TO WATCH MY YOUTUBE VIDEO ON THIS RIDE, CLICK HERE.
I am embarrassed that it has taken me five weeks to write this blog post about my Quincy to the Bronx bike trek, but trust me it is not due to a lack of thought about it! For the better part of the last month, this post has been looming over me like an overdue final term paper (which I have ample experience with) . In fact, I have started and stopped, edited and re-edited, and inevitably discarded this post several times over. I have changed the name from “317.21” to “Old Faithful’s Adventures” to “Perfect End to Summer.” I am going to spare you the wide array of excuses I could dish out for why I have not written until now. Instead I will write additional blog posts on these topics as soon as I can.
If I turned the clock back 35 days, I would be one hour away from completing my 317.21 mile journey. At this hour I would have been in Port Chester or perhaps Rye, getting closer to my destination in the Bronx. I was nearly out of battery on my iphone, my water bottles were half depleted, my pockets were emptied of power bars and peanuts, and I was riding on fumes in my personal gas tank. What continued to spur me on was the thought of seeing those rod-iron gates welcoming me back to Fordham, the traditional Gothic buildings housing the Jesuits, and of course Vince Lombardi stadium. I got a big boost in New Rochelle because my pit crew members and I played an exhilerating game of cat and mouse for a couple of miles, where it seemed for a few minutes like I might beat them to our destination. Alas, they ended up cruising past me in my Hyundai Santa Fe, colorfully and festively decorated with window markers….a highly unexpected treat orchestrated by my mom and Justine on day #2. Five weeks later, I still have not scrubbed off the congratulatory writing because it makes me smile every time I see it. I love watching people stare at the words trying to read them as I drive by, and I enjoy answering questions from complete strangers about what “Bike to Build at NBSS” means and why on earth I biked from Quincy to Bronx, NY.
My last few miles into Fordham were eventful, and at times, scary. I was thrilled cycling the streets of New York again, totally reliving the glory of my bike messenger days and, not feeling a bit over 25 years old…(that is, until I woke up Monday morning). I was so close that I could taste the finish, turning off of 192nd Street and onto Bronx Boulevard, and having less than five miles to go. My cell phone was at about 15%, and Justine texted me to ask me where I was because they got lost on their way to Fordham shortly ahead of me, as the directions led them astray. When I received this text, I was biking back and forth on Bronx Blvd looking for Mosholu Greenway, thinking to myself that getting lost in the Bronx with a dead cell phone minutes before dusk would not be my idea of a fun finish. I composed myself, retraced my steps, and found a bike path that I assumed was the Mosholu Greenway. Who knew there was a long and beautiful biking and walking path filled with men, women and children running, riding, skateboarding, watching and playing softball and handball games, etc…right in the heart of the Bronx…no wonder my pit crew couldn’t find it with their car.
While there may not have been a fifteen piece marching band banging drums and blowing horns nor a crowd full of screaming fans chanting my name as I reached Fordham University, I saw exactly the site I wanted to see as I pulled in. Through my tired eyes, I saw my mom clapping and yelling my name and Justine wearing a huge smile and armed with her iphone in hand, ready to capture the final video image of the weekend. It was like water at the end of the desert for me. WE did it…317.21 miles biked and driven over the course of three days, through city streets and back roads and up LOTS AND LOTS OF STEEP HILLS. We followed typed directions, read maps, and used GPS as a back up when needed. My pit crew met my every need….they stopped for ice and snacks, refilled my drinks, made my sandwiches, drove ahead of me and identified places where I could find a bathroom, and provided me with much needed support and inspiration when I needed it most. I may have been physically riding “Old Yeller” alone, but I was far from alone on this ride. As you you will see over the next several paragraphs, the “6th man,” “10th man” or in this case, my “2nd men/women” truly carried me through the ups and downs of this ride…and the 2nd men/women included all of you who supported me through texts, facebook messages, phone calls, donations, and prayers.
I realize I started with the end of the story and am working my way backwards, so bear with me and come along for the ride, as this is how my brain is working at this moment.
The ride preparation was extensive, as I was packing enough gatorades, waters, and power bars to get me through the entire ride (and probably an additional week beyond that); enough sodas, fruit, snacks and sandwiches for three days’ lunches; bike clothing for all types of possible weather conditions as well as a bike pump and repair kit for small bike repairs; multiple electronic devices and power cords; and an inordinate amount of dog medications and supplies for our 14 year old blind, deaf, and diabetic dog, Jones…not to mention luggage for three women. Although we were hoping to be in bed nice and early the night before the big ride, the packing went late into the night instead. Even if I went to bed at dusk, I probably would not have slept many winks that night because of the adrenaline coursing through my veins.
Day 1 came early as I rose at 4:45, stretched in a hot shower until 5, followed by a protein filled breakfast, and was on the road at 6:15 a.m. Justine did a spontaneous pre-ride video, commenting on the weather conditions and my many bicycle gadgets; and this laid the groundwork of a weekend full of videos in the bookends of each day. Perhaps Justine missed her calling, as she was a real natural behind the camera. We said our goodbyes and good lucks, had our traditional “group hug,” and I left on my way.
The first twenty miles were almost effortless because I was so wound up with excitement. During this first leg of my trip I clicked onto my Facebook app at least a handful of times. When I did, I saw that my page was flooded with messages from friends, family, and even people I have not met yet. The messages were a mix of cheers, prayers, and “shout outs;” and they warmed my heart, watered my eyes, and moved my spirit. I cannot express how much these kind words helped me over the course of my 317.21 mile journey. There were many moments of struggle where I turned to Facebook for a lift, which I never thought I would say about a social media site.
Some of the Day 1 “remember when’s” for me included:
- meeting my pit crew at my first pit stop;
- spacing out at about mile 45, running over a street hazard, and falling off my bike so that my thigh landed squarely onto a 8 inch piece of metal from a street post;
- my mom missing the “lunch pit stop” on the directions, so I went 32 miles between stops rather than 16 miles and ate lunch at mile 88 at about 4:00;
- locking my bike outside a convenient store and being unable to unlock it with the combination I previously set;
- deciding at mile 102 that I would take a different route and meet my crew at the hotel rather than at UConn, a decision I would regret throughout each of the last 15 miles because the route I picked was ENTIRELY UP HILL;
- being greeted by Justine outside the hotel with her camera ready to videotape the final stretch of day 1
- splitting a hot chocolate chip cookie sundae with my crew.
Day 2 began at much the same time as day 1 with a 4:45 a.m. simultaneous shower and stretch. This stretch took a lot longer because of the previous day’s long ride, and I did so with flip flops on in the shower, being careful not to touch any of the walls of the shower. After riding 117 miles, I was happy to put my head anywhere, but trust me when I say, this place was far from the Ritz Carlton (not that I’ve actually ever stayed there)…and I did everything short of wearing rubber gloves, a tyvek suit, and shower cap to protect myself while I was there. Perhaps I should have investigated the hotel a little futher. If I did, I might have realized that it doubled as a truck stop. That should have been apparent to me when I took my “not so short-cut” to the hotel on day 1 because I was passed by dozens of 18 wheelers nearly grazing my bike as they wizzed by me on the shoulderless Route 74. Well, it became quite evident that we were at a truck stop the next morning when I entered the attached gas-mart and was greeted by aisles stocked full of beef jerkey, CB radio batteries, chewing tobacco, and enough junk food to harden your arteries before you exit the store. I escaped with just an OJ and a bagel and moderately clean arteries.
My day started on a downhill, thanks to Justine dropping me off on the top of a hill inside the massive University of Connecticut campus. Highlights from day 2 included:
- grabbing some cute shots of the frog bridge and the town of Willimantic;
- the ferrari parked outside a country store in Lyme;
- eating lunch with my family overlooking the Connecticut River before taking the Hadlyme Chester Ferry 5 minutes across the river;
- cornfields, farmland, watching cows grazing and feeding the horses;
- riding along the water for the last half of the day;
- biking less than a century today
- entering New Haven knowing I was 2/3 of the way through
- Justine’s filming error (forgetting to hit record on video) when I pulled in at the end of day 2, which precipitated me adding 2/10 of a mile because I turned around and rode in again.
- NEW HAVEN PIZZA
Day 3 had its downs and ups, starting with “downs” and ending with “ups.” The night between days 2 and 3 was one in which I was not able to catch many winks. Unlike night 1, I wasn’t feeling like I needed to delouse the room, as our hotel was markedly better. However, after more than 200 miles and 20 plus hours on a bike, my short and long-twitched muscles were cursing at me and they punished me with a major case of “restless leg.” In order to not keep Justine awake the whole night as I tossed and turned, I moved to the floor. I slid Jones over next to me, as he was cuddled up on my (now his) Red Sox blanket. I tried to wrap myself in the part of the blanket he wasn’t laying on, which wasn’t much. At this point I did not care a bit about being wrapped in a dog-hair blanket on a hotel room floor because it was 2 a.m. and I just wanted to sleep for a couple of hours. Needless to say, this contributed to feeling overly tired, cranky, and pessimistic on the morning of day 3. This feeling wasn’t helped by the fact that I was not sure how to get from my hotel to the University of New Haven, where my directions were starting from that day; and so I got a little lost. I started my day later than I had the last two days, and I was stressed because I wanted to make it to the Bronx early enough to be able to tour around Fordham and eat in Little Italy. With my late start, this was looking less likely. The weather was overcast and before long it started to sprinkle, and this was the figurative straw that broke this camel’s back because I began to break down shortly thereafter. The combination of physical exhaustion, negative thinking, and fear of the challenges that lay ahead at school overcame me for a few minutes and I had myself a good cry. I caught this on video because if I ever do a documentary on the experience, I want it to offer the full range of mood and experience.
One of the most powerful lessons I have learned through grieving a variety of losses, from the deaths of my grandmother and brother to the multitude of losses we’ve experienced through infertility, is that no matter how painful the feelings, they will pass. Because of that, I knew that these feelings at the start of day 3 would dissipate as the day went along; and so they did. Within an hour of me crying into my iphone, the sun was shining and I was videotaping a much happier and hopeful version of myself.
Consistent with the Connecticut of the first two days, there were plenty of hills on day 3. In the beginning of the day Shelton greeted me with a steady 3 mile incline, but that could not hold a candle to the climb in Greenwich, which was only 1/3 of a mile long, but was as steep a hill as I have ever cycled up. I stuck to my personal promise to not walk my bike unless absolutely necessary, but this hill almost made me buckle on this commitment. I was traveling at a swift pace of 3 miles per hour, a rate which will generally cause a bike to sway side to side and almost tip over…BUT AGAIN, I DID NOT WALK!
My favorite landscapes were the miles of farmland, and the water views were a close second. The most “other wordly” area I traveled through was Greenwich, CT. I say “other wordly” because I have never seen mega-mansions like these in my life. Every house came equipped with an enormous rod-iron gate, stone wall spanning the width of the expansive yards, and high-tech video cameras and security systems. Most had tennis courts, golf holes, and pools; and these were only the amenities I could see over the towering walls. My overwhelming sense when I traveled through Greenwich (besides awe), was one of separation because the idea of chatting with one’s neighbor while mowing the lawn or getting the mail seemed out of the question…and this made me sad for some reason. I also use the words “other worldly” because when driving through the outer edge of Greenwich, I passed our version of the automile, BUT NOT….as the dealerships included Maserati, Ferrari, Bentley, and Astin-Martin, just to name a few. What made this more strange (besides the fact that I have never laid eyes on these types of cars before) was that about 1/2 mile down the road in Port Chester were beat-up Buicks and project apartments…”other worldly.”
Once leaving Greenwich and heading into the likes of Port Chester, Rye, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, and Pelham, I was getting closer to accomlishing my goal, and I knew it. The idea of jumping in my car in Greenwich and hitching a ride to Fordham had now left me, and I was fully determined to get to the Bronx on two wheels, not four. Seeing the “Entering New York” sign propelled me forward, as did the Bronx ones; and they gave me the second wind that I needed. Before long, I was weaving in and out of cars like a bike messenger, cycling up Southern Boulevard, peeking at the top of Lombardi Stadium, passing the Botanical Gardens, turning through the iron gates into Fordham University, and looking for my dedicated pit crew members who were offering up my final welcome. After five months of physical training, fundraising, publicity, and thank you writing, it all came down to these final miles in the Bronx where my former and current lives collided. Although I didn’t arrive with enough time to dine in Little Italy, I had about forty minutes to show my partner Justine where I became the highly intelligent, worldly, and responsible woman whom she met and fell in love with years later…or at least where I thought I was all of those things after a few pitchers at Clark’s Bar…how times have changed, Thank you God!
TO WATCH MY YOUTUBE VIDEO ON THIS RIDE, CLICK HERE.