The book Shining Seas is finally here (and available for purchase)! And in time for the holidays! Co-authored by myself, fellow intern Jeanna Buck, and our ride director Mike Claver the book tells the story of Sea to Shining Sea 2012. The 108-page softbound book includes full color photographs from six photographers, including Parker Feierbach, who traveled with the team across the continent. Buy yourself a copy straight from the Reimann Books website (link below)!
Today is the two month mark since the team reached Virginia Beach. I figure I ought to write some of the many lessons I have learned this summer. Although not all of you who read this will fully understand each lesson (sorry for the many inside jokes S2SS seems to have), you might find yourself learning a bit more about what the entire team experienced. I hope this puts a smile on some of you S2SS folks’ faces! Enjoy!
- 154,120 feet of elevation gain is a hell of a lot for cyclists.
- 3,798 total miles traveled.
- 14 state lines crossed.
- 52 hotels is 51 too many.
- The downhill never lasts long enough.
- Cliff bars, water, gatorade, goo, chomps. Cliff bars, water, gatorade, goo chomps. Repeat, repeat repeat.
- The most disappointing feeling when you’re riding is making the climb to the top of a large hill and quickly discovering there is no downhill.
- You know you have been on the road too long when you refer to hotels as “home.”
- Some weeks, a shower was a luxury. But finding a showerhead high enough for my 5’12” frame was like finding a little piece of heaven!
- Drivers can be angry. REALLY angry. When they yell profanities at you simply smile, wave, and say “God bless you!”
- There really is nothing comparable to spending 13 hours straight in a vehicle with Rob.
- I started the ride wearing cute clothes, putting on makeup, and blow drying my hair in the morning. That lasted for about four days. It then became running shorts, tennis shoes, t-shirt, ponytail, and a hat on the really bad hair days.
- The hotel Wi-Fi is never fast enough.
- Hearing we’re staying at a Hampton Inn sometimes feels as though we just arrived at a St. Regis.
- Free laundry is the best laundry.
- I will never eat out again.
- There is never enough ice.
- Getting REALLY lost is a weekly event.
- There is nothing that compares to Pacific Northwest water.
- Call Me Maybe is the theme song of S2SS.
- Seeing sun almost every day for two months is definitely NOT underrated.
- I am waiting for the time when I walk out of a restaurant without paying. Or mistakenly thinking I have a police escort and running a red light.
- The best feeling is arriving at a hotel which has: Wi-Fi, laundry, outdoor pool, AND a Starbucks within walking distance of the hotel.
- Paul Curley will probably never learn to use his iPhone.
- Nothing smells as sweet as the salty ocean breeze.
- No matter how bad my day might be, this “family” always manages to bring a smile to my face.
- Shiny side up, greasy side down.
- Resilience of the human spirit is a truly beautiful thing. Never underestimate yourself.
As sad as I am to sign off for one final time, it feels good to finally feel as though this ride has come full circle. I appreciate you following my blog for over four months now. The support I have had from everyone is indescribable. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
So I have truly been avoiding this post. As we approach two months since the end of the ride, it is now, more than ever, that I am missing S2SS. I had dinner last week with a rider Greg and a “long term” day rider, Jill. It was so great to see some familiar faces and reminisce about the two month journey we took together. I am a very different person than I was when this ride began four months ago. Things that I would normally stress over or worry about now seem so trivial. I find myself saying, “If that is the worst thing going on in your life, you’re doing pretty well.”
War sucks, and we were all on the ride because of it. I have witnessed their PTSD, seen the effects of their TBI. These men have been shot at, faced life threatening combat, been beaten down by cancer, and now they have ridden their bikes across the United States.
Ok, back on topic. I wrote this last piece on the plane home to Seattle. Sitting down (with no stresses for the first time in two months!) and trying to take in the past two months was pretty overwhelming. Short, sweet, and to the point. I hope you have enjoyed reading about this crazy ride I embarked on. I wish you could have been there. Experienced the joy, frustrations, sadness, anger, and patriotic support which carried us from coast to coast.
As I sit on the plane back to Seattle, it’s finally beginning to hit me…this journey is actually over. Not having to wake up and ice a cooler or gas the vehicles is an odd feeling! The love that I have felt from people who were complete strangers to me two months ago is indescribable. I still remember attempting to learn everyone’s names during my first few days. Not to mention trying to figure out how in the world I would be able to decipher between the five Mikes on this ride.
As excited as I am to go home, I will miss seeing the members of this team who have now become family to me. Every morning I ALWAYS hear Andy say something along the lines of, “It’s a beautiful morning today!” or “What a fantastic day for a bike ride!” even if it was pouring down rain. Larry “LG” Gunter always woke up with a smile on his face. Even if he was not feeling fantastic he would always take the time to ask me how my morning was. Henry Riley always greeted me with, “Good morning ma’am. How are you this morning?” he was always ready to ride and not once did he start the morning in the sag vehicle.
Larry is very strait and to the point. At the final banquet he said a few words that really gave me perspective on this experience. Larry is one of our blind riders (he went blind at age 30 as a result of a genetic disease) and probably one of the strongest, if not the strongest rider. Larry pointed out that because he is blind, he needs the most help from fellow riders and support staff. The thought of him needing more help than the other riders never crossed my mind. But Larry truly does need more assistance than most. I understand the concept of pride (ask anyone who knows me), and I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for Larry to transition from a completely independent person, to someone who needs assistance on a daily basis. He is always thankful for any help he receives and he is not afraid to ask for help when he needs it.
At each hotel Larry with the help of his pilot, Greg (who is fantastic!!!), mentally “maps” the hotel in his mind. Larry and Greg walk down the hallway and count how many doors Larry’s room is from different reference points (elevator, front desk, etc). One run through is all Larry needs; the hotel’s layout is then memorized in order for Larry to find his way around on his own. I have been an elbow for Larry to hold onto for guided sight, I have read menus for Larry, I always fill his water bottles with just water (no Gatorade for Larry), his yellow daybag is hard to miss, and I know he likes to ride with a hand towel on really hot days.
His jokes always put a smile on my face “you look beautiful this morning sunshine!” He is quirky, fun, and always knows just what to say. It is riders like Larry that make me want to get up in the morning and not-so-subtly empty every ice machine in the hotel so I can help Larry reach his goal of riding his bike across America.
Larry is just one of the fourteen riders. They all have unique stories about what brought them to the Sea to Shining Sea bike ride. They all have stories just like Larry’s: their daily routine, all the little details support staff knows without giving it a second thought, and having a dream (which is now a reality!) of cycling across the country.
Today is the day! After two months of grueling hard work, the team was finally going to reach Virginia Beach! The support staff was up bright and early prepping the vehicles for the beach (water, candy, towels…all the good stuff!). At about noon the riders set off on their 25 mile ride to the Atlantic. I jumped ahead with another intern to ensure everything was set up and running smoothly (which it was thanks to the boy support staffers!) at Neptune Park; the riders final stop before reaching the Atlantic.
With a full police escort, the riders made their way down the Virginia Beach boardwalk to Neptune Park. The boardwalk flanked with American flags and supporters cheering them on, the riders made their way to the park. Neptune Park had a small stage where the team had a short ceremony to acknowledge the riders’ huge accomplishment. After the ceremony it was back on the bikes to ride into the Atlantic Ocean!
At 4 pm, with huge smiles on their faces, one by one the riders made their way onto the boardwalk and then down a plywood ramp which led into the Atlantic Ocean. Riding into the water on their bikes, many of them were swept off their feet by huge waves. It was such a great time for those sixteen riders who have worked every day for the past two months to have that moment. Eventually all of the support was dragged in the water to celebrate with the riders. Hugs, congratulations, huge smiles–a great time was had by everyone. It was a perfect ending to the ride.
After about an hour everyone made their way back to Neptune Park for a Champaign toast and more celebrating. I feel as though no writing can truly grasp and be able to convey the emotions and joy that were present during such a joyous achievement—and I fully realize that my writing does the team’s celebration at Virginia Beach no justice. For that, I apologize.
A quick shower was in order for everyone and then it was off to our last team dinner. It was a wonderful banquet with great speeches, a few tears, more congratulations, and goodbyes. That was the last time I saw a majority of the riders—a sad thought. However, a lot of riders, support staff, and their families all went out to a local bar after dinner. It was a fantastic night for everyone who came dancing, socializing, and just having a fun time spending our last few hours together.
The next morning, we ate breakfast and everyone began to go their separate ways. The support staff stayed behind and spent the day together. I made my way down the boardwalk with Tom for some frozen custard and took a nap (a luxury I haven’t enjoyed in a long time). For dinner all the interns ordered pizza, drank beer, and spent one last night as a group. It was a fantastic night filled with laughter, reminiscing on all the humorous situations we have managed to find ourselves in, and looking to our futures. I will sure miss my crazy, fun, and dysfunctional family!
I must say, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to the ride! It was a bittersweet end to a long and difficult journey. We all had our ups and we all had our downs. But one thing is for sure; every single person who went on this ride left Virginia Beach a different person than they were in San Francisco. We have achieved (as some might say) the impossible for many Americans, let alone disabled Americans. I couldn’t be prouder of every single one of the riders. Thank you to all the staff, riders, and all of our supporters for a summer I will never forget and memories that will last a lifetime!
Today was the first day that it truly became real just how close we were to Virginia Beach. From Williamsburg, Virginia the team rode about sixty miles to Chesapeake, Virginia. I left the team early to ensure that I (and the bubble bus) would be able to get a spot on the ferry. That’s right, a ferry! Who would have thought that in Virginia we would need to get on a ferry?
After the short ferry ride, it was back on the bikes and the team headed to lunch. It was a brutal day for the riders as it was yet again (surprise) another scorcher. Once everyone made their way safely to lunch (thanks again to those American Legion Riders!), it was about ten more miles of riding until a meeting point where we were to shuttle the riders through construction. After the shuttle, everyone got back on their bikes and rode into Chesapeake with a full police escort and a large number of Patriot Guard Riders.
After dinner, the team all gathered in the lobby of the hotel to watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Thank goodness English Tom was there, I don’t know how we would have understood what was going on without his British commentary! A majority of the team all remained in the lobby for a while socializing, drinking, and laughing. It was our last night together before Virginia Beach and everyone wanted to embrace the night and enjoy each other’s company. What a great night to lead into our last riding day tomorrow!
After a good night’s rest, it was an early morning for Tom and I. We planned on riding the tandem together to Williamsburg! Once we adjusted the tandem for us to ride (pedals, seat height, etc.), we were ready to go! After a couple practice laps around the parking lot Tom and I were riding the tandem like pros! The team rode through downtown Richmond to a trailhead where the mayor of Richmond spoke to the team and we picked up a few special day riders. About six disabled riders hoped onto their hand crank and recumbent bikes and rode with the team for about five miles.
At the first water stop Tom and I met up with the other tandem (Larry and his pilot Greg) and Tom and I decided that we would ride with Larry and Greg for the rest of the day. As we left the water stop road captain Paul Curley, mechanic Hunter Pinnell, and James Sheehan also decided to ride with the four of us. We held a steady pace anywhere from 22 mph to about 26 mph all day—it was great to really cruise! The six bikes also got a pace line going so we could all take a break from the headwind while keeping our high pace.
After one of the first water stops, Tom and I had our first disagreement as a tandem team. As we were leaving the water stop, the tandem was on the shoulder of the road in the gravel. Tom hoped on the tandem ready to ride. I promptly told him that I was not going to get on the tandem until it was on the road (so we didn’t have to try to ride over the bump between the shoulder and the road). Our conversation then proceeded to sound something like this:
Tom: “Get on the bike.”
Me: “Get on the road.”
Tom: “Get on the bike.”
Me: “Get on the road!”
Tom: “Quit your bitching and get on the bike!”
Of course we were both trying to hold our laughs back during this conversation as I picked up the tandem and set it on the road. Once we were peddling on the road again, Larry came riding up on his tandem. Now, for those of you who don’t know Larry, you should know that he always has a big goofy smile on his face and he will always throw out some smart-ass comment that will inevitable put a smile on your face.
I turn to my right and Larry has his usual grin on his face laughing at lord only knows what. He turned to Tom and me and said, “Man, you two haven’t even been on that tandem for 45 minutes and y’all have already been fighting! Greg and I didn’t get into our first fight until we hit Kansas!” Larry then proceeded to reenact my “fight” with Tom for all to hear. None of us could stop laughing at Larry’s (quite accurate) impressions.
It was a hot day, over 100oF with high humidity. But the ride was beautiful! Green, lots of green! There was always canopy cover close by to keep the sun off of us while we were riding. It reminded me of the Pacific Northwest a bit! We also were blessed with a number of American Legion Riders who escorted us the entire route today—love having that extra safety!
The last ten miles (of our 58 mile day) was used as a cool down by the six of us as we rode through Williamsburg. The town is beautiful! Williamsburg is very in touch with its history as well as its British roots. Every aspect of the town reflects that—what a quaint little town! It was one of the (few) places on this trip that I would love to live!
Once we arrived at the hotel it was time for a quick lunch (we arrived by about 11:30 am, a super early day at S2SS), and then it was time to cool off in the pool. None of our rooms were ready so it was into the pool with all of our cycling gear on! One by one we all made our way into the pool. Even if you didn’t want to go swimming, James Sheehan ensured everyone ended up in the pool by throwing them in against their wishes. Everyone had a great time, laughing, having water gun fights, playing pool volleyball—it was a perfect afternoon!
After dinner Mike Sanders invited the team to go mini golfing. Thirteen of us all opted to go and what none of us knew was how much this event meant to Mike Sanders. Mike and his father were both diagnosed with cancer in the same month of the same year. Unfortunately this particular week was the anniversary of Mike’s father’s death. To commemorate his passing Mike always tries to do some sort of an activity in his honor. His father loved golf, so what better way to celebrate his life then to take the team out mini-golfing. It was great to see such joy in Mike’s face as he was able to pay tribute to his late father. Thank you Mike for allowing me to share such a special memory with you!
As the team made our way to Fredericksburg, it was another morning the riders spent on bike trails. Thank goodness because the Washington D.C. Metro area does not have roads safe for a large group of cyclists to ride on. The team regrouped at Mt. Vernon and waited for a police escort to bring us into Ft. Belvoir.
At Ft. Belvoir the team visited the Warrior Transition Unit and had the opportunity to meet and speak with a few soldiers. Col. Greg Gadson who is a double amputee, was there to greet the team. I laughed a little when I saw him realizing how small this world really is. I originally met Col. Gadson three years ago when I rode in my first Face of America ride. About three months later I ran into him again on a Mediterranean cruise. And then again today—what a truly small world!
The team rolled out from Fort Belvoir and made our way to the Marine Corps Museum for lunch. I rushed through lunch so I could visit the museum. Unfortunately we only had about an hour to spend in the museum, but I felt as though I could have spent an entire day visiting all the exhibits!
It was to the hotel after the museum (with so many stops in one day, it really extends our day) and time to rest up as we ride into Richmond, Virginia!
We were off to Virginia Commonwealth’s (that’s right, not a state!) capital of Richmond. Today was another scorcher, but the riders handled it extremely well. The team was lucky enough to have American Legion motto escorts the entire day! Stopping traffic and keeping our guys safe is always helpful to the support staff.
The team ended the day in downtown Richmond at the Governor’s Mansion. There was a large group of people waiting to greet the team; politicians, press, and a number of locals who came out to meet the guys. After a brief reception and a photo op, the team made our way back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner.
The local American Legion post hosted all of us for a fantastic home cooked meal. After dinner we had live entertainment at the post and the whole team went dancing. It was a blast! Thanks for a great dinner and a great night American Legion!
Our rest day in Richmond was quite relaxing. I spend the day sleeping in and then lounging by the pool. The team had a wonderful sponsored dinner at the Virginia War Memorial. It was a beautiful, catered event hosted by Dominion, MWV, and Altria. The room where dinner was hosted was lined with pictures of Virginia residents who have lost their lives in the current conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan.
As one of the riders was slowing scanning the pictures on the walls, reading each name and looking at every picture—things hit very close to home for him. He read the name of a very close friend who he served with overseas. Overwhelmed with emotion, he stepped out of the room and ended up missing dinner. One of the interns who is very close to him sat by his side the entire time simply to be a listening ear. It was tough to see the wars overseas hit so close to home for someone who has become family over these past two months.
After socializing with some fantastic company, the team loaded back onto the bubble busses and headed back to the hotel. It was off to Williamsburg in the morning, time to hit the sheets and get some rest!