Monday, September 24, 2012

Dear Susan

Monday Sept 24, 2012  Marina del Rey to Costa Mesa

I just want you to know I didn't write this letter.  Mark said somehow he got this by email and he forwarded it to me.  This is the end of this adventure.  What's next?  I don't know but I'm hooked.  

Thank you all for following along with Mark and I.  I hope you got a sense for our adventure and that you will all consider stretching your legs a bit.  You never know what you might find out about yourself.

Dear Susan,

It’s Daddy here. Surprised to hear from me?
Thanks for your e-mail of August 30. I have got to tell you, I haven’t had much contact with your world since I got here, so it was nice to hear from anyone, let alone you. Some of the guys here try to get on the internet, but none of them seem to be able to get connected. As you know, I left your world just at the dawn of the internet, so I never really used a computer before. I’ll try sending you an e-mail now though. I hope you get it. However, I have been having fun with Mummy and her computer. Every time she thinks something isn’t working due to a computer malfunction, she has no idea it’s me just bugging her. Anyway, enough chit chat. They don’t usually allow me to contact anyone very often, so I’m glad I have the chance now. By the way, in case you were wondering, I do occasionally see you up north at the chalet.

Before we get to your cycling trip, I just want to tell you how proud I am of you. After I left, you and your brother Allan built some business! I never dreamed it could be so successful. Wow. What a great job by both of you. But what is even more impressive is that the two of you built that business without sacrificing any family relationships. You and your brother are as close now as you have always been, and I love when you often tell everyone “Allan has my back – always has, always will”. I’m glad you have strong relationships with Esther, Erin, and Carrie too. Plus, you’ve been an incredible daughter-in-law to Irwin and Muriel as well as being a good sister-in-law to Jo-Ann and her husband Alan. I love that you help Muriel with everything, from gambling to finances. It’s cute to watch. You’re a great friend to all your pals. And what can I say about the way you are with Mummy (and Gordie – he’s good for your mother, don’t you think?). Mummy relies on you so much and is so proud of you. But what I am happiest about is how great a wife and mother you are. I always knew you had it in you. I am sorry I wasn’t there to watch the last 19 years in person. That would have been fun, especially skiing with Adam, Lauren, and Samantha. You’ve shown that you can do anything you set your mind to. Speaking of which, let’s talk about the past few weeks (and months) of cycling.

Incredible. First the training. That looked hard. I was astounded that you could spend hours on that stupid indoor trainer. I tried doing that a couple of times (remember?) and hated it. But there you were, hour after hour on that contraption. Mind you, you were watching TV while you rode inside (I remember you were always good at watching TV, especially your favorite show Mary Tyler Moore), but clearly you were putting in the hours. Then, when you got out on the road, I could see that you were serious. I remember from my rides up to Peter’s cottage just how scary road riding can be, so again you showed just how brave and determined you really are.

And then you left on this trip. Good for you sweetie! After I read your letter, I starting thinking about what you wrote. You’re right, I would have enjoyed the adventure and camaraderie that you’re experiencing. I do remember the ride to Peter’s cottage at Balfour Beach for my 60th birthday. I remember it like it was yesterday. Those types of memories stay with you, my dear. Forever. I was proud of my riding that day, and I got to spend a great day with my entire family. It does not get better than that.

But, in your letter to me, you wrote me that you “get it now”. That was three weeks ago. But did you really get it then? Really? If you’re being honest with yourself, I think you’ll agree now that you didn’t get it then. But you get it now, three weeks later, don’t you? You stood on the coastline of the largest ocean on the planet and were stunned at what you saw. Then you climbed mountains and rode hundreds of miles. And then you visited me.

That’s right. I was with you in the Redwoods, on the Avenue of the Giants. Not in any way you can actually discern. I was with you while you had your moment, and you just simply stood there and wept. You wept at the awesomeness of your surroundings. You wept at the sudden realization of how fortunate you are. Why did it take a bike trip for you to feel this? Who knows? But feel it, you did. And for that I am glad. Your moment was good for you. It’s yours now, and you can keep it with you the rest of your life.

Now you get it. You learned a thing or two about yourself these past three weeks didn’t you? Surprising, eh? To learn new things about yourself at age 53? Bet you didn’t expect that.

I love you, now and forever, my beautiful, strong, brave girl.



PS – we get a heads up on a bunch of stuff around here and the word is out – you can officially give up on the Toronto Maple Leafs – they will never win the Stanley Cup

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Family and Friends

Sunday Sept 23, 2012  Oxnard to Marina del Rey

I have to say that today was a really great day and not just because I can see the finish line (and no...unlike a certain former Alaskan governor, I can not see Alaska from my front yard).  First of all, the weather was beautiful, warm and sunny all day long.  Second of all, we got to ride down the Pacific Coast Highway and see spectacular surf, scenery and neighbourhoods.  Thirdly, we spent a couple of hours with some of Mark's family which was special (thanks Lyle and Cynthia for hosting us today). Finally we had our last dinner together and we had the opportunity to express ourselves and say what this ride and this group mean to us...WOW a really full day.

Started off the day at a missile park near Oxnard.

Beautiful view along the Pacific Coast Highway

Mark Koltz and me.

You know who and me.
We rode the whole day today with Mark Koltz.  We started off at a missile park near Oxnard and then we got on the Pacific Coast Highway.  There was very little traffic for the first 20 miles and we made very short work of the miles.  I was able to keep up with both Mark's and before I knew it we were at Zuma Beach at the SAG (for those of you who don't know, SAG = support and gear; Mark's cousins Lyle and Cynthia asked us today what SAG means, sorry I thought I'd explained that one). Several of the riders went down to the water to dip their toes in the Pacific but we kept on moving.  After climbing out of the beach area we continued along the PCH all the way through Malibu and into Santa Monica.  From there we cycled along a bike path along Venice Beach and into our hotel in Marina del Rey.

Mark and I were in Santa Monica for our cousin Brooke's wedding in February and we walked for hours on the bike path that we rode on today.  In February we talked about how we would be riding here in September, and wow, that day was today.  Kind of amazing that we got here this time from Astoria and under our own power.  It was also way warmer today and the beaches were filled with the strangest kind of human beings.

No, these are not the strange people from the beach!  This is Mark's family and they are quite normal.
After checking in (our room was not ready so we had to beg for a switcheroo) we showered and changed and got ready for the family part of the day.  Mark's cousins Jenny, Susan and Steven picked us up and drove us to his cousin Lyle and Cynthia's house for a family get together.  It was incredibly nice of Lyle and Cynthia to host this event and I was able to snap the picture above of the family reunion.   They have a great house and we wished we had more time to spend with all of them.

3 Susan Weisbarth's (it's a long story)
Tonight was the ABB final banquet and we had a nice dinner at a restaurant near the hotel.  Then we came back to the hotel and everyone had a chance to speak to the group to say whatever they wanted.  Many of the riders spoke of what this ride has meant to them and the room was filled with warm feelings and words of thanks.  We all expressed our thanks to Mike, Barb, Karen and Jim for making this ride safe and for getting us here.  Mike prepared a montage of some of the pictures he's taken over the last 23 days and we all loved seeing them.  Tracey brought his guitar and sang a beautiful rendition of "America the Beautiful".  We were all touched and quite "feklempt".  ABB tradition dictates that a map of the route be given to one rider who inspired the rest of the group and that honour was given to Tracey.  Tracey is someone who despite physical challenges none of us have to deal with, rode every inch of this route with an amazing attitude, smiling all the way.  I will always remember his cheerful support while riding into a 25 mile an hour headwind on an 80 mile day.  We all applauded this choice, hugged and said our goodbyes.  Although we will see everyone tomorrow for our short 50 mile day, tonight was the symbolic end of the trip.

I'll have more to say about the end of this adventure tomorrow but for now, I just want to get through tomorrow safely.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Twist and Shout

Saturday Sept 22, 2012  Solvang to Oxnard

Mark and I didn't miss home or his office today.  That's because we often have roof leaking issues at the house and Mark's office (or should I say his former office...). We were sound asleep at about 4:45 this morning when we were awoken by the sound of rushing water.  We turned on the bathroom light to discover water pouring out of the fan vent in the ceiling of the bathroom.  We felt right at home!  Ahhhh, home sweet home on the road.  Speaking of home sweet home, we are staying in a major dump tonight. A major dump. We have a new word for "dump" on this trip. A "dump" is now called a "Guadeloupe". I'll explain when I get home. Suffice it to say, it's a reference to a not-so-nice town in California we rode through the other day.

Mark started riding this morning from Solvang around 7:15.  I chose to take a ride in the van to the first SAG stop 20 miles up the road.  Today's total mileage was to be 81 miles and I felt that missing the first 20 would be OK with me, especially since the first 20 miles was, you guessed it, climbing!!!  Lots of climbing, like 1,300 vertical feet in the first 20 miles. Karen and Barb were in the van with me and we talked about this trip and the challenges it poses.  They both feel that this is a very tough cycling trip, maybe even harder than the cross country trip.  They would know, having done both for the last 15 or so years.  I also talked to Jim separately and his feeling is that this is much tougher than the cross country trip (comparatively on a day-to-day basis) due to the amount of climbing relative to the mileage.

Mark and I met up at the SAG around 9:15 and then headed up the remaining couple of climbing miles together.  Once we reached the top at about 2,200 feet above sea level, we began the twisting part of today's title.  Boy did we twist.  The route down took us along some winding roads barely wide enough for one car.  At various points on the decline, we stopped to rest our hands from braking and to allow our brakes to cool off.  Mike our tour leader mentioned that at certain points the grade was in the 20's. That is hard to picture, put it is really steep. For those of you that know the Crestwood Hill down to the bottom of the Glendon Campus, that hill is 12-14%, so these hills were twice as steep. We're talkin' steep!  The twisting road crossed back under itself at more than a 180 degree angle.  It was exciting and challenging at the same time.  Once we got down most of the way we were in Santa Barbara and the neighbourhoods got progressively richer.  I didn't see Oprah but I'm sure she's sorry she missed us.  These are a couple of pictures Mark took as we were twisting down to Santa Barbara.

After making our way to the 2nd SAG, we followed the Route sheet and ended up on a 4 mile stretch of Highway 101.  This is where the shouting part of today's ride comes in.  This road was like driving on the Don Valley Parkway (don't read this part Mom!).  There was a wide shoulder and a bike lane but it was so loud from the cars and trucks, I could only hear Mark if he shouted.  I'd prefer if I never have to ride on a road like that again but it was the only way to get to where we needed. So we did it, as did everyone else. We survived to tell the tale.

After our adventure on 101, we ended up on a coastal road in Ventura.  I was cycling, oblivious to our surroundings when Mark yelled out to me.  He  thought he recognized the hotel immediately to our right and the overpass to our left from somewhere but he wasn't sure. Then all of a sudden he yells – Little Miss Sunshine!  Remember the hotel they were trying to get to for the "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty pageant in the movie of the same name?  They were on the highway overpass and couldn't get off because they couldn't slow down in their VW van. We rode right by that today as well as the pier that Steve Carell (Frank) and Paul Dano (Dwayne) walk on.  During their walk on the pier, Dwayne talks about how frustrating it is to be a teenager.  His uncle Frank offers him some advice from Proust –"it is your suffering, not your happiness that defines you as a person".  I think this is a very interesting philosophy given what we've been doing these last 3 weeks. Very interesting.

Something I forgot to mention yesterday.  As we were riding through the vineyards, I received a shout out for my Colgate cycling jersey.  I'm 2,000 miles from Colgate and a rider going in the opposite direction recognized the logo and the jersey!!!  Cool don't you think? Anyway, there are only 2 more riding days left and they are definitely the easiest days of the trip. About 50 miles each day, with minimal climbing and lots of ocean scenery. The weather on this trip has been ideal and looks to continue for the rest of the way. I haven't talked about the weather too much, because I didn't want to jinx it, but boy were we lucky. No rain, just a little coastal mist/fog, and almost entirely favourable winds. Thank goodness. This ride was tough enough without having weather to contend with!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Welcome to Duchie's Wild Animal Kingdom

Friday Sept 21, 2012  Santa Maria to Solvang

Today was the day I remember reading about in the literature from America by Bicycle, conveniently ignoring the mileage from all the other days (60, 70, and 80 miles +). What a chump I am, I only paid attention to the 39 mile day! The weather today was perfect for riding, high 50's with little to no wind when we started and mid 80's by the end of the ride.  We left Santa Maria a little later than usual because of the "short" mileage today.  I think I'm beginning to sound like them...them being the other riders on this trip.  If you think about it, 40 miles is 65 km and that's basically our house to Keele and King Sideroad and back...certainly not around the corner but out here on the road, distances are a matter of perspective.

Last night at RAP (the daily discussion of the next day's route and ride) we were warned that we might see tarantulas crossing the road today. Yeah, tarantulas. The monster-sized version of a spider. Needless to say, Mark didn't sleep last night worrying about this possible encounter.

So, we hit the road around 8:30. Mark kept his eyes more focused forward than he has for the other 1,200 miles we've ridden so far. We rode for about 17 miles through mostly farm country and more vineyards. Then I heard Mark yell "tarantula", and the next thing I know, he's down on the ground (safely, with another rider watching for traffic on this empty road) with his camera taking this picture.

                             Mark Koltz on the ground - look at the size of that Tarantula...

I was watching these two brave guys on the ground, watching out for cars lest someone damage the $10,000 worth of bikes lying on the road when a bunch of other riders came upon us.  Phyllis (the rider with the high calorie counting Garmin I spoke about/coveted in a previous blog) informed us of something she learned watching the Nature channel.

Imagine Mark's reaction upon hearing the following in a thick Minnesota accent.  "They can jump you know."  Needless to say, Mark and Mark didn't need any further prodding to jump on their bikes and high tail it out of there.
Mark and I cycling away from the Tarantula!!!
That whole Tarantula encounter got Mark and I thinking about all of the animals we've seen or others have reported seeing on this trip.  They include whales, sea lions, seals, elk, deer, goats, sheep, coyote, wolf, long horn steer, cattle, horses, donkeys, wild boar, every dog and cat imaginable, squirrel, skunks, possum, gophers, buffalo, snake, frog, lizards, turtle, pelican (technically not an animal, and yes for some reason Mark and I have been fighting over whether to include pelican on this list) and now a tarantula.

The rest of the day was spent cycling on mostly quiet country roads through more wine country.  We stopped at Fess Parker's vineyard and tasted a Chardonnay.  Mark took this picture of me at the top of a little climb overlooking another gorgeous vineyard, perhaps the prettiest vineyard we've seen yet.

After a little while longer we arrived in Solvang which is the town they visited in the movie Sideways.  It's kind of a faux Danish tourist trap outpost north west of Santa Barbara with wine tasting spots throughout the town.  They have windmills and Clydesdales here too. Here's a picture that gets it all in.

Tomorrow we head for Oxnard but before we get there, we will pass through Santa Barbara.  Maybe we'll see Oprah there...I hear she's got a great house in Santa Barbara and loves it when smelly cyclists in spandex just knock on her door. Check in tomorrow. Another 80+ miles and close to 4,000 feet of climbing (the last of the big climbs for this trip). To quote Billy Crystal from the movie City Slickers " ass hurts just watching it...".

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I'm back in the saddle again, again

Thursday Sept 20, 2012  Paso Robles to Santa Maria

Today I rode...and rode...and rode...and rode. Then I rode so more. And then I was halfway there! Just kidding. This was my longest day ever on my own bike.  Believe it or not, it wasn't too bad because there was only a moderate amount of climbing (moderate – HAH!).  I rode 84.61 miles and my Garmin shows climbing of 3799 feet. I can not imagine a world where a "moderate" amount if climbing is like riding from the town of Aspen to the top of Ajax, but that's what I did today (and then some). I know there are riders on this particular tour who don't think that today was long or tough, but for a semi-old, semi-zaftig girl (for this who don't know what "zaftig" means, it's a yiddish word that means...that means..."you know that girl – she's not so skinny, you know, a little zaftig") such as myself, I'm very happy with what I was able to do today.  Here are my stats:

We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.  I must say of all the chains we have stayed in on this trip; Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Best Western, and America's Best Value (it may be America's Best Value, but it sure as shit ain't America's Best "anything"), Holiday Inn Express is the nicest by far.  Whoever repositioned and changed this brand into Holiday Inn Express did an excellent job.  These new ones are not our parents Holiday Inns anymore.  Even the hotel breakfast this morning was a cut above the others.  Maybe we should buy the stock? Maybe Mark should buy a franchise?? I'm going to have to do something to get him out from under my feet, and fast. Bike trips are NOT the answer!

There were two options for departure this morning and given the mileage, Mark and I opted for the 7:15AM (not PM) early departure.  Mark and I rode most of the day with Leticia, who is a very nice lady from Sacramento.  She joined our group in San Francisco for the leg ending in Newport Beach (9 days).  Unfortunately on her very first day she fell going over some railroad tracks and had to take 3 days off.  She was "back in the saddle again" today too.  At the first SAG, Mark bought some amazing pastry at a bakery nearby and the half of the almond/cheese bear claw I ate was amazing.  Seriously delicious and full of calories, but I was riding a ton of miles today so, what the hell.  We met up with our friend Joe Schroeder and he helped me out by eating the other half of the bakery goodies.

We rode through some areas of California that looked like the wild west.  We are only 4 hours by car north of LA and look at this scenery. You'd have thought we were in Wyoming or Colorado. Big mountains, wide open vistas, dry sagebrush, and just a certain vastness more commonly associated with other parts of the country. What is even cooler is that about 5 miles from where this windmill picture was taken, there were beautiful fields of produce, flowers, and more. It is amazing the kind of agricultural diversity they have in California. We must have seen 2 dozen different crops today alone, just within a 10 mile stretch of road.

The second SAG was in a town called Pismo Beach.  It's a real surfer town.  Mark reminded me that in the movie Clueless, Cher (Alicia Silverstone) is the captain of the Pismo Beach Disaster Relief Drive.  Just so you know, there was no Pismo Beach disaster and the town is doing just fine.  After the SAG, the scenery got a little more agricultural.  The last 20 miles or so, Joe, Mark, Leticia and I just kind of put our pedals to the, well, pedals (I guess) and finished the day as the scenery turned quite ordinary (ordinary is a code word for ugly).

Oh, I almost forgot, I had my first flat tire today.  We were about 2 miles from the hotel, just coming to a stop sign (moving at like 3 MPH) when I heard a loud bang.  It honestly sounded like a gun shot although I've never heard a gun shot.  I looked down and my front tire was almost completely off the rim.  I yelled "tire" to the gang in front of me.  I wasn't sure what I'm supposed to do when I get a flat but yell I did.  Mark, Joe and Leticia stopped and within 10 minutes, they changed my tire and we were on our way to the hotel.  Mike the tour leader thinks I had a "pinch flat" while our friend Jeff thinks I overinflated my tires this morning, and as the day warmed up, the tube popped. The good news is that the new tire is good to go for tomorrow.

After dinner tonight, we walked over to Starbucks.  On the way, Mark asked me to think about and contemplate on what was the hardest part of this trip. I didn't have to contemplate for very long.

My answer – the riding.

He seemed to be looking for a more in-depth response, but that's my answer and I'm sticking to it. No question, the riding is the hardest part. It's harder than the sleeping. It's way harder than the eating. But I'm really enjoying this.  It's a challenging and rewarding adventure, even after 6 hours of pedalling like today.  Tomorrow will be a shorter day as we are going 40 miles to Solvang. Solvang was the town featured in the movie Sideways (the wine-tasting movie starring Paul Giamatti). We will definitely be doing some wine tasting tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

46 Degrees of Separation

Wednesday Sept 19, 2012  King City to Paso Robles, California

Starting temp today was 49 degrees Fahrenheit, during the first climb it dropped to 45 degrees and on arrival in Paso Robles the temp was 91 degrees Fahrenheit.  I'm not good at math, as all or most of you know, but even I can do the math here and figure out that we experienced a 46 degree temperature rise today.

Speaking of math, I'd also like to point out that prior to coming on this ride, the tour company sends you a list of clothing and equipment. You aren't allowed to have your bag weigh any more than 35 pounds and your knapsack or computer bag can't be more than 15 pounds for a total of...50 pounds?  Are you kidding me?  50 pounds for 3 1/2 weeks? I need 50 pounds for 3 1/2 days.  On Mark's cross country ride, several riders got busted for overweight bags.  I was sure I'd be able to get away with an overweight bag if I just smiled and distracted the person loading the bags. Today I got busted. Here is a picture Joe was quick to take, of my bag being weighed.  I just hope they don't weigh my knapsack tomorrow.
Jim weighs my bag.  I smiled and apologized and he's letting me slide.

I spent another day in the van today.  I really want to be sure that when I ride, I can keep going and finish this thing.  Today was another brutal day of climbing and there were as many as 4 of us in the van at various times.  Mark Koltz was feeling really lousy having caught Joe's cold.  I actually felt bad for him when Barb Munk (tour leader) made him put on a mask to sit in the van but he fell asleep quickly despite the mask.  It was an especially attractive site.  
Who says surgical masks don't improve appearance?

The sites today were mostly ranches and farmland with a few more vineyards thrown in for good measure.  Mark rode most of the day with his Gelding buddies minus Mark Koltz.  Here is a really nice picture Mike Munk took today that will give you a sense for the scenery and isolation out here.

Tomorrow we head for Santa Maria.  We will head back towards the coast, through San Louis Obispo (Madonna Inn) to Santa Maria.  It's 84 miles but not too much climbing and I'm planning to ride the whole way.  Then it's one night each in Solvang (the town in the movie Sideways), Oxnard, Marina del Rey and then finally to Newport Beach.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

There's Gold In Them Thar Hills

Tuesday Sept 18, 2012 Carmel Valley to King City

I didn't ride today, bottom's my bottom. Nothing more complicated than that.  I probably won't ride tomorrow either so that I can rest my aching tush for the final 5 day push into L.A.

The scenery today from the van was quite stunning.  It started out a little cloudy but the sun came out by 9am.  Every day I wake up expecting the scenery from the day before to be unbeatable and every day the scenery is more spectacular and varied than the day before.  Today was no different. We climbed (me in the van, Mark on his bike) for the first 18 miles or so. The road was almost entirely devoid of cars as we snaked through and up a river valley and then over a mountain whose elevation rose to 2155 feet.  Once we reached the top, the views were really special.

Our friend Gary at the top of the climb.  Gorgeous scenery.
Mark overlooking a gorge.

The contrast of the green trees and vegetation and the golden hills was really beautiful, and utterly different than the coastal vistas, legendary golf courses and $20+ million homes we saw just yesterday afternoon, a mere 30 miles behind us. California is so diverse it's staggering to the eye.  After we descended down the other side of the mountain, we were in a valley with rich farmland on either side of the road.  We even passed by some more wineries and vineyards. Mark stopped and ate some of the grapes which he said were really sweet.  We could smell the onions growing in the fields and saw leaf lettuce, broccoli, and some garlic growing.

I forgot to mention that after about 15 miles of riding this morning, Mark says he saw Neil Young walking by the side of the road.  He wasn't alone in thinking this, as one of the other riders, Howard, also believes that it was Neil Young he said hello to when he was "Down by the River".  Unfortunately we have no video evidence of this encounter, but rumour is that he does live around here.

Today we had time to do laundry in a laundromat close to the hotel (I am fairly sure I will not miss walking a half a mile lugging a suitcase full of laundry to a laundromat after this ride is over) and even had a few minutes to rest.  Since I'm not doing this blog after dinner when I'm exhausted, I wanted to take a moment to thank some people who I know are following us and posting comments on Facebook or here on this blog.  I'm sure I'll forget someone so if that's you, please don't take offence.  Thanks to; Ellen Newell Call (ABB 2010), Vance and Susan, Dean, Esther, Jo-Ann and Alan, Esther and Allan, Erin and Carrie, Hessie, Margot, my mother in law (the Facebook Queen), my mother and Gordie, Lyle and Cynthia, Rob Nadler (no, not a cousin of mine), Wendy Rosenfield, Ira Pamnani, Stephanie, Joanie, Jeff Citron, The Lipson Family, Sharon Perlmutter, Julie, Lynn, Shep, Rhonda and Mark, Arlene, Rosanne, Caurie, Amy, Maura, Lisa, Avra, Gina, Dina, Corinne, Shawna, Linda, Cindy, Mark, Paula, Jordan, Heni, Shawna, Lara, Peter, Audrey, Janet, Suzy, Debbie, Francine, Marty, Nanci, Jodi, Karen K, Barb, Susan, Marilyn, Dee, Pat, Jill, Karen, Janna, Angelina, Ian, Sonia, Jess and of course our three wonderful, epically disinterested children, Adam, Lauren and Samantha.

Wow, big list, we are very lucky and blessed to have you all in our lives.  If I missed someone, I'm sorry, but omitting you from this list in no way makes us any less lucky or blessed. More updates to come, starting tomorrow!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Best Rosh Hashanah Ever?

Monday Sept 17, 2012  Santa Cruz to Carmel Valley

Today was like 2 different days.  We started out riding with Joe and Gary after a delicious breakfast at a place in Santa Cruz.  By the way, breakfast requires sitting with like-minded cyclists on this ride. Some like to take their time getting to/ordering/eating breakfast. Others like to move it along. Today, the 4 of us moved it along, big time. I have to admit to a guilty pleasure today – French Toast. And bacon! Anyway, once we got going, it was cloudy and quite cool.  The first 30 miles or so went along roads that were winding through farm fields.  We saw strawberries, asparagus, avocado, kiwi, leaf lettuce, and artichoke plants.  At certain points you could actually smell the plants even before you saw them.

Who wants berries?

Still picked by hand.
After the SAG we ended up on a bike path that after 15 miles or so came out in Monterey. I know this bike path wore me (and Mark) out. It's weird how your energy comes and goes on a ride like this. It's not just day to day. It's hour to hour too. And it wasn't just us. It seemed to us (and I may be wrong here) others were dragging too. But, just as we turned the corner, the sun came out.  I, of course, claimed I had arranged the sun and timed it just so. The view of Monterey from the bike path lightened all our moods and we quickly turned our sights to finding the best spot for lunch.  Here's our friend Baltimore Mark just as we approached Monterey.  See how pretty the view is?

Mark and I found a place in Fisherman's Wharf to have a quiet lunch, just the two of us.  We ate outside, watched the busy harbour, watched the pelicans and seals, and kept an eye on our bikes too.  It was just what the doctor ordered on a 72 mile day. Clam chowder, and a wedge salad was shared between us. Very tasty. After eating we rode through the rest of Monterey, including Cannery Row, the inspiration for the Steinbeck novel "Cannery Row". Coincidence??
Me at Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey 
After Monterey, we followed a winding road along the shoreline until we reached the entrance to "17 mile drive". For those of you who have never been here, 17 Mile Drive is  a specially designated road around the peninsula and features outstanding seascapes and more. All I can say is WOW.  What spectacular views, and we are definitely coming back here to play golf.  I only just got warmed up today.  I was only able to buy one Pebble Beach logo'd item as it was all we could carry in our jerseys. We also saw some of the great courses in American golf including Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill, and Cypress Point.
Me outside the clubhouse at Pebble Beach
Mark and I by the 250 yr old Cypress Tree

After exiting 17 mile drive at the Carmel gate, we climbed through the town of Carmel but we didn't stop.  I wanted to, but we still had 20 more miles in front of us.  I'm not sure I mentioned this, but we are definitely coming back here, so we will spend some time in Carmel as well.  As we were climbing (yes, climbing again) we passed this sign:

Is this a hint?

So now you know from whence the title of today's blog emanated.  A question for which I have no answer.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Mark went in the swimming pool here at the hotel.  This is noteworthy, because he refers to himself as a "candy ass" when it comes to water temperature. He claims he won't go into any body of water that isn't heated to a comfortable Jewish temperature (85 degrees+). He makes me keep our pool at 85 degrees and the pool here was only about 70 degrees.  I'm amazed at how my husband can ride across the country and ride down the coast of Oregon and California but doesn't want to swim in less than 85 degree water. Anyway, today was a complete case of sensory overload and now I am too tired to even type anymore. 8:36PM local time. Lights out!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

O Barbara, Where Art Thou?

Sunday Sept 16, 2012  San Francisco to Santa Cruz California

After a fun filled rest day in San Francisco we were back on the road today. On our day off, Mark and I walked to Union Square and then down to Ghirardelli Square. That's a picture of me eating a hot fudge sundae...for BREAKFAST. Yeah, that's right. Breakfast. And, just to be clear, I'd do it again tomorrow if I could. Outrageously delicious. Technically, since we ate it at 10:45, it was more brunch than breakfast, but either way it was good! Look how happy I am. Happy happy happy. Then we met up with his first boss Esther Lem who lives in Palo Alto.  It was great to see her and catch up after so many years. In a weird coincidence she has hired several interns from Colgate, some of whom have known both our daughter Samantha and son Adam. Small world, isn't it? Then it was on to Dim Sum (we were in Chinese food withdrawal). I don't look happy eating the dim sum, but I was. I was just tired of Mark taking pictures of me. Dim sum was goooooooooood.

Then we went out on the BART to the southeast part of the Bay area to see Mark's cousins in Danville – Stephanie and Adam Tennant and their kids.  It was a real treat for us to get to see Clayton, Hailey, and Bo and just to hang out and do something normal.  Mark got to watch ace ballplayer Clayton at his baseball practice and then Mark tried to jinx Clayton's love of the Oakland A's (Clayton went to the A's game last night). Hailey just got her braces off and looks amazing, plus she is adorable and quite funny.We especially loved hearing the Mom/daughter banter between her and Stephanie. We taught Bo to repeat the famous line from the movie Psycho that "...a boy's best friend is his mother...". That made us all laugh. After dinner with the Tennant's it was back on the BART to San Francisco and bed.  Here are some pictures Mark took of me yesterday:

The title of today's blog refers to my new friend Barb Soley who rode with us from Astoria to San Francisco.  We said goodbye this morning in San Francisco and I will miss her.  Barb and I rode together a fair bit these last 2 weeks.  She's a really special person and was tons of fun (as is her husband John).  She's smart and capable and inspired me with her riding.  I hope she and John will stay in touch with us and maybe even come to visit us in Toronto. Now that Mark's retired, I am sure we'll do a road trip to the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and visit them. O Barbara - Where art thou???

Today I chose to miss the initial 30 miles out of San Francisco (according to the ABB riders, I made the right call – I didn't miss much) and I took a ride in the van.  I understand that the first 30 miles involved a lot of climbing and twists and turns so I was happy to miss that part.  I was joined in the van by Shirley who is nursing a bad knee.  Shirley and her husband Howard (who is also on this ride) did the cross country ride with Mark in 2010. She's a very strong rider and a very nice woman.  I hope she feels better and can ride tomorrow.  I rode the last 61 miles (out of a possible 91, who thinks 61 miles aren't enough?) and there was still plenty of climbing.  Here are my stats:

The ride today mostly meandered along the Pacific coast and the weather was mostly clear and sunny.  What spectacular vistas we had.  Here is a really nice picture Joe took of Mark and I.

After the 2nd SAG, Mark and I rode with Joe and Jeff (2 of the Geldings).  We did a paceline for about 8 miles and I'm proud to say I was able to keep up with them and even lead at the front for about a mile.  Thanks Jeff and Joe for letting me have my moment in the sun.  We passed a really pretty lighthouse and Mark took this picture of me.

We arrived in the town of Santa Cruz which has some beautiful beachfront properties but then when you get into the actual town, it's kind of kitschy; roller coasters, ferris wheels, arcades and a concrete boardwalk.  Mark took some video, I hope these links work.

This being Erev Rosh Hashanah, I checked out synagogues in Santa Cruz and considered going but I was too hungry to miss dinner (the service was starting at 6:45).  I guess I'll have a lot to atone for on Yom Kippur next week.  Someone sent this picture to Mark and I thought you might enjoy it.  Wishing you all a very happy and healthy New Year.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Back in the Saddle Again

Friday Sept 15, 2012  Petaluma to San Francisco California

I'm happy to report that I was back on the bike today (with 2 pairs of shorts) and had a fantastic day.  We started off in Petaluma and a mere 50 miles later, we arrived in the beautiful city of San Francisco.  I was able to ride the whole way in relative comfort.  You know you have bonded with your fellow riders when they all ride past you and ask how your bum feels...true war buddies!!!

What a day we had.  We rode through about 20 miles of farm country until we reached Marin County.  We travelled through several quaint and rather affluent towns until we reached Sausalito.  We were riding in a pretty big group (about 10 of us) for most of the route after the first SAG.  We caught our first glimpse of San Francisco Bay as the fog dissipated and the sun came out.  There were many twists and turns and we took a few wrong ones, but managed to make our way to Sausalito in time for lunch.  After lunch it was time to get to the Golden Gate Bridge.  We approached the bridge from underneath, rode a steep climb up to the bridge entrance and then crossed the bridge.

It's hard to describe the feeling of crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on your own bike...there are lots of people riding comfort rental bikes, but that wasn't us.  We had pedalled for 12 days (in my case 10) to get here and we were all doing this on our own set of wheels and proudly wearing our America by Bicycle jerseys. I stood on that bridge for a while today and I watched hundreds of commuters in their cars zooming over that bridge, as they probably do every weekday of the year. I am sure they didn't notice how drop-dead gorgeous the view of their spectacular city is. It was downright breathtaking (sorry, I have to use that word again). The emotions you can experience on a trip like this are unlike anything else I have felt before in my life. The only thing I am certain of is that I wouldn't have felt this way (at various points in this trip) if we had driven a car everywhere. As for the rest of it, I guess that's the way things are. You take things for granted when you are exposed to them every day. I wonder if there is a lesson for us all in that thought...hmmmmmm...

After crossing the bridge we made our way to the hotel.  Tonight we met up with Mark's former Media Director, Ira and her husband Jagdish and had a delicious meal at a restaurant in our area.  It was great to see Ira and to get to know Jagdish.  Ira has been living in the Bay area for about 2 1/2 years now and she looks great and seems very happy in her new life.  It took them over 90 minutes to drive in to meet us and Mark and I really appreciated the effort.

Now, we are doing laundry. Oh the glamour of a cross-country cycling trip. We're looking forward to a great day off (our saddles) tomorrow. Check in to see where we are going next.

Here are the Garmin stats for today (only 50 miles and 3300 feet of climbing).

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Another "Vantastic" day!

Thursday Sept 13, 2012  Cloverdale to Petaluma California

Today was another day in the van for me.  Things "down below" are better after 2 days off and I should be good to go tomorrow.  I'm going to ride with 2 pairs of shorts and a new butt cream courtesy of Margo Addison (a super-nice lady who was one of Mark's co-riders on the North 2010 trip and who was with us for the first leg of this trip).  The new cream is appropriately called DZNUTS and the tag lines are "only the finest ingredients for your goods" and "protect your junk".

We drove out of Cloverdale and were quite quickly in wine country.  I wished I knew more about wines and grapes to better appreciate what I was seeing.  I kept thinking of the movie Sideways, Bottle Shock, and the Parent Trap (Lindsay Lohan) as we were driving amongst the vineyards.  There must be hundreds of wineries in this area.  I'm sure each one is growing different kinds of grapes but I couldn't tell you the differences except that some had nicer houses than others.  When advertisers tell you about retirees who want to move to this area, drive a vintage Jaguar ragtop and own a vineyard, they must film those commercials around here.

The SAG was just short of the halfway point and Margo Addison sent brownies and strawberries that were quickly gobbled up by the riders.  Tracey had a flat rear tire at the SAG and I watched as our tour leader Mike Munk quickly and elegantly changed his tire in about 2 minutes.  He makes it look so easy given that a normal rider takes 10+ minutes to do this.  I don't want to curse myself so I won't mention that I haven't had a ____tire yet.

Since I wasn't out of the van today, I'm posting the pictures here that Mark took.

Notice the Raymond Burr "Ironside" winery?

I'm very excited for tomorrow's ride to San Francisco.  We aren't leaving here until a little later in the morning so that by the time we get to the Golden Gate Bridge it might not be in fog.  Mark and I haven't been to San Francisco since 1986 when we were here with Vance and Susan Cooper and we were so young and poor that the four of us shared a room!!!

Massages and visits with friends and family are in our plans for Friday evening and our day off on Saturday in San Francisco.  I'm sure we'll find some time to eat a little Chinese food too as Mark and I are starting to get the shakes from Dim Sum withdrawal.

Behind the SAG van doors

Wednesday Sept 12, 2012  Ft. Bragg to Cloverdale California

Thank you Barb Soley for today's blog title.

I didn't ride today so I spent the day in the van with Barb Munk and another rider, Cindy from Colorado.  I was cranky at not being able to ride but they made my day enjoyable and it was nice getting to know them both.  My "crotch" issues are still going on so I might take tomorrow off too.  I'm going to try to sit on my bike seat in the morning and make a game time decision.  A couple of experienced riders have suggested 2 pairs of shorts so I'll try that.  I really want to be able to ride into San Francisco on Friday so that's my focus right now...if that means staying in the van another day I will.

Life in the van is not easy.  Barb has a big responsibility driving the van and hauling that big ABB trailer behind.  It's certainly not like driving a sports car, any resemblance to a Porsche is purely coincidental but she handles the van as if it were one.  The roads are far from wide and given that there are 26 ABB riders out there, I think she handles the job amazingly well.  It's also amazing to me that between Barb and whomever is driving the white van, they know where everyone is at all times and who needs help.  I also got a few insights into life on the road...ABB rider romances, divorces and family dynamics...but what happens in the van stays in the van.

We started the day in foggy conditions and it was quite cool until after the first SAG.  The first SAG was in a park and Barb showed me this beautiful tree canopy in this picture.
Amazing Redwoods
After we left the SAG, we went from Redwoods to Red Wines. Hello wine country.  Like 2 miles after we exited the Redwood forest, there we were among lush golden brown hills.  The temperature must have gone up about 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the time it took the cyclists to ride 2 miles.  I've never been to this part of California and was amazed at the number of vineyards lining the hills.  Here is a picture Mark took today of Joe riding beside one of the many vineyards.

We made our way fairly quickly to the 2nd SAG where we parked by the side of the road.  We were parked across from the quintessential California organic store...guy behind the counter with bad facial hair and a bad gray braid...uneven wood floor and a 60 year old wall fridge stocked with the latest in organic bottled water brands like "Fiji".  They did have a nice prepared foods counter where I bought some really good slaw with peanuts.  Just because I'm not riding doesn't mean I can't eat!!!  

I'm hoping I can ride tomorrow, it will be the first day in a while without a lot of climbing.  If not tomorrow, Friday at the latest.  Tomorrow is Petaluma California.  Mark says it's the home of the ABC Wide World of Sports wrist wrestling capital of the world.  Should be special.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Failure is not an option

Tuesday Sept 11, 2012 Garberville to Ft. Bragg California

Today was definitely the toughest day so far.  As I was struggling to finish, Tracey (a really nice guy and fellow cyclist) rode by me and said "failure is not an option" and he is right.  His words kept me pedalling so that I was able to finish the day.

I'm not sure what it was about today but I felt out of sorts all day long.  We started climbing almost immediately out of the hotel and it felt like we were climbing all day long.  The reason it felt that way is because we were climbing all day long.  When we weren't climbing we were riding into a 30km wind.  My Garmin shows 5886 feet of climbing over 69 miles.  I'm not sure if it was just a really tough day or if I just wasn't mentally prepared for this ride.  Either way, here are my stats:

I took off early from the first SAG to get a jump on the big climb.  Mark stayed behind and bought a great turkey, bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich from a shop beside the SAG stop.  He put it in the van, marked it "The Duchess" and surprised me with it at the second SAG.  He thinks of everything (he even helped me finish it before we pressed on for the last 20 miles a few hours later). After climbing up to 1900 feet, descending down to almost sea level again, and then climbing back up to 850 feet (which took an eternity for this 53 year old girl), we finally kicked out of the hills onto the Pacific coastline.  It was spectacularly beautiful in the sunshine and the scenery did not disappoint.  Here is a great picture Mark took of the coastline and a really nice picture of Mark and I.

I was never so happy to see a hotel as I was today.  We are staying at America's Best Value Inn in Ft Bragg (need I say more???)  The best part of this hotel is that it's only a block to Starbuck's.  I haven't had a latte since Tillamook (last Sunday) and boy did this one taste good.

Here is some video Mark took today as we were riding along the coast.  It's hard to describe how rugged and uninhabited it is around here.  You are riding along these roads and there is no one around and then you see a house, just one single lone house, perched up on the cliff.  Then there won't be another house for 5 miles or so. Imagine waking up every morning to that view!!! There is a lot of cattle ranching in these dry golden hills. When you ride this coast you see why this is called the Golden State, that's for sure.

I have an admission to make though. This amount of cycling is definitely out of my zone. As for the climbing, well, as New Jersey Wiseguys would say, "fugget-about" it. I've said it before, but it bears repeating. The climbing is killing me. Also, to quote a funny line from the movie City Slickers..."...and I've got some sort of rash...". I truly hope I can get on the bike tomorrow, but right now it is a 50/50 proposition at best. This trip is amazing. I am learning so much about myself, almost all of which is good...really good. The people on this trip are great. Everyone is always asking about me, encouraging me, giving me advice, and so on.

One more great picture courtesy of Mike Munk:

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Signature Day, in more ways than one

September 10, 2012  Eureka to Garberville California

I don't know how to put today into words.  It was one of those days that I'll probably remember for the rest of my life.  After about 40 miles of simply rather remarkable riding, we entered the Avenue of the Giants – this is the road carved through the bulk of the California Redwoods. Without a doubt, this is one of the signature days of this (or any other) ride. Mark was a couple of miles behind me as he was having trouble with his gearing and I made the turn onto Avenue of the Giants by myself.

There were no cars around and I was by myself and there was no sound, save for the sound of my bike along the pavement.  This was like riding through a cathedral. Thousands of giant redwood trees silently standing as a citadel against – well – I don't know what against. Time? I can't describe the emotions that started running through me.  I'm a little embarrassed but, out of nowhere, I started crying...thinking about how lucky I am to be seeing these sights, how lucky I am to be well enough to ride my bike here, how lucky I am that my family is all well enough that I can leave for 3 weeks, how lucky I am to have Mark by my side, how lucky I am to be with this amazing group of riders (in particular Barb Soley, my riding mate, without whom I am not sure I would have made it this far; actually I have no idea how I am going to make it through the third leg of this trip without her!).

I thought about how hard I've worked in my life to pedal to this spot in time.  I started thinking about my dad and how much he would have loved that I'm doing this.  These Redwood trees are between 1,500 and 5,000 years old and there is something mystical about them.  Apparently, the fact that I suddenly started crying is not news on rides like this. According to Barb (one of our ride leaders) many other cyclists have experienced this at various points in their rides. I remember a couple of years ago during Mark's ride across America, one of the riders (I think it was Katie) had that experience. I wonder why that happens? Could it be that it occurs when circumstances (whatever they are) force an individual to look deep inside themselves to see what lies at their foundation?  Once you look that deep, you begin to learn things about yourself you didn't even know you should ask about. Either that, or we're just really really f-ing tired!

After a couple of miles of this reflection I joined up with some of the other riders and Jeff took this picture of me.

The Avenue of the Giants continued for about 30 miles passing through the town of Myers Flat where I went through the Drive Through Tree.  Here you have the "opportunity" to pay $3 to ride your bike through a tree big enough for a car.  It was the first real touristy thing we've done but you've got to do it. How many times will we be here on bikes?  I think I am safe to answer that question with a "once".

The Garmin today shows 79.8 miles and 3800 feet of climbing.  I've attached the stats:

We finished the day in Garberville California which is known as the weed capital of California...could smell it on the way into town.  Rushed into the hotel, showered and went to dinner at a pizza joint just across the parking lot from the hotel.  Since we didn't have any lunch, dinner at 4:30 seemed normal. Imagine that. I'm spent, but not as bad as yesterday.  

This experience is amazing.  Thank you to everyone back home for your words of support and encouragement.  It means the world to Mark and I.  We love you guys and miss you.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Eureka!!! I'm tired...

Sunday Sept 9, 2012  Crescent City to Eureka California

I'm so tired I can barely type so this one is going to be short.  Today was a long day (the understatement of the year).  We rode 83.7 miles, climbed over 5000 feet and I was on the saddle for 6 hours and 47 minutes.  This is the longest I've ever ridden and the highest I've ever climbed (1250 feet).  I'm attaching my Garmin stats in case you want to see them.

We saw some amazing sights today, starting with Redwood trees.   We cycled through several Redwood forests and I'm told that these trees are toothpicks compared with the ones we will see tomorrow at the "Avenue of the Giants".  We rode for a while along the California coast and the scenery there was spectacular.

Duchie just fell asleep. It's 7:28PM here, and it's now Mark here and I have taken over the blogging for the rest of the night. Duchie is lying here half-moaning, half sleeping. She is not, however, too tired to punch me in the stomach every 2 minutes to ask me how she ever got talked into doing this. I will tell you that this is TOUGH TOUGH TOUGH riding. It's hard to convey just how much 5,000 feet of climbing is on top of the 135 kms Duchie rode today. It's like riding from our house to St. Catherines, and also riding up Blue Mountain 10 times. Crazy. Yet, here's Duchie, doing it! Not only is she doing it, but she even finished with a flurry, leading a couple of riders in a makeshift paceline the last 5 miles into the sprawling metropolis known as Eureka California. Just a side note, in one 2 mile stretch entering town, we passed a spanking new Target, a charming gentrified "Old Town", a monstrously seedy mission (The Eureka Mission), and a sad part of town. Dinner was at a local BBQ that, at first blush, didn't look so great. However, first impressions can be wrong. Duchie and I each demolished the BBQ chicken dinner and it was delicious.

Duchie just rolled a little again. Then she moaned. Then she hit me. Hard.

On a separate note, yesterday in Crescent City (nickname "Crescent Shitty"), Duchie and I got massages, and then Duchie got a manicure. We did laundry, went for lunch, and then for dinner. At dinner we sat with John and Barb Soley, from Cleveland. John did the cross-country ride with me 2 years ago and he came on this trip with his wife. We were swapping stories last night and we heard that their relationship mirrors the relationship Susan and I have had. John and Barb met in high school. So did me and Duchie. One of them helped the other do their homework. So did me and Duchie. John followed an entrepreneurial path and Barb went the corporate path. So did me and Duchie. We could not believe how similar our lives have been. It was a fun dinner getting to know them better. You can see Barb and John in a number of our pictures, which you can see on Mark's and my Facebook pages. They are both very good cyclists.

Uh-oh...Duchie just moaned again!

Anyway, I don't even know what to say about Duchie. Everybody who rides with her is so supportive. Everyone compliments her on how she's doing and roots her on. She (along with all the first-time riders) is now an accepted part of the "fraternity". Duchie has really risen to the challenge in ways that I don't think she could have ever imagined. This cycling is so far out of her comfort zone that it is almost unimaginable. I know she is so thankful to have everyone's support on this ride from the faster riders who have paced her along, to rest of the group who keep her company. Let's hope she keeps up the good work. We're one third of the way to LA!

More moaning, more semi-snoring, and one last shot to my solar-plexus...