Ride of Silence



#19 Crooked Tan Lines: Made it! Aug 11, 2013

On an Atlantic beach in Virginia.
Happy faces everywhere!
OK. Let’s cut to the chase, the money shot.
I’m done. Yes, I did it. I finished four days ago on Aug 7, 2013. I rode my bicycle for 3578 miles (officially; unofficially the distance was over 3600 miles) across the U.S.

Please accept my apologies for not writing as much as I wanted. It was my goal to keep up this blog daily, knowing it would be difficult. Instead, it became impossible due to the finite hours in a day and the necessary things that needed to be done post-ride every day. If someone could have prepped my bike for the next day, showered, laundered my clothes, pulled out the clothes for the next day, gotten prepped on the next day’s ride, walked to go get food, and do my night routine before bed for me, I would have had a better chance of writing every day. This didn’t include emails, phone calls, or solving issues such as been sick, or when I crashed. (More on that later.) Trust me when I say my mind was writing even though my fingers didn’t have access to a keyboard.
Note bleeding left elbow. Can't tell any one.
I have struggled with how to answer people when they ask about the trip. They are sincere in my welfare and want to know. But, they appear to want a one-word description answer such as, “It was nice,” and then they are allowed to walk away with a smile on to the next thing.

But, even if I give them only one word per day (32) and per state (12), we’re still talking about a 44-word answer. Janalou has wanted to be present each time I’ve been asked because each time is a different answer and she’s learned more about the trip, details that have become blurred, and moments that are quickly melting away or into other moments during the ride.

Now sitting back home in the comfortable confines of a chair without ointments on my butt and in a controlled air temperature without wind, within close proximity of a bathroom and food, I want to be very clear on a point about this ride:

I didn’t hate it.

This came out of a discussion last night and I felt simultaneously embarrassed, maligned, and misunderstood. It was an incorrect assessment of the crossing. This wasn’t true. I didn’t “hate” the event. How could someone hate something and continue on with it for so long, something that at times was grueling and painful? No, I didn’t hate my bike ride across the country.

Ask most people who cross the finish line of a marathon or Ironman and what they won’t say is, “It was fun!” as they’re bent over in cramps and throwing up. And yet, within minutes, these same people are thinking about their next event.

However, the ride was hard and not for the faint hearted. Sometimes it was grueling, and usually lonely. It was peaceful at times, and dangerous at others when I was traveling over 60 MPH down a mountain pass. It was overwhelming to point of long empty stretches of road threatening to swallow me up or sitting on a bench shivering after 6 hours in the rain knowing I had another 4 hours to go. It was majestic when riding through snow-capped craggy peaks and looking over miles and miles of open fields without a single tree. It was scary waking up on the road after a crash at Mile 85 with another bike, and having to ride another 60 miles. It was all these things and more.

This was the accumulation of every run and every bike ride I’ve ever been on. It combined every surface, environment, pain, and joy I’ve experienced over the past 43 years, at least, with a great sense of accomplishment. In my post-ride  hangover (people warn of depression after such multi-day events), I do sense a different perspective of my home and my life in it. It might border on existentialism how even though we are all different and separated by great swaths of geography, we are all connected and united under the belief that all men and women are created equal, with certain undeniable rights, as our Constitution says.

I want to fill you in some of the characters we rode with.

I wrote an article some time ago for The Phast Times News that got a lot mileage called, “The Flaw.” It suggested that the more athletic a person was or the longer the event was, the bigger “hole” or “flaw” the athlete were trying to cover, hide, or fill in. In other words, there is a deficiency the athlete is trying to make up for. In the same way an artist suffers for his art, an athlete puts all his pain into his performance. Greg Floyd sent me an email during the ride articulating the same thing, that man is in a constant search for a higher power (God).

One thing was clear. Endurance cycling and accompanying cyclists are a culture unto themselves, just as endurance running is, with the athletes being socially awkward (one endurance rider said, “socially inept”). That was true for some of the cyclists on this ride, but not all.

There were about 30 of us. Four tandems (three husband & wife teams, and one father & son team), several lawyers, an inventor/chemist, college professor, a vet and professor, a father and son on individual bikes (the son turned 16 on the first day of the ride), high school teacher/coach, and several that were retired. There were riders from several U.S. states (California, Washington, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Nebraska, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Connecticut), but also Puerto Rico, Australia, Italy, and Canada.

The tandem father and son is a chiropractor while his son, Zak, has Down’s Syndrome. Zak was very popular, high fiving everyone. He was so happy. If didn’t matter if he was cycling for 10 miles or 150 miles. He was known to stand up on the bike and pump for three miles. That’s an amazing feat. But, during the ride we saw him stand up for six (6!) miles and pump. Though we were all very proud and supportive of him, his dad, Greg, was also proud of him. At the end, Zak received a well-deserved standing ovation from all the riders and crew. It was a very touching moment.
Neil and Marci. Long sleeves.

The two organizers, husband and wife, Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo are super stars in ultra-cycling world. I knew Lon threw my college roommate, Bob Rubey, who came and rode with us one day. Bob told me stories about Lon in 1982, and had a poster of Lon holding his bike after setting the cross continental record. ABC Wide World of Sports did a special program on him. ESPN was doing a story on him during our ride that will come out later this year. Look for it.

Susan also owns records for cycling across the country, one on a tandem with her husband, Lon. These are people that have the knowledge, experience, and passion for being facilitators for other people’s dreams of cycling across the country.

I wore two pairs of bike shorts since Montana. It seems to be what saved me. Or rather, saved my butt. I used a LOT of the chamois crème products “Butt Butter” and another called, “As Master.” Actually, gobs of it. Yup, nothing like several guys standing around with their hand down their shorts lubing up! Male bonding!

Richardson Bike Mart and Gator Skins. 3600 miles on the
same tires and no flats!
For those who pay attention to such matters, Continental “Gator Skins” tires were by far the best tire. No one with those tires flatted. I, and several others, made it all the way across with a single flat tire. I think everyone who didn’t ride with Gator Skins flatted. These were not very expensive, either. But, they took a beating! (Thank you South Dakota and Minnesota department of transportations!)

Some of the roads have been pretty good. Most have been terrible! I see this as proof that traffic engineers are not taking into account other road users, or those that legally have a right to use the roads. Another example of how our society is blind to those not on four wheels with an engine. This is just not right, even though the law says differently.

The biggest difference in my comfortable level, I believe, is my bike. It’s a Specialized Robeaux with “Zerts” in the front forks, rear forks, and under the seat to absorb rough road surfaces. I tested this extensively in Texas on chip seal roads (tar mixed with stone.)  It is similar to riding over a cheese grater or maybe the rumble strip on highways, for miles and miles. The shaking not only wears out the rider, but wears out the components of the bike, too, including the tires.

Every day I wear sunscreen over my face, and sunglasses! Let me tell you about the virtues of prescription sunglasses. WOW! To be able to see now when I’m running or cycling is huge! Previously coming to Texas, I never owned a pair of sunglasses. But with so many sun days, it became a necessary purchase.

My watch died about half way. L It became necessary to buy another one immediate because of the tan line from where I wore it. Pearly white exposed skin under the sun for 10 hours at a time would have created another problem.

I think it was Friday, July 26, riding 123 miles from Albert Lea, MN, to LaCrosse, WI. It was a beautiful day. Oh! Beautiful day! After 19 days of head wind (a very unusual weather pattern), we got a tail wind. YES!

Though it rained and stormed later in the day, this was our best day yet, averaging 22.2 MPH. It was our first day in 19 with a tail wind. Oh, hallelujah! Geez,…how sweet it is. Everyone was enjoying the break in the weather, which has been downright freaky.

A high pressure dome that normally sits over Dallas, and gives Texas its endless 100 degree days, was located between Chicago, New York, and DC, baking those people. A low pressure system went backwards from New England to Dallas. How weird was that?
All this made unusually weather for us as we travel east.
Last day heading to the beach. Ready to be done.
Usually, normally, the weather patterns are from west to east. Everyone knows this. Including the weather! However, in an unusual turn of events, we’ve had headwinds, almost entirely, for 18 days. “Geez buddy, give me a break.” Thankfully, it came. And not a day too soon. (Oops! I’m whining. J )

It was a great day. Man, we averaged over 25 MPH between miles 82 and 102. “SWEEET!”

There were a few minor…problems. One guy of our leading foursome would sprint up the hills during his pull, then go to the side to let the next person through. Problem was that next person was worn out, and unable to pull through. This happened over and over again. No one wanted to say anything for fear of coming off as impolite or rude. But after one incident, we’ve let our feelings be known, explaining a better way to break the wind for the group.

We’re not the only group that’s had…issues. Members of one group said there was a rider who “gave more instruction than a nuclear submarine captain.”

Wrapping up against injuries and the cold.
No breakfast this morning. UGH!
The Crash:
It was July 23. In the lead group I had been riding with for a few days, some wheels got tangled about Mile 85 one day when we were scheduled for 145. I was third person back in the echelon and got caught up in it, slamming the left side of my head to the pavement, with my sunglasses cutting the bridge of my nose on the inside toward the eye. Somehow my left hip, shoulder blade, and elbow sustained contact with road, too. The point of impact was above the left ear. The helmet did its job, but is cratered on that side. I have some road rash on the left shoulder blade (was worried I damaged the surgery from the last wreck), left elbow (matches the scares from the Peach Pedal wreck last July), and left hip. Ouch! I remember the impact with a white light going off. But, don’t know how I came to be lying in the road on my back hearing the voice of one of the other cyclists bringing me to. I remember thinking, “I got to get up before one of the organizers drives by, spots me, and pulls me out.” So, back on the bike I went, and rode the remaining 60 miles looking a little dazed, bloodied, and damaged.

Organizer Lon saw me and asked if I went down, I looked away, and gave a casual, “Yeaaah,” and nothing more. I wanted to make sure I rode every inch from coast to coast.

This is the first time I’m mentioning the incident. Many on the ride never knew. And no one back home knew, either. …I didn’t want to worry them. I kept a stiff upper lip and pedaled on.

Monty, Bob Rubey, Lance Shelton.
Dressed for the cold.
The morning of July 30, as I went to get my bike (usually we slept with them leaning against our beds as there was so little room) in a downstairs room off the hotel lobby, Michael Montgomery (Monty) surprised me. “Hey, Slap Happy,” he casually said coming from behind a large post dressed to bike. My eyes welled up because it was so nice to see someone that knew me and had spent many, many miles with on the bike.

Monty I have spent the most miles together of anyone I’ve ever biked with. His thick quadriceps and strong build give him the talents of sprinting and hitting incredible fast speed bursts. We biked
through Costa Rica together in 2007, climbing the famed San Isidro and Lantana mountains while carrying panniers filled with clothes and supplies, and a pineapple.

I was over joyed to see him and told him so repeatedly. Monty knew Lance, too, since they were the same kind of cyclists. Monty would bike with us for only four days before heading back to Dallas for work. But, his birthday was Aug 4, so we could celebrate it together.

I was glad Monty came up because now he fully understood and appreciated what I was doing. He had a sore butt, too. And his hands were sore. He told me how hard the 375 miles he had done with us had been hard on him. He said he couldn’t believe how we’re handling 2600 miles. …It gave me a sense of self-respect and achievement.

Darci West, Lance Shelton, Monty dressing in long sleeves.
With him, came the masseuse I use in Dallas, Darci West. She was another welcomed smile. She scored getting a job on PAC Tour for the remainder of our journey. Her birthday was Aug 7, the day we finished. It was wonderful to have to good friends.

Also on July 30 (going to Grand Rapids, MI, I believe), another event happened for the first and only time. Lance and I over slept, mistakenly setting the wrong time on our respective alarms. We woke up 15 minutes before we were scheduled to leave. You know you’re in trouble when the first thing you hear is your roommate yelling, “OH, CRAP!”

As you might imagine, we threw our stuff together, got dressed, got our bag and bike downstairs, and left, still trying to wake up. It was 50 degrees! (BRRRR!) I missed breakfast and I was hungry. My butt was VERY sore. I was having a rough time pedaling 15 MPH. …I was having a rough go.

Thankfully, everyone else seemed to be having a rough morning, too. The first stop wasn’t for 30 miles. I rode on one half of my saddle, and ate an energy bar.

At 30, I wolf downed some almonds, a banana, Fig Newton’s, and some Gatorade. By Mile 60, our second rest stop, I was doing better and got some more food. By lunch at Mile 98, I finally felt back to normal. I knew I didn’t want to repeat THAT again.

One of my college roommates, Bob Rubey, also joined me came. He drove up from Rockford, IL where he lives and rode along as part of our coalition. Ride Of Silence organizer Gary Gilbert and his friend Lisa met me and Bob for dinner in Portage, WI after riding on the worst roads of the 12-state trip in Minnesota (20’ concrete slaps separated by large expansion gaps that jolted the rider for 30 miles! Horrible!)

Lisa Stokdyke who came up from Southlake, TX, and showed me around Manitowoc and Sheboygan, WI. It was a wonderful break as we ate in an old time ice cream shop (Beerntsen’s). We’ve been friends since our days at American Airlines together in 1988.
Dan, Geiselle, Tom making our way through the wind
and down the road. Long sleeves again.

A visitor I had on July 30, while we made our way through Michigan was Carl Woodard, who, along with Bob Rubey, was one of my Best Men. I met Carl in 1976 while we served on the ship in the U.S. Navy. Great guy. This time I was honored to meet his twin brother, Eric, too.

On July 31, Grand Rapids to Coldwater, MI, we had wind and a constant soaking rain, that left everyone chilled. I spent 10 hours in the saddle that day, mostly alone, and not really happy. I couldn’t wait to get to the hotel. I was cold, wet, and tired. I just wanted to go to sleep. I was so happy to hold a cup of hot chocolate at the 6 hour point. It was miserable.

Ride Of Silence web master Tim Potter met and rode with me the next day. We had some great pork chops south of Coldwater. Again, always nice to see friends. We stayed at a very nice place that belonged to friends of his, Bob and Helen in the middle of an apple orchid on the edge of a lake. Any other time and I would gone running in the orchid and swimming in the lake.

Friends from across the street from where I live, Barry & Amy Milliron, met up on Aug 1 when we arrived in Lima, OH. They brought brownies and cupcakes for the riders, while we went to Olive Garden and I enjoyed salad.

Mike Stieglitz, another Best Men at my wedding, as well as a my coach/mentor/and friend, biked the last half of our ride from London to Circleville, OH Aug 2. Along with his wife Kathy and children Brian and Ann Marie, we met up with a cool guy from Young Life – North Carolina, Mike Pacula, and had an italian dinner.

During the ride, things run out. It’s hard to pack for 30 days and know every condition one is going to come upon. My watch broke, I had worn out my cycling shorts, and my energy powder at run out. Janalou had to ship me some to a hotel down the road from where we were.

Music helped me tremendously during those long stretches of nothingness. But, my earphones also went on the blink and had to get some more. As for the music I listened to:

Barton Hollow, 21, Quadrophenia, Never Mind The Bullocks, Elephant, Look At Yourself, Ænima, If You Want Blood You’ve Got It, Sticky Fingers, 2112, Get Your Wings, Ziggy Stardust, Paranoid, Revolver, Thick As A Brick, LA Woman, Wish You Were Here, Making Movies, Dookie, Billion Dollar Babies, etc.
No disposable music here. No “bounce” “taylor slow” or “celine be gone.”

On Aug 3 from Circleville OH to Parkersville, WV, we had torrential rain at the start and for most of the morning. The afternoon cleared and we all seemed to hold an easy pace over the easy rollers and (relatively) short distance of 100 miles. We all knew what was coming the following day two days, Sunday and Monday, August 4 and 5. It would be our two hardest days of ride, and they would be back-to-back.

Peaking! Making to the top of yet another mountain pass.

Aug 4, Parkersville to Elkins, WV, we stabbed the thick morning fog and headed to our appointment with the first day in the West Virginia mountains. The ride took longer (7 am to 4:30 pm) because of the climbs. But, this first day was the easier of the two.

The following day we had to gather all of our strength, persistence, knowledge, and experience to make over the 7 mountain passes spread over the 106 miles into Virginia. No one along our route cheered us on as they didn’t know what we were doing, as the drivers and pedestrians hadn’t in the rest of the country.

I was happy reaching the hotel thinking, “I’ve made it past the hardest part. There is nothing they can throw at me that I’m not ready for.”

Learned so far
I learned The Ride Of Silence has a long way to go.

I can ride 100 miles when I’m sick, or injured, or both.

I don’t tan.

Once my body is at a level of activity, it almost doesn’t matter what I eat or when I eat it. But this is not the norm for 97% of the American population.

A good foundation is underrated. Know where you’re sitting, what you’re sitting on, and who you are sitting with.

Prescription sun glasses are underrated.

I learned the American driver needs to learn to share the road with other users, as stated by law. He also needs to learn he has a brake, and that there is not a Bill Right that says he must do at least the speed limit. Last, drivers must realize it is not a federal law to pass. But to pass only when it is safe to do so, as they learned in driver’s ed.

I learned we are all different, yet all the same. We are united under one flag and belief of freedom against persecution for our religion, race, gender, and political beliefs. Yet, are all separated by geography, upbringing, interests, and goals. And none of is wrong in this country.

I learned we all have a story, from the most influential, richest, accomplished, and educated, to the least of these. As I entered the scattered cities and towns along the 12 states we crossed on our path from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans, no one beyond PAC Tour knew what we were doing, least of which the motorists. We all have a story to tell, one that maybe even our closest loved ones don’t know about. Hidden secrets deep in our soul, we are all seen as one dimensional shadows moving along the sidewalk without a past or a future. In contrast, we all have both. This truth makes me sad because many people are not able to tell their stories because few appear to care in a country where the individual is so highly elevated and separated from the fabric of the rest of ones’ community, let alone country. Yet we had a story to tell. People would do well to hear other people’s story. They will be surprised and might learn something.

There is the vastness of this country that is hard for anyone to comprehend; that we live in such an expansive and rich land there is the appearance there is enough room and food for all of its people. Maybe there isn’t. But if there is, it will be because we share and aren’t wasteful with our resources.

The great majority of American’s are obese. It’s a sad fact easily seen, everywhere. Fact: Bicycles can help, along with air quality and congestion.

Best Restaurant: Sandpoint, ID, Arlo’s (they take American Express!)
Funniest: crossing the Bad Lands, I put a fizz electrolyte tablet into my mouth thinking it was a protein tablet. The one I took normally goes into a large water bottle and fizzes like Alka-Selter. Instead of fizzing in the bottom of water, it was in my mouth by mistake. I had to keep drinking water to dissolve it.
Worst insects: grasshoppers that fly higher than a cyclist’s helmet and swarm flies more than any horse barn. Both were in South Dakota.
Coolest moment: Riding the last 25 miles of a 150 day (July 22) into Murdo with the legend himself, Lon Haldeman.
Oddest moment: when I frighten two birds with my bike, in the road fighting over an insect, one flew into my front spokes. I didn’t look.

Though I’ve now completed this ride and five other multi-day rides, I don’t see myself as a cyclist. In the same way that I’ve done three swim crossings of Dallas’ five mile Lake Ray Hubbard, I don’t see myself as a swimmer, either. Weird. I always see myself as a runner. Running is my home sport and was the pathway to cycling and swimming.

But this illustrates that maybe we don’t always see ourselves correctly. Maybe we are blinded by what we think are our talents are, or were told what we are good at by a parent, sibling, or teach, who didn’t really know. As a result, we don’t really know until our real talent comes out. In the meantime, we flounder trying to find our spot and place in the world. That came be too late in life for some people who could have contributed to their sport or art and moved it (and themselves) forward. Such a shame.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, he who is not busy living, is busy dying.

So, I want to finish this ride and thread, Crooked Tan Lines, the same way I started it, with thank you’s, because after all, everything finished well.

I want to recognize and thank:

Janalou: wife, friend, life partner; particular and peculiar
My mom and dad, as mom slips away
Lance Shelton: as he said on the last day, “We spent enough time together to be legally married. We almost got a divorce, but we’re not married.”
Dave Morgan, Darren Durrett, and Team Young Life: great people for a great cause!
Bob Rubey: officially introduced me to serious cycling and Lon Haldeman while rooming together at Southern Illinois University – Carbondale. Bob met me in LaCrosse and road a day with us. It was a great to have him along, and a surprise when he said he didn’t want to do such a crossing.
Mike Stieglitz & family: always my coach, mentor, and friend. They met me in Ohio and Mike rode the last 40 miles with me. Very nice to have him as part of this since he’s been present for each one of my athletic achievements.
Dr. Charles Ryrie
Jim Cormier: one of my Best Men, a friend since high school, we used to play hockey together.
Larry Pao: one cool dude. An intelligent runner at White Rock Lake.
Michael Gorton: Mike was one of the inspirations for this ride when he told me his story of riding from Texas to Connecticut. We summited Mount Kilimanjaro together.
Duct Tape People (Dr. Randy, Dr. Dr. Himmelsehr, Dr. Palacios, Dr. Sherman, Logan Sherman, John Sutherland, Darci West): these are the people who were (in some cases, desperately), trying to keep me from falling apart (physically and psychologically) before I left to start this ride. Darci West drove up with Michael Montgomery to be part of the team. NICE!
RBM: Jim Hoyt, Woody Smith, Jack G, Joe Howard, etc, etc.
Mike Keel: a voice of reason in the car-crazy wilderness of Dallas
The Core: Michael Montgomery (He rode with us for four days! On the fourth day, admitted this was hard on the body and that he probably wouldn’t do it.), Tracy Cleveland, Michael Smith, Mike Gibson, Khai Harbut, Jamie Shaw, Joseph Murphy, Art Fairchild
Team Z: Terry Zielger, Victoria Piper, Chris Hughes, Jane Zeigler, and company

TNT-Tuesday Night Track: runners all, triathletes some, but all of open hearts
The support of those who believed and stuck by me.
Those who came out to meet me and offer encouragement: Roger Schramm from Spokane, WA; Lisa Stokdyke from Southlake, TX; Barry & Amy Milliron and family from Garland, TX; Mike Pacula from southern Ohio; Carl & Eric Woodard from Dansville, MI; Jim Doudna from Sandpoint, ID; and Gary & Lisa Gilbert from Arlington, IL.
AND OF COURSE…The Ride Of Silence, those who keep it together (Tim Potter, Elizabeth Adamcyzk, Benoit Valin, J. Steve, Mark Hagar, and every local director around the planet!) and the thousands who have lost their lives legally sharing the road with a motorist.

May the train whistle never be found.

Aug 7, 2013: 3600 miles. The end.