A Reflection: Our Road To New York

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife

Seasons of Love, Rent

I’m just sitting here. In New York. New York! What have I done? It’s still confusing. Maybe it always will be.

Every person has a different reaction when I tell them. The woman in the shoe shop made me repeat myself. Although she was also shocked that I only had two pairs of shoes.

The barman thought I was joking. I managed to convince him otherwise.

The doorman was amazed. We shook hands.

The friend told me she was proud. I blushed and told her it was nothing.

The friend of a friend was jealous. I told him he was right to be.

Some people don’t understand how. Some people don’t understand why.

Join the club.

I’m sitting here. In New York. I’ve been here for a week and I still don’t quite understand.

I actually did it. I got on my bike on Santa Monica beach. I got onto my bike thousands of miles away. Sand spread across my path. Uncertainty spread across my thoughts. And then I rode.

And soon there was no more sand. And soon there was no more uncertainty.

What was the highlight?, they say.

What was your favourite place?, they question.

Impossible questions, that I answer to appease. But in essence, this trip isn’t a collection, but a collective. My memories aren’t separate. There were phases and moments and differences yes. And they were separated, in a sense, into days or memories or ups or downs.

But that’s missing the point.

It was a whole. One glorious experience. How do you explain to someone the beauty of clouds? The extreme, humbling beauty of clouds spread across a Colorado sky above a lake you’ve just cycle up and down mountains to see. Or how that experience fits into the journey. How it affected the next day. How that picture became imbedded into your consciousness. How everything touches everything. How one deed affects the next. How one good deed leads to another. How out of small things, big things grow. How one positive experience leads to another. How one irrelevant moment isn’t so irrelevant. Nothing was ever just a moment.

I feel funny. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say.

I’ve been in New York for a week.

How to sum up what I’ve done, how I’ve felt, who I’ve met, who I am.

It’s nice to sleep inside on a bed every night. But I miss the uncertainty and freedom of not knowing where I’ll be resting my head.

It’s nice to have a wardrobe with t-shirts, shirts, tops. But I miss the certainty and freedom of my two-top system.

I was free. I was free.

Cycling set me free.

I missed my friends. Sometimes. I missed talking to them. Having them there with me. Sharing. Sharing my experience. Sharing theirs.

Hugs. The power of a hug to lift you.

This journey. This time in my life. Indescribable. Unquantifiable. Words do not – words cannot – do justice.

The wind in my hair. The smile on my face.

The people I’ve met. The people I’ve connected with. The people I will meet again. We once were strangers.

America. I thank you. America. I can’t thank you enough.

I keep telling people, if you ever start to doubt humanity, cycle across America. You will feel love everywhere if you open yourself up to it.

Prepare, but be unprepared. That’s when the magic happens. Be open. Experience. Cycle.

People will amaze you. If you let them.

I’m in New York. I’m in New York! I’m in New York! I cycled to New York! Maybe I’ll never get tired of saying that. Or hearing it.

And I could not have done it alone. Everyone with me. Fellow cyclists. Churches, town halls and fire stations that allowed me to call them home for a night. Parks, picnic areas, rest stops.

Thank you.

That guy who bought me a milkshake. The free coffee from that gas station. Pete from the Netherlands. The couple who gave me some water. A fantastic smoothie. Local knowledge. Sandy and Andy. Becky and David. Ted and Lisa. Heidy and Gunti. Shane. Ethan. Free Gatorade. All-you-can-eat peaches. Free pizza. Free shirt. Free hat. Free salad. Free cookies. Free beer.

Thank you.

People who welcomed me into their homes. Who allowed me to share in their experiences. To join their family for a while. Or longer. Special, special people. Who gave me somewhere to sleep. Somewhere to wash. Who fed me. Who cared for me. Who allowed me to share my experiences and stories. And who became my experiences and my stories.

Thank you.

You. Who followed along. Who knew where I was.

You. Who told me how cool it was.

You. Who messaged me randomly just to tell me they had started cycling again.

You. Who messaged me to tell me how lucky I was.

You. Who messaged me with encouragement.

You. Who always seemed to know how I felt. How I feel.

You. Who donated to this fantastic cause.

You. Who acted as my inspiration.

You. Who kept me in the loop with things at ‘home’.

You. Who followed along on twitter.

You. Who always commented. Or liked. Or shared.

You. And you. And you. And you.

Thank you.

I couldn’t have done it without you. Riding solo? I was never alone.

Thank you.

That moment. When I saw New York City. And I knew.

Cycling into New York with my parents.

Thank you.

I’m welling up. Emotion is pouring out. I have so much to give. So much to tell. But I don’t know what to say. Or how to say it. So this will do.

Thank you.

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Day Ninety-Nine (16/08): Hazlet, NJ to NEW YORK, NEW YORK!

Hazlet to New York City: 22 miles

Total Distance: 4360 miles (and some; official final stats to come)

Days in the saddle: 78

Quote of the Day: “This man has just cycled from Los Angeles for charity. Can we have everything for free?”

– paraphrasing local press man, Will Jones

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At the end I was greeted by friendly faces and milkshakes. What more could a gal ask for! Thank you Leah, James and Will for the warm welcome.

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Day Ninety-Eight (15/08): New Hope, PA to Hazlet, NJ

New Hope to Hazlet: 66.5 miles

Total Distance: 4338 miles

Days in the saddle: 77

Quote of the Day: “Are you f***ing nuts?”

Said by a policeman to my Dad. Apartment we had cycled into a not too hot part of town. And when I say ‘not too hot’, I mean that two police officers had been shot there this morning, and we wouldn’t be seen as very popular amongst the locals.

I have never seen Francies Senior move so fast.

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100 miles: It’s All Relative

I still remember when I got to 100 miles on this journey. It was my third day. I was so please, and a bit shocked. I’d just cycled 100 miles! I even took a photo:

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100 miles. What once seemed so large, now not so. But let’s get this straight.100 miles is a long way. 100 miles is still an accomplishment.100 miles. I was right to celebrate.

Today is the final full day on the road. There is less than 100 miles between here and the non-existent finish line that is New York City. Wherever it is that I stop tomorrow.

Anything can happen in 100 miles. But to be honest, I’m already done. I’m already happy. I’ve already won.

I’ve won experiences. I’ve won friendships. I’ve won memories. I’ve won new places, new people, new things, new talents. New muscles. New respect.

It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that I don’t make it to New York on bike. This isn’t pessimism, just fact. But whatever happens between now, and relaxing, it doesn’t matter.

I’ve won.

Day Ninety-Seven (14/08): Pheonixville, PA to New Hope, PA

Pheonixville to New Hope: 56.5 miles

Total Distance: 4271.5 miles

Days in the saddle: 76

Thoughts on today: Today I happen to turn the wrong way twice. Once riding with parent A, once with parent B. The first meant that we unnecessarily cycled quite a substantial downhill. And therefore resulted in having to cycle quite a substantial uphill. The second meant that we unnecessarily cycled quite a substantial uphill. This therefore resulting in having to cycle quite a substantial downhill.

Life.

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Day Ninety-Six (13/08): Columbia, PA to Pheonixville, PA

Columbia to Pheonixville: 58 miles

Total Distance: 4215 miles

Days in the saddle: 75

Thoughts on today: Back in the saddle, back on track.

It rained all night. Poured down. I woke to the sound of thunder. I grinned to myself. This will test them. It’s all well and good cycling in bright sunshine, or fair weather. It’s another more unpleasant prospect having to start the day in a downpour. You know that, whatever the rest of the day has in store, you’re going to spend it damp.

“It’s raining. So, when do you want to get going”

They’re obviously made of tougher stuff than I gave them credit for.

After breakfast we set off, my mum taking the first stint (I told you there was a pattern!)

And to be honest, there’s not much to say about today, except for how impressed I’ve been by my parents’ cycling abilities. In very different ways. They are two very different beast.

My Mum: the pro. She seems to glide up hills. She never wants to go in front, I suspect because if she was ahead she would soon be half way to the horizon leaving me far behind. Seemingly never to of breathe or flustered in the slightest, rolling up hills like they aren’t there. Almost like saying, “what’s all the fuss about?”. At one point today, going uphill, she overtook me, apologising for her speed whilst doing so. I’ve been on the bike for three months. I’m big. I’m strong. I know what I’m doing. And I still can’t keep up with my mum.

My Dad: the tortoise. Slow and steady may not win you the race, but it’ll finish it. He may well be the slowest cyclist in Pennsylvania, but he does his stints. I’m never worried that he’s going to make it to the top of that next hill. However big it is. He’ll be there. I like cycling behind my dad. Because he goes slowly, I can talk to him. Which is a new experience on a bike in the main. I mainly natter on about Watford. Or cycling and gears and stuff. It’s nice. He’s also got a stash of jellybeans. ‘For energy’. Like you need an excuse for jellybeans!

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Day Ninety-Five (12/08): Baltimore, MD to Columbia, PA

Baltimore to Columbia: 35.5 miles (cycled)

Total Distance: 4157 miles

Days in the saddle: 74

Thoughts on today: The day I re-named my bike Darren

Tomorrow is an 80 mile day. Let’s see how they cope with that one.

Adam Francies, yesterday’s blog post

Maybe one of the classics.

Today was going great. My mum did the first split. This has become the custom (two days out of two. One day is random, twice in a row? A pattern is emerging!). Nearly 20 miles from my mum and my dad was a good 13 or so miles in. And then BAM! Or rather, and then bam. It wasn’t really a BAM. I lost concentration (I wanted to wave at the guy on his lawnmower) and crashed right into my Dad’s back wheel. We were going relatively slowly but the impact threw me into the pavement and did in my own back wheel. Spoke broken and, as it turned out, axel bent.

So, it ended up that it was me who was holding back my parents. We drove to the nearest bike shop, which just so happened to be less than two miles from where we were staying for the night.

The whole incident threw me off track a little (metaphorically speaking. But also, well, yea.). I guess I didn’t know whether driving to the next town was ‘cheating’ or not. Was I taking advantage of my parents being on the trip and having a car.

I decided a number of things, but the primary one: It doesn’t matter if I do take advantage of my parents being here. That’s what they’re here for. For us to be together, and cycle, and have a good time, and drink milkshakes. There’s no cheating, there’s nothing to cheat at.

So no 80 mile day. Which is a shame. There’s no doubt in my mind we’d have made it. No doubt. But hey, I had two milkshakes at lunch. Beat that!

Bonus Stat: New State! Pennsylvania. This was the first state I hadn’t cycle into, my bike firmly in the back of the car as we swept North. But still, that’s eleven and counting!

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