Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Finish! Day 32 - Gardner MA to Peabody MA (Boston), 81 miles, 1300' cumulative climbing

The finish line!

In order to have enough time to put my spare tire on I set the alarm a few minutes early for this morning.  Then I promply put the tire on and pinch-flatted the tube.  Ugh.  
Then breakfast, then returning to fixing the new flat.  Finally on the road this morning for our final miles, only 5-10 minutes behind the majority of riders.  Today's route was probably the easiest riding of the entire tour, basically going from about 1000' above sea level to sea level.  So a few ups and downs in the first third of the ride but not too much challenging work to do.  Time to enjoy the run-in to the finish line.
Except my shifter started sticking and not working very well right at the start of the ride.  By the first rest stop it was barely shifting.  Even on a relatively easy course I need gears though.  So Lon gave me a "field fix" by jamming a stick in the rear derailleur to hold the gear in place, thus giving me only three gears to use by shifting the front chainring.  Good enough for a pretty flat ride though, I thought.  And it was good enough, though the gears slipped a bit and at the second rest stop Dave and Jerry replaced it with a rock held in place with electrical tape.  I joked that if we were still out in the rural areas we would have used duct tape and baling wire.  But good enough was good enough for the last day.  Oh, and I had another flat tire midway through the day.  I was beginning to be very glad it was the last day!  Two flats, no shifting mechanism on the rear, all after having had relatively little trouble since week 1 of the trip.  But the end came closer and closer.  The lunch stop left us just 24 miles to go to the beach and everyone was smiling.  Traffic was heavier as we unavoidably kept moving into more congested neighborhoods but it was manageable.  The Massachusetts drivers didn't give us the same courteous space when passing as many other states' drivers had done, but nobody was truly brushed back.
Then a rock and tape to secure it a little better
First a stick to jam the derailleur

Long journey concludes at the Atlantic Ocean

Finally it was within sight:  the Atlantic Ocean!  Almost unbelievable to be coasting down to the water's edge and joining my fellow travelers in the ceremonial wading into the water.  But here we have arrived, after 3600 miles and 32 long days on the road.  More in a post-ride entry on this, as I think it best to let the experience seep its way into my head slowly.  So many of the days still seem to run together, but maybe they'll sort themselves out a bit with some time off the bike.
Time to pack up our bikes and prepare shipping labels to send them home.  An hour took care of that task.  Then the final banquet dinner, with slide show of the trip set to music, many nice words from Lon, Susan and a few riders.  The big map that we've watched trace our path across the country in red ink each day was auctioned off to benefit the PAC Tour projects in Peru and Africa, most specifically to help subsidize Aracely's education in California.
Now off to bed, as I have a taxi coming at 4:45am to go to the airport.  Congratulations to all my fellow riders and crew!  Well done.  Well done indeed!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Day 31 - Bennington, VT to Gardner, MA, 98 miles, 6000' cumulative climbing

This morning featured our last big climb of the tour, early in the day the way I like it. For 4 miles we pedaled up an average 7-8% grade, after having tuned up on a more moderate 2-3% rise for the first few miles of the day.  At this point I was really looking forward to the climb.  After the Big Horns mountain crossing all the way back on Day 12, there just isn't a mountain that intimidates many of us any more!  
We left Vermont early in the morning, only about 12 miles into the ride.  Thus I was able to check off Massachusetts as my cycling State #37.  (Michelle I've got you by one now!) So the big climb was in Massachusetts and it was technically in the Berkshires, sort of a geographic sub-sector of the Green Mountains.  I've lost track of all the names of the ranges we have crossed so will have to research that for another entry.

Perhaps due to the evolving mental outlook (we're almost there!) I'm feeling at this stage of our journey I thoroughly enjoyed every inch of this particular mountain crossing.  Don't get me wrong; I love the climbing sections of most rides, but sometimes they can be a grind that you just want to get through.  Not today.  It was breathtaking scenery, a cool and slightly overcast morning, perfect climbing weather.  Seeing the views from the top and having a marvelous descent down the other side were big bonuses.  The rest stop and lunch crews are feeling the anticipation of the end drawing near too, and are even more cheerful and encouraging than before, which is really saying something!  They've all been terrific since Day 1.  Without the solid and consistent crew support we could never have had such a smooth continental crossing. 
After lunch we did have a long section of road that was not as much fun.  It was a more limited-access, high traffic state road that was a little stressful to ride, with a problematic shoulder and lots of traffic noise, as well as slightly uphill all the way. Apparently our folks were unaware that there was a "No Bicycles" sign posted on this road, and several other riders were warned by the police to exit onto other routes.  But we all made it without any real trouble.  Michelle and I rode this whole piece of road together with no incidents and it was very pleasant having her for company.

One of the things I have not talked about, and hardly even mentioned until now, is the topic of flat tires.  It's bad luck to mention it out loud!  And I've gotten 3500 miles with NO FLAT TIRES.  Until the end of today, that is.  When we pulled into the hotel parking lot in Gardner I felt the air seeping out of my front tire.  Shucks!  I was entertaining thoughts of getting through tomorrow without every having to change a tire, something very few of us could say.  But, at least it was in the parking lot where I had space and tools to work with.  Then, much later in the evening it occurred to me to check both tires more closely for other glass and debris just to be safe.  I discovered that my rear tire was completely out of tread.  I had inspected it a week or ten days ago and it looked OK.  Even the treadwear indicators marks were totally worn away, and some of the inner cords were showing.  That's what 3500 tough miles will do to a tire.  So I'll change it in the morning and install the spare that I brought for this very purpose.
Dinner in the hotel restaurant was a very pleasant, friendly affair with Elizabeth, Mark and two Sacramento riders I've gotten to know during the trip, Drew and Ken.  Just the right finishing touch to the penultimate riding day.  
Now just one day remains.  We all want it to be a safe, uneventful finish to the shore.

Low level clouds floating in a Vermont valley
A cyclist's favorite road sign - downhill ahead!

Oh yeah!

'Nuf said

A 65 mile view from the top

Monday, August 15, 2016

Day 30 - Little Falls NY to Bennington VT - 108 miles, 4000' cumulative climbing

Selfie at the Bennington Monument
The highlight for today was seeing Don and Linda at the end of the ride when we rolled into Bennington.  A long-planned get-together finally happened!  What a nice, nice time we had too.  Dinner, catching up on each other's news, just hanging out for a few hours.  I counted backwards in time and realized that Don and I became friends 45 years ago!  And to have him as my friend is one of the truly special things in life. We have experienced much together over the decades. There are very few people like Don, that will also put up with having me as a friend for so long.  Linda is no newcomer either; I count her as my friend for more than 20 years now and am much better off for it.

The ride today was considerably easier than yesterday, but still we cycled through rolling hills and beautiful countryside and even crossed the Hudson River.  As we move farther east everything seems to have an historic tinge to it, with lots of small blue signs marking spots of interest.  Our group of course doesn't have time to read all that stuff but I'd really like to come back to this area to do some more relaxed exploring.  Lunch was in Saratoga Springs, an exceptionally quaint town that still prospers even as nearby communities struggle with an uneven rural economy.  Having a world famous racetrack helps I suppose. It's what people call an "old money" town.
Cliff left our group after lunch today.  He had organized a group of friends to drive up from New Jersey and ride home with them, finishing also in three days.  Still counts as a Transcontinental, just a different shoreline.  So we said goodbye to him (thanks for pulling me up all those big hills!) and set off for Vermont and the Green Mountains.

Cliff and his Jersey Boys
Green Mountains far in the distance.  We get to them by end of day

Crossing the state line was uneventful (no sign but it's state #36 in my personal quest) but the uptick in elevation was noticeable.  The Green Mountains are as lovely as I remember from previous visits to Vermont, and the last part of today's ride was serene and very enjoyable. Maybe a little hard on my legs too, as the climbs were just a little bit steeper heading for Bennington.  After averaging almost 135 miles for the last 14 days, today's 108 seemed quite modest!

And now there are just 2 days to go.  The mood of the whole tour is shifting from what's ahead, to what we've already accomplished.  Still must stay focused but it's hard not to start throwing around the "atta boys".  

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Day 29 - Geneva NY to Little Falls NY, 132 miles, 8700' cumulative climbing

Lots of long steep climbs

 Today's ride included the most intense climbing sections since we were in Wyoming in the Big Horns.  About 10 major climbs of a mile or more, each with grades of 7-10% and an average elevation gain of 500' makes for a hard day in the saddle.  I've actually looked forward to this day, both for the challenge of the route and because I have never really seen upstate New York and the Adirondack Mountains. The beauty of the area is stunning, with mountains, creeks, forest, farmland, and all of it so green. 
My legs felt good today for the third day in a row.  All morning I climbed well, which is not always the case.  Often I lag behind our little group on the steeper grades and then catch them on the downhill side, but today I was holding my own.  At least until lunch at about mile 85.  Then my legs decided they had endured enough punishment, and I reverted to my normal grinding style to get up the remaining hills.  Man, does that burn the energy!  You have to make sure to consume more calories at rest stops when you're climbing so many "quadburner" hills.
I did hit a new high speed for the trip on one of the morning downhill runs: 48.5 mph.  The elusive 50 mph may just not happen on this trip.  No matter.  It's exhilarating at any speed.
We had a couple of rainy periods today but no serious downpours like yesterday.  Tailwind is still our friend too!
Now just 3 days are left.  It's hard to believe, after more than 4 weeks, that this journey is reaching its conclusion.  More about this on another post.
Long distance views from the top of climbs

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Day 28 - Niagara Falls Canada to Geneva NY, 137 miles, 3750' cumulative climbing

Well, today did not start out very well.  We were to cross back into the U.S. shortly after leaving the hotel parking lot, and I realized that I'd forgotten to put my passport in my jersey pocket.  Which necessitated a 3 mile loop back to the hotel, where our trailer was fortunately still parked, to retrieve it.  Then, rushing to rejoin the group and get through passport control, I took my eye off the road for a moment and my front tire slipped on a piece of embedded steel in the pavement approaching customs, and down I went.  The sound of a bike hitting the ground is never a good sound, though I only took a couple of bumps and righted the ship quickly.  All this after it began to rain right as we exited the hotel lot, and continued raining for about the next 15 miles across the border, through the U.S. side of Niagara Falls, and into the countryside.  At least with the rain we didn't miss much of a view on the American side of the Falls.  It is an old decaying industrial town, not the bright attraction that the marketing department sells.  I even commented to a fellow rider "this looks like a town of the have nots and the have nots".

But this journey is a take-it-as-it-comes deal, so on we pedaled into upstate New York. State #35 for me and my bike!  (Still tied with Michelle)
Around mile 25 there was another small snag:  bridge out.  Everyone had to dismount, carry their bike and schlep through a muddy ravine to the other side.  Not a disaster but more like adding insult to injury.  And then after cleaning off shoes and getting mud out of bike cleats, onward we went again.  The sun came out for a bit, and we did have a moderate tailwind so all was not lost.  Seemed like the day might not be so bad after all.  Lunch was served in a nice spot off the road, but the clouds came back and it looked rather sinister as the crew members started battening down the hatches.  Cliff and I rode away, and unwittingly missed a turn, which was to cost us shortly. 3-4 more miles down the road the wind picked up from our right and the rain started.  It quickly became a sideways wind with heavy, stinging rain that gusted hard enough to move us over 3-4 feet in the lane.  I haven't experienced a wind like that in a very long time, actually being worried about getting blown off the bike.
Bike shoes and mud do not mix well
And, then the sun came out again!  Thank goodness that storm cell was brief because we were not having a good time at all.  It was a few more miles before we realized our directional error, and after consulting our maps we concluded it would be faster to take a direct ride on U.S. 20 to Geneva instead of backtracking to the group's route.  In my mirror I saw waves of storm cells come up behind us, but now we got just a little bit luckier and avoided more rain...barely.  The storm front did increase the power of our tailwind which helped get us home.  10 extra miles and an hour after the group had finished we made it to the hotel in Geneva.  Not many pictures of surroundings today because my iPhone was safely in a Ziploc bag in my pocket almost all day.

We were very glad to see this day end!  And it's also the end of the 4th week.

Stats for Week 4:                                                 Trip so far:

782.8 miles ridden (6 riding days)                        3180.9 miles ridden
15,650' cumulative climbing                                 98,640' cumulative climbing

Ominous skies at the lunch trailer

Friday, August 12, 2016

Day 27 - St. Thomas, ON to Niagara Falls ON, 131 miles, 1500' cumulative climbing

Sunrise in Ontario.  What a way to start off a day.  And can you spell tailwind?  Not many words get cyclists going like that one!  I was pretty tired this morning after yesterday's long hours and miles.  Today's bluer sky looked much more welcoming than yesterday's dark cloud formations.  After a typically robust parking lot breakfast of oatmeal and fixings we set out on what ended up being the fastest ride of the trip. Another flat-as-an-ironing-board route helped the speed, but it was mainly the nice westerly wind at our backs that did the trick.
It's too bad that the stretch of Canada we rode through these last two days was so unremarkable.  I know there is much, much more to this neighbor country than what we've seen. But, we are not really on a sightseeing trip in the normal sense of the word, since there is very little time to stop and do much more than snap a photo to be looked at later. This might explain why some of the days have seemed to run together. My hope is that once the journey is complete and we all have time to digest what's transpired that some order might come from the cluttered file cabinet in my head!  For now it's still important to "keep your eye on the prize" as my friend Donald used to say.
Finish the miles and everything else will fall into place in other words.
We arrived at our hotel in Niagara Falls on the Canadian side (the nicer side by far) early, just before 3:00. This gave me time to do laundry and walk down to view the falls up close. For about five minutes (see above comments about sightseeing). I've seen them before but it's a pretty impressive sight.  Our hotel offered a nice view of the Canadian side.  Frankly it's a hard place to enjoy for more than a short time, as the beauty of the falls is offset by the garishness of everything else - hotels, casinos, gift shops, people and noise.  
We rode the same way as the wind 
Niagara Falls Canadian Horseshoe

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Day 26 - Imlay City MI to St. Thomas, Canada, 144 miles, 1200' cumulative climbing

On the ferry to Canada 
This was a day that wouldn't end. By far the most humid we've experienced, the morning started out foggy, warm and muggy.  And it got hotter and muggier as the miles went by.  Our first rest stop at mile 24 found us all drenched in sweat and swilling cold water like it was, well, cold water.
There was some threat of rain in the forecast, especially at midday, but the temperatures were supposed to reach 88-90 and most of us opted to leave rain gear in the van.  Even if you get rained on in these temps it's not going to be awful.

Approaching the foreign soil
Second rest stop was just a stone's throw from the ferry we were to take over to the Canadian side of the St. Clair River, about 50 miles north of Detroit. It was much smaller than the 410' long Badger on Lake Michigan, fitting only one car and 40 bicycles for the 15 minute ride.  PAC Tour's vans and cars came on a subsequent ferry due to the space limitations.  Going through passport control was a breeze; how much stuff can you hide on a bike anyway?

After the ferry it was really getting hot, and the stretch of Ontario we were riding through was very desolate, farm houses quite far apart and no towns for miles.  It would be a tough place to live I think. Not many photo opportunities today so we kept on pedaling away.  One saving grace was the nearly pancake flat course we had for the day.  Easy pedaling.
And the threat of rain?  Well it started raining when our group of 4 was about 2 miles away from the lunch stop.  And while we were under some cover of canopies at lunch it absolutely poured.  Thunder, lightning, heavy rainfall, the works.  The poor lunch crew was working very hard to put on a meal and take care of our oddball requests at the same time, such as Cliff and me requesting trash bags in lieu of our rain jackets.
We decided to wait out the storm however, and it was a smart (and lucky) move.  We only rode in rain for a few minutes and then the sun came out.  Naturally this negated the coolness the rain had brought, and in short order we were all steaming again.  But made it without further delay into the hotel parking lot for the night.  It was nearly 6:00pm though, a very, very long day.  Pizza ordered in was the best dinner choice!