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!

Friday, November 25, 2011


The day after Thanksgiving and the question is: Where are we? Months ago when planning this trip, we were all absolutely sure we would have reached the coast by Thanksgiving- the latest. Now, I realize how foolish it was to predict anything when it comes to a cross-county/ cross-continent bicycle tour.

Beginning two weeks ago, since crossing into Wisconsin, a new page was turned: Chapter 3. Carolyn and I put our legs and spirits to the test to make it as far east as possible in two weeks. For in two weeks exactly was November 24th: grand ol' turkey day! We tried to tell our families that Thanksgiving was on Saturday this year, but they wouldn't budge, so we did our best to forgot the impending deadline, meanwhile adding more mileage to our days, pushing bikeable day light hours to its limit, and truly cherishing each "warm," dry day. However, soon it was hard to ignore the well wishes for a happy Thanksgiving from each person we met and the infiltrating Christmas decorations in every passing window and store.

One night camping in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania, Carolyn and her father concocted a brilliant plan. Turns out! (oh! the magical synchronicities in life make me want to dance!) Turns out, a life long friend of Carolyn, Eva, is working on her masters in Ithaca, NY at Cornell University. It turns out that Eva is leaving Tuesday morning to drive up to Maine for Thanksgiving, which turns out, is the same Thanksgiving dinner that Carolyn and her family will be attending, no doubt. It turns out, that there is room in her carpool for two, and it turns out that if we push two 80 + mile days and all goes well, we could make it to Ithaca Monday night. Finally, it turned out, that we made it! Hooray!

Tuesday morning, we smashed into a yellow Volkswagen beetle and embarked on our 6-8 hour car drive to our respective homes: Emily is in Portsmouth, NH with her grandmother, cousins, aunts, and uncles, while Carolyn is at her home in Minot, Maine with sisters, parents, and of course, Eva and family.

However, the tour is not over. I can't deny that biking to Ithaca, NY is definitely cross country, and we are proud. You also can't deny that we are SOOOO close to dipping our front tire in the Atlantic. After some much needed rest days and feasting, Carolyn and I plan to return to our bikes in Ithaca and keep pedaling on towards the coast. Keep your fingers crossed that we will have one more week of at least decent winter weather ahead, so that we can truly bike from coast to coast.

-your happy and well stuffed Emily

p.s. As for Flynn and Nathaniel, we talked with them on Monday night, and they were right on track for their Thanksgiving destination in Oil City, PA with Nathaniel's family. Yay!

Enjoying a day off by the warm fire in my aunt's and uncle's cabin in Cambridge, WI. We are so thankful for that cozy spot, stocked (even though you say it wasn't) with delicious food and adult beverages!
A delicious pancake breakfast...

while it snows outside...yuck!

Boo-yah, we crossed another state line.

Carolyn epitomizes our mixed feelings: yes! we crossed another state line, but oh, I am freezing on this wet snowy day...

Thanks to Bob and Linda who shared their beautiful new home with us in Crystal Lake, IL. We loved the hot tub!

No, that's not a car, No, we didn't accept any rides. Okay...maybe just one from my aunt Jan to escape the traffic and sketchiness of Chicago. (THANKS!)

Nice Ohio.

Evil Ohio

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cyclist's Paradise

Let me take you back, back to Iowa and to a very special place- a Hy-Vee grocery store. You might think its just another big box grocery store chain, but not on this very memorable day in early November. Oh, no no. It was the night of the annual Holiday Showcase, also known as the greatest night in human history! And we just happened to be passing through Charles City, Iowa where this history was being made.

As we may have mentioned, we like to eat these days. In abnormally large quantities, and our number one, and only, rule is that we never turn down free food. Little did we know that we were about to stumble into the motherload of free food. Hy-Vee goes totally nuts with their Showcase, a night once a year when they display some of the amazing holiday foods you can create. The fact that we were decked out in outrageous spandex and neon colors upon entering the store didn't even attract any attention, or at least much less than it usually does. It seemed that every family in Chucktown was in the store, and they had no time for these drooling weirdos because it was feeding time. Everywhere we looked we saw scenes that are usually accompanied by glowing golden light and angelic music. Table after table of free samples- main dishes, appetizers, desserts. We gorged on egg rolls, shrimp scampi, dozens of cheeses, fruits, breads and cookies. One of my favorites was the pumpkin pie with cinnamon ice cream nestled in right next to the eggnog samples. And every time we turned around, a very cheery employee was offering us food. And once news spread that these rosy-cheeked, bedazzled cyclists were biking... what? cross-country?.... we were offered numerous rounds of all. Honestly, it was a little overwhelming. What first? Kebabs or cream puffs, sweet or savory? In between mouthfuls of stuffing, we hear over a message from above. "Hellooooo, shoppers! Don't forget to head on over to the beer and wine department and sample the wide variety of beverages we are offering!".  And I thought my eyes were bugging out before, ha! We didn't need to be told twice, nor did we need to ask where the department was. We just hopped right into the steady stream of giddy community members, right behind an older couple dressed in their finest for a night out in Hy-Vee, moving toward the opposite end of the store and the dozens of delectable 21+ treats awaiting us. And that's when the real fun started! We left the store that evening feeling very, very good.

Much time has passed since this tasty evening, but a tribute was in order. You ask, what are some of the most memorable parts of the trip so far? A few hours in a Hyvee Paradise definitely make the list. So, thank you, Hy-Vee. Cheers, you made our night!


Tuesday, November 15, 2011


"Carolyn, pedal faster!" The charcoal gray clouds churned behind us. Spinning in our lowest of low gears, the head wind was warm but fierce. We were in between storms, and a lady in downtown Liberty Center, Ohio mentioned something about a tornado warning, but what do two girls from Utah and Maine know about tornadoes? Answer: nothing. So we just kept pedaling.

If I ever mentioned in my journal entries or this blog that we had been caught in pouring rain, I lied. Yesterday, in Ohio, it POURED, twice! Every piece of clothing was dripping, sticky wet, and that was the first round. Thanks to the luxury of bicycle touring, a lunch stop, hand dryers, and a change of clothes later, we were back at it trying to beat the second lashing.

We made it out of town and across a bridge. Turning east, the wind was with us. It felt like we were flying! It's amazing how fast we could go fueled by fear and a tailwind.  Ahead, I could still see lighter colored clouds, but everything in my rear mirror was nasty (and I swear the sky was green, Carolyn insists it was). I thought we were clear until the wind shifted. In seconds, we decided to call it and ran to the nearest house, and not a moment too soon! Huddled under a stranger's garage alcove, we watched the apocalypse and wondered if the people in the house were already taking shelter in their basement. Were we going to see these country homes start swirling around in the air? I made a dash to my phone in between deluge and almost-hail where I found six missed calls and two voicemails from three different WarmShowers folks, whom we had contacted earlier to set up a place to stay that night. They all wanted to know if we were safe and if we were warm.

Twenty minutes later, we were riding in Russ Frye's car over to his house in Bowling Green with promises of chili, quiche, and soft beds dancing around in our heads. It rained over an inch that day, and the tornado sirens wailed even after laying down to sleep. Phew! What a day! We are so thankful to Russ and Sherri Frye who came to our rescue during an absolutely torrential storm. This thanks goes out to Tom and Jim too, who were also there if we needed them.


The weather today called for a high of 59 degrees and mild. Mild. I can do mild. Today was great circumnavigating small county roads and gravel bike trails all the way to Norwalk, Ohio. My college friend Kristy hooked us up with her uncle and aunt, Kris and Juli, who live in Norwalk and opened up their delightfully cozy wood home to us. It's filled with plants, books, fun artwork and bowls of delicious butternut squash soup. Kris even met us 5 miles out of town on the bike trail to guide us to their spot. THANKS!

Next stop, road 303 to Peninsula, OH, along which we hear is the biggest hill in Ohio. Word on the street is that we need pitons...

Much love,

p.s. Thanks for everyone's well wishes and encouragement. It's very much so, soooo, so much appreciated!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

First Snow!!

Flynn here with a big news bulletin.  We had to make the difficult decision to split up as a group in order to honor our individual goals and needs.  With winter bearing down upon us, any hope of reaching the coast by Thanksgiving requires a strong and steady push.  Still full of energy and committed to the coast-to-coast destination, Carolyn and Emily have decided to go for it.  If anyone can do it, they can!!  After a nasty chest cold and not feeling as deeply driven to reach the coast, I realized I wanted to travel at a slower pace.  Nathaniel decided he also craves more rest along the way, so the two of us are aiming at western Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving where he has family.  I do have hopes of still reaching the Atlantic Ocean before it's all said and done, but that goal is secondary to my health and well being.  You'll have to stay tuned to see how it all unfolds.  Today it is snowing in Madison, WI where we have found a safe haven with Kris and Abbi Evans.  The adventure continues ... and we are all still pedaling.  (but not today because I forgot to pack my studded bike tires)   

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

So, where's the oddest place you've slept?

Remember the photos from the post office lobby where we slept in eastern Montana? Well, I think there's a mathematical relationship between dropping outside temperatures and our camping creativity.

Currently, we are in Wisconsin (more to come on that...) but enjoy some photos from South Dakota and Iowa.  :)

Just outside of the Badlands in South Dakota, we found a ghost town. It had a water faucet, picnic tables, and even a carpeted post office (with Halloween candy!!) but we decided to switch it up and camp outside on the trading post lawn.

Only tumbleweeds in Scenic, SD, and great sunset photos.

Not your usual cowboy, but we like him anyway.

No, Mom and Dad, unfortunately we didn't sleep here...There was a dead cat in the puddle that you can't see, otherwise...

South Dakota impressed us every evening with it's beautiful sunsets!

Yeah, we're kind of awkward without bikes.

Scenic, SD is scenic!

3 bad ass bikers and the Badlands

Screeech!!! Turn around! Did I just read that road sign right?

Lucky us, we camped here one night too!

And Wood, SD.

Nathaniel was a little tall for this structure, but the rest of us and our bikes fit nicely. This was the last night we camped out until Wisconsin thanks to the hospitality of so many warm folks we met along the way.

Life on the road.

There's the Missouri River!

I know, Carolyn. Yee haw!

It might not seem that impressive, but the Missouri was a serious landmark in our journey east.

We found this little church on the other side. Yep, we'd probably sleep here too if it wasn't the middle of the day.

So, we took a snack break and enjoyed a break from the wind.

Denise, Cody, Jamie, Daniel, Mike, and Jenny at the Pizza Ranch in Platte, SD, put us up for a night and made us our first real Midwest dinner. It was awesome! We'll never forget your hospitality! Thanks!

Then, Jeff, who owned the local Subway in Platte, gave us a free sandwich. Wow! Platte is full of the nicest people!

When we got to Sioux Falls, we took a day off and even rode in a car! I know, scandalous...The wonderful David and Deann Steensland chauffeured us around town so we could run some errands.

David and I are beginning the zombie transformation. Happy Halloween!

Deann is a master at adding the finishing touches of blood and bruising.

After dressing up, they showed us downtown Sioux Falls where we joined the other 1200 zombies for the annual zombie walk. Boo!

Can you believe we slept in their basement?

I guess it takes one to know one.

We left Sioux Falls Halloween day, dressed up, of course!

Thanks again, David and Deann!!!

We slept in there the next night.

Chad Bol found us in Ruthven, IA and generously put us up the next night. He made us great tasting hamburgers and guacamole.

Thanks, Chad!

Stop for donuts. Always. I think it was a two donut kind of day.

We stumbled across the "eighth wonder of the world" in West Bend, IA. It's a shrine to the Virgin Mary built entirely of the most beautiful rock, stone, geods, petrified wood, gems, and shells that you could imagine! so cool!!!! We ended up camping in the Grotto's campground that night.

Geology rocks!

Jacob Spath, THANK YOU! He not only found some friends of his to put us up once in Clear Lake, IA, but again in Charles City!

Thanks to Natalie and Luke who blindly opened their home to us and even welcomed us with enchiladas for dinner!

Carolyn and Ollie. Sometimes, people might think that we like their dogs more...
Jacob told us his friend Steve in Charles City was a strong biker.

Thanks, Jill and Steve in Chucktown. You convinced us, I think we'll be back for RAGBRAI.

Finally, just before crossing the Iowa/Wisconsin border, we met Pastor Dave, Sarah, Jonas, and Solas in Castalia. They were the cherry on top of all the great people of Iowa! I can't believe they made us a feast of home grown vegetables and trout from a stream on their land. Thanks for the good food and conversation. Despite the stank, Iowa will forever stay in our hearts.