Thursday, December 22, 2011

Flynn's Trip by the Numbers

Yahoo!  We did it!  After Kingston, we had a beautiful ride through New England with sunny weather and bike trails through forest and pastoral landscapes.  Nathaniel and I had our grand finale at Cape Cod, MA.  We stayed with Rick and Julie for two nights in Orleans.  They came down to the beach with us to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean while we had our ceremonial tire dipping.  Then Rick, a professional calligrapher, wrote our names in the sand.  It was really magical.  The four of us then rode our (unloaded) bikes up to the tip at Provincetown to make it supper official.  The next day, I took the bus to Boston and then a 60 hour train ride back to Montana, where I now write.  It was very satisfying to watch the landscape of the previous two and a half months rewind outside the train window.  It cemented the reality and immensity of this journey into my heart.  What an adventure!

Here are some numbers to sum up the trip:

oceans touched: 2
continents crossed: 1
states entered: 16 (OR, WA, ID, MT, WY, SD, IA, WI, IL, IN, OH, PA, NY, CT, RI, MA)
total miles by bike: 3603
assisted miles: ~200 (a train ride into Chicago due to killer head winds and a car ride into Kingston, NY on a day of 35degrees and pouring rain.)
total days for the journey: 86
riding days: 68
rest days (including 2 weeks with Nathaniel's family): 18
nights in motels: 9
nights camping: 29
nights in the homes of warm showers hosts, friends, family, and kindly strangers (again, including our two weeks of rest with Nathaniel's family): 48
muscle increase to my butt and thighs: 1.5 inches
nutty bars eaten: ~73
flat tires: 3
hills climbed: one at a time!

I have had time to digest some of what this trip meant for me.  The most outstanding thing is the unbelievable generosity that other people showed us on the road.  Do not fear your fellow man.  Allow yourself to be vulnerable and open and always, always offer help to strangers.  They are just friends you haven't met yet.

This trip challenged me on every level: physically, mentally, and emotionally.  There were many times I didn't think that I would reach the Atlantic Ocean.  Now that it's done, I think that finishing the trip means as much to me as the whole rest of the adventure.  Someone along the way told me a Lance Armstrong quote, "Pain is temporary, quitting is forever."  It's not the sort of sentiment that I usually resonate with, but in this case it is true.  I have seen all aspects of my personality - good and bad, strong and weak - on full display over these past months, and I just want to say THANK YOU to Nathaniel, Carolyn, and Emily who were my supportive travel companions along the way.

Life is richer when shared with others.

Thanks for reading our blog.  Now go do something that seems impossible to you!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

shwee says adieu

The other day, I stepped onto two jumbo oil guzzling jets, sat for just 5 hours, and unraveled all that I had pedaled with my own two legs and my trusty bike over the past two and a half months! (Miraculously, I managed only two flats the entire trip and a rear brake pad replacement!) The differences in scale between my cross country bike trip and just another flight amaze me. I thought of all the energy, time, sore muscles, campsites, bananas, and nutty bars that have already faded into memories. Biking cross country was all consuming in a way I have never experienced or could have anticipated. It’s hard to recall how or what I did before this trip, especially at this point in my life when I don’t have a routine, a normal…hell, I don’t even have a job, place to live (thanks, Mom and Dad), or any idea what and where to do next! So I realized that the journey and adventure isn’t ending. I have nothing to go “back to.” I can only go forward. I’ll just keep pedaling, if you will. I’ll keep pedaling towards something that is abstract, real but unknown, imaginable but barely believable, that is until I arrive. Be present. Believe. Persevere. Anything is possible.

As I slide into the holiday season, cozy, warm, and well-fed at my parent’s home in Salt Lake City, I’ve had some time to reflect. Reflect on the journey, as well as noodle on ideas for my immediate future (any ideas or job opportunities are welcome!) Here’s my list of what I’ve learned and want to take with me off the bike:

-The courage to start the day not knowing where I’ll end up, see, or do.
- Complete lack of self conscientiousness. This includes what I am wearing, what I am eating—how much and at what time, and in general, how I look or smell.
-Complete and attentive self awareness: recognizing my physical, mental, and emotional states and acting accordingly or simply accepting it.
It’s amazing what a snack, hug, deep breath, good cry and/or moment away from the bike will cure!
- Nothing is ever really that bad.
As Bertie Stoker once said, “You’ll either die or get over it.” I had to remind myself several times that I wasn’t going to die, but even still, it’s okay to sob aloud or yell aggressively at the open road. The people in their cars (if there are any…) can’t hear you and biking companions, like true friends, at least pretend they can’t hear you or that the conglomerate spit, snot, tears, and/or rain all over your face is perfectly normal.
-Ask for help or advice, even if you already have a “plan.”
-Physically exertion. Every day…
-…Yet honoring rest days to the point of revolting sloth-like existence and boredom, but absolutely relishing in it!
-Always forgive bikers. Trust me, they don’t want to be on the left side of the white line any more than we, in our cars, want them there.
-Enjoy the journey.
-Be present.
-Laugh at the absurdity, unexpected, peculiar, and seemingly ill fortune of a moment.
-“It really doesn’t matter where you live.” –Kris Burt in Norwalk, OH
-Put up with the uphill, because what goes up, always comes back down.
-Enjoy the downhills in life, as short and sweet as it is; don’t focus on the uphill ahead ‘til you’re on it. (Also, uphills always look worse than they really are, unless you’re on Pennsylvania’s 77…)
-Trust someone else completely, especially when dealing with directions.
I’ve learned that my internal GPS is 90% of the time wrong. Carolyn’s is 99% of the time dead on.
-Nothing lasts: cold, warm, uphill, downhill, head wind, tail wind, caffeine, bad moods, cherished snacks, bad smells, good eating habits, bad eating habits, alarms, chamois butt’r, and expectations.
-Life is balanced in more ways than I’ll ever understand. For every low I felt, within hours, I’d be having the best day of my life and vice versa.
-Be kind to strangers.
-Be thankful for my food and savor every bite of energy.
-Adventures are best shared.
-It’s never too late to form a new best friend.
-The journey never really ends…(Thanks, Drew).

Peace, Love, Happiness, and Biking,

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

day 74, December 5, 2011, 3551 miles later

We slept in for probably the second time ever in the last two and a half months, but everything else was business as usual....almost. We stayed in a hotel, we painted our faces (to celebrate, of course!), and while we casually packed up our bikes, the familiar rush of the waves against the rocky Atlantic coast whispered words of welcome and accomplishment to us. My heart sang! The sweet humid smell of Maine filled my soul. We made it! Today was our victory lap into Portland, and it felt sooooo good!!!

We crossed the Casco Bay Bridge wriggling with delight! The ocean! The high rises! The cargo ships! The islands! Oh my! As we turned onto Commercial Street, a local rolled down his window to wish us,“Welcome to Maine!” Indeed, I thought. Biking down Commercial Street, we smiled, exclaimed and basked in the unreal glory of being in Portland, Maine. We found the bike trail taking us to the Eastern Promenade, where we directed our families to meet us. Finally, we could bike side by side again. Together we biked here, and together we would finish. I had to stop to pee near the rail yard, I was so excited! We turned the corner and a mass of people standing in the bike path began cheering. The rest is a blur of clapping, cheering, bodies to dodge, and loved faces mingled with familiar faces from each other’s family stories and photos coming alive. Mobbed by hugs, kisses, jokes, and cameras flashing, we stopped just before reaching the boat ramp down to the water. In another blur, we dipped our tires, popped the champagne, cheered, chugged, and mobbed over for a series of more photos. Suddenly, everyone had left, but before we hopped into Tori’s car to meet them for drinks and dinner, Carolyn and I walked over under a rosy sunset to greet our long time cross country dream. The waves soaked our feet, but what did we care, I was NOT putting these cycling shoes on tomorrow. We squatted and touched the cold salty Atlantic, kissed it, tasted it and washed off our face paint in victory.

We can hardly describe the deep, heart-welling gratitude and love we feel for our families and friends that met us that day—cousins, aunts, and uncles left work and school early, and my parents even flew out from Utah to meet us. Even more so, when thinking about all the well wishes from friends, family, and strangers we met along the way, we are speechless, overflowing with thankfulness to each of you for sharing your energy, inspiration, and kindness throughout our journey. We met so many wonderful people in this country, and this is a shout-out for you.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Thanks William and Lucy for our wonderful signs!

Crossing over the NH/VT border

We were really really REALLY excited to cross over into Maine. Pardon our following photo shoot:

Go ahead, laugh. This photo is so awkward!

Last day loading the bikes
The view from our hotel the night before in Wells Beach, ME

Already celebrating the morning of our arrival in Portland

Last one there gets sun burned today!

It's true: the more time you spend with someone, the more you start to look like them.

The Hricko clan

The Kern clan

Yay!!! so much love!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

the tortoise speaks

Flynn here ... I've heard feedback from several folks that I have dropped off the radar.  Sorry about that.  Truth be told, I've had a difficult time lately.  Illness and a pulled muscle have presented physical challenges, but really the mental game has been my biggest hurdle.  Over a luxurious week+ Thanksgiving break I seriously considered catching the train back to Montana.  I was pretty satisfied having reached the "east", but I just wasn't ready to head home.  It seemed like the only way to honor everything that had gone into this adventure was to end it with an unclouded sense of completion.  I was weary of the touring life but capable of going farther, so I saddled Betty up and hit the road again.

Camping in December?  Chilly, but charming.  We cuddle up in the tent for long evenings of snacky dinners and reading out loud.  The limited daylight hours are the only truly frustrating thing about biking this time of year ... especially considering that both Nathaniel and I struggle to get going early in the morning.  We rolled our way over the beautiful Allegheny Mountains one huge hill at a time blessed with lovely weather.  Made it to Scranton, PA just as a storm hit and accepted a most welcome ride from Richard and Dawn Brock through classic hypothermia weather, 40degrees and pouring rain. 

We're now in Kingston, NY at Nathaniel's sister's house.  Playing with their two kiddos and enjoying some cosy time before the final push to the coast.  Slow and steady, as the tortoise goes ...

Cape Cod for Christmas??  Let's hope it doesn't take that long.

...and congratulations to Emily and Carolyn who have finished the journey!!  They sure worked hard to get there and I look forward to hearing their stories over warm drinks whenever our paths cross again.   

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Final Countdown

Bike lights on, we crossed the bridge last night into the grand ol' state of New Hampshire. Can't bike in December? I prefer New Hampshire's motto- live free or die! So here we are, living freely and trying not to freeze our butts off in the last days before we reach Portland, Maine.

We've had a series of wonderful days and evenings in New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire and for the first time entered a state (Vermont) and left it without spending a night. We started back up again in Ithaca, New York on Tuesday and had a somewhat grueling day. Rain, roller coaster hills, and re-adjusting to the touring life made day number 68 seem a little tougher than we remembered. That, and we went to a vigorous yoga class the night before that reminded us we only use one set of our muscles while biking. Every other one was quite sore. Tuesday was, however, a balmy 65-ish degrees and we loved wearing our shorts and short-sleeved shirts one more time. And lucky for us, the weather gods have decided to smile down on us. We've had three straight days of brilliant sunshine and reasonable temperatures to make the already fantastic scenery even better. Crossing New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire west to east is a hilly, or perhaps more accurately, mountainous trek. It has been stunning and a great challenge, though, and we've long since forgotten the monotony of the plains. I love New England!

Wednesday night had us with Karl and Dale in Cobleskill, New York where we powered up with some fantastic fettuccine alfredo and rested before booking it 87 miles to Williamstown, MA. Despite an early start and making great time, we stlll arrived on the Igoes' doorstep after dark. Not surprising considering we need to turn on our bike lights at around 3:45 these days. One of the reasons, I suppose, that people don't typically tour this time of year. We had a huge and wonderful welcome, and enjoyed some delicious food and great company. It was easy to forget that we were tired and happened to be biking across the country in Jonathan and Kathleen's warm home and presence.

We were sad to leave Williamstown, and it didn't take us long to think that maybe we shouldn't have. Apparently an 87 mile day in this part of the country can leave you a little weary. I thought my tire was flat and checked it about two dozen times before making it even six miles. It was fine. Emily tried everything, but even tylenol, pumpkin bread (which was fantastic, Kathleen!), and emergen-C cocktails still didn't do the trick. It was a beautiful ride and a great day and we both agreed that the terrain was on the milder side compared to what we had gotten used to. Tired is tired, though, and so it was that we ended up in Brattleboro as the sun was setting instead of Keene NH.  A phone call later, and after some skilled luring, Erik and his son Tyler whisked us up and shuttled us to their house in Keene where we met Debbie. Commence the royal treatment. Lasagna, the biggest pieces of apple pie I've ever seen, and lots of storytelling made for a great night. We had an awesome time with this inspiring family, who just last year completed their own cross country tour together when Tyler was just 11!

Our second and last night in New Hampshire has us in Bow staying with the family of Emily's friend Isabel and my friend Armand (Isabel's brother). Sophie and Cameron cooked us up a great home-cooked meal and we just planned out our last 100 miles to Portland, Maine. That's right- 100 miles and we will be at our original destination! I'm still struggling to believe it. I don't think I will until we're dipping those front tires into the Atlantic along the Eastern Promenade. Its hard to conceive a world in which Emily and I don't wake up every morning together to my watch alarm clock and start another day, each one of which feels like a lifetime. So instead we'll hum our favorite Christmas carols and talk about that elusive day, the one where we finish our journey exactly how we dreamed, as if its in the distant future.

Thanks so much to this new crew of amazing people who have invited us into their lives and showed us a wonderful time!

We're planning on being in Portland Monday afternoon- come meet us!
Also, check back soon for photos!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tis the season

I ve decided to forget the fact that we are biking in the northeast during the off, possibly wrong, season, and instead embrace the holiday season. Tomorrow is December 1st. Yikes! Tomorrow we will also be in massachusetts! Yay! During these last couple days back on the bike, I've realized that i like singing Christmas carols while biking, the small towns of new York are so much cozier with wreaths, Christmas lights, and holiday greetings lining the streets, Karl's and Dale's leftover pumpkin pie tastes great, and it is okay to think about what gifts to give people as well as what I want for Christmas, in fact it does wonders to pass time! In the end, it's still the most wonderful time of year!

Merry Christmas!!


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Giving Thanks

It seems like a good opportunity to give thanks for everything we've learned along the way. So little of it has to do with biking, though it is a long day in the saddle, don't get me wrong. Here's a little sampler.

How to:
-Spot spigots and how to choose gas stations that have indoor seating.
-Sniff out plumbing.
-Accept freebies and help with grace and gratitude.
-Take baby wipe showers and feel sparkly clean afterwards.
-Rock out to Salt-N-Pepa as we roll into town to ask about camping, and end up with a sweet $20 hotel room.
-Get a lesson in dressing pheasants from some hunters while eating ice cream sandwiches.
-Find distractions. Disney songs can be really uplifting.
-Inquire about free camping and end up with a hot shower and dinner.
-Blow your snot rocket in the right direction in a cross-wind.
-Realize that butter is a miracle, and it belongs on everything. Or just by itself.
-Make friends with the sheriff.
-Recognize that there are times to be vegetarian, and a selective eater, and this is decidedly not one of them.
-Discover that sweetened condensed milk is great stuff, and goes great in all hot drinks.
-Remember to shift down before stopping.
-Know the difference between a sketchy hotel and a sketchy hotel.
-Acknowledge that we no longer care or bother to tell eachother that we have dirt, food, and/or grease on our faces.
-Appreciate smearing cream on your shorts and skin every day. Chamois butter is a miracle.
-Find unlikely places to warm up. Gardening store greenhouses are a great place to take a break.
-Have faith that we can in fact bike thirty more miles at the end of the day, mostly in the dark, on a road with a gravel shoulder in hilly New York in 32 degree weather after already biking sixty miles to make it to our ride home for Thanksgiving.

I'm thankful that I have the chance to take on a trip like this and that I'm lucky enough that are three amazing people out there that I have been able to share it with. Loaded up with holiday foods, way too many Glee episodes, priceless time with family, and days of valuable recuperation and rest, Emily and I are ready to tackle the last 400-ish miles to the coast. And believe it or not, I'm grateful that its not over yet. I'm looking forward to savoring those last days on the bikes, whatever they might hold. Atlantic, here we come!


Aunt Linda and Eva enjoying the beautiful sunshine on turkey day.

I was so happy to make it home in time to spend the holiday with my mother!

Emily and Dad relaxing before the big meal.

Lots of time in the kitchen getting ready.

The suspense was killing me!

Tori, Emily, Carolyn, Eva and Helen, friends since birth

All hands on deck! The best turkey ever.

Why, exactly?

Admit it- you've asked us the number one question, too.
Why are you doing this?

And its likely that it was followed with the number two question.
Isn't it a little late for that?

I'm reminded of a lunch break near the border of Wyoming. A group of Eastern Montana men surrounded Nathaniel, arms crossed and hat brims low. Imagine some tumbleweed and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly music (Whan whan whan, doodle oodle oooo). I was instantly reminded of the four of us hovering around one of our one-pot-wonder dinners, licking our chops. Intimidating. Moments later, they attacked. At first, we figured we were experiencing the usual interview, just slightly more aggressive. But then I started to get a bit nervous and was very happy to be on the side-lines with Emily and Flynn for the round. "Don't you kids have jobs??", "Why would you ever do a thing like that??", "No, no, no. East coast? Thanksgiving? No. Nope, can't do that.", "Shoulda done that months ago!", "That girl's got BUCKETS!". It was horrifying, and sort of hard to take ours eyes off of, until we realized that we were hiding around the corner of a building while leaving Nathaniel to get slaughtered out there. We huddled, made a game plan, and acted. We hopped on our bikes and headed for the hills! There was some dirt flying and a bit of panic, but we did manage to drag Nathaniel off before the buzzards knew what was happening. It got us thinking, though. We needed to be able to stand our ground out there. What should we say when people ask the inevitable question: why, and why now?

-Wait, its going to get cold? No one told me. Should I have brought a coat?
-The cycling alone isn't enough. We need a greater challenge.
-Shhhhh, not so loud! We're hiding from the aliens!
-2012? The apocolypse? We're going to be prepared, and who's gonna be laughing then?
-We're actually government agents rating the sleepability of post offices.
-Never too late to lose weight!
-Please tell me about when you did it, since you seem to know so much.
-The doc said it'd cure these boils I've been getting. I can show you how much better they are!

Its fun to joke about it to pass time on the road, but after months and thousands of miles of cycling, turns out there are a lot more reasons "why". None of us could have expected that people of every walk of life would open their homes and lifes to a group of smelly, free-loading dirtbags. We've had the opportunity to reconnect with friends and family, experiement with gas station food, and bring some flavor to towns across the west with populations of less than 75. Our faith in humanity, and especially Americans, has been restored, and I feel like I have learned an invaluable lesson in communicating with strangers and teammates alike. We have experienced in full every inch of the journey and country that takes mere days in a car, a couple hours by plane to cross. And why not right now? We were lucky enough to have eachother, equally eager adventure seekers. We were finished with work, our leases were up, and we had time to kill. Admittedly, we dream of warm summer days, but we do more than manage and we appreciate the good weather more than ever. Also, I'd swear we receive more offers for indoor accomodations. Plus, as one Harley dude told us, we're hardcore, simple as that. He was so astonished that he let his cigarette go out. We even got the secret handshake.

Some days we have no idea where we'll be sleeping, what we'll be eating, and to boot, we're soaked to the bone. Somehow, the journal entries on those nights are mainly about a really kind and fun waitress at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere that served fantastic food, local microbrews and let us camp for free in the backyard on a day where we went way further than we thought was possible. So have faith, things will work out, even when your muscles are cramping before you even start up a hill, two cars have honked and driven too close, and all you can see is your breath. Nothing lasts- not the glorious and well deserved downhills, the daylight, a crummy shoulder on the road, an ice cream at just the right moment, or a relentless headwind. We've learned to appreciate things for what they are while they last and to take each moment and each day one at a time. Will it rain tomorrow? Are we almost out of fuel? Will Iowa smell terrible the whole way?  Will we get stopped in our tracks by a blizzard? Would we make it for Thanksgiving, or at all? Its can be hard to say, but right now we're making great tracks, we're meeting people left and right, and everyday is a surprise.  No more predicting, instead we just keep pedaling. There are times when I know deep down that this one hill, this damned flat tire, an early start on a freezing morning with ten miles of gravel road and a headwind is not fun, not at all. But looking back someday, I doubt I'll even remember those moments and we're be better for it all. I mean every word when I reply with, "Well, because its almost always fun!". These days we have a hard time answering "why" because there are so many reasons to choose from.


P.S. Here is a cautionary tale, and I hope this comes up on a google if a cyclist ever decides to check out Pennsylvania's route 77 for a ride. Don't ever, ever go near this road. Ever. Not in a bike, not in a car. Sure, its the most direct way from Greenville to Cory and takes you off those icky main roads. Don't be fooled, though. It was late afternoon, a sunny day, when we decided that we had to take a break. I managed to get off my bike and get both feet on solid ground before flopping in the dirt. The topographic profile of the route would have looked like a heart rate monitor reading. I was convinced the ground was shaking as I munched on a plain bagel and wondered in dismay how it was possible for a vehicle to drive on a road with such sharp inclines and declines as this. Wouldn't they just nose dive at the bottom of hill? It was impossible for all four wheels to be on the ground, I thought, as I imagined a car wedged into the angle of a V.  We didn't count the steeps, it was demoralizing, and we came to realize that the "towns" on the map weren't much more than an abandoned market and that we didn't have a chance of making it to Cory. It was cold, there was snow on the ground, the wet roads were getting slicker, and both Emily and I were privately wondering what in the world we were going to do. We did have warm sleeping bags, right?... We could eat string cheese for dinner, right?... Thank goodness, it turned out Spartansburg was actually a town, complete with a market, a restaurant, a bar and a recently re-opened B&B. The proprietor, Melissa, must have taken pity on us and our quivering Elvis legs. That, or our begging to sleep in the carriage house, the yard, to do laundry, dishes or cook in exchange for a room won her over. We ended up sleeping in luxury and got the room with a jet bathtub. Thank you sooo much to the Gast Haus B&B in Spartansburg! At a bike shop the next day, a local looked at us, aghast. "You rode 77? Nobody rides 77. That's bad in a car!". We were slightly mollified, but a bit embarassed by our ignorance. I guess that's bound to happen sooner or later when you're winging it with nothing but a highway map.

A very, very cold morning. We knew we needed a break when we realized it wasn't just our hands, but our whole arms that were going numb. French toast, eggs, hash browns, coffee and apple pie is just what the doctor ordered.

Crossing into New York state. If that doesn't represent East Coast, we don't know what does! Our first state that actually touches the Atlantic, yeehaw!

Another beautiful day in PA.

Allegheny National Forest

Cruising through Pennsylvania. We biked by this huge reservoir in the Allegheny National Forest. Beautiful day to be riding!

Trying to stave off defeat on route 77. Ow.

This one goes out to Flynn and her trusty steed, Black Betty. This great guy gave us a big bag of bagels and introduced us to his "girlfriend", Black Betty! He even threw in a "Bam-ba-lam".

We wish this sign was pointing us to ocean kind of Atlantic... but still a ways to go!

We shared a great evening with Emily's PA relatives Conrad, Carol, Bill, Nancy, and John.
Emily's relatives greeted us in Greenville with a delicious meal and this fantastic cake. We felt very welcome in Pennsylvania!

We were lucky enough to have Brent, a professional cyclist, join us one morning. Our morning flew by in his company, and we were sad to see him go. What an inspiring and memorable part of our journey. Thanks for riding with us, Brent!

Try as we might, its hard to ignore all that Christmas cheer. Emily was a rockstar on the high-wheeler!

We arrived in Peninsula, Ohio and what did we find? A chance to ride a high-wheeler/penny farthing! Thanks to Century Cycles and Doug for a great evening and help with our bikes.

We had an awesome stay with Juli and Kris in Norwalk, Ohio. Thanks so much for everything!
It was wonderful to stay with my cousin Robin, her husband Mark, and their two great daughters. Thanks so much for a great stop in Madison!

Flooding creeks after the huge storm... We were so happy to have slept inside that night!
We biked slightly out the way for these out of this world donuts. A guy bought us these ones once he heard what we were doing. We polished them off, no problem, then each ate one more.
Sherry and Russ, our wonderful saviors in Bowling Green, Ohio who rescued us from the tornado. Thanks!