Monday, June 27, 2011

Making Connections

It's a neat feeling to meet people along the way on the street, through our Facebook, or one of our charities, but along with meeting random strangers, now we've started to make connections with people through these connections. Its like a connection to the Nth power.

Staying in Madison, WI with Mark was one of these connections. We had met Judy in Cleveland. Judy is the sister of Lisa, who we met only through email. She is the sister of Mike Kollins, the World Bicycle Relief C.O.O, who we have never met before but found out about through our WBR connection, Katie- who, as you can probably guess, we have never met. I'm pretty sure this is a connection to the fourth power once removed.

Anyway, Mark is an old college friend of Judy's and she wrote to him hoping he'd be able to help us on our travels through Madison, WI and one week later, here we are! Mark is a triathlete who cooked us a healthy pasta and veggie dinner with a great salad and some corn alongside. Energy food! He invited his friends, CJ and Steve, over and we all enjoyed the food and company, and watched history as a young Irish guy won a golf tournament.

Our stay in Madison was short, but sweet. The next morning, we headed out early, cautious of the dark clouds. But we had plans to meet up with a bicycle touring family who wrote to us on Facebook saying they'd be in Madison at the same time as us. Reuben, Heidi, Eden, and Harper are the Pedal Powered Family. They are taking a year off and riding through North and South America with their two and four year old kids. Their set up is amazing and we were lucky to get to spend the time with them.

We loved their style. Every playground we passed was a definite stop for the kids to play and get out some energy. When watching Reuben and Heidi, we were amazed at their patience and energy. When we stop pedaling, we enjoy some relaxation time. When they stopped pedaling, they still needed the energy for their kids and they had it.

Eden's favorite part of the tour so far was the camping, she told us. I never saw a frown on her face. She seemed to have adapted quickly and enjoyed every aspect of traveling by bike. She took pride in giving her little brother a sticker to make him smile while on the back of their dad's bike. Of course, no one was smiling when the raccoon climbed onto our picnic table and grabbed the whole bag of marshmallows. Thank goodness for the kindness of a camp neighbor who gave us a few marshmallows to roast over the fire. The night was saved.

Their routine in the morning was already perfectly executed, even though they were just a month into their trip. They had it all down pat and were packed and ready to go before Adam and I. That morning, we got to fly down the beast of a hill we had climbed the night before into the campground. It was a great rush to start the day, but only minutes later, my tube burst for the second time in just a few days and actually shredded my tire. Adam and I were at a loss without a spare tire or a spare tube on us after replacing Adam's tube the day before with our spare when his tube burst. I can assure you, bursting tubes is not fun and could be really dangerous. Thankfully, they all happened while moving fairly slowly. Just two minutes earlier, and the bursting tire story would have ended much differently.

So with that, we said our goodbyes to the Pedal Powered Family (just for now... We'll meet up again for sure). Adam even left me to ride to the ranger station to see about getting me a ride there instead of having me push it the three miles. I was all alone, pushing my broken bike through the park. It wasn't the heat that got to me, it was the bugs. I wasn't moving fast enough to get away from them and my bug repellent, named Adam, wasn't there so they were having a field day with me. Soon enough, a park ranger came by and offered me a ride to the office. I didn't feel guilty about taking the ride since I was the one who traveled this road the night before, heading to the office from the campground to pay for our site.

We were a little worried this might be a bit of a setback and were brainstorming how to get a ride back to Madison to the closest bike shop when a park ranger gave us a piece of paper with a name and number on it. Michael was the Vacation-Saver, as he liked to call himself. His "shop" was only five miles from the park, but when we called him, he insisted on coming up and meeting us there. He just so happened to have the right size tubes and tire to get us by until we were able to buy a whole new set of tires in the next big town, La Crosse, 80 miles away. We couldn't trust those Amazon bought tires anymore, not after three blowouts in three days.

Instead of backtracking 50 miles and losing a day, we were on the road again in an hour. Thank goodness for Michael. Even with the late start and the braking downhills due to lack of trust in our tires, we managed a good 65 miles to a cute little town named Viola. The whole day was full of beautiful riding and Viola was no different. It was one of those towns that you just feel good as soon as you enter. Nestled in a valley, surrounded by mountains, you just knew there were bound to be good people.

Even though we're making all of these connections through Facebook or e-mail, we're still finding good people everywhere we go. Grant was the first person we met in Viola and we didn't have to search any further to find kindness. He invited us into his home, heated up a great dinner complete with lettuce and radishes from the garden, and the next morning while we were waiting for the rain to pass, he drove us around and gave us a tour of the town and surrounding mountains. Grant and his wife, Helen, both worked for Organic Valley and I have never seen anybody so passionate about a job as Grant. While there, they fed us Organic Valley milk, chocolate milk, and cheese and even stuck a pack of cheese in our packs before we left. Mmmmm.

After our tour of the town, Adam and I hopped on our bikes and rode away towards La Crosse to get new tires.

Along the way, we received a call from News Channel 8. He sent out a crew to interview us on the road and we made the 6:00 news that night!! Our host from the night before, Grant, had apparently called them up and told them about us. Told you he was a good guy!

We made it to La Crosse, fairly exhausted from the hilly ride and found the bike shop where we had ordered new tires. Smith's Bike Shop was hopping, but we didn't want to leave without someone looking at our tires and wheels to make sure they were OK and hopefully wouldn't blow up on us again. We were pushing the limit when Scot was finally able to look at our bikes with only ten minutes left before the shop closed. He watched us fumble as we clumsily changed our tires, breaking another tube in the process. He must have thought we were pretty hopeless and took pity on us because after ringing us out and giving us a sweet deal on the tires, he invited us to his home for the night.

Scot took pride in his home and gave us the grand tour before sitting down for pasta and sauce for dinner. Scot was more of a racing cyclist but his wife, Carrie, had done some touring the past and we swapped stories about the difference between bike touring pre-iPhone and post-iPhone.

After dinner and a Klondike dessert, Scot's eyes lit up as he invited us into his basement. He could hardly contain his excitement about showing us his bicycle collection. Scot and Carrie were a 1 car, 54 bike family, as he put it. And in his basement, he had many of these bikes hanging. At one time he had planned on opening a bicycle museum and had a huge collection of bikes, bike components, and bike magazines. Now, though, he was more focused on creating his own bike brand, Thistle. We got a lesson in Campagnolo bike components and a little history of bikes before we headed to bed for the night.

The next morning was raining again, but we all got on our bikes anyway. Scot rode to work and we rode on up the Mississippi River towards Minnesota. Only five miles down the road and we ran into another touring couple with a fun story. They had been planning a bike trip through Wisconsin for months and were a week and 1/2 into it when we met them. At the beginning of their trip, Nick proposed to Amanda and so they were enjoying their first few days as an engaged couple on bikes. Their story brought us back and we started feeling all gushy about our engagement and wedding.

We were feeling these good vibes during lunch and Adam snuck away to pay for their food but we were too late! Nick had already given his credit card to the cashier. Sneaky, sneaky.

After lunch, we rode a few more miles with Amanda and Nick before we parted ways. They were continuing north and we were headed across the Mississippi into state #36. We stopped in Winona that night at the campground and were looking forward to a relaxing night together. Well, even in a campground you can't get away from the kindness of strangers and we were visited by numerous people and even had our picture taken with two teenage girls who claimed we were their idols! We did manage to have a peaceful night together and were even invited to Lavern and Carol's for breakfast the next morning.

Yet another fun connection was Todd and his family. Todd wasn't connected with World Bicycle Relief. He wasn't a friend of a friend of a friend. Todd was an alumni of Providence College, Adam's Alma Mater. Our story had been published in the Providence College alumni newsletter and Todd happened to see it, look us up, and noticed we were riding through his town. Todd wrote us a few weeks ago to see if he could help set something up in Rochester, MN for us on our way through.

A presentation fell through due to timing on our part, but we did manage to spend a great evening with Todd, his wife, Christine, their little boy, Jack, and their friends Brian, Amanda and their son, Finn. The colorful veggie-filled dishes were a perfect summertime barbecue, paired with some grilled salmon. Can't really get better than that except for Todd's Mojitos he made for us at the end of the night.

The next morning, Todd gave us a tour of Rochester and even showed us the hotel in town where he had arranged for a room for us for the night. We said our goodbyes later that morning, but couldn't thank him enough for his generosity. On top of all of this, they gave us two containers of blueberries which were consumed within hours. Mmmm.

We had a relaxing day in Rochester, hiding out in our hotel room, ordering from a pizza place, napping, and writing at the Starbucks in the lobby, all the while letting the rain fall outside. So we didn't actually get to see much of the city, but a good day off was even better.

We left the next morning with bellies full of blueberry oatmeal, with rejuvenated spirits, and with a tail wind!

82 miles down the road and we were feeling the distance. It was our longest day on the road since we left CT and it felt so good. We asked a family in Minnesota Lake for ideas for a campground in the area and they offered the backyard of their church, unlocked the church doors so we could use the bathrooms, and invited us over for dinner. Marilyn and Eldo had made a tenderloin and served it with corn from the neighbor, lettuce and strawberries from their garden, and baked beans. Mmmm. Much better than the Pasta Sides dinner we would have made.

That night, as we laid down to sleep, we started to see the lightning and hear the thunder. The weather said the wind would be pretty heavy, too so it didn't take us long to grab our sleeping bags and set up inside the church instead. We went out the next morning and noticed the wind was so strong there were tree branches scattered around our tent, the tent poles actually inverted, causing our tent to look lopsided, and it knocked over Adam's bike. Glad we chose to get a good nights sleep indoors.

Our final connection of the week was Don. Don is Katie's dad (Katie, our WBR contact who we still haven't met but will in Colorado). He had been emailing us for weeks about riding with us and though we didn't go through his town, he drove out this morning and met us at the church.

Little did Don know that this day would be one of our windiest. We battled the wind for 3 hours and rode only 20 miles, but having the company on the ride made it all better. Unfortunately, Don had to turn back after lunch to get back to his car. He left us to battle the wind alone, but I guess he had his own battles. He texted us that he had been chased by "an ugly, mean-looking, black dog and a not-so-mean-looking black and white chicken." Fortunately, that didn't seem to dampen his spirits from the day.

So, only 40 miles on the day but with two interviews, some grocery shopping, and a blog, we're happy campers tonight. Literally!!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Americana Overload

Americana Overload for sure! We have experienced some good old American fun this past week and it all started with the Tractor Pull.

A pork burger and two chili cheese dogs do not sit well when trying to bike 65 miles per day. We have been doing a great job with food, even incorporating shrimp pasta dinners instead of a Mac and cheese every night. But the Tractor Pull sign was just calling our names and we couldn't resist some good Indiana fun and food.

It was an odd mix of country folk in their tractors and Amish families with their horse and buggies. I think our coming to the festival was one of the highlights of the day and we even got our picture taken by one of the women who organizes the event. But the highlight for us was the event itself. I had never even heard of a tractor pull, though judging by the name I was able to figure it out. It was exactly what you'd expect. A bunch of dudes standing by their tractors, ready to be the one to pull the weight the farthest.

We were so psyched that we got the opportunity to experience a little local fun on our trip. So many times we pass a sign that reads, "Chicken BBQ, July 2" or "Strawberry Festival, August 5." Nothing seems to be happening on the day we actually ride by, but June 11 was different. Not only did we get the Tractor Pull, but we also found a fresh strawberry stand. We pulled in not a minute too soon and were able to buy a quart of strawberries from William before his neighbor Sally pulled in and bought the rest of case. William was Amish and we spent a few minutes talking with him and his kids, Andy and Ruthann, before we continued on. It was here that we took our first book order! He told us to write down his address so we can send him a book when we finished our tour. We thanked him for the strawberries and rode back to into Michigan hoping to find a place to rest our heads. Not even five miles down the road, we found a veteran-owned motel where the owner let us camp out in the back for free.

I have to take a minute here and point out Adam's amazing photography- especially of our Eastern Mountain Sports tent. We all know what an amazing photographer he is, but it's nice having someone else recognize his talent. Eastern Mountain Sports, one of our favorite outdoor gear companies, blogged about us the other day which is very cool, but even better is that they gave major props to Adam's photography! Such great encouragement as Adam strives to be a commercial photographer with these types of products.

The next day was a funny mix. We were chased by dogs in farm country at the beginning of the day, and riding next to beaches by dinner.

At lunch, we were lucky enough to not only find a festival and parade in Three Oaks, Michigan, but it just so happened to be The World's Biggest Flag Day Parade. How could we miss that? We grabbed lunch at the gas station and settled down to watch the parade. I was amazed at all of the floats and vehicles and dances and music, but what caught my eye the most was the constant floats with beauty queens. There must have been a dozen of these floats. The guy next to us told us, "You name any flower and we've got a beauty contest for it. Daffodils, Cherry Blossoms, even Asparagus! She looks great in green!"

So apparently, out here you can be at a Tractor Pull one day, then the next day be spending the evening on Lake Michigan in a house with this view out your window.

We met Alan and his dog, Oscar, while riding down Lake Shore Drive along Lake Michigan. Alan generously invited us to spend the night at his lake-front house. How could we say no? Alan and his wife, Kathy, treated us to a great dinner and we provided the apple pie and vanilla ice cream for dessert.

The next day led us through the dunes, onto paved bike paths, to a little public library where they had free tea and wafers, and finally to Bob's house.

Bob seemed like your average Joe, but with the amount of places he volunteers, he was more a super man. He told us about a few organizations in Chicago, including the one he volunteered at called Working Bikes, that recycled old bikes and gave them to all sorts of community projects for people in need. We loved learning of all of the different projects Working Bikes helped with like bikes for Katrina Victims, bikes for those in developing countries, and bikes for local people in need.

When we left the next day, Bob joined us for a few miles on his way to the soup kitchen he volunteered at in Hammond, IN. After that, it was on to Chicago with some amazing bike trails into the city.

More Americana was found in Chicago when we got to see a Cubs game. Not only did we get to see the baseball game, but we were given the best seats we'll ever have for any baseball game ever. Since we had been given four tickets to the game, we took our Chicago hosts, Leah and Lincoln. Hot dogs and beer and baseball. Can't get any more Americana than that.

Chicago didn't stop with just a baseball game, though. We spent our first day riding up along the lake to Millennium Park where we found The Bean. I think there are finally more pictures of something else besides me! Adam couldn't get enough of The Bean and you can see why. What fun!

On our second trip back to The Bean that day, we found the Twix cart gearing up to give away free Twix bars. We hit them up for as much as they were willing to give us and scarfed them down immediately. Mmmmmmm.. I could totally go for a Twix right now.

To counter the Twix feast and hot dogs and beer, we got to do a 25 mile ride with a Woman's Group from Higher Gear Bike Shop in Wilmette, IL, just north of Chicago. We loved it! These women booked it and it felt good to really fly for a bit without 50 pounds of gear on our bikes. We have Sylvie to thank for inviting us to the ride and for the awesome Cubs tickets!!

One of our favorite experiences of the trip so far was when we met some of the wounded veterans who were trying out hand cycles at Walter Reed hospital in D.C. Unfortunately, since the bikes we're getting for World Bicycle Relief are going to a different country, we won't necessarily meet any of the recipients along our 50 state tour, but the next best thing was to meet the people who made it all happen.

The headquarters for World Bicycle Relief is in Chicago, so we finally got to put faces with the names of people we've been working with over email for so many months. We knew it already, but the people of WBR are awesome! They are devoted, hard working, passionate people and love their jobs. We got to give a presentation to some of the WBR crew and enjoyed a mini WBR presentation as well as a little tour of the SRAM headquarters who founded World Bicycle Relief. We even got to ride one of the WBR bikes. Talk about a sturdy bike, those things weighed almost as much as our bikes fully loaded! The visit was a huge inspiration for us as we continue our tour. I just wrote my latest Patch article about WBR and you can read that here!

We were feeling good after the many meetings and greetings we had this past week, but we didn't want our bikes to feel left out. Higher Gear hooked us up with a tune-up, then we had some presents for our bikes waiting for us at our friend Leigh's place outside of Chicago.

It isn't as bad as it looks. We bought four new tires from Amazon and they packaged each tire individually in one of those huge boxes. Very unnecessary but it made us laugh when we got to Leigh's and had all of these boxes waiting for us. We also had some nice new black leather saddles courtesy of Selle-Anatomica to replace the two brown leather saddles we had in the beginning of the trip. That was more a present for our bums rather than our bikes. It looked like we would have a little bit of bike maintenance to do at Leigh's.

First thing was first, though. Some Chicago-style Deep Dish Pizza. We went out with Leigh and her husband Scott and met up with another friend from high school, Shaun and his wife, Gina. It's always a comforting feeling when we get to see old friends, especially when we are constantly meeting new people everywhere we go. Some good reminiscing and a lot of Deep Dish Pizza hit the spot and after a package-opening session back at Leigh's we fell fast asleep.

Our bikes had new life in them with all the maintenance, but as any cyclist knows(does this now qualify us as cyclists?), it does take a little finageling to get the seat to fit you just right. We're still working on that, but the saddles are coming along and our butts are slowly adjusting.

We spent the day on some amazing Illinois bike trails, gearing up for Wisconsin. Everyone has been telling us that Wisconsin has great roads for biking and they were so right! Besides the fact that this was the first time we really felt like someone was close to hitting us (they were making a left hand turn onto the road we were on, didn't see us, and almost plowed right into Adam), we've been happy with the roads and in awe of the landscape. Plus, we've been getting some tail winds for the first time in a long time.

We did have a couple of set backs on our way to Wisconsin that day, though. It started with Julie and Mark who were riding their bikes to a wedding. Unfortunately, Mark got a flat and they had nothing to fix it. But lucky them, they ran into us with our never-ending supply of patches! We quickly helped them on their way, and then got on our way. About five minutes down the road, though, it was my turn. I guess I must have pinched the tube when putting on the new tires that morning because all of a sudden we heard a loud BANG! and my tire was flat flat flat. Ten minutes later and a new tube on my bike and we were on our way. Flat # 37.

We finished our ride to Lake Geneva to stay with Nancy and Craig, family of our World Bicycle Relief crew, who took us in for the night. They loaded us up with veggies before they brought us to a great place for dinner and then another yummy spot for breakfast the next morning. The lake house they had was so serene, we really weren't sure if we we're going to leave. Apparently the birds were chirping loud enough at 4:30 in the morning to wake up Nancy and Craig, but Adam and I slept right on through it.

Our final stop on our Americana Overload tour was a little Wisconsin cheese shop in Delevan. The owner of Brick Street Market, Laura Welch, invited us to sit down and get some work done while we enjoyed all the different cheeses. We had cheddar cheese, gouda cheese with mustard seeds, and cheese soaked in a local beer. All the while we caught up on some much needed work that had been put on the back burner during the past crazy week.

When we left the shop at 4:30 the afternoon, our plan was to head northeast, but the eastern wind made us think otherwise, and we used the wind to our full advantage and headed due west. Janesville is home tonight and we're heading to Madison tomorrow. So weird to say Madison and not mean home. Ahhh, home will come soon enough, I'm sure.

A very happy father's day to all of those father's out there but especially Papa P, Papa C, and the brand new Papa Kimuli.