Tuesday 29 July 2008

Home again!

A fitting end to an epic ride. Well done Dad, we're so proud of you. Nice to have you home.

G & H

Monday 28 July 2008


The following morning at the hotel there were several of us left and Richard Walsh from Ireland was actually continuing the ride for two more days to get down to Providence, Rhode Island, so we wished him all the best. I said goodbye to Sarge and he gave me the flag of Trinidad and Tobago that had flown on the back of his bike all the way across. Then a farewell to Al who was flying to Germany after another week in the US, then riding home to Munich from Hamburg. LA John and Gary were the next to go as they were in a different van to Alan, myself, Piet and Hetty because we were heading for the International Terminal in Boston. Finally a goodbye to Steve Foley who was going to spend a bit more time in the US before returning to Tasmania.
Christine and Gerrard drove us to the airport and after saying goodbye and a big thank you to them we set about getting the pedals off Hetty and Piet's bikes so they could pack them. Fortunately I happened to have a pedal spanner on me, as you do, so the job was done fairly easily. It was now about 8.30am and the flight to the UK for Alan and I was due to take off at 7.45pm, so we had a bit of time to spare, but also two large pieces of luggage each. It turned out that there was nowhere to leave luggage in the airport, but Alan being a resourceful chap, found that if we lugged the lot of it over to a nearby Hilton hotel we could leave it there for the day for a modest sum, take the hotel shuttle to the T (underground train) and get the T into town for a look around. So we did.
It was cool, overcast and the clouds were at times obscuring the tops of the high rise office blocks, but we looked at most things, followed the 'Freedom Trail' with its line of red bricks and in doing so saw a lot of historical sites. Also saw the amphibious 'duck' craft that do tours of the city both on land and in the bay. I was tempted to go on a tour, but the weather was poor so the photographs would not have been great and also it wasn't very warm, so out on the sea in that thing we could easily have got hypothermia. Instead we intrepid Brits went for a hot chocolate and a pastry.
After a bit more wandering about, lunch and a shower or two of rain we decided to get back to the airport in plenty of time for the flight. We needn't have rushed as the news when we did get back was not good. Due to the thunderstorm now raging around the airport our plane had bunked off to Hartford, Connecticut and was going to be delayed by around 3 hours. We found Hetty and Piet and said goodbye to them just before they boarded, but their flight was delayed a little while the 747 sat on the apron waiting for a 'window' in the weather, but they did at least get away.
Meanwhile we kept a close eye on the 'departures' screen and waited for announcements regarding the antics of our plane coming up from Hartford. Time stretched on and finally we were delayed over 5 hours, getting off just after mid-night. I was looking forward to getting home and seeing Diane and all the family, so a delay was the last thing I wanted.
At 'arrivals' Diane and Alan's wife had met up and it was good to see them. Alan and I said 'au revoir' as I feel there is a good chance we will be meeting up for more rides. Diane drove home, as my mind was still on the other side of the road, and then it really was all over.

Day 52 Manchester to Portsmouth.

Well it has finally arrived, as inevitably it would, the last day. Soon it would all be over but we still had a ride to do and I was trying to banish all thoughts of bottom bracket failure, dicky knee or falling off, to the far reaches of my mind (which is actually very close to the near reaches). At breakfast everyone was in their America by Bicycle tops, even Alan, and we all looked splendid. This was a time of heightened chatter and the taking of photos that would not normally be taken. I collected a remaining American icon when I indulged in a waffle, Alan taking the photographic evidence.
After checking our huge room and loading I gave our group of Gary, LA John, Steve, Al and Bill a pin each with the Welsh flag crossed with the flag of their respective country. We then set off as a group for the last time and I led us out. Fittingly we were just about last to leave, though Danny caught us up after a few miles and then rode with us. We all had to be at Rye Junior High School for 11.30am, so we had plenty of time to amble along. It was cool, grey and the roads were initially damp, but it did not look as though it would rain. We climbed some minor hills, but thought little of them as the morning showed signs of brightening up. We passed other groups and noticed that there was an increased police presence to ensure we kept in single file, and Audrey was pulled over for using a tree to answer the call of nature.
The only SAG of the day, and the last one of all, was after 31 miles and we were still well ahead of the schedule. Loads of photos were taken at the stop and there was the usual banter. Alan and Fred joined our group after the resumption and later, with Gary, left us in Exeter to see some top prep school that feeds Harvard. As we dropped into Exeter town centre, looking out for a coffee shop for Bill, I spotted an opportunity to get a present for Diane, (I hate leaving these things to the last minute). The groups seamlessly joined up again by pure chance as we set off from various coffee shops and we arrived in Rye with 3 minutes to spare, perfect timing. Everyone gathered here for the final run to the ocean which was due to be under police escort. There was a group photo by Gerrard, and others took photos of everything that moved.
When the police were ready and we were formed up, with Sarge, Seattle John, Steve Foley and Jose at the front, noon on the clock had arrived and we set off on the last 3 miles. Our group were at the back with those that had not gone all the way across behind us. This was possibly the safest place to be in such a large group of over excited cyclists (I hadn't been so excited since I was about 6 and had found a really good stick). By now it was a glorious day, perfect for the photos, and the route was lined (in several places) with locals who knew what was going on and came out to wave and shout their congratulations. We waved back and could be forgiven for likening ourselves to the Tour de France, well almost.
As we progressed slowly it became possible to smell the sea and then those at the front started to cheer as they had rounded a bend that gave them the first view of the Atlantic Ocean. It was quite a moment and there was lump in my throat at the thought that I had made it all the way. We rode alongside the sea for a way and finally got to the car park at Wallis Sands, where there were loads of relatives and friends of riders, most with flags, balloons and banners, all cheering and clapping. A colourful finale. We then dismounted and there was a steady stream of non-medicated, euphoric cyclists carrying their machines down to the sea to dip the front wheel in the Atlantic Ocean. Some then left their bike with a loved one and threw themselves into the sea, still attired in helmet, shoes and gloves!! Normal people on the beach looked on in amazement and a glazed expression that said, 'Phone 911 and let's hope this lot are recaptured soon!'
After a good deal of posing for photos, handshakes and hugs all round most of us started to make ouy way off the sand as most oily bits on bikes don't like it. At this point Steve, his wife Della and their two lovely children were just walking down to the sea, so I managed to get a good photo of them. We then all went for lunch and a celebratory beer, followed by a slow meander to the Portsmouth sign for more photos and then to the hotel. Having got there most people were now making arrangements for their bike, either to get them shipped home or packing them up. Meanwhile I decided to set off and go to Maine which was only a few miles away. This done and with a photo of the sign to my 14th and last state (for now), I returned to the hotel to pack The Mule away and get ready for our group's celebration dinner in town.
It was a lovely meal and afterwards we went to a local bar having said goodbye to Steve's wife and children. Later in the evening we had to say goodbye to Steve as he was not staying at our hotel, but with his family. This was the start of the break-up of our riding group and a poignant moment after so many miles together.
When we finally came out of the bar we were unable to get a taxi (or a cab) immediately, so I suggested we walk as we could be back in the time that we would have to wait for a taxi. This was greeted with derision by a group of people 'slightly' the worse for drink and with absolutely no idea where they were or with any local knowledge. Fortunately I could remember the cue sheet instructions and in less than half an hour we were in our hotel, with Fred swearing that if he ever got lost anywhere he was going to ring me up for directions.
So that was it, done and dusted. My extra miles into Maine were not enough to ring up the 4K total, so I would just have to be content with 3,976.19 miles, (roughly). I'm now off to take my medication and try not to get recaptured.
Today's distance was 70.37 miles.

Day 51 Brattleboro to Manchester.

As we gather to load and I was sending Diane a quick e-mail it was looking less than promising outside. The morning was grey, damp and the clouds were very low. This was diappointing as this area is beautiful and I was hoping to get some nice photos to show it off. After breakfast we set off across the Connecticut River and straight into New Hampshire. As we gathered at the state sign Christine came along driving one of the vans and she stopped to take group photos with all 5 of our cameras, she is a patient lady. The roads were wet and it started to drizzle soon after so the views of The Berkshires were less than dreamlike on account of no frostin' (if you don't know the James Taylor song that last part will be lost on you, sorry).
We then went up some biggish climbs and tried to keep together as it rained then stopped then rained again. The eastern seaboard was getting poor weather, nothing like the heatwave it experienced while we were in the west. Out of the little towns we were in wooded areas and the climbs were at least 10% while one of them was at least 18% (some people had 20% on their Garmin GPS) and seemed to go on for far too long. The back roads were less than well paved and the woodland now was dense, thought I heard banjo music at one point, but it could have been my knees squeaking. For just under a mile on a downhill section the road became a dirt track and I though of a comment for one of Huw's American calenders, 'You know you're a red-neck when... your main street is a dirt road.' After the first SAG at 27 miles we then climbed up Pitchers Mountain, which wasn't as bad as I had expected, but the rain was back as we went through Antrim. Went through another Bennington, then Greenfield and reached the second SAG in Francetown after 62 miles. Lovely little place.
We pressed on towards Manchester and met and passed Hetty and Piet, then bumped into Gerry who had again taken wrong turnings and done far more miles than he should have. The conversation was similar to, 'Hi Gerry, where have you come from!?
'How the hell should I know.'
'How many miles have you done?'
'Eighty-three.' (The rest of us were on totals around the 68 mile mark).
'You'll end up with another century today Gerry.'
'I do a century most days!!'
We were all in stitches and when Hetty and Piet saw him they burst out laughing as they had clearly seen him in various places during the day, sometimes going in the opposite direction!
It was raining hard before we got to Manchester so we were pretty soggy when we landed at the hotel. By now various relatives and friends of riders had turned up so there was quite a party atmosphere. I met Rick's wife and also Jay's wife, daughter and son-in-law. Delightful people and clearly proud of their 'rider.' Our group then went across the road to an Applebee's for a beer and we had to ask the waitress to turn the air-con off as we were wet and it was too cold for us. Like most things you ask for over here it was done.
Sarge and I were in a double room that was so huge that I took photos of it and later gave guided tours. We were going to hold a 5-a-side soccer tournament in there, but there weren't enough Americans who knew what soccer was.
Dinner that night was a more formal 'final' affair as tomorrow not everyone will be at dinner, some locals will go straight home. There were awards to all those who completed the trip and each rider gave a little talk on their own thoughts and experiences, some were hilarious, others too deep for my comprehension. Sarge was awarded the map that appeared every day on the board with the ever increasing line marking our route. Gerrard showed a little of the DVD he is producing that will contain many of the photos he has taken along the way, it was very good and I look forward to receiving mine. Gary had shipped over some wine from his vineyard in California, over so our table was very well off with some excellent wine, and strangely popular with other riders. Later gave Sarge a T-shirt, with a Celtic cross design, as a present and a Welsh flag. He has been a great room-mate, such a laugh. The thought of tomorrow being the last day was bitter-sweet.
Today's distance was 87.4 miles.

Saturday 26 July 2008

Day 50 Latham to Brattleboro.

Having taken the luggage down to the trailer to load up we were all waiting there when it decided to rain quite nastily. I got a little damp around the edges, but saved my case from getting wet by sliding under a car until I could load. I then pumped my tyre up properly following last night's flat and we were off. It stopped raining almost straight away but the roads were wet. I led out and found this was the best place not to get showered with water from other wheels. After being delayed by a couple of sets of lights I glanced behind and found there were about 20 odd people (in some cases quite odd having failed to take their medication), on the 'train.'
We buzzed through Albany and crossed the Hudson River, I would normally have taken a photo, but The Hudson at this point looked no more attractive than the Tyne on a bad day, so I didn't. We then went under a tunnel and the big group split on the hill that led up from the tunnel. We passed lots of other groups and finally caught George before a long downhill into the SAG at 27 miles. All the bike computers were showing different mileage to the notes so it was a bit confusing, but the directions were fairly easy.
George stayed next to no time at the SAG and left, Al and Bill were again riding together so they gave hime 5 minutes start then set off and we left a couple of minutes after them. We knew that there was a big climb coming up. Again this area was very wooded.
At mile 31 we said goodbye to New York State and entered Vermont, not exactly Latin for 'flat, easy riding area.' There were the inevitable photos at the sign. From there the tarmac sloped up so Gary dropped off and rode with Larry, while Steve and I rode on together. Shortly after the state line we entered the town of Bennington and it seemed like a switch had just been thrown to 'turn on' New England. It was a beautiful place with white picket fences, neat properties and churches with tall slender spires, but most unusual were the statues around the town that were of workmen or pedestrians or children playing, one was a man reading a newspaper while another man looked over his shoulder. All very life-like and in amongst the shoppers they did not look out of palce.
Leaving the town the 8 mile climb started, not too steeply at first, but the road soon reared up. I got into a good gear and just pumped away feeling quite good. Steve dropped off a bit and I just felt stronger the further I went. The gradient varied a bit so some sections were easier, and near the top I saw that George was ahead, Al and Bill had obviously passed him and I was catching him quickly. I didn't quite catch him by the crest and on the long steep downhill he got away a bit despite the fact that I was freewheeeling at over 45 mph for some time, but as the road flattened out I caught and passed him and he jumped on my wheel. We were flying along and soon got into Wilmington, another delightful town, where the second SAG was. I waited there for first Steve to arrive, then John and some time later Gary.
From there we had another climb up to Hog-Back Summit in the Hoosac mountains that are part of The Green Mountain National Forest. There should have been some great views, but it was hazy and the views were spoiled. We all regathered and set off down another long descent, though that wasn't without some 'ups' that we didn't expect.
In Brattleboro (more bad spelling?) we wanted a place to eat and get a beer so we asked a local who was on a bike and he led us to a nice restaurant right on the Connecticut River overlooking New Hampshire. To get there he took us through some red lights, over pedestrian crossings complete with pedestrians, down the wrong side of the road past a traffic queue at another red light and finally around an Amtrak train that was loading in the station, but the engine was across the road so the barriers were down!! I'm afraid I lost count of the traffic offences we had just committed and hoped that no-one knew me. I think I was safe there. Just after we got into the hotel there was another storm and very heavy rain so we did well to miss that.
Today's distance was 75.6 miles.

Day 49 Little Falls to Latham.

The navigation at the start of the ride was pretty straightforward, 'out of the hotel, right, left and then straight for 50 miles.' I led out and after a while Steve took over. Unfortunately at around the 50 mile mark he was in conversation with another cyclist who had been riding all over America for months and was heading for Boston and we all sailed by the next turn without realising it. It was only a mile or two and we quickly got back on course.
The start from the hotel had been a long climb, but after that it was very gently rolling countrside with lots of forests and steeped in history from the French, Indian and Revolutionary wars. We visited Fort Klock (clearly at that time their spelling wasn't up to much) which was a fortified stone house built around 1750 by the British (they would say English). It had its own blacksmith, school house (an attempt to improve the spelling) and its own spring in the cellar. There were other 'forts' nearby and many Historical Markers.
Later went through Amsterdam and Rotterdam, so at least Team Holland (Hetty and Piet) would feel at home. We then got off the road onto a nice bike path that went alongside the Erie Canal for many miles, but confusing directions at the end meant that we ended up in a General Electrics factory car park instead of the SAG. We finally got to the SAG which was at an ice cream and shakes store and it would have been rude not to have sampled their wares, so we did. An ice-cold chocolate shake was virtually mandatory.
After that we got on another well paved bike path that took us to within 4 miles of the hotel. Having checked in we then went off for lunch in a bagel shop. Latham is on the outskirts of Albany, which is the capital of New York State.
Later that evening in the hotel room I discovered that my rear tyre had gone down, so I had to replace that and repair the tube. Only my third puncture and two of them revealed themselves in hotel rooms, I would settle for that. After dinner several of us went for a beer and contemplated the fact that this ride was rapidly coming to an end.
Today's distance was 81.8 miles.

Day 48 Liverpool to Little Falls.

Only 4 of us started out together today as Al was riding with Bill and I gather the intention was to catch up with George and Larry. Steve's hip was still giving him problems so he led out, to ensure we would go at his pace, and I rode behind giving directions. On the hills out of town we caught the 'Day Care' group and Sarge had the moose back on the bike and was serenading the good folk of Syracuse with The Beatles from his on-bike music system. We picked up Jose who then rode with us as the route flattened out and the roads were very smooth.
At 25 miles we stopped at the SAG which was next to the Erie Canal and I got into conversation with a local State Trooper called Jim who was interested to know who we were and what we were doing. When I revealed I was 'ex-job' he gave me a New York State 'Buckle up' pen from a seat belt campaign. He wanted to give me a police uniform patch, but didn't have one with him.
We were now next to the Erie Canal so took the opportunity to get some photos. The canal was completed in 1825 and links the Hudson River to The Great Lakes. The area we were now in is very wooded and there are often houses in clearings just off the road ranging from mansions to run-down shacks. There were large fields of corn, it seems every state has to have some, but not much in the way of other crops.
Photos for the Americana collection today included a USPS (postal service) van and a Mack truck grille. The last 20 miles to the hotel was easy, but on a busy road and not too pleasant. When we hit Little Falls it did not seem to be a very prosperous place. The hotel was OK and there was a great laundry opposite that most people took advantage of, including me. I later did some extra miles by visiting a large lock on the Erie Canal, which was practically next door, and generally having a look around the town.
After dinner I did some admin and decided to bring my flight home forward by a day. I don't think the extra day I had planned at the end would be of much use as I don't have transport and I also feel that I am ready to get home at the end. Neil rang from Michigan and I had a nice chat with him.
Today's distance was 82.3 miles.