Day 4

September 8th, 2010

After Dennis did most of the work yesterday, I took the lead today, simultaneously to do my share of breaking the wind, but also to keep us at a relaxed pace for another easy 60 miles.  10 miles in we got breakfast at a cool little counter+porch, sharing a table with a couple cute girls from Toronto. 

Half the ride (to Ocean City) was along the coast on Hwy 1, and I think we may have been in a side-scrolling video game or cartoon.  We would pass mini-golf, a beachwear shop, and a restaurant. Then mini-golf, a beachwear shop, and a restaurant. Ad infinitum.  There was a sweet bike/bus lane the entire way though, and since I’m pretty sure they run only one bus a day, it made for nice riding for a commercial area, and there were tons of cyclists out.

The second half took us inland, through more rural areas.  Along the way, we were getting text message updates from our manager at work. Eventually we made it to Goff’s GreatVALU in Snow Hill, Maryland, where, after stocking up on lunch and groceries, we sat down on the sandy concrete outside with my phone plugged into an outlet, one headphone in each of our ears, and dialed into a conference call.

And that’s when we got a kick in the gut, from 1000 miles away.

Our entire Chicago office was being eliminated.

No fucking way.

When we hung up, we were both pretty dazed, and weren’t really sure what to do next.  At the moment, we’re continuing on as planned, but reserve the right to change our minds as we cycle through the series of emotions and moods that will surely wash over us in the next couple days.  At the moment I think we’re doing pretty good, and in some ways it’s nice that we’re together in this boat, as we obviously know what the other is going through.  And hey, a bike tour with a friend is probably more fun than one with a co-worker anyhow, right?

Day 3

September 7th, 2010

Woke to a surprisingly cool morning, but that was nice for getting in the early miles, again through some quiet forested areas. Dennis was feeling strong, so I was happy to let him lead the way into the mild but noticeable wind. We were heading to a ferry, and trips were scheduled to depart at 2pm and 3:30.  At the pace we started at, we would be so very close to making the 2, but I figured there was no way we could maintain that pace over 60 miles, and we pseudo-agreed to just relax and get the 3:30. However, even at “relaxed” pace, Dennis was doing a annoyingly good job at keeping the 2pm in play.  But after his knee started complaining, we finally came to our senses and shut it down a bit.  And a good thing too, since we ended up getting there just before the 2:30 ferry departed. 2:30? Yeah, apparently I read the schedule wrong. D’oh.

In addition to not inventing fake deadlines, I need to convince Dennis that he’s probably the fastest loaded touring cyclist the world has ever seen; even at 50% effort, he’s faster than me, and I’m pretty damn fast myself.  But the psychology of bike riding is very weird, at least for us.  Even for me, if Dennis is cruising at 17mph and I’m happily following in his wake, I think, “when I take the lead, I’ll back us down to an easy 14mph.”  But then I somehow find myself up front cranking away at at least 16mph.  So we need to get control of our minds, and that will keep our bodies in shape.

The ferry took us and a boatload of cars into a new state, Delaware. It was a bit slower than the NYC ferry, but a nice relaxing ride on another beautiful day.  At short ride then brought us to our campsite at Cape Henlopen.

One of the reasons I’d had trouble letting go of the mythical 2pm ferry was because I had made plans for us to visit Dogfish Head’s brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, one of my favorite breweries.  We would be meeting some old friends of mine, Heather and Matt, who live nearby.  Not only were they nice enough to come out on such short and poorly-planned notice, but they even picked us up from the campground!

I filled myself up with three fine Dogfish Head creations (Palo Santo Marron, DFH Ale, and Chateau Jihau), and they were great, but sharing the evening with good people made it truly special.

Then, on the way back to the campground, Dennis and I got a chance to take the “shortcut” from town, walking straight down the beach. This is another bit I’d had planned in my head for months, so I was glad Dennis was game and we could squeeze it in. The 4-mile hike began on the lively boardwalk (where we gained firsthand experience of the unusually high concentration of Russian immigrants in the area), continued along the edge of the roaring surf, and ended with Google Satellite View and GPS leading us across the beach in total darkness to the trail back to the campground. Quite a memorable night.

Day 2

September 6th, 2010

We were out of New York like a shot, speeding on the SeaStreak catamaran ferry to New Jersey.  It moves through the water so fast, the wind almost knocked us over when we went up on deck, and Manhattan was nearly gone by the time we got our cameras out.

It was a stunningly gorgeous day, with piercing blue skies and perfect temperatures. Labor Day weekend may still be the figurive end of summer, but I have heard from several people now that it is no longer the traditional end of summer. Due to earlier school starts, that date has been moved to a less-celebrated, earlier time.  And our experience bore that out.  There were people out and about,  but not nearly what there would have been 20 years ago, especially on such a beautiful day.

So the weather was just one of the things that made today one of the best first days I’ve had on a bike tour.  After the ferry, we leisurely explored the abandoned military installations at Sandy Hook, walked across the beach to put my hand in the Atlantic Ocean (I asked her to be kind to us for the rest of the trip), had lemonades on the Asbury Park boardwalk, rode 88 miles, much of it through the quiet and empty Pine Barrens, had a root beer at a roadside drink stand, and generally had an awesome time.

I had the useful experience of learning what Dennis has felt like on our previous rides together. Since I had always planned all my own routes, I basically have them memorized in my head and I pull them out as I go. But because Dennis planned this trip, there are times where I don’t even have a good idea which direction we’re headed, much less where we are. I think I already started getting used to it, but I wish I had had the experience before so I could have empathized better on our last trip.

Crazy moment of the day: sitting drinking Gatorades outside a grocery store in Whiting, literally seconds after I said “this is a really peaceful grocery store”: BAM!!!  An insane drug-addled old hag nearly uprooted a concrete post as she slammed the back of her SUV into it. Then, she floors the gas, squealing out of the parking spot, careering straight for us!   I was up and running,  but she veered away at the last second, with some help from a curb biting into her rim. What then?  Well, she slowly circled the lot, returned to her original spot, backed in successfully this time, and calmly hobbled into store, happily inhaling a cigarette stuffed in her toothless mouth, while leaving the engine running with her dog inside. Yeah. Insane.

The day proceeded without incident after that, and we stopped at a great campground Dennis booked in the pine forest, Pilgrim Lake.  It may cure me of my natural aversion to private campgrounds. It’s very quiet, intimate, and dark, the people are nice, the lake beautiful in the sunset, and the wood plentiful and quick to burn.  When they learned we were on bikes, they were kind enough to charge a reduced rate of $20, which is a great deal around here, but let me tell you, they would have to have brass balls to actually ask for the $100 they have listed on their price sheet.

2010 Day 0

September 4th, 2010

The Day(s)
Started out nauspisciously as I was dumb enough to miss the Metra commuter train (by 10 seconds) that would take me to Union Station.  Thankfully I was smart enough (or dumb-lucky enough)  that the next train would still hopefully get me there in enough time.  And Dennis was good enough to not get mad at me for adding unnecessary stress to the beginning of the trip.  Ended up making it there on time, and due to our experience and Dennis’s help, had my bike boxed in literally three minutes.

The train ride was uneventful, but about as pleasant as a 20 hour train ride can be.  Taking advantage of the power outlets, used my phone to listen to music, track our route, write this entry, watch a movie ((500) Days of Summer, pretty good), and read half a book (Nights In Rodanthe, intriguingly bad).  Felt like I got a fairly good night’s sleep too.  Not to much to see until we turned south at Albany and followed the Hudson River through the hills.

And then we were in New York! Stepping off the train, had to immediately dodge dripping water, then walk up a broken escalator.  What a craphole of a city this is! Ok, my first impression was fixed when one of the first people we talked to (a woman watching us put our bikes back together) said “fugheddaboutit” several times as part of conversation.  Yeah.  Then had fun riding with the taxis and buses and bikes and pedestrians to our hotel.

For dinner, went to an Italian place next door, where we met up with an old friend,  Ivan.  We hadn’t seen him since, let’s see… Friday?  Yes, we came all the way to New York to have dinner with a guy who sits 8th feet away from me at work. But that was cool (he was in town to see the U.S. Open)

Real ride starts tomorrow, can’t wait!

The People of Amtrak
The Imaginary Friend Guy: on the full train, tells every train employee that “his friend” is coming to take the empty seat next to him.  Even after the train has left the station.  Amazingly, he pulled it off, and had the one empty seat in the whole car.

The Amish:  Amtrak is a bit like jury duty: it’s an opportunity to see people who normally are not.within the range of your social radar.  It makes me realize that even the most broad-minded and inclusive among us probably still have too narrow and self-centered picture of who “Americans” are.   When is the last time a cable news analyst has asked “Health care reform, illegal immigration, bank bailouts: what do the Amish think of that?”

The Indians: There were two entire bogies on this train that could have been picked up from an Indian Railways train that went way off course.  Just part of the Indian affinity for railways? No, because I’d never seen such a concentration of Indians on Amtrak before.  Rather, I think it’s Niagara Falls.  I get the feeling that Niagara Falls is a very prominent North American wonder in the minds of Indians, as if it’s featured in every 4th grader’s geography class.  Or maybe it’s just a convenient place to do a Canadian border crossing for visa renewal. Either way, after the Buffalo stop, those cars were ghost towns.  I was reminded of the latter possibility when the border/immigrations officers came on board (hint: if you tell them you’re an American citizen, they won’t ask for your passport or anything else like they do if you say no.  Yeah, it’s not quite Arizona here yet)

The singing waitress at the breakfast car: “Imma bring you another orange juice, so you better not be nursin’ that one!”

The conversationalists: sharing a booth in the lounge car, two newly-met gentlemen of obviously different backgrounds, talking for hours on subjects ranging from taxes, to Venezuela, to the value of a college education. All with good humor, and like the jurors mentioned above, without rancor.

2010 Bike Tour: Eastern Seaboard

September 3rd, 2010

Hey, it’s time for me to go on my 5th multiweek bike trip. This is the first one not planned by me, instead, my friend Dennis did all the planning and plotting and I get to go along for the ride.  So you can see all the details of the trip at his site:

I’m traveling without a computer this time so most updates will come via my phone’s touchscreen keyboard, so that may make me a bit less verbose than usual.  But I’ll attempt to post some updates here when I can.