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C2C2C2 Redux

I am posting this blog piece on the one year anniversary of day 1 of week 4 of the now legendary and epic Coast to Coast to Cure Cancer adventure. On this particular day last year, Bob and I had bicycled – and Judi, Olivia and Perky had driven – from Bismarck to Napoleon, North Dakota. It was certainly a memorable and special day – because, as it turned out, every single day of the trip was memorable and special. Yehudit was on her way home, after accompanying Bob and me for the first half of the trip, and our new support crew were just starting their adventure.

I actually started writing this wrap-up during the Thanksgiving break back in November. I didn’t get very far, and only picked it up again very recently while on vacation. You see, you never want to rush such important things…

So, here we are, a full year later, and I am finally ready to pull the trigger and post this (final, long overdue) blog entry. This piece has turned out to be a bit more long winded than I had first intended. So you might want to first pour yourself a nice cup of tea, or glass of wine, or brandy, or ouzo, or if you’re like Bob, a fine local brew like the Moose Drool we got somewhere in Oregon, or Washington, or Idaho, who can remember?! Settle back into a cozy armchair – I hope you enjoy the musings of this nostalgic, aging bicyclist.

Oh yeah, one more thing before we get started: Hey Coach – this one’s for you!

 

C2C2C2: A (Very) Belated Wrap-Up? A Bit of Closure?

Final Thoughts? Moving On? Nah, Not Really…

 “What ever happened to Eric? He promised a closing piece. He said he would write a wrap-up of the PMC weekend and would try to collect his thoughts and reflect on the whole Coast to Coast to Cure Cancer adventure. And then he just disappears, stops writing, leaves everything hanging. It’s been nearly a year, for cryin’ out loud!”

Last May, about a week or so before Yehudit and I set off for Oregon from Amherst in a very packed “Perky the Support Vehicle”, Bob and I (during our proverbial 15 minutes of fame) were interviewed for an article in our local hometown newspaper. Scott the reporter conducted a very detailed and thorough interview, asking everything imaginable about the trip – how it had come about about, our planning process, the route, contingency plans, whether we had sought psychological counseling for this apparent shared psychosis, and so on. When we were finally done with the questioning and about to head off with the paper’s photographer to capture some spontaneous staged live action shots of us on our steeds, he suddenly threw one more question at us: “And what are you going to do NEXT summer?” Without missing a beat, I answered definitively and decisively: “Whatever my wife wants to do.”

So sure enough, here I sit in Philadelphia Airport almost a year later (stranded for 24 hours after missing a connection – it is Philadelphia Airport after all, enough said…) I’m en route to Tel-Aviv, where I’ll join Yehudit who is already there visiting family and friends. We’ll be celebrating the wedding of Noa, our wonderful, sweet niece, before continuing to Crete for a vacation that has been hers (and my) dream ever since before forever. Aahhh, the sacrifices one will make in the name of marital bliss…

So, with this kind of time on my hands, and with nearly a year’s worth of reflections and reminiscences and recollections under my belt, maybe now IS the time to start to try to capture some on those lingering thoughts, memories, contemplations and observations of what I continue to think of and talk about as the (clichéd, but really, truly) experience of a lifetime, the most physically and mentally challenging endeavor I’m pretty sure I will ever take on during my time here. The trip most certainly lingers; hardly a day passes without my mind wandering back to specific places, special moments, treasured experiences, and touching encounters, refusing, it would seem, to let go of any bit of it. I know the same is true for Bob – after all, we compare notes frequently when we get together for breakfast at a local diner here at home, carrying on a ritual that we performed 3 (sometimes 4 or 5) times a day, every day, from June 8 through August 4 last year.

So here we go, in no particular order, and with no pre-planned rhyme or reason – a few deep thoughts and a lot of shallow reflections on all that mishagas (i.e., nonsense) that was Coast to Coast to Cure Cancer, better known to its closest blog followers and Facebook friends as C2C2C2:

 I. Longing

For the last couple of weeks of the trip, as we continued to experience adventure after adventure crossing the eastern stretches of the country, our longing for home and our desire for the trip to be over seemed to grow stronger every day. Yes, for sure, every day continued to provide us a brand new set of experiences. We knew where we’d be going, because we had studied and dissected the day’s map at dinner the night before and again at breakfast that morning, but we had no idea what we would actually see along the way, whom we might meet, what memories we might add to our collection.

But at the same time, in those later weeks and latter states (both the United ones and the psychological ones), the consistently routine pattern of the days had begun to grow downright old and was really bearing down on both of us:

  • Wake up at the crack of dawn (we never actually heard the crack, by the way. I now think it may actually be just a figure of speech…);
  • Drag ourselves to whichever dusty diner we had decided might be the place to get a decent breakfast (which often turned out to be the same place we had had the previous evening’s supper);
  • Make that critical choice between cheese omelette, scrambled eggs, or pancakes;
  • Study the most recent likes and comments on the blog and on Facebook (“Hey, Bob, who is so and so, must be a former UMass swimmer, right?” “Nope, I don’t know her. I figured she was one of your friends.” “Nope, never heard of her.” “Hmm, looks like we have yet another new C2C2C2 friend.”)
  • Decide which jersey each of us would wear (let’s be clear: wardrobe coordination is key on any bicycle excursion, and we made sure that one of us always donned the official C2C2C2 uniform, while the other modeled a classic PMC top from past years);
  • Head back to the resort du jour to squeeze into our oh so sexy and flattering spandex;
  • Disconnect all of the technology from all of the chargers (no small task);
  • Repack our bags;
  • Reconstruct the daily puzzle that was somehow fitting everything into Perky the SAG Wagon;
  • Check out of last night’s Waldorf-Astoria and bid adieu to the concierge (hahaha);
  • Apply sunblock to all those places where the sun might shine;
  • Apply Udderly Smooth Udder Cream to all those other places where the sun definitely don’t shine;
  • Pump up the tires;
  • Pour the very flavorful, colorful and 100% natural and organic Gatorade powder into the water bottles;
  • Remind each other to turn on our bike computers (“Garmin?” “Yup, Garmin. Got it, thanks”);
  • Delay as long as possible that fatal act of swinging our legs up and over the saddle;
  • Settle our butt cheeks down onto those oh so comfortable torture devices;
  • Mutter our daily piece of ritual irony: “Hey Bob, wanna go for a bike ride today?”;
  • Exchange a fist bump;
  • Take a deep breath;
  • Face the inevitable, and
  • Finally start to spin those miserable pedals.

I could go on and on and describe in great detail the specific phases of the long hours that made up each day, and the predictable moments that repeated themselves in one variation or another from the moment we woke up until we went to sleep somewhere new each night. Every day. Every week. For 2 freakin’ months.

So, with our burning need towards the end to just be done with the whole stupid, effing, damned, fakakta (look it up if you have to… or simply use your imagination…) thing once and for all, then how the heck do you explain the following?:

It’s about 1:30 in the afternoon on Tuesday, August 6, 2013, 2 days after the grand finale of the grand C2C2C2 adventure in Provincetown. I’m lounging on a beach chair with my toes in the silky warm sand under a beautiful sun on Herring Cove Beach on Cape Cod, surrounded by family, with my one year old granddaughter playing in the sand near me on her first ever beach vacation. I spontaneously pick up my iPhone and type the following text message to Bob, who is back in Amherst, most likely already back at work: “Question: Do you have moments when you find yourself really missing the road?”

And how do you explain the fact that it takes Bob no more than 7 seconds to reply: “Yeah, a lot. I miss it”, sounding genuinely relieved to know he isn’t the only one, and me feeling exactly the same way as I read his response.

And let’s be clear: neither one of us was LOL’ing. We really meant it. We were, in fact, in some way grieving the sudden end of our crazy adventure, the adventure that days earlier we couldn’t wait to finally have behind us. I know that neither of us was forgetting or minimizing the hardships or the moments of self-doubt or the anxieties we experienced along the route. Nor were we glorifying our memories of the sad motels and sketchy inns we slept in, or the endless meals of mediocre cheeseburgers, iceberg lettuce salads, and fries, or anything else that we complained about incessantly from sea to shining sea. But we were, and to some degree still are missing the adventure itself, the boldness of what we had taken on, and the incredible feeling of accomplishment we experienced just about every day when we reached our destination, as tough as it had been to get there, and as delirious and exhausted as we may have felt at the time. And probably most of all, we were missing the great reassurances about the world that we would experience every time we would strike up a conversation with complete strangers, somewhere out there in the middle of America, with people curious about us and touched by our Coast to Coast to Cure Cancer identity, and then would part ways knowing we had connected with new friends, good people who, despite any differences of lifestyle, local vernacular, regional twang, faith, or political views, actually share a lot of simple, basic common values and humanity, reminding us over and over and over again that this world and life on it is fundamentally good, after all.

 II. So What’s in a Name?

Among the deeper of the deep thoughts I accumulated over the course of the 2 month journey during those endless hours of contemplation as my legs made those incessant, millions and millions of rotations on the pedals, as we took in all of the glory and splendor America has to offer from the up close and personal vantage point our miserable saddles offered us, were my ongoing musings over the ironic, or should I simply say deceitful names that motel, motor inn, and hotel chains have chosen for themselves. For example:

  • Best Western – honestly, if this is the best the West has to offer, then shame on the West. How about Fairly Decent Western, or maybe even So-So Western, for a little truth in advertising?
  • Super 8 – Super? I hardly think so. And you might score an 8 only if the scale you’re referencing ranges from 0 to 100. Maybe…
  • Motel 6 – now this one is a real head scratcher. Were there 5 previous failures before you hit on this particular model for comforting the wayward wanderer? Or did you use Super 8 as a model and figured you’re about 2 shy of their high standards?
  • Days Inn – I don’t think so. If you really want to be truthful, then call yourself Day Inn, because you know very well that NO ONE would ever stay more than one day.
  • Comfort Inn – more like Comfort Outt
  • Quality Inn – (you get the idea, write your own punchline…)

 III. Bob the Pragmatist

On the first day of Week 3 (of 8, I remind you), we started out on the outskirts of Great Falls, Montana, in beautiful farm land, surely the most beautiful we had biked through to that point. Endless rolling fields of grain waving in the breeze on either side of the road, as far as the eye could see, and the eye could see very far under that truly Big and Gloriously Blue Sky. Amber waves, bright green waves, waves of every shade of green, yellow and beige imaginable. Occasional curious antelope looking up from their grazing, sometimes running alongside us, likely wondering what the hell is wrong with these 2 aging losers?

After a full 24-hour rest day the day before, with our batteries recharged and our tanks full, the only word to describe our feeling being back on the road and experiencing such beauty surrounding us was true ELATION!

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that at some point I pulled up alongside Bob with a shit-eating grin on my face, and expressed my joy and wonder by saying, “You know Bob, I think our training rides NEXT year back at home are going to feel very boring.” To which Bob, the level-headed, even-keeled coach and realist replied: “Getting a little ahead of yourself, don’t you think?”

And oh, how correct he was. (Remember: It was day 1. Of week 3. Of 8 very long weeks…)

IV. It’s All Relative

So here’s a particularly deep thought for you to mull over: Do bicyclists who live in places like Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Andorra, Monaco, or Vatican City also dream of someday setting out to attempt to ride their bicycles clear across their countries?

 

V. Lost and Found

I have wonderful news to report! Remember those 12-15 or so pounds I somehow lost somewhere along the route? Somehow lost, despite all the cheeseburgers and fries and milkshakes and waffles and cheese omelets and hot chocolates (WITH whipped cream, no less!) and ice cream cones and beer and… Turns out that if you can find a way to burn off between 4,500 and 6,000 calories a day, then the sky’s the limit, gastronomically speaking.

Well, you won’t believe it, but trust me when I tell you that those poor, lost pounds miraculously reappeared! Spread out as they were all across the northern tier of the United States, I’m not exactly sure how they found their way all the way back to little Amherst in western Massachusetts, but sure enough, one day early last Fall they made it clear that they had made it home. And wouldn’t you know it, they found their way back to Amherst, located me at home, celebrated a joyful family reunion, and then promptly redistributed themselves back to their previous habitats in all the wrong places, just in time for my annual weigh-in at my doctor’s office. I’m sure you can only begin to imagine how relieved I was. Mystery solved! Hallelujah!

 VI. Corn

We produce a helluva lot of it here in the United States. Trust me.

 VII. The United States of Road Kill

Riding as we typically do all spring and summer at home, over the years we have grown well-accustomed to dodging squirrels, chipmunks, skunks and the occasional raccoon or porcupine that have clearly seen far better days, splayed out along the shoulders of the road, in varying states of decomposition. Apparently lacking the benefit of an oral tradition, these poor creatures have not learned from the horrors and tragedies witnessed by their ancestors. Rather than heeding caution to the inherent dangers posed by our modern transportation system, it would seem they relish the challenge of attempting to get from here to there by crossing roads during the split seconds offered between the passing of front and rear wheels. (Do you think they call their game “chicken”?) Many clearly fail.

Not surprisingly, I suppose, it turns out that road kill variety is quite regional. Out in the west and the northern plains, for example, squirrels, chipmunks and skunks are either a lot wiser or more cautious than their cousins in the east, or perhaps simply non-existent. Whatever the explanation, the fact is that you don’t see many of them lying alongside the roads. Not that the shoulders out there are victimless, mind you. Oh no, taking their place posing danger and disgust to innocent cyclists are all manner imaginable of local foolhardy creatures. Our road kill dodging skills, well-honed over the years on the back roads of New England, came in very handy throughout the trip, as we found ourselves swerving our way across America, careful to avoid rolling over an endless supply of the remains of seemingly all species of small and not so small animal native to the regions of our country.

Although not a scientific inventory, some of my recollections of the bodies we observed across America include: raccoon (all told, we probably saw more of these poor, dead bandits than any other species), snake, frog, turtle, possum, opossum (is there a difference?), rat, mouse, muskrat, all manner of fowl (in almost every case truly foul), deer, coyote, and more. (Bob, help me out here, I know I’ve missed some.) But nothing surprised us more than that fateful day in eastern Washington state, miles and miles from the nearest body of water, when we nearly crashed swerving to avoid a miserable, good-sized, dead trout.

(Note: All the above notwithstanding, nothing clutters America’s roadsides more than the thousands and thousands of scraps of remnants of steel-belted truck tires, scattered like shrapnel everywhere you go, with those dastardly little pieces of steel wire projecting from them, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to ruin the day of an innocent bicyclist cruising along at 15-20 mph on top of slim road tires inflated to 120 psi. Oy. Vey.)

 VIII. Soybean

See Chapter VI above. Slightly less, but still a helluva lot. Apparently we have a lot more closet tofu lovers in this country than you realize.

 IX. Close Encounters of the C2C2C2 Kind

Of all the countless anecdotes we collected over the course of the trip, and of all the wonderful interactions with strangers that we experienced along the way, two that occurred during Week 2 in eastern Washington state, and that I wrote about at the time, remain particular favorites, and have become regular features of our occasional reminiscing sessions. The fact that they both occurred during a single lunch break at a quaint little café in the middle of nowhere only adds to the aura of their memory for us. Among our little posse, they have frankly become classics, greatest hits, and therefore beg to be recalled in this wrap-up:

June 15, 2013: The other 2 encounters to share tonight both took place at lunch, at Tonia’s Cafe in Pomeroy, WA, yet another small, lovely farming town with 2 eateries. Our advance scouting party (aka Yehudit) assured us that we would be very welcome at Tonia’s, and she and Tonia didn’t let us down.

The first encounter here took place as soon as we sat down. An older gentleman (alright, let’s just call him a geezer) in dusty overall blue jeans came in to Tonia’s and immediately approached me. “Are you with that there Coast to Coast to Cure Cancer car parked outside?” A remarkable guess on his part, considering that (a) I was wearing a bike jersey with an identical logo to the one he had seen on the side of the car, and (b) there was no one else in the restaurant. In any case, I was thrilled to know he was interested, and immediately cleared my throat and sat up straight, prepared to launch once again into the whole C2C2C2 story. But before I could begin my pitch, he spoke again. “Tell me” he asked, “What kind of mileage do you get on that there Subaru?” We immediately got into a deep conversation on the relative virtues and shortcomings of the model, and then he promptly said goodbye and went to join his cronies for what was clearly their daily coffee meet up. Later, as we were getting ready to depart and gestured goodbye to our new friend, he had one more piece of sage advice to offer: “Don’t you all crash!” Bob and I agreed that we’d try to take his advice to heart.

The second encounter: In the miles leading in to Pomeroy, we had passed numerous cultivated fields covered in plants topped by beautiful yellow flowers, which none of the 3 of us could identify. I decided to inquire at Tonia’s. I approached our waitress Sam, a young, local resident who had recently graduated from New Haven University with a degree in criminology. Me: “Can I ask you a ques…” Sam (cutting me off before I could complete the question): “Canola.”’ Me (incredulously): “How did you know what I was going to ask?” Sam (smiling mischievously): “Because every single bicyclist who comes in here asks that very same question.”

 X. How it All Came to Be, I Suppose

In some ways the explanation begins back in 1994, when I took the plunge and signed up for my very first Pan-Mass Challenge. For the previous couple of years, our good friend Dror Shmerling (yes, habibi, it’s all your fault!) had come to us for donations to support his annual PMC rides, each time suggesting that as an alternative to donating, I could join him for the ride instead. Distance cycling had been a passion during my high school years (oh how I loved my 10-speed Peugeot!), and the thought of finally getting back in touch with the pastime at age 40 helped me overcome my many concerns about raising the $900 minimum (today it’s $4,300, by the way) and tackling the 2-day, 192 mile route. Well, to shorten this part of the story, that daunting, exciting, emotional and overwhelming first PMC experience in ’94 had me hooked, and I knew that training each year and fundraising to support cancer research through the PMC each year would be something I would hope do every year, for as long as I was physically able.

Fast forward  a few years to 2003, when a casual conversation with another dear friend, Chris Chase, led to a breathtaking (figuratively and literally speaking), week-long bicycle trek along the Pacific Coast Highway, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Santa Monica Pier. That adventure with Chris and our buddy Phil grew into an annual tradition that held for a few years, and included rides from Quebec City to Amherst via Montreal in 2004, from Eugene, Oregon into Northern California in 2005, and a trek in 2006 around a big chunk of Nova Scotia. The thrill, fun and challenge of spending a week on the bike, each day riding from a new Point A to a new Point B, never retracing your steps, just couldn’t be surpassed. Or could it?

I’m not sure when during those trips silly talk of someday riding across the entire country first came up, or who, for that matter, first brought it up. It was just talk, after all, something to fantasize and what-if about over dinner after a day of riding 70 to 80 miles through beautiful countryside. Just mindless chatter, sure, but nevertheless somehow, somewhere in there a crazy seed planted itself deep in the recesses of my mind. And it just wouldn’t leave. Over the subsequent years, I would often find myself thinking about it, particularly on rides during those long stretches where my distance from the others would allow my mind to wander, or even more so on solo rides. Could it be done? By me? What about that rocky mountain range out there in the west that I’ve heard so much about? How could I possibly carve out the time in my busy life that a trip like that would require? And by the time my life situation might actually permit it, how old and decrepit would I be? Who are you kidding? What is wrong with you, Heller?

And if I found myself having these thoughts while grinding my pedals and barely moving up a particularly steep climb, most likely my view on the subject would be quite lucid and rational, and I would quickly reach the conclusion that it was really a stupid idea, after all. And then a few miles later I might find myself coasting up and down gentle, rolling hills at 15-20 or so miles per hour, loving the scenery and life itself, and then would completely reject my earlier conclusion. Of course I could do it. Heck, this is a breeze!

And then, about 5 years ago, on a solo ride, deeply immersed in these types of thoughts yet again, ERIC HAD AN EPIPHANY! It suddenly occurred to me that the only way I might ever possibly take on this challenge would require that I actually pick a year in the future as my goal for attempting the trip. Otherwise, it would always remain just a fantasy, and someday I might look back and ask myself regretfully why I didn’t do it. Setting the target date then was very easy: the summer of 2013 would coincide with my 20th PMC ride, and would also be the eve of my 60th birthday. What better time than that for a quick spin across America?

Bingo! There you go – I had a plan, sort of. Minus just a few minor details. Such as: How the hell would I do it? Alone? Supported? No worry, when the time came I would somehow figure it out.

And then one day towards the end of the summer in 2012, with the summer of 2013 looming and me with no tangible plan, during a rest stop at the good ol’ Lady Killigrew’s Café at the good ol’ Montague Book Mill (“Books you don’t need, in a place you can’t find”), shooting the breeze with Coach Bob, passing time munching on bagels and cream cheese before continuing our ride, without any premeditation or ulterior motive, almost inadvertently, I made some passing reference to my vague idea of attempting to ride across the country the following summer. At the time, Bob didn’t react in any particular way, and we continued talking about whatever we had been talking about, without any further mention of the subject, as if it had never even come up.

And then, a few days later, I received an email from Bob. Something along the lines of, “Hey, you remember the other day when you mentioned riding cross-country? I was thinking, and I was wondering… Could I come along?”

And as they say, folks: the rest is history.

 XI. Gratitude

Well, this has certainly run on a lot longer than I had ever intended. So I suppose it’s time to wrap things up. But before closing, there are a lot of thanks yous that I want to take one final opportunity to express to so many folks who helped make the trip happen and helped make it the special experience it was. Here we go:

  • THANK YOU to all our great sponsors: Valley Bikes and Ski Werks; Sunraise Printing; Steve Heller & Associates (yessir, we are relations); All One Massage; VOMax; ChefBill.com; and Collective Copies.
  • THANK YOU to Judi, Olivia,and Madeline Newcomb (yessir, they are relations). Madeline – the truly wonderful, talented, generous and creative mind behind the now world famous C2C2C2 logo and our award-worthy website, and the social media guru who made all this blog and Facebook and Instagram stuff work, despite Bob and me. Judi and Olivia – road crew #2 who kept Perky from getting lonely when Yehudit handed the reins over to you, and who were there with treats when we needed them most, tubes and tires when the road got the better of our bikes, and were waiting right around the bend as the end of each day arrived. We couldn’t have done it without you.
  • THANK YOU to all you wonderful family members, friends, colleagues, neighbors, acquaintances and anonymous strangers who have loyally supported my annual participation in the Pan-Mass Challenge since 1994 with your generous contributions to help fund efforts to cure all forms of cancer. Your outpouring of support each year is heartwarming and reassuring and overwhelming. You most certainly understand, and you have made it so easy for me to continue to do this for these past 21 years.
  • THANK YOU to my close colleague (and boss!) of close to 30 years, for not hesitating for even a moment or flinching even a tiny bit when I first mentioned my desire to take close to an entire summer off to pursue this crazy dream, and instead immediately offering your support: “But of course you’ll do it. We’ll make it work.” You’re the best, Lynn, and it’s truly an honor, privilege, and joy to work by your side!
  • THANK YOU to all the staff of the UMass Donahue Institute, for being the dedicated professionals that you are, allowing me to disappear for so long without any doubt that things would continue to click so well throughout the Institute during my absence, and for greeting Bob and me with the most amazing homecoming imaginable when we turned into the parking lot at 100 Venture Way last July.  As you saw, I was truly speechless. What you didn’t see were my teary eyes as we rode away, overwhelmed as I was by your reception. I know I just told Lynn that she’s the best, but trust me, so are all of you!
  • THANK YOU to the hundreds and hundreds of you who followed us through the website and on Facebook, “Liking” us (and believe us, we like you too!) and commenting and then telling us when the trip was over how much you missed waking up to read our latest blog piece, and how much you enjoyed our photos and our silly Facebook posts. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I can tell you that your interest and support and presence really did help us over the tough climbs and the long days, and knowing you were out there keeping an eye on us really lifted our spirits when they needed lifting. Heck, with so many of you paying such close attention, we would have been too embarrassed to quit!
  • THANK YOU to all the wonderful strangers who are no longer strangers, whom we met along the way in little motels and convenience stores and diners and bars and grills and parking lots and rest areas and cafes and sides of roads. You were interested in what we were all about, and as soon as you heard you were eager to share with us your own stories of sorrow and grief and triumphs and hope and fear – your own, those of your loved ones, your friends, your colleagues and neighbors. Some of you told us your names – Sandy and Marty out there in Kamiah, Idaho, we hope and pray things are looking up these days and that Sandy’s treatment is giving you both hope. And if we never learned your names, we still remember your faces and your stories. You all provided us a little bit more motivation and energy, usually just when we needed it the most. Peace to you all!
  • THANK YOU to my kids and son-in-law, Maayan, Adi and Dave, and my wonderful, sweet granddaughter Nina, for not letting me know what you really thought about this nonsensical little escapade of mine. Whether you knew it or not, you were in so many ways my biggest source of motivation. I really do want you to know that you really can fulfill your craziest dreams. Be patient – you’ll know when the time is right, and when you sense it, act on it! I love you all more than I’ll ever really be able to express.
  • THANK YOU, of course, to Coach Bob. Who knows, Bob – had you not approached me that fateful day and asked if maybe we just might do this ride together, I may have attempted it alone. And if I had foolishly done so, I’m pretty sure I’d still be out there today, probably still inching my way up into the Rockies alongside the Lochsa River in Idaho. And without your fabulous navigational skills, I might have finally gotten through the mountains and then taken a wrong turn and unknowingly gone right back up and over them again, and eventually found myself back staring at the Pacific Ocean wondering how the hell I got there. We had a lot of good times, and we shared a lot of struggles, and somehow we did it together. Yup, we did it, buddy, and I’ll never forget it. Thank you for your sense of adventure, your determination, your mastery of waffle-making, your knowledge of trains, and your friendship.
  • And finally, THANK YOU to my dear wife and best friend of close to 40 years – Yehudit. You never told me I was nuts or that it was a stupid idea. Instead, you supported the notion from the very first time I brought it up, and with conviction let me know that you would not let me do it alone. If I were going, so were you. You have no idea what it did to my aching body and soul when I would round a bend and catch a glimpse of you and the car waiting up ahead at the end of a long climb. Even when we didn’t stop for a snack or to catch our breath and say hello, just seeing you there, waving to you as I passed and continued down the road would always lift my spirits and make my heart sing. Ani me’od ohev otach, tamid!

 XII. Parting Words (For Now)

I can’t begin to count how many people have asked Bob and me in the aftermath of the trip, if we would ever consider doing another cross-country bicycle ride. Our answer, in every single case has been, and continues to be very clear, straightforward, and consistent: “ABSOLUTELY NOT!” “What, are you kidding?” “We may be crazy, but we’re not that dumb!” “No way, Jose!” “Actually, you never know.” “We’ll see.” Perhaps.” “Maybe.” “Possibly, someday, if we both ever retire.” “Well, if we were to do it again we wouldn’t do it on such a tight timetable.” “We’re looking very closely at the Southern Tier route for the next ride…”

That’s it, folks, I leave you with one more little tidbit of a morsel of some food for thought:

“C2C2C2-II”, kinda has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

Goodnight from Amherst, Massachusetts.

(Hey Bob, wanna go for a ride?)

P.S.

This August 2nd and 3rd, Bob and I will once again ride our bicycles in the Pan-Mass Challenge to raise critical funds to support the researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, as they work to find treatments and cures for cancer in all its horrible forms. If you have not yet done so, please consider donating to this cause that is so dear to both of us. Go to www.pmc.org, click on “Donate” and enter either my ID (EH0007) or Bob’s (BN0032). Together we can make a difference and help eliminate so much suffering.

Why ride the PMC

Why ride the PMC

It is hard to believe that our 2 month adventure has come to an end.  There are still so many things I still want to write down about the cross country ride and I will try as the days go on.  But right now I am going through the post PMC blues.  It is such an exciting, fun and motivating weekend that always leaves me ready to ride again.  There are many reasons I ride and things that make the weekend special and that is what I wanted to write about now.

The PMC weekend has so many facets.  When we arrive in Sturbridge the chaos of registration is the first thing we need to go through.  A large room filled with bikers from all over the world checking in, meeting friends and trying on their new biking jersey.  Every few minutes a cheer goes around the room as a new rider checks in.  Loud yelling, cow bells ringing and cheers from all over the room to celebrate a new member of the PMC riding community.  The bikes are parked in the lot and Landry’s is out there making the last minute repairs.

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Next is the start of the weekend of food.  The menu for the first night is filled with pasta, rubbery chicken, salads of all types and a great assortment of desserts.  We sat and ate a course of dinner, dessert, some more dinner and then of course another dessert.  And we never forget to get the hydration going with one of the many water bottles we will drink over the next few days.

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We finish the evening with the opening ceremonies.  It is usually a fun time with music, comedy and the beach balls come out along with the inspiring videos and stories about why groups, families or individuals are riding.  Some find it more exciting than others.  We get to hear from Dr. Ed Benz, the President and CEO of Dana Farber, on how the the money raised is used to help in their battles with finding the cures and making the treatments of their patients better.     The temporary tattoos are on and we leave ready to ride.

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The Spectators- We begin the first day at 5:30 am with the singing of the National Anthem and that last reminder not to “clip in” our bike cleats until you clear the mass of 3500 riders leaving the staging area.  Riding down Route 20 in Sturbridge the crowds are up and cheering and the sun is just trying to come up in the east.  It never ceases to amaze me the number of people that are out on the road at 5:00 am to 5:00 pm.  They are there with signs, cow bells, balloons, music and their voices. They offer bottles of water, a pump for our tires and words of encouragement.  They cheer, they wave and they thank us for riding.  They have their reasons for being there also.  Friends and family with cancer have brought them out.

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The Volunteers- What an amazing group.  They are there at every point in the ride.  From registration to food to medical to bike maintence (thank you Landry’s Bike for your presence all weekend) to massage to more food to water stops…  At all hours (the second picture was taken at 4:00 am ) they are makng the ride easier for those of us riding.  It is nice to know that after I register I will be able to find everything I need because of the volunteer’s non- stop efforts.

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The Water Stops- There are 8 different water stops along the route.  Each one has its own personality and an endless stream of water, fruits and peanut butter/fluff products.  Some of the stops have themes such as the Nickerson Rock and Roll Stop which includes posting trivia questions on the porta potties to give you something to think about while you are standing in line.  One of the best is the Lakeville Stop dedicated to the Pedal Partners.  The Pedal Partners are the children who are currently receiving treatment (or finished with treatment!) at Dana Farber Cancer Institute.  Each are sponsored by teams riding in honor of them.  Many of the children are present at the Lakeville Stop and poster-sized pictures of them line the road on the way into the stop.  It carries a very powerful and emotional message and gives a needed boost for the final 40 miles of the day.

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The reason others ride- There are so many groups/teams/individuals that ride the PMC.  Everyone has their reason for making the trek across the state.  Some are riding for people they know and some ride for a particular cause/cure/type of cancer/pedal partner but everyone has their own reason to ride.  Teams have their names such as Brielle’s Brigade- Miles for Mary- Annie’s Angels- Patriot Platelet Pedalers and they come with their mottos on the team jerseys – like “making cancer our bitch”, “cancer sucks” and “lick cancer”.

Why I ride-  Every day for the last two months I have had this picture of my parents on my riding jersey.  They have been an inspiration for my riding the PMC as both passed away due to cancer.

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But every year there is at least one thing that makes me want to return and ride the PMC.  This year, like the last several years, I have seen one young boy who stands near the Nickerson Park water stop holding a sign.  ”Thanks to you I’m”… with the last 6 years crossed out.  I stopped and briefly talked with him this year.  He seemed to be surprised when I thanked him for being out here every year.  He is why I ride.

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The Final Leg

It is time we start our final leg of this incredible adbventure. In just a few minutes Eric Heller, Bill Collins, John Varner and I will be making our way to Sturbridge for the start of the 2013 PMC. It has been a wonderful few day at home letting my legs recover and enjoying my own bed for a change. However I seen to have a sore neck from my bed and not from all those hotel boards I slept on.
The entry into Amherst was a joy. We were greeted so warmly by our sponsors along route 9. Thank you VOmax, Valley Bike and Ski Werks and Sunraise Printing for your help with our trek. The greeting by the employees at the Donohue Institute was amazing and thank you Lauren Heller and the Drum Major Camp at UMass for the gauntlet of cheers. When I arrived at my house there was a beautiful bouquet of flowers from Greg and Nancy Schwartz and balloons from the Dixon family. Thank you as they made it a warm return to the house.
Now we venture to the whole reason we began our cross country ride. The Pan Mass Challenge is one of my favorite weekends of the year. 5000+ riders and 3000 volunteers getting together over 192 miles to help solve a problem. Getting money into the hands of the researchers and doctors who can truly make a difference in our quest to eradicate cancer. Finding a cure and helping those who are going through the treatments. While I am one of many riding, it is the spectacle of the entire weekend that makes me know I am helping.
While we may not be able to post much this weekend we will be following up with more stories and post to wrap up our ride. Thank you for following along. You all have been a great source of energy and encouragement along the route.

A Brief (and Somewhat Surreal) Hiatus… and Tomorrow We’re Back At It

There is no lack of explanations for the silence of the past few days: being at home with all the welcome distractions; pure exhaustion finally able to really catch up with me; places to go, things to do, bikes to maintain, bags to repack, etc., etc., etc. And on top of that, as fate would have it, there’s the incredible misfortune of having contracted a virus on my laptop at our very last motel. Imagine – 2 months of hooking on to unprotected wifi networks at any number of sketchy motels and inns across America, and only on the very last night, in Pittsfield, MA, does it finally catch up with me and bite me in the digital derriere. Quality Inn? I don’t think so. No worries, though. Brendan the Magnificent, tech support guru extraordinaire at the UMass Donahue Institute, came through as he always does. My laptop is back in business, without so much as a sniffle remaining from the deadly virus. Brendan: U Da Best!

The 24 hours that began with our rain-drenched arrival in Pittsfield on Sunday can only be described as a whirlwind of surreal joy, excitement, and amazement. That evening, we were joined in Pittsfield by a merry band of our close friends, led by none other than our SAG wagon goddess from Phase 1 (Seaside, OR to Bismark, MT) – my wife and best friend, Yehudit. Along with our friends Stephen and Moira, and Tom and Candi, we celebrated our Massachusetts homecoming with a great dinner.

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Stephen and Tom stayed with us overnight, and joined us for our ride home to Amherst the next morning. Two other friends, John and Bill, joined us along the route as well. Riding from the Berkshires towards the Pioneer Valley, on familiar roads and past familiar places for the first time in 2 months and in the company of great friends was, to put it simply, an absolute thrill!

 

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As planned and discussed numerous times over the course of our journey (when Bob and I occasionally transgressed and allowed ourselves to look beyond the next 24 hours), we made our way home through a series of visits with some of our key sponsors. First stop was the Northampton industrial park and our great friends at VOMax, who manufactured the very professional nd very comfortable, now famous C2C2C2 bike jerseys (so beautifully designed by our graphic design and all things social media guru, Madeline Newcomb!) The folks at VOMax, as promised back in May before we left, were waiting for us with cold beer, as well as gifts, PMC donations,  and all in all one heck of a great, emotional welcome, one I know I’ll never forget.

 

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From there, it was on to lunch at one of our favorite local eateries in Hadley, Essalon (where they have never heard of iceberg lettuce, by the way!) After lunch, a short sprint further down route 9 brought us to Valley Bike and Ski Werks, the shop that so generously supported us with spare parts, pre-departure tune-ups (and now, post-arrival repairs and tender loving care), maintenance supplies, etc.

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A little further down the road we caught up with our friends at Sunraise printing, who so generously donated the printing of our team t-shirts and business cards, and did such a great job printing the signs that decorated Perky, the SAG wagon, that captured the attention of so many people across the country talking, who know are still talking about it!

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We had 2 more very special and emotional stops after that. Around the corner from Sunraise is my office, and sure enough, the entire great Donahue Institute team was waiting and cheering for us in the parking lot. Their reception was overwhelming, and I am still trying to find the right words to capture the emotions I felt seeing them all. Guys – I wish I could have greeted every one of you individually, but I was really too overwhelmed to focus. But there will be time for that when I am back for good, and I promise to catch up with all of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the support and incredible greeting!

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Our last stop was at the UMass campus, at the request of my niece Lauren, who every summer helps run the George Parks Drum Major Academy. I had a feeling she had something planned, but nothing could have prepared us for the reception the campers had waiting for us: the entrance to the campus was lined with campers on either side, with banners unfurling as we biked through. I don’t have a picture, but you can see a video of this reception (courtesy of Lauren’s fiance Tom) here: ”https://www.facebook.com/video/embed?video_id=10151769841467674

 

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And then, to complete this surreal day, we headed home, just as we do at the end of any of our rides. We all rode together to the center of town, said goodbye first to John, then Tom, and then Stephen as we reached their turn off points, and then Bill and I accompanied Bob home, and continued on our way. Finally, when it was time for me to turn off into my neighborhood, I said goodbye to Bill just as I have done countless other times at the end of rides over the years, and rode the last mile home by myself. Just the typical end of a typical ride. Except that this one began 2 months ago, on the other side of the United States, nearly 3,700 miles away. Typical – yeah, right.

(By the way, a nice article about our ride appeared in our local daily newspaper on Tuesday:

http://www.gazettenet.com/home/7855144-95/cyclists-pause-at-home-in-cross-country-quest

 

And now the final act is just about to begin. Tomorrow morning we’ll bicycle from Amherst to Sturbridge for the start of the Pan Mass Challenge (stopping, of course, for breakfast along the way – Bob and I are feeling very lost and disoriented having not shared any meal on the road in the last 72 hours!). On Saturday we’ll join 5000+ of the greatest people in the world riding to Bourne by the Cape Cod Canal, and then on Sunday we’ll complete our journey by riding the length of Cape Cod to its tip in Provincetown. It’s hard to believe we made it this far and that we are about to finish what we set out to do. My mind spins as I try to makes sense of it all - maybe somewhere along the 192 miles of the PMC I’ll be able to sort it all out. And maybe not.  Either way, I’ll be back here afterwards to tell you all about it and let you know what I’ve come up with.

Goodnight from Amherst, MA, where for the 4th straight night, I am not sleeping in a less than luxurious motel after not having eaten out in a less than terrific local diner. Ahhh, the good life. The really good life.