Day Ninety-Four (11/08): Potomac, MD to Baltimore, MD

Potomac to Baltimore: 54.5 miles

Total Distance: 4121.5 miles

Days in the saddle: 73

Thoughts on today: Goodbye independence. Goodbye alone time. Goodbye Little Debbie pastries. Goodbye gas station stops. Goodbye wondering how much a small coffee is and how much a medium is. Goodbye tent. Goodbye stove. Goodbye lugging all my stuff around on my bike.

Hello dependence. Hello time with parents. Hello croissants in the morning. Hello cafe milkshake stops. Hello not having to worry about how much that second milkshake cost. Hello hotel room. Hello restaurant. Hello car, with all my stuff in.

Well this is different.

So, this is the situation: my parents – A and B – have one car and one bicycle between them. They tag team in and out of cycling duties along side myself. The car carries the luggage, the bicycles carry the weight of expectation that comes with adventure.

Having had a lovely few days site-seeing around DC, being spoilt by Ann and Morrie, and being reunited with my parents, it was time to hit the road. My parents split the mileage pretty evenly. I was very impressed with both of them. At times I was thinking, “why are they making this look so easy? They’ve come to show me up!”.

A different experience. A luxury that I’m lucky to have. Tomorrow is an 80 mile day. Let’s see how they cope with that one.

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The long way round: the background of how and why

At points on this journey I’ve caught myself thinking how on earth I’ve managed to get myself into such a wonderful situation. I’ve spent the last three months of my life sweating my sizeable arse off riding a bicycle across continent. In a way I have no right to do this; no history of adventures, no history of bike rides, no history of being ridiculous.

OK, I’ve got a history of being ridiculous. But not this ridiculous.

It all started in London. With my very good friend Gal. If you were wondering, no, Gal is not a shortened form of Goliath. However, if I have told you that it is in the past, I do not apologise one bit. Gal, although he did not know it at the time, was the butterfly to this tornado of an adventure. He suggested that I should check out if there was a Moishe House in Melbourne, where I was about to depart to. And so I checked, and indeed there was! Or rather, there was about to be, led by a guy called Brett. But more on that later.

I’d wanted to go to Australia for an age, and after my bestie Sam had spent a year of Uni in Melbourne, I decided that was the place for me. So I got in touch with Ash, a friend from my year in Israel, who offered me a place to stay with her boy-toy Toby. Now Ash and Toby both had bikes. I hadn’t really ridden in years, but thought it might be a good way of getting to know Melbourne better, and a good way to gain a bit of independence. So Toby’s mum Helen drove me down to Bicycle Recycle – a second hand bike shop – the day after I arrive and I picked out a beauty of a bike.

I had my bike.

Cut back to Brett. I made contact with Brett and met with him (and others) at the Jewish New Year. It turned out that Brett was a keen cyclist and invited me along on a cycle. So the next week I went for a lovely cycle up the river with Brett and Debs. I was then invited to a casual bike group, The Bikey Nom Nom Gang. I went on a couple of rides; what with my limited working hours I was always free.

A guy named Jacob was part of the group to and had just come back from some time in the USA and Europe where he’d been, you guessed it, cycling! And enjoying bluegrass music it seems. He was keen to go on a ride, and I was keen to go with. So Jacob, Mikey and I got the train out of town for a lovely day in the saddle. This is where I found out about his travels, and also Mikey’s planned bike trip to Cambodia. All these adventures that people are having on their bicycles!

Maybe I would do a bit of cycling in the States?

And, well, that was that. I’m now sitting in a coffee shop in Washington DC having cycled across a continent to get here. And it all started with a comment from Gal. From small waves come mighty floods. My journey has been flooded with challenging, friendships, experiences and reward. I could not think of a better experience to solidify my faith in humanity than the interactions that this adventure has given me.

And the fantastic thing? It’s not over. Who knows what the next week will have in store.

Day Ninety (07/08): Spotsylvenia, VA to Potomac, MD

Spotsylvenia to Potomac: 93.5 miles

Total Distance: 4067 miles

Days in the saddle: 72

Thoughts on today: Goodbye Virginia. Hello Maryland! With a quick wave to Washington DC as I went through. That’s nine (nine? Or ten?) states.

California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland.

TEN!

Wowzers, double figures.

AND, over 4000 miles. It always seems that I go into another thousand on a new-state day. Something to ponder perhaps.

In other news, I’ve been taking full advantage of my brother marrying an American. Thanks Helen for having such a welcoming family! Last night I was staying with my sister-in-law’s Aunt, and tonight (and for a few nights) it’s the turn of the parents. Who welcomed me into their home with open arms. This is me, drenched in rain, sweat and God-knows what else.

Now, bed.

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Day Eighty-Eight (05/08): Vesuvius, VA to Charlottesville, VA

Vesuvius to Charlottesville: 65 miles

Total Distance: 3890 miles

Days in the saddle: 70

Thoughts on today:

So today I got slapped out of the zone pretty emphatically. But I guess when you have a mountain named Vesuvius that you’re meant to cycle up, what do yo expect?

Last night I again camped with my South Korean friend Park (not Ji-Sung Park). We’ve been running into each other since seeing each other in Summerville, Missouri a while back. It seems that he’s faster than me, but doesn’t really want to ride in the rain, which gives me a chance to gain ground. This was the sixth night we’d camped out at the same spot. If that’s not friendship, I don’t know what is*.

So on to the morning and by the time I wake Park (big P) and left the park (little p). Today is all about conquering Vesuvius. And it’s a toughie. But, as with all things, after 69 days in the saddle, day 70 isn’t going to throw up too many life-questioning stretches. Yes, it was five miles of bone-crunching climbing. But I’ve climbed nine miles up Monarch Pass. Yep, it was steep. Very steep. But I’m that guy you heard about who’s just climbed through The Ozarks and The Appalachians.

It was like getting to the final level of that tricky video game and getting to the final boss and realising that the programmers (is it programmers who make computer games?) have been a bit lazy and basically just took the attributes of all the other bosses and put it into one mega boss.

Look: it’s not going to be easy, but there’s nothing there I haven’t seen.

And 65 miles down the road I’m done for the day. I’m tired. And if I’m going to be in Washington DC in three days I’ll need to rest up. But the mountains are over. The boss is completed. And now, I head North. I can almost smell NYC.

*it’s not actually friendship. He seems like a nice guy but I don’t think we’ve really bonded. I don’t speak any Korean. His English is better than my Korean. We’ll leave it at that.

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In The Zone

Sunday 4th August 2013.

Maybe that’s the day I truly became a cyclist. I dunno. Maybe I already was one.

The zone was a space of timelessness and disassociation. It was like being stoned, but healthier. In the zone, time was not made up of dull seconds and even more tedious minutes; in the zone, time had no markers, no beginning and no end.

– The Slap (Christos Tsiolkas)

I’m definitely better at cycling now that ever before. I’m definitely better at cycling than I ever dreamed of. Mostly as I never dreamed of cycling. Today though, today I felt like anything was possibly. You could put a brick wall right in front of me and I’d just cycle up and over it. Or, more practically speaking, potentially just around it. I could do either. Or both. Or all three!

At times during this trip I felt like I could cycle forever. The days in the saddle aren’t a chore, but a luxury. But today, today wasn’t even like that.

Today, by all accounts, was never going to be my toughest day. No, I had gotten through the bulk of The Applachains with one more mountain to contest with the next morning. But to say it was flat, well, it would be an outright lie. Up and down all day. And I rolled up and down these – at times – steep gradients without a care in the world. It was only after looking at the route in the evening that I realised the serious work I had put in.

I had been warned that this might happen. Jacob, who planted the seed for this journey, had mentioned it. One of my first questions I had for him was, ‘can I do it?‘. The answer was a resounding Yes! (and hopefully in less than two weeks I’ll be proving him right) but as part of the answer he mused:

The big thing is, the first week will be really hard, and you will be exhausted, the bike will feel really heavy and inconvenient, you will doubt yourself, you will battle with lots of little questions like ‘where do I leave my bike and all my gear when I go into a supermarket’ and other things to get used to.

Then by the second and third week you build up fitness and your body gets used to it, you gain confidence, you start to understand your mileage limits and your hillclimb limits and what you are capable of, and then eventually you hit a zen-like state where cycling becomes effortless and you roll up and down mountains and speed along straights and love life.

So maybe I’ve just come late to the party. But everything’s clicking. And for one day at least, I was there.

Day Eighty-Seven (04/08): Troutville, VA to Vesuvius, VA

Troutville to Vesuvius: 64 miles

Total Distance: 3825 miles

Days in the saddle: 69

Bonus Stat: I saw my second bear! But now I think I’m going to count it as my first.

See Ethan and I saw a bear the other day. Or rather, Ethan saw a bear whilst I was totally oblivious and he had to point it out to me. It was in a field away from the road, and to be honest Ethan did well to spot it all things considered.

This time, I needed no help whatsoever in seeing it. A big, black, monstrous thing. Standing right in the middle of the road as I turned the corner. Fortunately, it seemed to be as scared of me as I was of it. I say fortunately; I didn’t want to have to kill a bear with my own (hmmm) hands. Lucky bear I say.

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