Day 46, August 5
Bedford, PA, to Gettysburg, PA
Today's ride, by common consent, was the toughest of the entire cross-country trip. "Nothing else came close," said Peter Maron, one of the stronger riders in our group. The hills were very long and steep -- and there were very many of them. Isabel Zsohar's GPS showed that everyone climbed about 7200 feet during the day. You would think that after seven weeks of riding that everyone would be in excellent physical condition, and they are. But even strong riders complained of stiffness and sore muscles after the grueling ride. I decided that the route was not designed for recumbent bikes ridden by older people and rode the luggage truck. Earl Wooten, 68, accompanied me. Martin Berndt, 73, upheld the honor of the three geezers on the trip by riding the entire distance. As far as I can figure, most of the male riders on this trip are in their 40s and 50s, with a couple in their early 60s. Then there's a big jump in years to Earl, Martin and me.
Three tough old salts: Bill Cook, Martin Berndt and Earl Wooten.
We're almost to the end of this enormous journey. In a sense, it seems like just yesterday when we left Seattle. At the same time, it's sometimes hard to remember what the early sections of the ride were like since so much has happened since. We've travelled 3300 miles, experienced tragedy along the way, suffered through record heat waves, and climbed hills that totalled 18 miles of vertical ascent. We've ridden in glorious cool mornings with fog in the valleys, seen spectacular scenery, and we've watched a romance blossom. I've spun my cranks about 1.5 million times. Despite some rough spots along the way, the ride for me has been a satisfying experience, demonstrating to myself that I can still do strenuous physical activities. It's been a way like no other to see how gigantic and diverse our nation really is. It's been a chance to get to know a group of fascinating people who are very different in most respects except for their love of biking. I can honestly say that at no point on the trip did I ever say to myself, I wish I'd stayed home. As Rachel Ginsburg put it, "It's been a bad novel that I had to read to the end. I couldn't put it down." I have not lost my enthusiasm for bike touring. For the future, though, I think I'll leave the old tent at home and check into motels along the way.
Doing this blog has been a special pleasure. It's been fun to write a little after being away from the game for several years, and it's rewarding to hear favorable comments from those who've read it. It's also been a real pain to get the stuff written after a long day on the bike when you are so tired that you can barely stay awake. And it's been hard to find Internet connections along the way. In the rural west, you get a blank stare if you ask if wi-fi is available. "What's that?" Often I had to revert to dial-up telephone connections to get through. I've sat in restaurant booths and church basements with my IBM T41 laptop plugged into a telephone line. One camp operator declined to let me into her combination home and office (OK, it was a double-wide) to use her phone, but she did run a phone cable out her kitchen window so I could connect on her porch. At one elementary school the kindly principal unplugged his laptop so I could tap into his high-speed line.
I've located wireless connections that just happened to be available when I needed them and logged on to some unknown person's system to transmit. I've sat in Starbucks and other coffee places for hours on layover days so I could use their wireless systems. (Right now, I'm in The Spot coffee house and bookstore in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.)
I sent text directly to the blog software. Pictures and video were another matter. Sometimes I delayed posting an item until I could shoot a picture or get one from another rider. I edited stills in Adobe Photoshop and then sent them by email to Seamus O'Connor, the able summer intern in McClatchy Newspapers' Washington bureau who kept the blog running every day. I processed the video on my computer with Adobe's Premier Pro editor, but transmitting it required a high-speed connection. Video files were uploaded it to a server in Germany designed for sharing long files. Seamus picked the video files off the German server and mounted them on the blog. Most of the video, by the way, was shot with a simple Sony digital point-and-shoot camera at the high-resolution setting and edited in Premier Pro. A couple of longer files were shot with a small digital video camera.
On Tuesday, after two short, 50-mile days, we'll be in Washington. We'll enter the city as a group for a final photo shoot in front of the Lincoln Memorial. We plan to arrive at the memorial right at noon. Than we'll pick up our luggage and go our separate ways. It will have been a great run.