with lots of breaks. We crossed the Delaware River to PA, and the 3 of us made it to Milford around 5 or 5:30, and went to a Presbyterian church to ask if we could set up on the lawn for the night. The minister and his wife were very kind, and even showed us where a water spigot was outside so that we could fill our water and cook.

After getting out of my sweaty, itchy riding clothes, the night was great. Armin and Ross made Mac and cheese and green peppers, and I walked to the grocery store for some PA maps. After dinner we read, and sang around the Ukelale. We clearly blended into the small town as we sat in front of the church stretching, eating, singing and journaling. We went to bed early, and woke up early to get on the road again. Today has been a bit rougher than yesterday. Our first 10 miles was essentially all climbing, but after that the hills broke a bit, and I remembered Robbie's advice to just take it one pedal at a time, and I slowed it down a bit. Surprisingly, that really helps. I also started singing. This also really helps, but I can never seem to remember all the words, which is frustrating, so then I go back to the songs I remember my dad singing when I was little-I've Been Working on the Railroad, Oh Give me a Home, etc-yet still I can't remember all the words. Regardless, life is better when you're singing.

Taking a bit of a longer stop in Hawley, PA right now, but back on the road soon, to be just north of Scranton tonight. But of course, before I head back out there, a quick recap of the food I've been eating:

-Trail Mix (Raw almonds, cashews, raisins, and sundrops)
-Luna Bars
-Mint Chocolate Chip Milkshake
-Nut Bar
-Cheese Crackers
-Mac and Cheese, with Green Pepper
-Peanut Butter Tortilla Wraps
-Bunny Grahams

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Heading on out

5:07am: Woke up at 4:30, and just did the final weigh in. My saddle bags are packed with 30 pounds. This does not include water, or my tent and sleeping bag, which weigh less then 5 pounds combined, that are bungeed on my back rack. I think we're ready to go-lots of phone calls last night (sorry if I missed anyone), one last diner stop with a yummy rootbeer float, and some good New Jersey pizza. Not nearly enough sleep, but the adrenaline will get us through the morning at least!

We'll be stopping at libraries along the way, and plugging our phones in where we can, so I'll be in touch. In the esteemed words of Clark W. Griswald (thanks Dia), I leave you with a parting thought "This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. I'm gonna have fun... "

Monday, July 9, 2007

Trip Prep

So, I’m biking cross-country. Or, I’m planning on biking cross-country. The point is, regardless of whether the plan is completed, I will be attempting to catalogue a few of my thoughts here for those of you who would like to keep track of my progress, for those of you who are interested in hearing my musings, and for myself to look back at once said plan is accomplished. For those of you who I haven’t touched base with in sometime, I’ll sketch a quick outline of the trip, and update more as I go along. For those who talk to me on a more regular basis, skim through, and check back later for trip updates.

Armin, Ross and I have been “planning” this bike trip since last fall. By planning, I mean that Armin mentioned to me, right as we entered a movie theater to see Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby, that he and Ross were going to bike across the country in the summer, at which point I invited myself along. It may have been the contents of his water bottle, the expectation of the hilarity to ensue from Ricky Bobby, or perhaps some heartache or other inflicted by a girl, but there was no strong resistance from Armin. So I kept thinking about the plan, spent countless painful hours mulling over the decision of which bike to buy, and signed up for a bike maintenance class in Boston, so that I would at least be familiar with the proper language with which one talks about bikes-cassettes, derailleurs, drive trains, v-brakes, etc. I also learned a smidge about maintenance too. As you can see, I am an experienced cyclist (read sarcasm here, in case you missed it).

For the past month I have been crashing with my sister in Vermont, remotely finishing up a final bit of work for my bosses in Boston, getting my gear together for the trip, and actually treating my body kindly, with the proper amounts of sleep, nutrients, and exercise (including one 85 mile bike ride from Williston, VT to Malone, NY). The last few months in Boston really had been tiring (for those of you familiar with my Farewell to Gin letter, you can understand where I’m coming from).

Other trip details? Tips for those thinking of planning their own cross country biking adventure? Well, hmm. I know this won’t calm my mother, but we have taken a fairly laissez-faire attitude with this trip. We will be leaving New Jersey on the morning of July 10th, early. Since the fall, the three of us have spent no more than 4 or 5 hours together, until yesterday when Ross arrived at Armin’s house in Lincoln Park New Jersey. Before that a few emails were exchanged discussing gear to be packed, potential roots, and a little bit about one another’s expectations for the trip. (I would be remiss if I didn’t point out here that there was one other friend who was on these email exchanges, alas graduate student responsibilities called, and he, very sadly, will not be joining us. That was a bit of a low moment.)

What is definite about the trip is our starting point-Armin’s Mom’s place in Lincoln Park, New Jersey; our ending point-Portland, Oregon; one of our stopping points-Chicago, Illinois; and the fact that I have to backtrack to Chicago on August 12th to make it to a wedding. We plan to bike approximately 60 miles per day, roughly getting us to Chicago in two weeks. We expect to be in Portland in two to two and a half months, most likely taking a northern route through Minnesota, the Dakota’s, Montana, and parts of Idaho and Washington. At night we will be camping out at undetermined locations, but if someone is along the way and willing to host three smelly, and hungry bikers, we would more than appreciate the hospitality.

Leaving Home

After a tearful goodbye to my dog Oliver, which left my parents baffled and nervous as I struggled to squeak out between gasps for air, “Dad, you’ll take good care of him, won’t you?” two of my oldest friends (oldest meaning I’ve known them forever, not that they are my oldest friends age wise) dropped me off in Jersey on Friday (Jen and Missy-thank you, thank you, thank you). I have had a great month in Vermont and New York with my family, but it was a relief to leave in the sense that I couldn’t stop running errands, doing work, and thinking about just the right clothing, and other gear, to bring along on the trip (given limited space and weight concerns of carrying my gear, this really had me up in arms, throwing items into my bag at the last minute, some of which still need to be shed before we leave tomorrow morning). This is a lot to think about for me. For example, when not in bike clothing, what one outfit will make me the happiest to be in EVERY night? Will I get sick of one solid color? Will I get sick of something that’s too bright? What if it’s cold? What if it’s just kind of cold? What if it rains? Oh my! As you can tell, it’s a relief that those decisions are sort of behind me.

Of course, I didn't leave everything behind. I had to bring my computer with me to Armin’s to finish up some last minute work that I couldn’t get finished at my parents’ house on Thursday and Friday, despite staying up until well past midnight, and getting up at six in the morning (perhaps making cookies at 10:30 Thursday night contributed to my lack of productivity). But my work is all finished now, after one last conference call with my boss this morning, and my computer is being safely transported by the US post office back to Malone, for just a small fortune. Thanks guys!

Aside from a little work, Jersey has been amazingly enjoyable. Yes, all you Jersey haters out there, you did read that correctly-Jersey has been enjoyable. On Friday night Armin’s sister and her husband had us over for dinner, where Armin and I got to play with his adorable niece and nephew, ages two and one. This made withdrawal from my adorable nephew and niece, ages two and one, who I have gotten to see on a regular basis for the last month, almost bearable. We also played some volleyball, badminton, sat around a fire outside, and ate like royalty (more on that below).

On Saturday, Armin and I jumped in the car for a quick 3-hour trip to Long Beach Island, where we met a friend from Boston at her family’s beach house. After several summer vacations in my youth traveling to the Jersey shore, this was like a little slice of heaven. I got to sit on the sand, read the sixth Harry Potter (in prep for number seven. And yes, I will be carrying that once it is released, I don’t care how heavy it is), and go into some incredibly freezing water with great surf. It was awesome. The only regret-LBI did not have any Johnson’s popcorn, and none of that really amazing custard, whose name eludes me, like they have in Ocean City, Jersey.

From the shore, we headed inland to a party of one of Armin’s college friends. That is where we met Tom, someone rivaling Armin in friendliness, and learned of his plan to host a huge birthday party for himself on September 8, 2007. This came up due to the subtle t-shirt he was wearing, with the date September 8, 2007 emblazoned across the front. Well, of course we had to ask, and were told that he was advertising for the big party he and his brother throw every year for his birthday, where not only close friends are invited, but acquaintances and people in passing. So, if you’re in Jersey on September 8, you should stop by. On my suggestion, Tom is now looking into getting the sight september8, for advertising purposes, so you might try checking there for more info.

Sunday morning we headed back to Armin’s place, where there was some general lazing around, last minute phone catch up time with friends, and wedding prep. Ross got to Armin’s around noon, and then Armin, with his +1, +1, set off for his friend’s wedding. As far as weddings go, it was quite nice-a short, but heartfelt service, in which the minister kept laughing, for some unknown reason, and lots of really good food (more on that below).

After the wedding Armin, Ross, and I looked at some maps, and chose a general route for getting through Jersey, and Pennsylvania. We started watching a bad movie (Le Divorce), stopped watching a bad movie, and lazily took care of some last minute tasks, like downloading some favorite song lyrics, and tabs to carry along on the trip (Armin plans on bringing his ukulele), and starting my blog. Then we all set up our respective tents and slept outside under the Jersey sky, as god intended.

Today has been full of last minute errands, including the post office and grocery store, and general lazing about.


As many of you who blog know, sometimes it can be challenging to find just the right angle for your blog. What is the structure for such an endeavor? For those of you who know me, and I’m assuming if you’ve read this far you know me, I can get a bit long winded, I can get lost in stories within stories, and I LOVE details. Or maybe it’s not even that I love them, it’s more that I just can’t decide which ones to omit, so I include them all (see above ramblings for a prime example, I promise I will make stronger attempts at brevity in the future). But after my time here in Jersey, I realize what is really most important to me about this trip is FOOD. We are biking cross-country, so we are going to be hot, tired, sweaty, cranky, exhilarated, challenged, etc. etc. etc. But we are also going to be hungry. And let’s face it. That is really why I’m embarking on this trip. I love food, and my friends and family love food, and most likely I’m going to be eating a lot of it over the next few months. So I’m going to keep a short running log of what we have and will be eating, in case you’re curious. I’ll try just to limit myself to the highlights, as it’s surely going to get repetitive. I told Armin and Ross that I am going to try to be as healthy as possible as we’re biking-lots of dried nuts and fruit, fresh fruit when we can get it, and foods that have been minimally modified, but well, we’ll just see how that goes. Here’s a short recap though of how things have started. And for all of you that have provided me with this delicious food, many thanks. And a special thanks to Armin's mom, who has fed us and housed us. Your hospitality has been phenomenal, and is much appreciated.

Last supper in Burlington-my sister and her boyfriend had a bbq full of my favorite new hummus, Sabre (mmm, it’s like whipped butter, but in chickpea form), guacamole, corn, and chicken sausage. Schmeck, Schmeck, Schmeck.

Last supper in Malone-my parents made scallop kabobs, grilled potatoes and onions, and salad with fresh greens, blue cheese, and glazed almonds. Yum.

First supper in Jersey-after too many cookies in the car ride down to Jersey, Armin’s sister and her husband made Italian sausage and peppers, shrimp kabobs, couscous, corn, and fresh squash from their garden, followed by watermelon and cheesecake around the fire outside. A+

First breakfast in Jersey-breakfast sandwich ala Armin-scrambled eggs and ham on an English muffin. Mmm.
First lunch in Jersey-really good turkey sandwich on the beach. Delicious.
Second supper in Jersey-cheeseburger and pasta salad at our friend’s beach house (Armin loves pasta salad). Yea!

Breakfast-breakfast sandwich again, but this time we melted mozzarella on top. Mmm, mmm.
Lunch and Dinner (The Wedding!)-Well, I’m not sure I can even do the food justice that we had at this wedding. The food at the cocktail hour was, I know I say it a lot, but I really mean it here, AMAZING. There were four different areas with hot food, one cheese table, and trays coming around with more delicious treats. I will do my best to list them all. Oh, and yes, we sampled just about all of it

The Polish Table:
-Fried Perogies and Onions
-Stuffed Cabbage
-Kielbasa and Sauerkraut

The Italian Table:
-Eggplant Rotini
-Fried Calamari
-Assorted antipasto

The Dip Table:
-Artichoke Dip
-Maryland Crab Dip
-Deep Dish Pizza Dip

The Pasta Bar:
-Tortellini and Penne with red sauce, cream sauce, or vodka sauce.

The Cheese Bar:
-Lots of cheeses and baked brie, do I have to say more? Oh, yes, there was also good wine here and the bar tender was really nice. She complimented my shoes.

Circulating Trays:
-Clams Casino
-Crab Cakes
-Sesame Chicken Skewers
-Coconut Shrimp
-Stuffed Mushrooms
-Scallops wrapped in Bacon (still kicking myself for not trying this one. What’s
the harm in eating a little bacon here and there?)

After the cocktail hour, we were all pretty sure we couldn’t eat much more, but we managed a bit of fruit and salad before our entrees arrived. I had a chicken cordon bleu which was really good, and garnished with fancy whipped potatoes. Armin and Ross had roast beef, which they said was good, but not quite as exciting as the appetizers.

And of course, after dinner there was dessert. Along with the wedding cake (white cake with white frosting, and a layer of strawberry in the middle), there was a whole dessert bar, with Italian cookies, mini lemon bars, cheesecakes, cannolies, and chocolate dipped strawberries. And there was bananas foster. Like I said, AMAZING.


Breakfast-more breakfast sandwiches
Grocery shopping for supplies: trail mix, energy bars, granola bars, peanut butter, whole wheat tortillas, graham crackers, apples, oatmeal, mac and cheese, couscous, cheese crackers, green peppers, gatorade, and tuna!