Sunday, August 18, 2013

Day 67 & 68: Arrival to Washington DC.

The end. Washington DC. How did we get here??? It honestly just kind of felt like another day, especially towards the beginning... We met all of the routes at George Washington University to group up before riding in. We had a little team celebration, went to Starbucks in our extra time, and then got in our now 90 cyclist double pace line. I rode with Colin on the way into the Capitol. Colin was one of my first good friends that I met, and it was fun being able to ride in with him.

Seeing the capitol at first was a pretty crazy feeling. It's hard to describe, but it wasn't quite as emotional as I thought it would be. One of the first memorable things upon arriving to the crowds was a lady coming out of the crowd and speaking spanish to Colin. Colin and I were both so confused, and she tried to practically stop him on his bike and take a picture or something. We both just looked back and laughed after we "got away."Following that, I remember Colin first seeing his family, and then I saw my Dad, Cole, and Holly all together at first and then my mom was trying to take some pictures nearby too. I think they might have missed me initially, but we saw each other right as I rode by. Then, probably my favorite moment was getting off of my bike and walking across the Capitol lawn. Colin and I had fallen back from the rest of the group about 30 yards, so it was kind of like we were leading the walk up the lawn. There was music playing in the background, the crowd was going crazy, and it finally really hit me what we had finally accomplished. It was hard to hold back the tears at times making that walk to the Capitol. Some of our chapter brothers from Miami were there on the right as we were walking in too, which was really cool. Then, we walked past the crowd and went to put our bikes off to the side. Our teams gathered near the middle for our picture formation and that is when we were finally able to see everybody on our team again. That's when the tears started to fall. Some of the guys were really emotional, and that just made all the more emotional too. It was awesome being able to celebrate this moment with all of my brothers and new best friends though. Sad that this was our final moment together, but amazing nonetheless. we had lots of pictures, speeches, and special recognition to some of the top fundraisers. Derek, Michael, and Saurabh were all top fundraisers, and they definitely deserved the recognition. Nick, our Project Manager, gave a great speech as usual.

After getting pictures with all of my friends and family, we made our way back to the hotel to drop off my stuff. Then, with just my parents and uncle Charlie and aunt Nadine, we went to a restaurant overlooking the White House at "The W." My mom got told not to use her telephoto lens to take pictures of the snipers on top of the White House too, which was kind of funny. I almost forgot, but on the way to The W, we were caught in ("marching with") the pro-Morsi parade with thousands of Egyptians. That was kind of fun, because I had never seen a big rally like that before.

I went to the hotel and just chilled with the roommates, Luke and Blake, until the banquet. The banquet was nice. I got to talk to the Rogers family a little bit again, and there was a nice slideshow of all of the JoH groups and Build America. Before that, however, the Bruce Rogers awards were given out to one man on each route. Our team voted (secret ballot) to give the award to Michael Walton. As a good friend of mine and a great person, I was very happy to see the award go to him. We really had more extraordinary guys on this trip than I have had to opportunity to meet in my life, perhaps. I mean, our team was really something special, and it was incredible to see everybody develop into such great leaders or whatever their role may have been on this trip. To conclude the banquet, Chad Coltrane requested that our team do our signature "Everytime we Touch"dance. It was amazing being able to close with that. So much fun and so much energy during and after that dance.

That night after the banquet we went to a restaurant in D.C. called Vendetta. It was Saurabh's family, Cole, Holly, and then my parents and I at one table and then there were some other JoH families at the same restaurant as well. After a good dinner, we tried to meet up with everybody at a bar that JoH apparently traditionally goes to on the night of arrival. However, they were reluctant to let anybody under 21 in and then they wouldn't even let the unders walk around and socialize in the bar area. So, lots of people left The Dubliner and went back to the hotel to try to find a group and something to do. A group of us ended up walking back to the Capitol and then pretty much the length of the National Mall and ended up at the Lincoln Monument. It was Derek, Blake, Michael, Saurabh, Luke, Austin, and myself that made the walk. I think about half of us were sleep walking during the trip and I literally fell asleep on the steps of the Lincoln Monument. It was around 1am, and we had hardly had any sleep though lately. Anyway, I think we were a couple of miles away, so we ended up just grabbing a cab back to the hotel. Derek had to wake me up at the hotel too. That was pretty much the end of our night though. Not too much really happened, but it was awesome walking around the Mall with everybody and seeing the Capitol at night.

Saurabh and Michael had to leave at 6:30 in the morning, so pretty much the same group got up at 6 and went to Starbucks. Well, Michael got up and then woke up my room for all of us. From Starbucks I said my final goodbye to Michael and a "seeya in a couple weeks" to Saurabh. The rest of us went back up to the room and slept until about 9:30. Then, Colin texted me and he wanted to get breakfast. So, at about 10:30, I went back to Starbucks and got a second breakfast, but it felt like a brand new day. It was weird to think that the now busy Starbucks was pretty much exclusively occupied by six of us a few hours earlier. Weird, but I love the feeling of being awake before almost everybody else. It kind of creates a special bond between those who are awake and enjoying the morning--from my experience this summer at least. Colin and I found lots of people in the lobby on the way back, so we said goodbye to a lot of people then too. It was kind of sad saying bye to everybody, but it's something that I think everybody was pretty much prepared for. In fact, at least 10-15 of us already have plans to meet again in October. Those who live way out of the way of Knoxville, Tennessee I will definitely try to visit sometime, especially when they live in amazing places such as California, Seattle, Ft. Worth, and New York.

From there, I was on my own, away from the team for the first time in 67 days. The best 67 days I could have asked for. I went to my Uncle's house in Bethesda though, and we had a late brunch at a Louisiana style diner. It was one of the most fantastic meals I had had in a long time--eggs benedict, but with blackened catfish instead of an english muffin and the hollandaise sauce had an oyster touch to it. The ride home after that caused some nostalgia. We rode along scenic 40 so we could stop at Nemacolin and get some coffee and just check it out. Scenic 40 was the same road we spent a few tough days on, and some of the memories from the ride were as vivid as the current sights themselves. Then I ate at Moe's burritos and then I was home. The end.

Except, as I'm sure you know, there won't be an end to this story for a long, long time.

Day 66: Bethesda, the last real ride

The last day of riding, and I'm riding with Beau and Saurabh, the same pace line I started on day 1 with... About 10 miles into the ride, Saurabh took a spill on what was undoubtedly the most slippery road of the entire trip. He made it every day with a wreck, but just couldn't close out the trip. Lots of other cyclists and even a van slipped, but Saurabh was the only one to go down. There was a one lane bridge at the bottom that caused some cars to stop somewhat unexpectedly...

Then, at about 9:30, about 10 of us stopped at a McDonalds on the side of the road. We all got some breakfast again and it was fun just hanging out on the side of the road eating with a few other pace lines. Other than that though, it really wasn't a great ride for me. I was coming off of being just generally fatigued and I think I mentally checked out a day too early. We got though the ride just fine though and arrived to Landon High School, which was an amazing private high school. We had Subway when we got there for lunch and then had some free time to shower, pack our bags to be shipped ahead to DC, and relax. The locker rooms had huge, open showers. It's funny to think about how different our team handles group showers now compared to back in the first week.

Dinner was a special event tonight because we met up with the all of the Journey of Hope routes as well as Build America for a good dinner at a church. I got to see Peter for the first time and I talked with some of the other South guys. It was crazy how much Peter has thinned out, and it sounds like he had a great time. The ride back was really fun too. We chugged Red Bulls at a gas station on the way back, and cinco de vano was a party for those 20 minutes after on the way to Landon HS.

Upon getting back, we polished our bikes, took some van pictures, and did jersey signing for everybody with the jerseys we had worn all summer. Then, we had our very last team meeting. I started a "sleeping bag fight" after that, which was really fun. As in, we were jumping around inside our sleeping bags and just trying to hit each other. It was so much fun, but my zipper was completely broken in the process. Oh well, it was the last night and it was a cheap sleeping bag. Definitely worth it. About 6 of us then slept on the same mat that night in very close quarters. A fun night for sure.

Day 65: Hagerstown

As far as the ride goes, more of the same today. We didn't have quite as much climbing though, and it was a very interesting ride. I rode today with Alex, and we made really good time throughout the ride. It also felt kind of like the last real day of riding (kind of), so I wanted to push it a bit but also for it to be fun. There was lots of fog in the morning though, which may have been a bit dangerous, but it was awesome riding and descending the hills through the fog. About 20 guys behind us actually formed a peloton early on in the ride, which we ended up joining after they caught us around mile 50 because the first two pace lines had to go 6 miles out of the way because a turn was not marked. It was worth the extra mileage though, because riding with the big group was a pretty cool experience.

Lodging was at the Potomac Center which is a center for people with disabilities. We had some free time in which I cleaned my bike some, took a shower, and had ate some snacks the center provided for us! Dinner was an interesting experience, but definitely a good one. Alberto and I escorted a blind women named Laura from one building to the gym where we were eating. We held her hand as we slowly made her way across the campus. I had never helped or really experienced anybody truly blind before, so I enjoyed being able to escort her. Then, at dinner, I sat with Blake and another woman who had cerebral palsy. Many of the clients needed help eating, so Blake and I took turns feeding her chicken pot pie and applesauce. It was one of the more touching experiences we have had on this trip and I'm glad I had the chance to help feed one of the clients.

After dinner, we had a couple of hours of free time before having our Pi Alpha ritual. We were up a lot later than usual with the team, but being the second to last night on the road, I wouldn't have it any other way. I was truly worn out after dinner though, which is coming at a bad time... I was even more tired than the previous day and I know I haven't been this tired the entire trip. I'll have time to rest in a few days though at home.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Day 64: Cumberland, MD

Climbing, Climbing, and more climbing. The ride today was truly a test, but I know my pace line handled it really well and we had a great time. There really isn't a reason not to have a great time with how little we have left. Today I rode with Michael Brooks and David, which was a great group to ride with because we are all about the same in terms of biking ability. It was also an awesome day because I hit 50+ mph 4 or 5 times today. I had not hit 50 one time before today's ride. There were just so many straight, smooth, steep hills. Of course, that meant some challenging climbs too, but those are welcome after so much flat land since Wisconsin. I got a flat tire right as I was leaving a crew stop about halfway through the ride. Then, as I was pumping up my new tube, that one became flat too..... Fortunately we weren't in a hurry, because it took a long time to change and inspect those two flats. That set us back probably 5 miles from the next group though, so any competitiveness we had was out the window by this point. We kept a good pace, but the objective was really to find a McDonalds at this point in the ride. Then, at the top of a big climb right before a big descent, there was a McDonalds! David bought us Mcflurries so we sat outside by the road (to be seen by crew) and enjoyed those (realllyyy enjoyed) before finishing out the last 10 miles or so.

The YMCA we stayed at had nice showers and a nice brand new turf field for us to nap on, so it was a great few hours of down time. We voted on our favorite friendship visit of the summer before dinner, and the winner was PEAC! PEAC is a growing operation out of Ann Arbor that teaches kids with disabilities how to ride a bike! They see biking as a way to integrate into the community and develop confidence. Then, dinner was at a nice state park under a shelter with the local Rotary Club. We had some amazing burgers and fried chicken with fried ice cream and brownies for dessert! Delicious. It also started raining during dinner, which I liked a lot. We were close to a lake, it was a cool 70 degrees, and there was all the good food we could ask for. Then, to cap off the already perfect evening, I put one of the extra 60 hot dogs under our truck's windshield wiper. It was one of the funniest/goofiest things I had done in a while and we all thought it was hilarious.

After getting back to the Y we had to move our stuff over to their elementary school building where we stayed for the night. We had a fun team event, and one thing led to another and I ended up trying a small bit of cat food with Micael W. I thought it was fine, but apparently the texture almost made Michael throw up. Which just made me laugh uncontrollably and it was hard for me to make any progress on the cat food. But, we both ate it. Michael gave me a bandana of his as well, which will probably be one of my favorite mementos from this trip. It was actually the bandana that I wore when I had to dress up as him for our team event. After a long but fantastic day, everybody was out for the night.

Day 63: Uniontown

The first order of business this morning was racking our bikes and driving to Chick-fil-a for a sponsored breakfast. I could start most days like that, because for the first time I experienced just how amazing Chick-fil-a's breakfast is. Then, we had a shorter ride today of only 37 miles. Alberto, Travis, and I rode together, and did very well for the most part. There was one really long hill that Travis and I randomly decided to sprint up.... Well, we didn't know it would continue up and get even steeper after the turn, so I was incredibly burnt out after the first half of the hill. It was at least 10% grade, which really gives your legs a good workout. 

We arrived at the local YMCA to a great lunch. We had lots of fruit, veggies, chicken tenders, and I think some italian sausages with peppers and onions. Perfect for lunch. Straight from there, we headed to white water rafting on the Youghiogheny river! Andy, a cyclist from last year happens to be a guide, so he was with us through the class three rapids. It was intense at times, an our raft of Beau, Jesus, Dan, and myself did not navigate the most difficult rapids too well. The most intense part was going into "dimple rock." We were one of two rafts to flip, and I am so glad that we did. Going down the next few hundred yards out of the raft, just floating with my lifejacket was honestly one of the most fun, thrilling experiences on this trip. It helped that I could see Dan floating a ways in front of me (he was terrified). I was having a great time though, enjoying every opportunity to kick off of big rocks, get sucked under for just a second, and be tossed around the river. Ironically, after I got to the end, I was standing on a rock watching everybody else when I became distracted and slipped on the wet part of the rock. I hurt my elbow bad at the time, but it was fine after about 15 minutes. This was an amazing experience, a beautiful river, and a great team event. 

After rafting we web straight to dinner sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. We had a wonderful meal and continued the tradition by taking a photo under the gazebo that stands outside the Knights of Columbus. There a huge volleyball game in the yard next to dinner as the sun was setting, but a few of us played horse shoes as well. I lost on a comeback victory 14-15. It was a great ending though, and we were all bad, so no complaints though. We headed back to lodging, got ready for tomorrow and went to bed. Fantastic day. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Day 62: Pittsburgh day 2!

The day started an hour and half before wake up with coffee with Michael at about 6. We were going to go somewhere in town, but the hotel had Starbucks coffee in the restaurant so we just sat at a table there until breakfast time at 8. The waitress was kind enough to waive the small charge upon finding out what we were doing as well!

Breakfast was actually right outside the hotel restaurant in their outdoor seating area. We had a huge breakfast sponsored by some of the Pittsburgh chapter brothers and alumni. We actually had a couple hours after that, so we went back upstairs and watched some tv for a while before heading to our friendship visit!  The friendship visit was at a center for people with cerebral palsy and a couple other disabilities, but most of the people there were confined to wheelchairs. We had a “tailgate” inside which included bbq, pierogies, and some other typical tailgate snacks. Lots of people were also dressed up in Steelers and Pirates apparel.

After that, we had some more time off to hang out. We went back to the same ice cream shop and I got a root beer float this time. The rest of the time until dinner was spent either watching Anchorman or Ace Ventura, we watched both that day. Dinner was at a camp called Woodlands with about 40 campers and the Build America team! The camp does a fun thing where if you get caught eating with your elbows on the table, somebody will start a chant and you have to run around the cafeteria building. HOWEVER, it was also fair game to throw cups of water on them as they ran around and even right as they tried to enter, so that was fun. We also did a program that night where we talked about some of the challenges we faced and how it related to many of their lives. It was actually a very good program that apparently had a large impact on many of the campers. The next day, we got an email from the camp director telling us that many of the campers had said things like, “how did they know what I was going through” and many had been very inspired. I didn’t see the impact we had because we were only there for a couple of hours, but many of the people in the audience were given hope for their future, and that is more rewarding than just about anything else on this trip.

Aside from loading the elevator with too much weight and breaking it for about 10 minutes, the rest of the night was pretty uneventful.  Except for the fantasy football draft! Almost forgot about that. We have a 12 man Journey of Hope league, which is also my first fantasy football experience. I think I managed to pick a good team, but we shall see.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Day 61: Pittsburgh

The ride into Pittsburgh was said by some to be difficult, but I thought it was a very enjoyable ride and my pace line held a great speed today. I had an awesome pace line today with Michael Walton and Stubel, so that helped get through the day quickly as well. As far as the ride itself goes, we had some steep hills and rode through some cool areas as we approached Pittsburgh through the small towns in the hills. We rode the final mile as a huge group too on the way to our stage up location, which was fun too. We rode to a bike path right on the river where we had a lunch of Chipotle sponsored by a pi alpha. People took pictures of their bikes standing in the water where it was shallow (Saurabh’s bike took a swim), we fed the geese some chips, and we even took a little nap before then having to ride another few miles along the path to the arrival location.

We arrived at the Three Rivers Association with Build America. I thought we were going to have a friendship visit, but we actually just checked out the facilities, some of which was funded by Push America. They did a lot with rowing in the community, so we just did some of the rowing machines and checked out an extremely long row boat.

After that, we went to the hotel to check in and shower. We had some time before bowling and some guys came over to my room and pretty much just had an hour long party in my room. We had a dinner and bowling team event (only team) after that at an awesome, antique feeling bowling alley. Jack, Reggie, Marpe, Austin, and I destroyed the competition. The sponsors were the parents of a cyclist from a previous north route and they also made us some awesome cookies. Literally the best cookies I’ve had all trip. Michael and I both would steal any cinnamon cookies upon finding other people’s bags of cookies lying around.

Later that night we also went to Primanti Brothers and Derek and I split a Cajun chicken sandwich. It was a big sandwich and it had had fries, coleslaw, and some other stuff all on it. After that, we got some ice cream at a local place called Dave and Andy’s. They had some interesting flavors, like chocolate jalapeno and sweet potato, but I stuck with the classic cookies and cream. Although, I sampled those two and they were both good (note: spicy and sweet is very odd).

We headed back to the hotel for the night after that. It was pretty funny walking back, because Marpe just kept shouting something like, “It’s our night in Pittsburgh!!” and taking pictures of all of us posing by random things.