Saturday, August 21, 2010

My aha moment, at last

Toronto Ontario. August 21, 2010. Well, I finally had my aha moment. At long last. This was the moment that didn't happen on our ride. I guess it took a week or two to hit me. It's not that big a deal. It's just something that didn't occur to me while we rode across the country.

My aha moment pertains to dreams. Rather, it pertains to the pursuit of dreams. It has to do with achieving a dream. So here goes. Here's my big aha moment:

Having and pursuing dreams is more inspiring than actually realizing them.

Here's how I got to this thought. Since I hit the beach just about two weeks ago in New Hampshire, I've been feeling a bit, for lack of a better word, empty. I'm not depressed. I'm not in a funk. Actually I am very happy to be home. My bed feels great. The food here is fantastic (even though I've only gone for Chinese food twice since I got home). I can have fresh fruit any time I want. There are no rainy or windy days to contend with, and I am beginning to feel my big toe again on my right foot.

I think it was weird that the day we dipped our wheels in the Atlantic Ocean that I didn't feel a euphoric rush of any kind. I was sad that the trip was over, but as I said that day, I mostly felt relieved to have arrived safely, especially after my two falls earlier in the ride (and the accidents that befell Margo, Ann, and Bruno earlier the last week). I kept waiting for some type of emotional rush or feeling all that day and on the drive home to Toronto the next day. Didn't happen though.

On another note, I will say it was very cool driving back on I-90 paralleling our bike route from the previous week through Albany, Little Falls, Liverpool, Henrietta, and Niagara Falls. By the time we hit the Canadian border, The Duchess had rolled her eyes about 20 times after every mention I made of "we rode over that". I've seen that look before. It's The Duchess' "enough already" look. I get that look from her a lot.

Anyway, back to the aha moment. So, I've been getting back into the routine. The office, the gym, the house, cycling (albeit much less mileage than the trip). We've seen a couple of bad movies (WARNING TO ALL MARRIED MEN – avoid Eat Pray Love with all your might!). We've seen friends and family. It's all good. I am the luckiest person on the face of the earth.

Yet, I just feel kinda empty on the inside. And then it occurred to me. Here's a bit of an analogy. Back in the 1980's the Toronto Blue Jays started building a contending ball club. They were very good and made the playoffs a couple of times. They began to smell a world championship and the ballpark sold out 80 out of 81 home dates (the Jays were the first team in MLB history to top 4 million in attendance in a single season). The whole city of Toronto, province of Ontario, and country of Canada were gaga over the chances of us winning the World Series. Network TV ratings skyrocketed. Jays t-shirts and jerseys were everywhere. Then the worst thing that could have happened took place.

We won the World Series in 1992. Then, even worse, we won again in 1993 on one of the most dramatic home runs in MLB and World Series history.

The chase was over. The dream was realized. Now, 15 or so years later, the Jays barely get 15-20,000 people at a home game. You rarely see Jays jerseys anywhere. The games on TV were reduced to a second rate TV cable station, and we don't stand a chance against the three best teams in baseball (NY, Boston, Tampa Bay), all of whom are unfortunately in our division. Do you see what I'm getting at? I'll bet that if the Jays never won a World Series, Jays fans would still be in perpetual anticipation of a dream yet unrealized. That would propel them forward to continue to dream. The unfulfilled dream would inspire them to be passionate forever.

That's what has happened to me. This dream of mine to ride across the country preoccupied me for decades. As long as it was out there, I had something to chase after. But that's not the case any more. I don't have any other big dreams. I've got the best wife in the world (OK, in the known scientific universe), 3 amazing kids, a great business, wonderful family, and fun friends. I live in a safe, low-crime, clean country with a stable democracy that protects people's rights. I live free from persecution. My kids have the greatest opportunities of any children in the world. I work with great people at Due North Communications. My clients are fantastic.

In short, I live a dream every day.

So, now I've figured this out. What next? Nothing, in terms of dreams. I'm not going to come up with a dream just so I can have a dream to pursue. No, dreams like riding across the country by bicycle have to be organic. They have to come from within. So, the only advice I have to anyone bored enough to still read this blog is to keep dreaming. It'll keep your spirit alive.

And, until something comes from within, for the time being, I'll have to do without.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's over

Day 1. Of the rest of my life. Or should I say the second part of my life. Up until June 20th of this year, the first part of my life was much like everyone's lives. School, more school, friends, parental punishment, more school, marriage, marital punishment, career, kids, even more marital punishment, career punishment, blah, blah, blah, blah. You get the picture. But unlike most people (except the fine people I just crossed the country with), the first part of my life was also marked by an unfulfilled dream.

I wanted to ride my bike from ocean to ocean across the country.

From the moment I rode my brown Schwinn 5 speed bike at the age of 12, tearing all over Cherry Hill New Jersey with my friends, I always contemplated the trip we just completed. It would appear in my head every so often like lightning from a distant approaching thunderstorm. Except, the time between the flashes was counted in years, not seconds. The flashes were even less frequent when I got married, started a career, had kids, and opened a business. As I contemplated my upcoming 50th birthday a few years ago, the flashes started coming closer together.

I missed the opportunity of doing this for my 50th birthday due to a number of reasons, but we all know that 50 is just a number. No big deal. Originally I had browbeaten The Duchess into the idea of doing this trip with me on the tandem but we both got spooked by stories of cyclists getting run down by motorists. I was sure I didn't want to be responsible for The Duchess getting hurt on a bicycle, so that idea just died.

However, the dream wouldn't go away. It kept flashing until last Fall when The Duchess pushed me over the edge and said "just do this already, I'm sick of hearing about it". So I signed up and did it. I did it with the greatest group of people I could possibly have hoped for. The miles were long, the challenges were incredible, but we made it.

Was it everything I had hoped for? Yes. And no. Under the yes column goes scenery, people, challenge, accomplishment, experiences, and emotions. Under the no column goes only one thing – an "aha" moment. You know – something revelatory about life. I thought something profound would hit me. But unless you count "oh my god, I had no idea there were that many white people in Idaho" as profound, I came up empty on that one. That's OK though. Maybe I'm not insightful enough to spot profound moments when they roll under my wheel. Or, maybe they're simply not able to be spotted by people like me. Kind of like color-blindness, but in a cerebral way. Or maybe they simply aren't out there. I'm not sure I'll ever know the answer to this and I'm tired of thinking about it, so I'll simply close the book on that topic for now.

What was interesting and a bit sad was what happened after the beach arrival in Portsmouth the other day and watching everybody start to revert back to their normal lives. The transition was subtle yet sudden. After the warm welcome at the beach from the town, friends, and family, came the inevitable return to normalcy. I saw short little disagreements about how to get the bike into the car, where people should go to lunch, who was gonna bring Aunt Gussie to the hotel, etc. You know – little family quarrels that dissipate fast, but are a constant part of our routine lives. At the hotel, people were quickly arranging rental cars, waiting in the interminable line to check in, printing airline boarding passes, arranging bike transportation and more. I got to see a whole other side of my fellow riders. Even The Duchess said I was acting different than an hour before. I was getting aggravated about the room not being ready. I was a little short with the somewhat incompetent desk clerk. In other words, I was beginning to act

Is it possible that I left the best part of me on the road somewhere in the heartland of America?

Did we all?

So here I am, back at my desk in my office in hot humid Toronto. I weighed myself this morning. By the way, the "It's over" title of this blog not only refers to the ride being over – it refers to me being "over" on weight for the trip. I then fought the awful Toronto traffic to work. The folks at my office (encouraged by Vance and Jamie Pollack) replaced my office chair with a bike seat (see picture) adorned with an honorary Snickers bar (which I did not eat!). Very cute. I'm back to dealing with whatever I deal with at work and that's not likely to change.

I've realized my dream and now I can get on to the second part of my life – the part after I rode my bike across the country.

But wait! In my head I see a flash of lightning way way way off in the distance. What in the hell could that be...

FYI – the Snickers, milk shake, and Blizzard count is static today, and after gaining 6 pounds, will remain static for quite some time. As a final gesture, I leave you all with a list of my thoughts and my signature/defining moments from the trip:

List of Thoughts

Anybody who thinks North America is too crowded has never ridden a bike across it.

One hundred miles on a one way cross-country cycling leg feels like 50 miles on a round trip circuit at home.

Does every car have to be hitched to a trailer in Oregon?

Does every house in Idaho have to have 3 dogs? Is it the law?

Wyoming – great scenery, lousy roads.

I never knew that it's:

Or-a-gin, not O-reee-gon
Boy-c, not Boyzee (Boise) Idaho
Doo-boyze, not Doobwas (Dubois) Wyoming
Peer, not Pee-air (Pierre) South Dakota

A prairie wind is not like wind in the East. Somehow it’s way bigger.

South Dakota is the best-kept travel secret in America.

Who knew that Hell’s Half Acre and Minnehaha were real places?

Falling off a bike hurts. A lot. Even more when you fall twice within 72 hours. Yet even more when you fall at 23 MPH.

Regarding our ride: it’s not a miracle, we just decided to go. (I love that quote from Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell in the movie Apollo 13).

Is it possible for time to pass slowly and quickly at the same time? After a trip like this, I think so.

Shame, humiliation, and fear of public failure are awesome motivators.

Is it possible that the entire world can eat all the corn grown in Minnesota?

Wisconsin has the most beautiful manicured farms I’ve ever seen.

Michigan is flat, like in a “pre-Christopher Columbus-the-world-is-flat” kind of way.

By choosing to live in Ontario, I’ve elected to live in the world’s most boring cycling area.

New York is truly a cyclist’s nirvana.

You just don’t realize how much you need family around you until they’re not there.

Vermont is America’s Switzerland. Pretty. Quaint. Charming. Cute. Neat. Perfect.

New Hampshire is a poor man’s Vermont.

Defining, signature moments

Dipping my wheels in the Pacific and collecting Pacific Ocean sand and water.

Having a deer run alongside me near the Pacific coast.

Crossing the bridge in Portland.

The Mount Hood climb.

The mind-bending milkshake at Calamity Jane’s in Sandy Oregon.

The descent into Kah-nee-ta.

Our triple summit day.

Riding on the freeway for the first time.

Our first state line crossed into Idaho.

Our first time zone crossed in Idaho.

Fixing a flat by myself for the first time.

The Pocatello TV interview.

Eyeing the Tetons from a distance.

Climbing Teton Pass and the descent into Jackson.

The double summit day to Togwotee pass, crossing the Continental Divide at 9,658 feet, and the descent to Dubois (brrrrrr).

Cycling through Wind River Canyon.

Being left at Hell’s Half Acre because I didn't stick to the plan.

Seeing my Duchess in Casper.

The whole epic day from Hot Springs to Rapid City – Wind Cave National Park , Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore, hailstorm.

Wall Drug’s flat out goofiness.

The 20 mile “highway to hell” of grasshoppers and wind into Pierre.

The Corn Palace and rodeo in MItchell.

My entry (ouch) into Sioux Falls.

The Sioux Falls rainstorm departure.

Crossing the halfway mark of the trip.

My entry (ouch) into Mankato.

The Mankato 5 hour century.

The Mankato hill.

The Rochester rainstorm departure and double flat day.

Back to back centuries.

Crossing the Mississippi.

The trail through Eastern Minnesota that ended at the café/bakery with the raspberry/cream cheese croissant.

The Elroy-Sparta trail and spooky dark tunnels.

My roadside bratwurst in Princeton Wisconsin.

The ultra-relaxing ferry crossing of Lake Michigan.

Tony’s baconfest in Birch Run.

Crossing the Bluewater Bridge en masse into Canada.

Seeing my Mom and Dad by the side of the road near London.

Visits by Audrey, Milt, Peter, Eleanor, Gordie, Carolyn, Vance, Susan, Jamie, Logan, Allan, Esther, and Erin.

Seeing Lauren and Sam (and my Duchess) in Niagara Falls.

Crossing the Rainbow Bridge into the US by myself at dawn.

The deja-vu moment when I suddenly and unexpectedly arrived at the road to Colgate just south of Turning Stone Casino.

Assembling en masse at the Rye Junior High school just miles from the beach.

Dipping my wheels in the Atlantic and collecting sand and water to match my Pacific sand and water as my Duchess cried watching me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I ran out of landmass!

Day 45. Manchester to Portsmouth New Hampshire. I have been looking forward to this day for over 40 years, if that's imaginable. What an incredible day. What an incredible 7 weeks. What an incredible experience. What an incredible group of people. What an incredible staff.

I think, strangely enough, my overwhelming emotion right now is one of relief. I don't have an awesome sense of accomplishment or that I conquered something. Right this second I am simply relieved to have made it safely. But what an accomplishment! For all of us.

Today, I ran out of landmass!

Here I am dipping Wonderboy in the Atlantic Ocean:

And here I am collecting Atlantic Ocean sand and water to match the sand and water and I collected from the Pacific Ocean over 7 weeks ago:

Before I get to today's events, I should fill you in on what happened after yesterday's blog posting. First of all my Duchess made it to Manchester New Hampshire yesterday afternoon in time for a late lunch. Yesterday we dined at Chez Subway where the head chef prepared a submarine sandwich made of turkey and cheese for us. After wishing us bon appetit we sat down at our semi-dirty formica clad table and chowed down. Elegantly, mind you. But chow down, we did.

Last night was the final dinner/banquet where the ABB staff presents a slide show of the thousands of pictures from the ride. Some of the riders perform skits (making fun of the ABB staff), others recite poems, songs, or stories, and then every rider gets a chance to speak about whatever they want to speak about.

A few days ago, the group elected me and Sandy from Colorado as emcees for the evening. At first we were flattered, but then we realized it was because we had the biggest mouths in the group. Anyway, I borrowed an idea from Karen and Jill at my office (our awards are called the Duebies) and created a faux award show (like the Oscars) called the ABBYs (Nicole from my office created an award template and e-mailed it to me; I had it printed at the "roach motel" in Albany – thanks Nicole!). Sandy and I created an award for every rider. Most were funny (best "wafflehead" from your helmet, "I don't need Nutrisystem" for weight loss) but some were serious ("perseverance", "blog as literary or visual art"). After each rider got their ABBY, they had the floor. Some were succinct while others spoke at length. There were plenty of tears and at times it was quite emotional. This has been a life-altering experience for many people on the ride and it showed last night. When I spoke, I mentioned the cause I was riding for ( and I recounted how I had grave doubts about my abilities to do the miles, climb the climbs, and repeat the process every day for 50 days. I then talked about how I got over my doubts, which was great to get off my chest. Afterwards, a lot of the riders thanked Sandy and I for our roles as emcees. It was a nice dinner.

Back to today's events. It was so cool. The ride itself was 51 miles, which is no walk in the park. We also climbed over 2,000 feet. But it didn't matter. Nothing could have kept us away from the beach today. Not the Alps. Not the Rockies. Not even Toronto traffic. We had a very early load (6:30AM) so that everyone had plenty of time to get to the staging area where we all had to meet before we got together as a group for our procession to the beach. The ride today was through tree-lined roads. New Hampshire is pretty, but not like Vermont (at least the parts we've seen). Again, It didn't matter at all where we rode today. We could have been going through Yonkers via Hoboken and it would have looked beautiful. The weather was warm and sunny and the predicted rain never materialized. We even had a nice tailwind. We had about 5 hours to do a ride that normally would take us less than 3 hours to do, so we did it at a leisurely pace. We stopped for a 35 minute SAG (our normal SAGs are 15 minutes max), where the hugging, goodbyes, and yes, crying, began.

Then we stopped at a great bakery in the pretty little village of Exeter (home to the famous Phillips Exeter prep school). We killed an hour there which was great. I wish we had more time during the previous 7 weeks to do what we did today, but the mileage per day is just too much to spend time in bakeries across America. I spotted a haircut sign that reminded me of an important appointment I have on Thursday! We then rode about 12 miles to an assembly spot at a Junior High School 3 miles from the beach at Rye New Hampshire. As you can see from the picture above, Wonderboy had a little rest at the staging area too. Anyway, there were more hugs, kisses, high-fives, fist-bumps, good-byes, and a lot of tears. Lots of pictures too.

Around noon, the Rye police set up a police escort and cordoned off the roads to Wallis Sands Beach. We rode en masse and people who were on the street even started clapping as we went by. We got to the beach, and as one (after taking our cycling shoes and socks off), made our way over the seawall and onto the beach itself. There were a number of people and family members there. There were people clapping and cheering. It was so nice to see everybody's friends and family. I spotted Rob Nadler from my office and his wife Marci (who were in Maine just up the road on vacation and came down to say hi – thanks for coming!). I kept looking for my Duchess. My Duchess, who has been so supportive. My Duchess, without whom I could not have done this. My Duchess, who right now is napping and snoring in the room (sorry Duchie, but the truth must be told for the historical record).

A dip of the wheels, a scoop of Atlantic Ocean, and this puppy is history. Done and done. It's out of my system. Forever. I did the mother. My life can now be separated into two parts. The part before this ride, and the part after the ride. I'm onto the second part now.

Now, what about next summer. Maybe Mount Everest or an expedition to the South Pole. Yeah...that's the ticket. Duchie...where's my suitcase...I'm gonna need a bigger bag!

Final ride stats:

money raised for Team Lara $26,052
3,690.6 miles (5,978.8 kms)
ride time 223.5 hours
average speed 16.5 MPH (26.7 KPH)
calories burned 74,803
climbing 106,663 feet
8 flat tires
5 bike tires
2 bike chains

2 saddles

The DQ Blizzard, Snickers, and milk shake count is static today and probably will remain static in the foreseeable future as I try to return to normal eating patterns. Here are the final totals (boo frickety hoo, I haven't had a Blizzard in 3 weeks!):

13 Snickers
14 Blizzards

6 milk shakes

Now on to today's mail:

Allan from Toronto writes: "

Don't really know how to congratulate you on your accomplishment, just simply glad to have your sorry ass home." Believe me, my ass is sorry.

Esther from Toronto writes: "

Congrats Mark! There will be lots of time to reflect and reminisce. Enjoy your ride to victory, it's an amazing accomplishment that few can boast. We're looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday." Thanks and I can't wait to return to some sense of normalcy too.

Jo-Ann and Alan from Toronto write: "