Thursday, August 2, 2007

Day 45 - Henrietta to Liverpool NY - Sobering Sunrise

Day – 45 – Henrietta to Liverpool (Syracuse) NY
A sobering sunrise incident

Euphoria Meter (1-10): 3…Very hard to feel euphoric when one of your buddies goes down and is badly hurt.

Ride Stats:
Distance: 108 (Gerard and I did some extra)
Riding Time: 6:00 hrs
Max Speed: 34 mph
Average Speed: 18.2 mph
Total Miles traveled: 3,236
Miles to go: 393

Weather: God continues to smile on us in this category. Blue skies. Tail and cross and some head winds. No sign of rain or clouds.

Incidents and Rider Report:
Today my thoughts are very different than they have been previously. I am focused on something we all know can happen and hope and pray does not. These thoughts, like your own mortality, occupy typically a small portion of your thoughts, but occasionally rise to dominate them through various life events. Today one of those events happened.
But before that, let me take you back to day 0 for a minute. The very first “Rap” session we had in the hotel in Astoria, OR now seems like a faded dream of the past. Rich and I had spent the morning touring Oregon with his friends Nancy and Dennis. We arrive at the appointed time (which we now know as code for 30 minutes earlier) and are basically nearly the last ones to assemble our bicycles and ride to the Pacific and dip our front wheels in the Ocean. When we come back to the hotel the group has assembled for the first “RAP” session where Mike Munk is laying down the procedures, safety rules and expectations for having a smooth trip.
This meeting is like Church, when you come late there is always room up front. Rich and I end up sitting right next to our new preacher, Mike Munk. The way I happen to be seated I am facing the “congregation” of 75 strangers. The seat I have was interesting because as Mike was talking, I was able to both look at him and watch the various reactions of all of these people who I did not know at all and who did not know me either. Funny how you can do what my dad calls “Mental Gymnastics”…jump to conclusions, just by looking at someone’s face. There was one particular person in the audience who seemed especially serious, studious and concerned about following Mike’s wisdom that sticks out in my mind. Today’s story is mostly about this man. I didn’t know his name then or anything about him, but he did make that impression on me. Over the last 45 days he has become someone I have had the pleasure of getting to know and respect a great deal.
Now, on day 45 these 75 strangers have become what feel like intimate, close friends. We share this very unusual experience of sweating together for over 300 hours together. My good friend Rita Heritage 20 years ago on my first week long bicycle trip said, “You really get to know someone when you sweat together with them.” Her words ring very true this morning. This morning starts off early. Rich Simpson, my roommate refers to wake up time as “reveille” which seems appropriate given the military feel of Mike Munk’s organizational style, which works very well on this “forced march” we’ve all signed up for. Anyway reveille is set daily by Rich and it comes early this morning at 5:30 am. We go through our normal routines. I get up, drink a bicycle water bottle of water first thing, go to the bathroom, shower (I like to start clean), apply seat lubricant (body glide now is working well), sun tan lotion, get my outfit of the day on (my map of Idaho shirt and Cannondale shorts), put my dried out wash in the bag, pack my toiletries, throw my big bag on my back, pick up my computer bag with one hand and Mariah with the other and go down to sign in and load my stuff in the box. It is now 6:15 am and I am nearly last out of the chute to load.
Today we had the option to eat the snack food provided at the hotel or have a real breakfast 1 mile backwards on our route at a local diner called “Peppermints”, or go to McDonalds. You could have eaten at 6:00 am at the hotel, earlier at McDonalds, or wait until 6:30 for Peppermints. Rich opted for the quick departure and has coffee and cereal at the hotel before I left the room. I am now on my bicycle headed to Peppermints by myself. On the hotel parking lot at this time the group is somewhat disoriented. Most are turning left onto this wide, five – lane road that goes up hill and into the sun as you turn east or left. Peppermints is to the right. On my way out I talk briefly with Janna (“Yanna”) who is waiting for her riding buddies Jim Emshoff and Bill Patchett. During the last few weeks I have come to know these folks a little more intimately through pre-dinner drinks at the bar and sitting next to them at some of our more leisurely meals. This group has opted for the early breakfast and is on their way. I say good morning and goodbye for now to Janna and head west to Peppermints.
Arriving at 6:30 at Peppermints about 9 others have already arrived and been seated. The restaurant has only one server for our group but she turns out to be interested in serving us and knows the ABB drill. She has served the group for the past three years and apparently understands that 6:30 NEVER means 6:30. Her attitude and friendliness are really appreciated by our eager bunch. I join big Mike, his wife Janette, Lenny, Gerard, Steve Flowers at a six top. We joke about how the big tables that are seated first are always served last at breakfast. Not many riders choose the “full breakfast” option like we have because of the time it takes. The other thing we’ve learned now is not to ask for much off menu from the waitresses because that adds more delay to the service. Everyone at our table stays with the program and orders the “slammer” which is two eggs, pancakes, bacon and sausage or oatmeal instead of the meat. Everyone but Gerard orders the oatmeal. He doesn’t like oatmeal or peanut butter and I mean he REALLY doesn’t like them. That’s another story.
So we are telling jokes, laughing loudly, enjoying each other’s company on the gorgeous early morning. The other table of riders (John Knapp, Jean, Colleen and Marilyn) are laughing hysterically at something and we stop to try and find out what. Just then, Dr. Rich the elbow-pad wearing dentist from Seattle walks in awkwardly. He struggles over to the empty seat across from me on the six top table and he is shaking like a leaf. He looks as if the weather outside was 15 degrees with 40 knot winds and he was riding for an hour without a jacket. He’s white, not in the same mood as us and can’t stop shaking. As he sits down across from he looks at me and shakes his head back and forth. I ask, “Rich, what’s going on?” He looks down the table at everyone and all eyes are on him. No one is laughing now, we can tell something is not right and Rich begins…
He explains that he was about to pull out of the hotel, taking the right turn West towards Peppermints as he witnessed one of our riders get violently hit from behind by a speeding motorcycle. He wasn’t sure who the rider was. He watched the motorcycle hit one of our comrades and cause him to fly 15 feet through the air off the bicycle and land face first on the pavement and not get up. Dr. Rich further explains that twenty others quickly pulled out cell phones and went into action and that he did not feel he could add any value to the situation and came over to get his breakfast. His witnessing of this tragedy shook him badly and now we were all shaken as well. I am still shaken as I write this in the early morning (after being awakened by prank phone callers twice and not being able to go back to sleep, thinking about this situation).
We sit.
We stare at one another.
No one now feels like laughing or saying anything.
I wonder did Rich Simpson make it out ok? Who is it? What has really happened? Are they alive? How badly hurt are they? What is this going to do to our ride? The questions popping into my head seem endless. The silence is almost deafening. The waitress finally interrupts with our food and it is excellent. We play with our food. Our voracious appetites seem to have left the building.
A few more minutes go by and Rich Schwartz, the new rider from Boston comes in, pulls up a chair to our six top and makes it seven. He has more news on the event, having just left the scene of the accident he recants what Rich has already told us. He adds a few more facts, lots and lots of blood. Pools of it. The motorcyclist also went down, his pants were stripped off and apparently he is scraped up too, but not as bad as our rider. He also is able to identify our downed rider as Bill Patchett.
I sigh. The last few days he and Jim Emshoff have been a big part of my free, non riding time. Bill and Jim were both Corporate executives who chose to retire to Chapel Hill NC in the same community. I have learned that Bill is on this ride due to Jim’s encouragement and prodding. Jim had emergency heart by-pass surgery a year ago and wanted to do this ride. Jim’s cardiologist begged him not to do this. Jim believes that the ride, the training and the conditioning will strengthen his heart. Jim is heavily medicated and struggles to keep his pace near Jim’s. His medication Jim explains is designed to keep his heart rate low and as a result his muscles do not get the oxygen they’d like to go at the pace he would like. Jim and Bill are neighbors. I have learned that Bill is on this ride to be Jim’s guardian angle, watch over him, make sure he’s ok. Not once in the last 45 days have I seen Jim without Bill on this ride.
Day 0 flashes back in my mind. I see Bill Patchett in the audience, a stranger, not the close friend he’s become. He is the one that seems to be paying the closest attention. Taking copious notes, asking good questions. Bill has taken this ride very seriously. It can’t be Bill of all people that has been whisked away on a stretcher, not moving at all. After all it was his good buddy Jim he was worried about, not so much himself. Bill was the stronger rider. Every time Gerard and I would see them out on the road it was always strong Bill leading Jim and usually several others. Sometimes big Mike, lately Janna and anyone else who wanted to travel at his steady, good natured pace. Of all the riders we’ve talked to, to my knowledge Jim and Bill were the only two who meticulously followed the training guide sent to us. It required mileage that was at the pace of the ride and huge time commitment. These two took every bit of the advice seriously and have had 44 straight days of very positive experience as a result. Today was their exception.
Breakfast just wasn’t much fun. We eat anyway. We are on a mission. The phrase, stolen from the blues brothers, “A mission from God!” doesn’t seem funny now, but it is still the case. We must go on. At this point I’m not sure why other than it was the decision I made and stopping now just would not be right. Bill wouldn’t want that, I don’t want that and no one said it, but I don’t believe any one in our breakfast bunch wanted it either. Ernst, the governator, later shares with me that Alfredo was so shook up by the event that he chose not to ride today.
Let me break this story up a bit and share a quick side note about Ernst. I love the guy. He’s 67, fit as a prime racing horse, enthusiastic, talks and acts like Arnold Schwartzneger does in his movies. He’s just great. At rap last night Bob Frame announced his departure. Bob explained why he was leaving…his nieces wedding. He went on to explain that he was really sad to leave, wanted badly to finish the ride, but that this was the plan. Ernst, not shy, interrupts Bob saying, in his very best Arnold imitation (which is not really an imitation but is the way Ernst is) says, “Booob, dis is naught a prawblem, juiced dell dem to kansell da wedding”. He seemed serious. Bob picks his cell phone out of his pocket and pretends to make the call to cancel the wedding. We all got a kick out of it.
Back to day 45.
We get up slowly, on to our steeds. The ride today from our breakfast takes us back to where we started, past the front of our hotel. No one really knows what the status of Bill is. I am with Gerard. We ride single file down this busy, rush hour street. As the hotel comes up on our left I see two drying puddles of liquid about two feet in diameter with trails running towards the side of the road. For some reason there are two 3” x 5” rolls of gauze partially unrolled and now that I’m closer I can see are soaked in blood. No one says a word. I have trouble seeing clearly as my eyes well up. I swallow hard, take a deep breath and peddle just a little bit faster. I look once again at my cue sheet for the next turn and how far away it is. All my attention all the time. I can’t forget and it is no guarantee.
Someone once told me that if an extra curricular activity had no chance of serious injury it couldn’t be any fun. I think of that comment as I peddle on. Life is not without risk. This event is truly an “Allegory of life” and today that point comes home from a very different angle.
We peddle on. All business, no chatting, high alert attitudes about traffic, signals, cues, etc.
The first 25 miles of the ride today are very pretty. We spend these miles on a beautiful bike path that follows the Erie Canal. There are historical markers and information along the way that we stop periodically and read. The early morning sun on the water combined with the shade of the tree lined water way make for a very nice setting to peddle through. This IS what we signed up for. It has been delivered to most of us today. Bill would have enjoyed this.
It takes a lot longer to do miles on a bike path. Our first sag stop is not until about 35 miles out today. Gerard and I catch up with Marianne and Barry, Big Mike, the Delaware contingent of Jen, Brett, Russ and now their new Mike who I haven’t really spent time with yet (lots of Mikes on this trip). No one knows any more than we do about Bill. We keep riding.
Eventually we get to the SAG and it is Barb Munk’s tour of duty to set up sag one. Today for some reason people seem to keep forgetting to take off their gloves before grabbing for food. She doesn’t let them forget for long. Barb takes her job very seriously and our continued good health and germ reduction is important to her. We are grateful for that Barb. She has some special treats for us today. A custom that seems to occur on this ride is that friends and previous riders like to stop at the SAG stops periodically and bring unexpected goodies. We had doughnuts in Wisconsin, fantastic Oatmeal cookies in Boise and today at SAG one a nice lady named Kathy has brought some of the best tasting brownies this group has ever had. They are a welcome respite from the daily stand issue of bananas, sugar cookies, crackers and gatoraid. We all know we have to eat these things but after 45 straight days of stuffing these into our systems we no longer get enthused about it, we just quietly do it. Today the brownies are especially appreciated. People seem unusually concerned that other riders behind us don’t get left out of this special treat and they do not take seconds.
It’s good to see Rich Simpson at the SAG. I hadn’t seen him since reveille and was wondering about him. No one seems in any hurry to leave the stop today. It’s 10 am and we are parked in front of an ice cream store. Ice cream seems to be one of the big things that the group looks for every day and does get excited about. A number of folks get this comfort food early today. Not lots of joviality. Even the Millers are quiet today. Gerard and I move slowly. John Knapp takes off. He is on his own. Others follow his lead and get going again as well. Out of the corner of my eye I notice Barb on her cell phone, head down talking quietly off to the side, away from the group. I can hear bits and pieces of the conversation. I wonder if she’s getting news about Bill.
She is. I walk closer to her and it now sounds like she is actually talking to Bill himself! I am elated. The conversation seems to be going well. Barb is telling him to stay put (Jim went with him to the hospital) and that they will be sending a van out to get them. She’s about to hang up and I interrupt her asking if I can talk to Bill. She tells him to hang on and hands the phone to me.
The first words out of my mouth are, “Bill,…. On a scale of 1 to 10 how are you?” His reply….warm, friendly, you’d never know he was injured, “How are you Ralph!?” It is the real Bill. He’s more worried about my problems than his own (one of the secrets of the Ultra Happy). I won’t take the bait. “Bill” I say, “seriously, how are you”. He then explains that he has stitches in his forehead where he bled profusely. He remembers nothing of the accident (kind of like my college biking accident where I was found in a pool of blood). He feels good. He’s standing outside the hospital in an unusual outfit, his spandex and a hospital gown (they cut off his biking jersey and threw it away). They gave him some Tylenol and discharged him.
By now there is a crowd around me. Everyone wants the phone. Rich takes it next, followed by Marianne and others. Barb tries to end this, but someone says “he’s just waiting outside for you guys to get to him, what else does he have to do?”
You can’t imagine how elated we all are. Our buddy has obviously dodged a major bullet and we could not be happier. Not giddy mind you, still very serious. This is the wake up call Mike warned us about. It feels a little like what the 911 experience. Initially you were worried about your loved ones and if you were able to reconnect with them you were comforted, felt better but you were still upset and concerned about the future.
We are better riders. We are in better shape and condition. We have more experience, but this is still not easy and it is still not over and we do want to finish. This is not a group of cry babies or quitters. As a matter of fact, Delaware Russel’s bike has painted on the top tube, “no cry babies”. Everyone here wants to finish what they’ve started. It seems to be a habit they all have in their lives. If we can help it, this ride will be no exception.
We leave the sag stop in a much better mood than we arrived. Bill is going to be ok. Nothing is broken. He is banged up but seems to be ok.
Now we are off the bike path and on a nice smooth rolling road with a reasonable berm. Gerard and I start to get into the “second half” pace we seem to do. The speed picks up. He pulls, I pull, we help each other. We pass Max and Mark Mendleshon. Mark tells Max to go ride with us. Max hops on.
Max had zero road bike experience before this ride. He did it as a tribute to his dad, a father son sort of thing. If you haven’t checked out their blog you really should, it’s the top dog of the trip blogs. See http://acrossamericainfiftydays.blogspot.com/, it is well worth it. You will get a sense of their creativity and Max’s computer skills. Anyway Max’s biking skills have improved a lot. He is much steadier. Very strong. Good cadence. At the beginning of the ride his only biking experience was mountain biking. His legs flailed all over like a toddler learning to walk fast. Having him in your pace line was uncomfortable early on because you never knew quite what to expect from Max. He’d be on your left side, your right side, he’s speed up quick, slow down, have his camera on you, be off the road, in the road and everywhere. Today was different. Max has learned the skills and rides like a champion. He even slowly pulls out in front of Gerard, taking the lead from the Dutch wonder and picks the pace up just a little bit and holds it nicely there. Now, with a nice tail wind and this good news about our friend, our riding spirits have been boosted. Gerard won’t leave Max out front for long. He knows that Max’s enthusiasm will get the best of him and he risks being dropped if he stays out front too long. Max will figure out his capacity and today Gerard decides won’t be the day and Gerard takes back the lead. I relieve Gerard after a bit and he and I go back and forth with Max in tow. After about 40 minutes of this Max announces he’s going to ride with Denise and Debbie who we are coming up on and we say goodbye for now. It was fun having him along.
I ask Gerard why he doesn’t have a rear view mirror, as experienced a cyclist as he is. He explains that in Holland you can’t get them and no one rides with them. We don’t discuss it any further. A little while later he asks if I’d like to go to a bike shop with him. There is one that is off route ten miles or so and I agree. It turns out he’s decided to get a rear view mirror. They don’t have one like mine and he wants one that is flexibly attrached to the helmet like mine. I get my chain replaced (my third one for this trip) and the bike cleaned up a bit. Today has been the dirtiest day we’ve ridden. Lots of dust on the canal bike path.
We work our way back to town and catch up with Joel Paine, Wisconsin Gary, Denise, Debbie, Alan and others. Joel asks me where to have lunch saying I have the reputation of finding the nice lunch spots. I’m not sure. I ask one local who didn’t give me good answers. I notice we’re near a law firm office and decide to walk in. Three ladies at their desks look up at my sweaty (it’s 90 out) self and ask if they can help me. I ask where is the best place for lunch? They reply “The retreat”. Then I ask do they have good milkshakes (the group’s favorite recovery drink). In unison they all reply “Go to Heides”. The small mob takes their advice. We enjoy a great lunch at The Retreat and smaller group, Gerard, Gary and I go to Heides for ice cream. It turns out Heides was established in 1886, has been remodeled a few times and is quite the hot spot in Liverpool NY.
Afterwards Gary heads back to the hotel and I join Gerard for a beer hunt. He has a special beer he wants to treat Lenny to that is brewed in Montreal and is called something like “La Du Font”. It is 9% alcohol. It takes quite a few miles, a stop at a liquor store (which can’t sell beer in NY) and three grocery stores to find it. He buys a six pack and carries it under his right arm for our 5 mile journey back to the hotel.
I spy a hair salon and decide it is time to begin my re-entry back into society. I say goodbye to Gerard for now and stop to see if they can take me. The one woman in the place is busy and says she’s booked. Oh well, I go on. A few blocks later I find another hair place and walk in. I think I scared this people and probably they lady before. Picture me now, scraggly beard, unkempt hair, sweaty and sweat stained in spandex, bike shoes, sorts, helmet and sunglasses. Not their usual customer I guess. After a little coaxing Phyllis decides to take a chance and work on me. Exactly what she did will not be revealed just yet. I want to keep that as a secret for now.
After my session with Phyllis I travel back to the hotel finishing off m 108 miler. A little different than the scheduled 80 miles for the day, but I feel like I could go much further. It is amazing to me how my body has adapted and seems to enjoy this daily dose of exercise, sunshine, sweat, cookies, bananas and endorphins. I’ve noticed the same things in Rich, Gerard and others.
The stop for ice cream with my dirty Mariah.

At the hotel I join Mark, Jan, Brett and Jen who are all cleaning their bikes. Janette is keeping them company, the consummate Southern Belle. Always smiling, good natured and something pleasant to say. Everyone seems happy that Bill is among the living and all things considered, “OK”.
Rap is a late time, 7pm but as usual, starts exactly at 7pm with folks lined up way ahead of this time. Everyone but Bill and Jim are in attendance. Mike Munk starts out with “I know you all get tired of hearing me rant about these safety issues, but unfortunately today you found out how quickly things can and will happen. You can’t be careful enough. I am at the counter, paying the breakfast bill and I get the call, “rider down”. There is no placing of blame here, these things can and do happen. Now maybe you understand a little better why I am so anal about these issues.”
I don’t think anyone ever questioned Mike’s motivation or his intentions. We all appreciate them and frankly I am in awe of them. It’s easy to understand why he was a successful military leader. He has your best interest in mind and he’s tough and dedicated to that. He’s not a “cruise director” or an entertainer. He is a “get ‘er done” leader and this ride needs that in my opinion.
Mike goes on through his routine, explaining tomorrow’s route and our various meeting times. As he wraps up, Bill walks up behind the crowd assembled on the shaded grassy area next to our ABB selected Super 8 of the night (triple A rated but I couldn’t find the rating anywhere). All heads turn and simultaneously begin to clap. Through his bruised face and stitches he manages a smile very close to the one we are all used to enjoying. We all know what happened to him could have happened to us. He’s out for the remainder of the ride, but has decided to continue to travel with us and meet his wife and Jim’s wife in Manchester. These two are the ones who really wanted me to encourage my wife Cindy to join them at our “last supper” in Manchester.
Jim and Marianne have been cooking up some sort of skit for this event. They both pulled me aside about a week ago and warned me about it. Apparently my “character” has some role in this that they wanted to prepare me for, but they would not tell me any more. Cindy has told me she can’t quite make it however and I will miss her. Maybe she’ll avoid some sort of embarrassment by not being there.
After rap is over I get my first chance to talk in detail with Jim. He’s concerned about Bill of course, but Jim is committed to finish the ride. He shares with me that Jim wants to do the skit badly and continue on with the group to the end, even if doctor’s orders say he can’t ride due to his stage 3 concussion. Privately many of us hope that Bill is at least able to ride or be pushed somehow at the end on a bicycle to dip his front wheel into the Ocean with the rest of us.



3 comments:

Ray said...

Wow... another great blog. I am able to partially experience what you are going through from my desk top... It is rewarding, to say the least. I'm sorry to hear about the accident...

Marlene said...

Hay ralph; Tell Jim and Bill to look up Catherine in Chapel Hill.

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