Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Rocked the Countdown
Rocked the Countdown!
After a week of riding through rain, hail, snow, thunderstorms and a few sunny days in between, and with the help of you guys, we made it to DC in time to meet Achilles International and introduce some wounded Veterans to hand-cycles. This is what our year is all about! Seeing a vet, amputated from the waist down, get lifted from his motorized wheelchair onto a hand-cycle and take his first ride was indescribable. Here was this man, his wife looking on, his three girls at home waiting for him, who had become completely dependent on other people because of war. Sure, he needed help onto the hand-cycle, but once he was on it, he was in control! Probably for the first time since he received his wounds, it was his body that was moving him forward, turning, stopping, and giving him freedom. As Adam, his brother, Damon and I looked on, we wished their other brother, Chris was here to experience this.
Chris was an Air Force surgeon and served two tours in Iraq over the past few years. He had to leave his wife and three boys in order to take care of those wounded by the war. He has seen an ugliness of war too horrible to describe. He has had to make that important decision whether or not to amputate in order to save a life. He knew his decisions would change the life of that soldier forever, but his decision would also give that soldier life. If you're interested in reading more, Chris wrote a book about his experience in Iraq called Coppola, a Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq.
And here we were, seeing the effect of his decisions. I'm sure Adam would agree with me saying that as we looked on and watched a United States Veteran find a place where he was in control, we were in awe of what Achilles International is doing for people with disabilities and felt proud that we were helping them to achieve their goal. Though the fast pace we had to keep was grueling at times, we were happy we had pushed so hard to get here in time.
8 days, 555 miles to Go:
Leaving my dad for the second time was no easier than the first. The hills seemed that much steeper knowing no one was waiting on the other side for us. As the day went on, the clouds got darker, and we got more and more scared of the possibility of a thunderstorm. What is it with us riding in this crazy weather? We were told once the storm hits, we'd better hunker down for the night, so instead of making it to the park to camp, we took a motel room in KY. This was not just any hotel room, it was the smallest hotel room ever! It had awesome orange furniture, and an 80's bed cover. But it was clean and warm, and dry. We ended the day behind schedule, but still hopeful of making it to D.C.
7 days, 511 miles to Go:
We started the next morning in good spirits and we were quickly tested. The uphill was long and steep, just like everyone said we'd find in the Appalachians. But we've learned that for every uphill, there eventually comes a downhill. We sweat as we climbed up, and our bodies froze as we made the descents.
Lucky for us, every time the sky opened up and poured rain, hail, or snow, we had a place to take cover. A post office was our first stop, a gas station our second, and our third stop was the nail salon! This was the first time I actually wanted it to rain a little longer. I probably could have gotten a pedicure!
In the nail salon, we had heard there was one more big hill and then it flattened out for a bit. So we climbed that last big hill and when we reached the top, we reached West Virginia. We did our little dance, then headed down the mountain. We even video-taped the descent, it was that good!
At the bottom, we ran into a store to get dinner food, when Adam looked at me and asked where his phone was. Sure enough, I knew exactly where it was. Back at the top of the hill. I had put it down on a fence after posting the pic to Facebook. Oops.
As Adam went to hitchhike back up the mountain, I asked a woman if she was heading up. She wasn't but she offered to take me up and back down, anyway. As we drove up, I could see the sky was about to pour again and hoped I could at least save the iPhone from the storm. Sure enough, we saw the phone exactly where I left it and I grabbed it as the first drops of hail started falling from the sky!
I was good with drama for the rest of the night, but it didn't seem like we were getting off that easy.
The hotel was dark. Everything in the town was dark. The little coal mining town of War, West Virginia had lost power and here we were paying $30 for a room in the only motel in town.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. We were supposed to be outside camping, cuddled up in our tent at the lovely Berwin Lake Park. We traveled sixty miles to War, West Virginia today through rain, hail, and snow, and thought we'd at least ask how much a room was. When Wanda, the owner gave us the no-power discount of $30, instead of the regular $35 rate, we asked how to get to the camp site, instead, and the group of people outside the hotel were more than happy to explain.
Adam and I started the last few miles of our day tired and hungry, but we were happy to go camping. On our way to the camp site, the houses became more and more depressed, until there were none left. It was then that we noticed the car. It had passed by us once already and came back. Not an issue, except that another minute down the road, and the car passed us for the third time. Our guard immediately went up. We continued down the road a bit further and passed the car parked on the side of the road. The man in the car looked away as we passed.
As we continued on, we saw only one other house when another car passed us, then drove slowly ahead of us. Maybe it was because our guard was already up, but that scared us enough to turn us around. At that point, we would never have felt comfortable in the campsite so as soon as the car was out of site, we turned around and headed back.
The hotel was warm at least, they have coal heat here in the coal mining towns. Wanda went to set up a room for us while we waited in the dark entrance hall where numerous people were hanging around and coming in and out. None of it made sense. Did these people live here? Work here? What were they doing here? It reminded me of the movie, Clue, where all the guests were staying in a hotel where a murder took place.
Our room was sad. Warm, but sad. With our headlamps we could see the ceiling tiles were all peeled, there were rust stains in the sink and tub, there was a broken light bulb swept into a corner in the bathroom, and there was at least one crushed bug on the floor. I stopped examining too closely after that but it was hard to ignore the brownness of the water when Adam turned on sink.
At least we had a door with a lock and that night, that was good enough.
6 days, 446 miles to Go:
With the pressure of the miles we had left, and the uncertain feeling we got from the hotel, we were out the door by 7:00 and on our way up our first climb of the day. We even had a little friend join us. He was a little black dog that we named Warrior, and he climbed five miles up that hill with us. We were huffing and puffing but he simply trotted his little legs all the way up the hill next to us. This is not the first dog I've contemplated scooping up, putting on the back of my bike, and taking home, but Juneau would probably be a little jealous if I was riding with another dog and not him!
We lost Warrior on the descent and continued the rest of the morning with long hills up then down. The precipitation from the day before gave way, the sun was out, and we were hoping for some good miles.
70 miles in, we felt good and found a host who was about 15 miles away so we went for it. Little did we know these last few miles would lead us to our most difficult ascent of the trip. We crossed the country, rode over 4,000 miles from San Diego and here we were in Pearisburg, VA and I was pushing my bike up the hill. Adam made it and even tried yelling encouragement my way, but I couldn't do it. It was only the last few yards, but my legs and lungs couldn't get me up the hill and so, I got off and pushed.
When we made it to Paul's house, I congratulated him on having the hill that beat me, and we celebrated with my favorite beer, Sierra Nevada. We made chicken, and rice, and sweet potatoes that night for dinner, then burned a Christmas tree. That's right. I wasn't as excited as Adam, but believe me when I tell you, it was Awesome! I couldn't believe how quickly the entire thing lite up. We had to back up because of the intense heat. Of course we were safe and I would not recommend you try this at home. We were with a trained professional and the fire dept was next door in case something went wrong.
That's just another thing I can add to my list and cross it off. Who knew I ever even wanted to burn a Christmas tree?
5 days, 363 miles to go:
Though the riding was tough, this had to be one of our favorite days of the trip. The long hills from before turned into quick ups and downs in between farms, surrounded by mountains on all sides. It was tiring work, but Paul made sure our route was beautiful.
We made it to Daleville , a town where the Appalachian Trail passes through so it wasn't hard to find a place to sleep. We talked to a few people who gave us directions to a place hikers camp, not too far into the woods for our bikes. The only problem? It was way too muddy and we found out way too late. Our bikes were caked with the muck to the point where Adam couldn't move his back tire. It was so close to being perfect, but so far.
We hiked the bikes back into town and found a hotel with a hose to clean up. By this point, it was 9:00 and we were beyond trying to find another place to camp, so we settled nicely into the Howard Johnson's and got a great rate for a room and a hot continental breakfast!
4 days, 290 miles to go:
It was cloudy, but we were hoping the rain would stay away for the day. The entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway was only a few miles away and we wanted to get some good shots. Unfortunately, the sun stayed away all day, but it made for some beautiful photo opportunities with blue and gray mountains in the distance.
On our last big climb of the day, an 8 mile ascent to the highest spot on the Blue Ridge in Virginia, another cyclist, Phil, came up behind us. His bike weighed only 16 pounds compared to our 80-100 pound bikes and he could have easily flown by us. Instead, Phil stayed with us the entire away up the hill. Most of the time I was lagging behind, trying to keep up with Adam and Phil, but they would wait for me from time to time, give me a chance to catch up and get in a word or two before I couldn't breath anymore and fell back behind.
By the time we reached the top, Phil was thoroughly informed of our tour and mission and impressed enough by what we were doing that he offered to find us the following morning and bring us breakfast. We had a vague idea of where we would be spending the night, and with that, we parted ways. Phil, back to the lodge. Us, down the 12 mile descent.
This downhill was the only saving grace for us making any sort of mileage that day. The Parkway is tough. The hills were grueling and we had another few days of it! We got a lot of advice from people telling us making it to the Parkway was tough, but believe me, once you're on it, it is no easier and our pace was hurting.
But down we went and as we hit the flat at the bottom, we pulled into the closed visitors center and heard our first rumble of thunder. The visitors center had a nice overhang, just big enough for us to fit our tent. We had found our home for the night.
3 days, 239 miles to go:
Fog. Nothing but fog.
Somehow, Phil managed to find us and brought us such a great treat for breakfast. We got Starbucks breakfast sandwiches, croissants, coffee, OJ, and the New York Times! What a great way to start our day. There are certainly some people that just blow your mind. Phil must have gotten up at the crack of dawn in order to drive the 40 miles through the thick fog into town and back.
After breakfast and some great conversation, this time without gasping for breath in between, he told us to be safe and he disappeared into the fog.
At first, it was pretty cool, but the longer the fog lasted, the more it played with our heads. By afternoon we were so frustrated with climbing into thicker and thicker fog all day, that we started to lose it. We even started hating the downhills because. We started thinking, what goes down, must come back up. It was during one of these climbs that we agreed we could not make it to D.C. in time and decided to take that pressure off. It was a big defeat, but here we were on the Blue Ridge Parkway and instead of feeling pressure to get to DC, we wanted to enjoy what we could, even if we couldn't see anything.
By the end of the day, we were so cold and discouraged that we needed a hotel room with a shower and some heat. We came to the end of the Parkway and the beginning of Shenandoah Nation Park without having a clue where to stay. It didn't help that we couldn't see five feet in front of us and we had to look at our iPhone map to find the hotel that was about 200 feet away from us.
I was worried a hotel here would cost way too much and be too fancy for us, but it was quite the opposite. At least the shower worked. I can't say the same for the heat. We curled up in our sleeping bags on the bed, and fell fast asleep.
2 days, 174 miles to Go:
We looked outside the next morning and couldn't see any further than we had the day before. But soon enough, the fog cleared and I've never seen Adam get ready so fast! He actually had to wait a minute or two for me! So we rushed out the door and up the mountain.
At the entrance to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park we met Dave, a tie-die shirted touring cyclist who had started his tour in Seattle in July. He was riding simply to ride and gave himself through the summer to get back to Seattle. We rode a few miles with him, met some Appalachian hikers, shared some good conversation, but before long his bike started rattling and he had to stop to fix it. We figured we'd meet up with him later on, but never did. He did get some video of us, though, and we made a guest appearance on his You Tube video. Check it out!
The rest of the day was spent on the hilly drive, plunging in and out of fog, and enjoying the sunny moments.
Dave let us in on a secret about attaining a back country pass instead of paying for the campground. So when we reached the campground, we asked a confused ranger for a back country permit. He couldn't figure out why we didn't just want to stay in the campground, but gave us the permit anyway. He could tell we were just winging it, so he gave us directions to a legal place we could camp off the drive about 10 miles up. We thanked him and went on our way.
Of course, it would have been too easy to follow his directions to this camp site, so instead, when filling our water at the Skyland Lodge, we met Andrew who bought us a drink. One drink turned into two, and even though Adam and I knew this sacrifice would keep us from finding camp in the light, we enjoyed the beers anyway.
When it was sufficiently dark, we got on our bikes to find a place to camp. We found an out of the way path and ended up camping on a slope and hanging our food in a tree far away. The ranger we met did manage to scare us by telling us bears were out and there wasn't much food for them yet so they were hungry. We laid our heads to a sleepless night after a 65 mile day.
1 day, 106 miles to go:
I'm not sure if we ever actually slept that night to be able to call it waking up the next morning, but at 5:45 we mustered up the energy to get up and on the road before someone came by to give us a ticket for camping in a non-designated camping spot.
We pushed the bikes up the rocky hill we had ridden down the night before and were on the road before 7. We were excited to take the day to relax and enjoy the last 43 miles of Skyline drive and that's exactly what we did. At the first spot with a view we stopped and had breakfast and coffee, enjoying the morning sun peeking through the clouds.
Around each bend, Adam stopped to take a picture of the mountains in the distance, the clouds below us creating a sea of clouds, or me riding around the curve. We couldn't resist to set up some flashes and get some fun shots with lighting!
At noon, we were done with climbing and the rest of the ride was almost all downhill. As beautiful as Shenandoah National Park had been, it was rewarding to be taking the decent into Front Royal and being one step closer to D.C.
Before the big descent, Adam rigged up the Go Pro camera upside down to get some fun shots. Now we just have to figure out how to flip the video right-side up on the computer.
We found the first restaurant in Front Royal, an over priced burger joint where just adding lettuce to your burger cost you $0.25. We started looking at places to stay that night in between there and D.C. When we received a call from Damon just checking in on us. He was bummed we weren't going to make it that day, and was trying to find a friend's place we could crash at that night to avoid the thunderstorms.
Thunderstorms? We hadn't planned on them, but didn't want to go out of our way to spend the night inside.
When Adam hung up the phone, we looked at each other. Here was our conversation:
Christy: How many more miles to Damon's?
Christy: What time is it?
Christy: You wanna go for it?
And off we went knowing full well that if we did make it, this would be our longest day of riding.
The first half hour was discouraging. The high winds blowing the flags in the opposite direction of us kept us going slower than 10 miles per hour and we needed to keep a pace of 14 or so. But our luck changed when the wind shifted slightly and our course took a more northward turn. We were on a mission. The roads were actually pretty cool, but we didn't pay much attention. We just rode.
At 8:15, Damon was greeted by two sweaty, dirt-covered, smelly cyclists at his door, covered in 106 miles of 85 degree weather.
So we made it to DC and have a lot of people to thank. Each person who has written on our wall, emailed us, brought us a New York Times, took a minute out of their day for a conversation with us, or simply "liked" one of our comments is part of the reason we're here. While on the phone with a reporter the other day, Adam said it right. It may just be the two of us riding our bikes, but there have been hundreds of people who have helped us with our mission. (Check out the awesome article written here!)
Here's our our latest state line video!!!