06 September 2012

A New Direction - East

Greetings from Philadelphia, PA!

Our stay in Santa Barbara was brief, but unforgettable
My final responsibility as a Bike & Build leader this summer is to drive our lovely van and trailer (approximate length: 40 feet) from our ending destination in Santa Barbara to the organization’s headquarters back in Philadelphia.  Driving over 3,000 miles can be a real chore, but my co-leader Morgan and I decided to make an adventure of it, so we charted a highly indirect course to make the most out of the experience.  Two riders from our trip – Peter and Holland – are also hitching (some would say “free-loading”) a ride with us back east.  Here are some of the stops we’ve made so far:

L.A. – Leaving Santa Barbara my other co-leader Collin and I decided to bike the coast along the Pacific Coast Highway (“the 1”) south to L.A.  We biked by the rugged coastline of Ventura County and the swanky palaces of Malibu en route to the beach in Santa Monica.  We didn’t have much time to spend in the area, so all we really experienced after the ride was the Hollywood sign and lots of traffic. 

San Diego – Despite being the complete opposite direction from Philadelphia, we wanted to check out San Diego (nickname: “America’s Finest City”) and to drop off Collin, who was starting a job as a deckhand in the area.  The weather was unbelievable and the Mexican food sublime.  We even saw part of a Padres game before heading back to Collin’s cousin’s house in a suburban housing complex strictly for military families.  I hadn’t realized the extent of the military presence in San Diego, but it’s really obvious in the city.

Aspen – Two of my friends from high school live near Aspen, CO, where they work as river raft 
guides on the Colorado River.  I knew that I wanted to catch up with them and possibly go rafting on the trip back, but in order for the timing to work out we had to drive directly from San Diego to Colorado.  We thought this trip would be long, but manageable, but underestimated the length of the drive.  Ultimately we spent 22 hours driving the 1,006 miles from California to Aspen and ended up arriving around 2:30 a.m.  Part of the reason why were so late was a detour that we made to drive through Zion National Park, which was absolutely astounding and well worth the added time.  For one stretch of the drive, through a narrow, historic tunnel, the park rangers had to close it for us because our trailer was too wide for two-way traffic, which meant I got to drive down the middle of the road.  After finally hitting the hay around 3 in the morning, we were woken up at 7:30 by an angry neighbor who was livid that our trailer was partially blocking her driveway (it was not).  I groggily moved the trailer a few inches and then stayed up for the rest of the day and eventually went on our rafting adventure on 4 ½ hours of sleep – it was great.

Steamboat Springs, CO – After rafting, we drove a short ways north to Steamboat, where we stayed at Morgan’s uncle’s vacation home.  Along the way we picked up a hitchhiker named Don, who needed to be driven back to Steamboat to pick up his truck (no word on how or why he left Steamboat without his truck).  Still tired from our 22-hour haul from San Diego and our day on the river, we all went to sleep early.  Fortunately the house was a real pad and we all got to stay in private bedrooms with king-sized beds.  We even got to do laundry!

Night had fallen by the time we reached Mount
Black Hills, SD – From Steamboat we drove another 8 hours, through Wyoming (a new state for me!) into South Dakota (another new state for me!!).  Along the way we stopped in Laramie, home to the University of Wyoming, for lunch and to buy some used CDs at a thrift store, because we were really tired of listening to the same three albums we have in the van on repeat.  Once we reached the Black Hills National Forest we stopped to see the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is substantially larger than Mount Rushmore, but still decades away from completion. After setting up camp and cooking tin foil dinners, we continued onto Mount Rushmore for the evening ranger program, which was highly educational but something of a disappointment since we had heard there was going to be a fireworks/laser light show demonstration.  Back at the campground we had a few PBRs and went to bed early so we could get up at 5 a.m. in order to make it to our next stop by dinnertime. 

Playing in the Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis
Minneapolis, MN - After our early wake-up we made great time across South Dakota on I-90, stopping only once, to see the world-famous Wall Drug Store.  Part pharmacy and part amusement park, Wall Drug defies explanation.  After leaving SD, we drove most of the way across Minnesota before we hit the twin cities, where we had a great meal provided by Amy's (a rider on the trip) family.  Holland and I slept on the porch, where unfortunately I was woken up at 6 am by a newspaper thrown carelessly at my face by the paper boy. We spent the morning exploring the city and then headed to our next destination....

Madison, WI - In Madison we stayed with a college friend of Morgan's, who showed us around this very cool college town.  

Mayville, NY - Our trip to Mayville was the second longest drive of the trip, about 12 hours to Peter's mother's house on Lake Chautauqua in Western New York.  Although it was said to see our group of van riders break up, we were happy to be back east and more than happy to be staying in a luxurious lake house with beds, homemade cookies, and real towels.  We cleaned out our van and trailer for one last time in preparation for the final ride to Philadelphia the next day....

Philadelphia, PA - Yesterday Holland and I reached the Bike & Build headquarters here in Philly (Morgan left us along the way) and put some final miles on the van.  Our grand total mileage for the trip from Santa Barbara to Philadelphia was over 3,900, proving that we did not take the most direct route.  On the drive through the Alleghenies I got out of the van and did a few naked miles on my bike on a long descent, topping out at a naked 40 miles per hour.  It was scary and I got some serious double takes from passing motorists.  Here in Philly we are staying with another rider from the trip, Kelly, who took us to Independence Hall and other local sites, some more educational than others.

I feel proud of what our trip accomplished this summer and sad to see this final stage of our trip draw to a close, but grateful to have seen so much more of the country on the way back to have spent a few extra days with some truly remarkable people.  So long!


29 August 2012

Thank Yous and Tears, Memories and Beers

The bus ride to Vegas was, for many of us, a real highlight
of the trip.
As we convene here in Santa Paula for our second-to-last dinner together, the conversation is hardly different from a typical Bike & Build evening. All of us are aware that our trip is ending tomorrow, but we seem to be burying our wistfulness and nostalgia under excitement, hunger, and anticipation. Tomorrow's farewells will be especially poignant and even tonight we all seem to be teetering on the brink of accepting the fact that our summer is drawing to a close.

Personally, I am feeling overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to work with three wonderful, responsible, and passionate co-leaders and to ride with 29 energetic and courageous riders. I am thankful that our trip has been safe and free of major incidents and I am thankful for all of the amazingly generous hosts, family, and friends that have supported us on the way from Portland.

Although it would be impossible to individually thank everyone who helped me our trip such a success, here is a partial list of ME2SB's treasured friends.

Thank you to...

-All of my generous donors and well-wishers.  Your support made this trip possible for me and enabled my Bike & Build trip to donate over $80,000 to the cause of affordable housing.

-All of my friends and family who visited my trip along the way - Mom, Jesse, Michael, Hoops, Ali, Harry, Brie, and Kyle.

-The lady in Tulsa who bought us all root beer floats from Weber's Root Beer

-Ed from Berwick, who joined us in song and showed us his Air Force uniform

-"Corn Robber" from Cordell, OK, who offered Perrier and encouragement to Holland, Cathy, and Nick W.

-Megan from Pie Town, who rocked out at our prom and baked us pies

-The Food Bank in Carrizozo, NM, who offered us two glorious meals

-Jennifer and the Cinnamon Twists of Payson, AZ, who performed for us, gave us CDs, and put together our build day at the Women's Shelter

-Melissa from Stroud, OK, who gave me 23 scoops of ice cream for $5

-The limo drivers who brought us all to the Big Texan Steakhouse for free!

-Jim Minor and friends, who cooked us a meal in Columbus, OH simply because the granddaughter of an old friend was on our route

-Mike the Mobile Bike Mechanic, who brought his truck to our lunch stop on the way to Columbus and fixed all our bikes for free

-The people of Half Moon Farms, who gave us a second lunch of homemade sausage, chicken salad, raspberry shrub, and anything else we could have asked for on the way to State College, PA

-Sue from Trader Joe's in Santa Clarita, CA for giving us lunch.

-Louise Simons, for sending Amy (and us) the best mail drops.

-Debby Zawalich, for sending us chapstick, maps, and iTunes giftcards.

-Mr. Winters for giving Will and Adam cookies at the top of Prescott Hill on the way to Northampton, MA

-KMOG-AM Radio in Payson, AZ for interviewing Tim and Holland and making them famous

-Bob from Yukon, OK, who showed us his wooden bike, rode with us, and gave us chocolate milk

-Bike One of Yukon, OK, who stayed with us all night to work on all our bike issues

-Taco Box Tom for feeding all of us in Portales, NM when we had no kitchen to cook for ourselves

-Maria from Taco Bell in Andover, MA, who donated tacos to us on a very difficult, very hot day

-Bob Reinke of Reinke Repairs in Worthington, MA, who diagnosed our trailer problems for free

-And finally our Program Director Natalie, for returning some of our phone calls and spending 18 hours with us in California

Because of all your help Maine to Santa Barbara 2012 was made possible, our contribution to affordable housing are more significant, and 33 young adults are more inspired, more fit, and more in awe of our amazing country.


22 August 2012

Arizona to California

Failing to find a real state line sign, we chalked our own.
Greetings from Barstow, CA!  We've made it to the Golden State and here's a round-up of the last week or so.

Payson, AZ – Riding from Heber, AZ, we climbed to 8,000 feet then descended a 6% grade for over ten miles. We stopped for an extra day in the small town of Payson to volunteer with Habitat and to help paint and renovate a transitional women’s shelter. 

Sedona, AZ – After our build day, we rode about 90 miles into the town of Sedona – home of the world famous “Red Rocks.”  A strange local told me many quotable things about Sedona, including that “God may have created the Grand Canyon, but he lives in Sedona.”  He also recommended that I go and see one of the famous Sedona Vortexes, where “this reality touches the next.”  We showered for free at one of the town’s many resorts and prepared ourselves for a day of climbing to come.

Flagstaff, AZ – Although our ride into Flagstaff was one of the shortest of the trip (just over 30 miles), it was nearly all climbing.  Along the way we made one of the most memorable pit stops of the trip, at Slide Rock State Park, where we enjoyed natural waterslides and a 40 foot free fall of a cliff above Oak Creek.  Cliff jumping was absolutely exhilarating, but led to many bruises.  Poor Cassi even ruptured an ear drum.  Once we got to Flagstaff we stopped for a day of volunteering with a local organization called Bothands. One of our riders – Nick A. – departed the trip early after our build day to get to grad school and we sent him off with a night of karaoke. 

Grand Canyon, AZ – After 70 miles into the Grand Canyon we enjoyed our third and final “day off” of the trip.  Four other riders and I decided to descend into the bottom of the canyon and back by foot – a voyage of 18 miles of trail and nearly 2 miles of elevation change (down and up).  Park signs and rangers highly recommend that nobody attempt this hike in a day, but having only one day off, we all felt compelled to give it a go.  We made it back safely and it was 100% worth it. 

Williams, AZ – We were all sad to leave the Grand Canyon behind us, but Williams was not a bad place to end up.  To shake things up we organized ourselves by height and broke into riding group accordingly.  I rode with three other very tall riders and we called ourselves the “Four Pack of Tall Boys.’ We got into town early and enjoyed beer and live music at a café on Route 66.

Meg and I admire a very large saguaro
cactus in Cal Nev Ari, Nevada
Seligman, AZ – Our next stop was in the tiny town of Seligman, said to be the inspiration behind Radiator Springs of the Pixar movie Cars.  Our sleeping quarters here were a little cramped, so I tried to sleep outside and enjoy the dark night skies, but midnight rains pushed me back indoors. 

Kingman, AZ – Arriving in Kingman, we knew that we were getting close to California because we found our first In & Out Burger.  Most of us went to bed early in Kingman to rest up for our 4:30 a.m. wake-up and our night out in Vegas to follow.

Searchlight, NV – Our trip only spends one night in Nevada and naturally we tried to make the best of it by chartering a bus and taking a 6-hour trip to Vegas. I would elaborate more about this mini-trip, but what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.  Also what happens in Denny’s, stays in Denny’s.

Baker, CA – After returning from Vegas around 1 am, we slept for four hours and then rose to set off on the final century ride of our trip.  Fortunately nobody in my riding group (nickname: “The Centurions”) was hungover and we made good time in the morning, at least until we hit the Mojave National Preserve where 105+ temperatures and crappy roads slowed us down.  We were ecstatic as we entered California, but disappointed to find no state sign to greet us. Instead we just chalked our own and made the best of our entrance into San Bernardino County.

With just five days left of our trip, we are really starting to feel short of time, but also proud of the accomplishment that is nearly complete.  Next comes the trip back… but more on that later.

09 August 2012

New Mexico into Arizona

Having just spent six days in New Mexico, the "Land of Enchantment," I am already looking forward to my next visit to the state.  Here's the run-down on our adventures there:

Portales, NM: This town was, according to its sign, "Home to 17,000 friendly people and 3 or 4 grouches."  Trying to find a place to give us dinner for free that night I think I found all the grouches before finding a Tex-Mex restaurant that gave all 33 all we could eat for free.  Portales is surrounded by peanut farms and home to Eastern New Mexico University, where we stayed. 

The Devil's Inkwell in Roswell, NM
Roswell, NM: The site of our second day off of the trip and the birthplace of Demi Moore, Roswell itself does not have much to offer outside of its trumped up UFO incident and a flying saucer-shaped McDonald's.  However we shuttled out to the nearby Bottomless Lakes State Park, where we swam, paddle boarded, and hiked around the "Devil's Inkwell."  The landscape here was breath-taking, even though a local described the park as "nothing special."

Carrizozo, NM: On our day into Carrizozo we decided to mix up our riding groups by arranging ourselves in order of tan-ness and then riding with people of matching complexion.  I was proud to find out that I am the 8th tannest rider in our group and I happily rode with numbers 7, 9, and 10.  Along our way we rode through the town of Lincoln, famous as the site of Billy the Kid's escape from jail.  As we were passing through, the town was hosting a Billy the Kid Festival, where we got free sarsaparilla and rode a horse-drawn trolley from one end of town to the other (about 200 yards). 

The path through the "Valley of Fire."  Everything in New
Mexico had a cool name.
Socorro, NM: Shortly after leaving Carrizozo, we rode through the Valley of Fire lava flow - a 3 mile wide, 40 mile long stretch of gnarly volcanic rock.  In the afternoon w passed through the White Sands Missile Range and read a historical marker telling us that we were just about as close as you could get to the Trinity Test Site, where the world's first nuclear weapon was detonated in 1944.  The fact that the Manhattan Project folks were willing to detonate a nuclear weapon there is a good indication of how populated that stretch of New Mexico is.  We met some serious descents and I reached my new max speed of 48.8 mph.  Fingers crossed that I'll hit 50 soon.

Pie Town: Riding into Pie Town we climbed from roughly 4500 feet to nearly 8000.  We hit the Continental Divide just outside of town and right after taking a few pictures, two of the riders I was riding with that day (Kegan and Josh) hit each other, damaging Josh's derailleur.  Being team players, we decided to walk the remaining 3 miles into Pie Town, which was a new Bike & Build first for me.  We spent the night at a hostel called the Toaster House and dined with a dozen or so Pie Town locals (meaning that, with a population of 50, we met about 25% of the town).  We enjoyed some of the eponymous treats from the staff at the Pie-O-Neer Cafe and also had our Bike & Build prom in the evening, for which my date Caroline and I dressed up like a totem pole (the theme was Wild West). 

Springerville, AZ: We were all sad to leave New Mexico on the day into our next state, and also very confused about what time it would be in Arizona since they don't observe Daylight Savings Time.  We've got a Build Day tomorrow in Payson and we are just days away from the Grand Canyon, so overall spirits are high. 


31 July 2012

Things That Are/Are Not Bigger in Texas

My friend Anna and I entering the Lone Star State
Greetings from Friola, Texas.  According to the saying, everything is bigger here.  After a few days in the state, it's time to evaluate the stereotype.

Things that were bigger:

-The shoulders on the highway.  This was nice for us cyclists, as the trucks on the highway also seemed much larger.

-Dairy farms.  I was lucky enough to tour the High Plains Dairy, where I saw a rotating milking carousel that held 72 cows at a time.  The dairy produces 46,000 gallons of milk per day.

-The crickets.  Seriously, they were huge.

-The "Welcome to Texas" sign.  Without a doubt the biggest state sign we've come across.  

-Soft drinks.  A normal soda in a restaurant is a 24-32 ounce monstrosity that would make Michael Bloomberg would throw a conniption fit

-Steaks.  My friend Josh attempted to complete the steak challenge at the Big Texan Steakhouse, which requires participants to eat 4 1/2 pounds of steak, a baked potato, side salad, and shrimp cocktail in under an hour.  He nearly did it too.

Things that were not bigger:

-Towns.  Aside from Amarillo, the towns we have been staying in had 1,000-4,000 residents.
My friend Josh valiantly ate
61 ounces of a 72 ounce steak
in Amarillo.

-Standard weights and measures.  These are pretty much the same everywhere.

-French fry portions.  What was the deal with that?

-Salads.  I guess that was to be expected.

-Post offices.  These were tiny.  Their hours were shorter than expected as well. 

27 July 2012

Funny Signs, Part II - Church Signs

A real gem from my trip back in 2008.  Found in Paris, KY
Something I've noticed on this trip is that the only organizations with signs as consistently punny as hairdressers are churches.  Although churches are not often known their sense of humor or marketing savvy, somehow they excel at dorky, but attention-grabbing wordplay and turns of phrase.  Some are pleasant and witty ("This church is prayer conditioned") while others are dark and gloomy ("Live each day like it is your last and someday you will be right").  All are amusing.  Here is a sample of what I've seen so far:

"You cannot stumble on your knees." - Wells, ME

"You have one new friend request from Jesus.  Accept or ignore?" - Kittery, ME

"If you need to make ends meet, put Jesus in the middle." - Buffalo, PA

"God wants full custody, not just weekends." - Penns Hills, PA

"Sign broken, the message is inside." - Deersville, OH

"What part of 'Thou Shalt Not' did you not understand?" - Columbus, OH (the sassiest of them all)

"Don't look back.  You're not going that way." - Nashville, IN (near the bad ass town of Gnaw Bone, IN).

"7 days without prayer make one weak." - Xenia, IL (my favorite so far)

"What is missing from Ch _ _ ch?  U R."  - Breese, IL

"And you think this is hot? - God." - Lake Ozark, MO

"ATM inside. Atonement, truth, & mercy." - Springfield, MO

"The closer you are to the son, the less likely you'll get burned." - Stroud, OK

"God doesn't believe in atheists, therefore they don't exist." - Stroud, OK

"Life is an adventure in forgiveness." - Edmond, OK

25 July 2012

What I Ate Today

Cramming my face on Route 66
Greetings from Chandler, Oklahoma!  Although I eat quite a bit each and every day, day was an exceptional day in terms of food.  Here's a summary of how much grub it took me to get through the day.

Breakfast: 3 pancakes, 1 cup coffee, 1 glass milk, 1 piece fritatta, 1 banana

Lunch: 1 veggie Chipotle burrito (thanks to Morgan for getting these donated), 1 orange, 1 bag animal crackers, 1 big piece coffee cake

Second Lunch: 23 scoops vanilla ice cream

*(Today is my friend Alyssa's 23rd birthday, and she challenged each of us to eat 23 scoops of ice cream during the day.  When we stopped at a famous place called the Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma I decided to order it all at once and have at.  My stomach remained intact and I was even able to ride the last 15 miles without booting).

Dinner: 2 plates spaghetti with red sauce, 3 pieces garlic bread, 1 large salad, 2 brownies, 1 bunch grapes

Post-Dinner: 1 piece cake, several handfuls trail mix

Water: Approximately 8 liters

If anyone can estimate how many calories this is, I'm very curious, so please leave a comment!  I eat about this much most days and somehow I have still lost 7 pounds since the trip started.