What’s Next?

For some mysterious reason, we seem to have bumped up our mileage this trip.  Might it be the Ronde Van De Nederland imperative?  Did I not say that we were deadline driven?  In eleven days, we have cycled 682 km (422 miles, for the metrically challenged).  It took us seventeen days to do that during our 2015 German Tour and we’re not getting any younger.  We’re both achy and tired … and trying to figure out if this is great fun or a bit of a slog.  It’s not that we can’t do it, but rather that we might not want to do it.  Jeff is looking at the map as I write this.  For now, we’ll continue onto Arnhem as planned and re-evaluate from there.

A selfie taken on the road. Yes, we carry a selfie stick.

Tonight we are in a country hotel outside of Vorden – a small village known for its castles.  After hours of searching, we were stunned to find nowhere to stay in Vorden or most of the surrounding area.  Really?  Is this such a hot spot?  It’s not even mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide.  As it turns out, there’s an Arabian Horse Festival in a nearby town.  Who knew?  We were lucky to find the place we’re in tonight.  It’s a few kilometers outside of town, in farm country and appears to cater to bike tourists.  They fed us a vegetarian meal, washed our clothes and had screens on the windows. We couldn’t ask for more!

A quiet cycling path in the National Park in Drenthe
An active stork nest

The previous day was the one that wiped us out – 95 km (nearly 60 miles), with lots of cycling on challenging narrow, sandy paths.  A day later, our bodies are still grousing at us.  That ride took us to Enschede, a non-touristy city that doesn’t see many Americans.  In fact, we haven’t heard an American accent in over a week.  Americans go to Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam … not to the east side of the country.  One of the ‘Friends of Cyclists’ hosts commented that she had been hosting for 20 years, and we were the first Americans to stay in her house.

A Hundbedden – An ancient burial structure from the Neolithic period.

We had planned to go to Nijmegen after Arnhem, but once again are struggling with a place to stay – only four very expensive rooms available on a Monday night in a city of 175,000 people.  What gives?  You guessed it, a Festival!  Such is life when impromptu-touring during high season.

And then there’s the challenge of navigating.  The long-distance LF routes simplify navigation unless there’s a festival, or a detour, or a missing sign, or we missed a sign or … who knows why we’re somewhere other than the route we thought we were on.  It’s tough not knowing the language, and we are utterly hopeless in Dutch.  Most Dutch speak fluent English, which has allowed us to be lazy. The most basic words stump us.

Irrefutable proof that people steal LF signs. May the person who took this find themselves hopelessly lost in the pouring rain.

One of our less successful tactics has been to ignore things we don’t understand – like the big yellow detour signs that we pass.  We just continue on our way until we hit a barricade or a construction site.  After getting burned too many times, we no longer ignore them, but still continue on – because we can’t read the signs.  Our hope is that perhaps it’s a car-only detour that we can sneak by; sometimes that works.

What yellow signs?

After getting lost for the umpteenth time, it suddenly dawned on me that I could import the GPX tracking data for the LF routes into Google Maps. What a boon that has been.  It doesn’t prevent us from going awry, but it does make it easy to check whether we’re off the route and if so, to find our way back onto it.

So, for now, we head on.  I’ll report back once we figure out what’s next.





A Month Cycling in the Netherlands

Ronde Van Nederland

This post is a long time coming.  We’ve been in the Netherlands for over a week, and it is only today that I’ve been able to get the first posting out.  Blame it on exhaustion, technical problems and a little too much wine at night!  The next one should be easier.

We had a rough start, beginning at the Charlotte airport, where we arrived with all our luggage only to be told that we were ticketed from Atlanta to Amsterdam.  Our itinerary was from Charlotte, but our ticket was from Atlanta.  Who knew they were different entities?  Ninety nail-biting minutes later, we headed to our gate, corrected tickets in hand — ready to start our cycling adventure.

Whoa … not so fast!  Our transatlantic flight out of Philadelphia was late, very late.  First, the plane was somewhere other than our gate.  Then they were looking for pillows.  Then they were fixing a leak.  We finally boarded three hours late, and taxied out, only to break a towing pin, and return to the gate.  By this time, our confidence in this tired, retro-looking plane was beginning to waver.  That feeling was justified.  An hour into the flight, we had an engine problem necessitating an emergency landing in Bangor, Maine.  It was a long eighteen hours before our rescue plane arrived from JFK and we were finally on our way – stinky, sleep deprived and a day late.

Our view from a cafe the day we arrived. We were blissed out as we sat here drinking coffee. Perhaps a combination of the view, the weather and sleep deprivation.
Jeff building the bike outside of our hotel in Leiden.
Ready to roll

This is our second time in the Netherlands.  We were last here in 2014 when we spent a month cycling through Belgium and the Netherlands. Our loose plan this time is to circumnavigate the country clockwise.  The route is called Ronde Van Nederland (Tour of the Netherlands).  It’s a 1300-kilometer tour that follows long distance routes along varied landscapes.  Taking pictures of our bike at six prescribed locations will qualify us for a certificate and listing on the Ronde van Nederland website!  Not that we care much about certificates; neither of us is much for planning or goal setting, but it seems like a reasonable structure.  We’ve nabbed two of the photos and traveled 350 km so far.  We aren’t convinced that we’ll make it.  It was tight before we lost a day to the travel debacle, but we’ll see how the weather and our bodies hold up.  Either way is fine.

Our 1st Ronde Van Nederland picture: The lighthouse at Noordwijk
Our 2nd Ronde Van Nederland picture: The Stenen (Stone) Man near Harlingen

We woke up to rain this morning – the first we’ve seen since our arrival.  The Netherlands has been warm and dry for months.  It’s great for holiday-goers, not so good for plants. We learned yesterday that there were voluntary watering restrictions in place. Our host told us about it yesterday as she pointed to a section of wilted vegetation in her yard.

A garden that fell victim to the dry weather and watering restrictions.

In the past, we’ve stayed in hotels, but have decided to take advantage of an organization called Vrienden op de Fiets (Friends of Cyclists) as much as we can on this trip.  It’s a network of nearly 6,000 hosts who provide cyclists and hikers with a bed, breakfast and bike storage – all for €19 each a night.  They’re all different, but all interesting and mostly enjoyable.  I’m writing this post from Groningen, where we are staying with Mariane & Willem.  He’s a journalist, she works in education. It’s a gift to be welcomed into people’s homes, to see a little slice of their lives, and to sit down and speak with them.  It’s interesting how similar our worldviews are.

One of the more unusual Vrienden op de Fiets accommodations – It’s called a Bed Stay. Surprisingly, we slept well.

I have yet to meet a Dutch person with anything positive to say about Trump and am relieved that people can separate us as Americans from our current administration.  I had been worried about that when we embarked on this trip.  Europeans are generally more informed on American politics than most Americans are.

The quintessential Dutch windmill. This one seems to have been converted to a house.

We’ve been riding for six days now.  We’re both stiff and achy but holding up well.  The terrain is, of course, flat.  This is the Netherlands, after all.  As usual, it’s been windy – mostly ‘agin us.  If we have a gale force headwind, we must be going in the right direction.  Our route yesterday had us riding generally with the wind; how sweet that tailwind was.  Our favorite riding so far has been through the dunes by the Noordzee (North Sea) – a hauntingly beautiful natural coastline.  Our least favorite was probably the 32km Afsluitdijk dike – a long noisy slog with a mound of earth on one side, and cars whizzing by at 100+km/hr on the other.  It is, however, an amazing construction feat.

Route through the dunes by the North Sea
Our first ferry ride of the trip

We’re following the long distance (LF) routes as we cycle the perimeter of the country.  It makes for easy navigation, although we suspect that the occasional missing sign might have made it home as someone’s souvenir.  It’s always comforting to see that green and white sign ahead and know you’re on the route.  The Netherlands has an amazing network of bike paths – mostly on dedicated paths, occasionally shared with light car traffic.  Scooters share the paths in the cities, which can be disconcerting.  E-bikes are ubiquitous.  I want one.  With an e-bike, I might even be able to cycle in Asheville.  For now, I’ll settle for the Jeffrey motor – and yes, I’m pedaling!

A very tired Lissa. I think I actually fell asleep on the bench!
Jeff navigating the tandem through the very busy Alkmaar cheese market

We’re carrying a SPOT satellite tracking device.  If you’d like, you can Track us Now.  There is also a link on the sidebar with our progress to date.  I will try to update it most days.

Enough for now.  More to come.


In a Holding Pattern

2017-May-Deck View
A healing view

It’s been 10 days since the biopsy, and my leg is finally starting to improve.  The biopsy was negative for both infection and cancer, which was a big relief.  This has left my doctor scratching his head. Something is definitely not normal with my tibia, but there is no obvious diagnosis at this point — just vague speculation.  My doctor has recommended giving it a few weeks rest to see whether it resolves itself, before doing additional, and potentially more invasive, testing.  I’ve also been seeing an acupuncturist regularly, which has been helpful.

There’s definitely something going on here!  The contrast makes it look like a hole in my bone — don’t wory, it’s not.
Jeff with heat lamp
Heat lamp and Chinese tincture treatment

While this ordeal has been disappointing, the upside is that Lissa and I have gotten to spend some time together.  Last Wednesday, the day the biopsy results came back, was her birthday.  It was quite a gift for both of us.  We celebrated with a bottle of wine and dinner at a local tapas restaurant.

Baby Chickadees
Baby Carolina chickadees almost ready to fledge.  They took over the bluebird nesting box.
A Rose Breasted Grosbeak at the feeder.  We have two nesting pairs this year!

So that’s the plan. I’ve been cleared to do some easy spinning on my indoor bike and light walking without crutches. My hope is that I will be able to resume my trip next month sometime.  I’ll keep you posted!


Man Plans and God Laughs

Jeff in Garden
Back home

After two days, and much soul searching from my motel room in Cadiz, OH, it became clear that my leg was not getting better. The pain was substantial enough that I could not continue cycling. A trip home for some rest and medical attention seemed a prudent approach. Lissa drove the thousand-mile round trip to retrieve me last weekend, getting me home in time to make it to the walk-in Orthopedic clinic first thing Monday morning. An MRI was ordered and I quickly got an appointment for Monday afternoon.

The MRI results came back on Tuesday. Apparently, my problem is very unusual – which is not something one wants to hear as a patient.  The orthopedist thought it was most likely a chronic bone infection, but could also be a cancerous lesion.  A bone biopsy was performed today.  Results should be back next week — which will hopefully provide a definitive diagnosis, and determine the next steps.  In the meantime, I am on crutches, and not very mobile.  Finishing my bike trip is on hold for now.  It is very disappointing, to say the least!

Jeff - Post Biopsy
Recovering from the biopsy

This is yet another lesson in dealing with whatever comes your way. Life has a way of doing that. I have learned that you just can’t predict what’s next.  I will keep you informed when the bike adventures resume.

Thanks to all of you who have been following my journey, and encouraging me along the way. You have inspired me.

Jeff & Bill at Tims House

Tobacco Barn

PA Bicycle Route Sign

Jeff on Bike

Acts of Kindness

Shelter - Montour Trail
Home for the night on the Montour Trail

I finished up the GAP trail at McKeesport and picked up the Montour Trail (another rail trail).  After a short ride, I came upon a nice camping shelter beside a creek.  As I rolled up to the campsite, I met a woman named Peggy, walking her dog.  She asked me a few questions about my trip including “what do you eat?”  I told her that tonight’s dinner was a couple of Middle Eastern salads I had bought at the supermarket. She said goodbye and left. About a half hour later, she returned with hot pasta, brownies, a few energy bars and a Coke, saying “You need a hot meal.”  I was moved by this spontaneous act of kindness. There have been others. Like the man Bill and I were talking to in a diner, who left and picked up our tab.  Others who have asked if I needed anything, offered directions, recommendations etc. With all the current political divisiveness in our society, it is refreshing to connect with people on a basic level and feel the human spirit.

Kindness - Spaghetti Meal
Dinner, courtesy of Peggy

I picked up the Panhandle rail trail after Mountour, which took me to West Virginia. After climbing over a steep two mile hill, I was in Steubenville, Ohio, an Industrial town on the Ohio River. With the forecast of heavy thunderstorms and no camping options, I decided to get a motel room. Good move as the storms rolled through.

Hotel View - Steubenville
From my hotel window, waiting for the rain to stop.
Tunnel - Montour Trail
Another railroad tunnel

The rain slowed to a light drizzle by checkout time, so I headed out.  The traffic was heavy, until I reached the Jefferson Hills area of Ohio. Yes, it was back to hilly terrain. After riding through the foggy hills, I set up camp at the Sally Buffalo Park outside the town of Cadiz.

An auspicious fortune

As I awoke the next morning I stretched out, as I often do, and felt a dull pain below my right knee. I got out of my tent, and nearly fell down — I found I couldn’t put any weight on my leg!  I struggled to walk 15 feet to a nearby picnic bench.  As I sat contemplating my fate, the pain increased until I broke out in a sweat. This was not good. I knew I needed to get it checked. A Google search for doctors in Cadiz, OH, came up with two results — one number was disconnected and the other went to a fax.

Campsite - Cadiz OH
Campsite in Sally Buffalo Park, Cadiz, OH

I called the campground office to see if they had any suggestions. They recommended calling 911. Being out of options, and unable to move, I agreed. Within 5-10 minutes the cavalry showed up — three ambulances and the sheriff.  Sarah and Francis, the EMTs, helped me on the gurney while Paul, the campground host, zipped up my tent and took my bike to a secure area. I quickly arrived at the hospital and after some tests, it was determined that there was no blood clot or fracture. They discharged me and called back Sarah and Francis, with their ambulance, to transport me back to the campground for my bike and tent. They packed everything into the ambulance and drove my to a local motel.

Jeff in ER - Cadiz
A selfie taken in the ER
Ambulance with Bike
Francis and Sarah, with my bike and gear in the ambulance

I am so grateful for the kindness I received from everyone. My hope is that some rest, ice and a dose of good fortune will have me back on the road soon.

From the Mountains to the Flatlands

Tree Lined Bike Path
Scenic tree lined path on the bike route

The route from Cowans Gap was supposed to go under the mountain, through an abandoned PA Turnpike tunnel. Rumor had it that it was dark and creepy, but it beat having to slog it out over the mountain. Despite diligently following the signs to the tunnel, I found myself climbing into the fog. I knew I had missed it, and was climbing over the mountain. It was a hell of a mountain, with fog so thick I couldn’t see 50 yards in front of me. When I finally got to the top, the rains came.

Covered Bridge 2
Another Covered Bridge
Firewood Vending Shed
A firewood vending shed in one of the campgrounds

I descended into the town of Breezewood, which is an island of motels and fast food restaurants, clustered around the intersection of multiple highways. This is a town where walking is illegal! I got a motel room and decided to walk to get some dinner. Every intersection had no crossing signs. It was impossible to walk anywhere without breaking the law, and dodging traffic coming from all directions. I was not to be denied. I crossed anyway and ate my dinner.  It’s ironic, given that the town now known as Breezewood used to be a traditional pathway for Native Americans, European settlers and British troops.

No Walking
No walking for you!  Cars Only!

It was raining steadily, with temperatures in the 40s, when I left Breezewood. Clearly, I wasn’t going to get off the hook without riding in the rain.   After a long, difficult, wet day, I made camp in Shawnee State Park, where I spent 14 hours in my tent until the rain finally stopped the next morning. I immediately burned all the firewood that I had been hoping to burn the previous night. It was so nice to warm up in the cold, damp, 39-degree air.

Inside Tent View
The view of the world from my tent
Bike with Firewood
Loaded up with firewood

I had one more tough day in the mountains before making it to the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), a rail trail that will take me all the way to Pittsburgh. And a tough — but beautiful — day it was. Extreme gradients were the theme — 10%, 12%, 14% and 17%!  Continuous up and down all day, with a steady headwind.  I got it done and set up camp along the trail.

Old railroad tunnel converted to bike path
Foot Bridge over Castleman River
Footbridge over Youghiogheny River

The GAP trail has been a nice, quiet, flat path along the Casselman and Youghiogheny rivers, and a much-needed break from the steep terrain of the mountains. Side streams abound, with the sound of rushing water everywhere due to the last few days of rain. This area is called the Laurel Highlands. So far, this is a trip of temperature extremes — 90 the first day and 30 this morning.

Casselman River
Casselman River
Frosty Bag
Frosty bike bag on a very cold morning

Waterfall 2

Our beloved cat, Peanut, died on Monday night. I was both sad and relieved. Peanut was 18 years old and in failing health for some time. When I said goodbye to him before leaving for this trip, I had a feeling I might not see him again. As I rode along the trail today, I thought about all the wonderful times we had together. He was a real lover. Peanut will be sorely missed.

Jeff & Peanut
Hanging out with Peanut

And Then There Was One

Covered Bridge - Lancaster PA
Covered Bridge in Lancaster County, PA

The suburbs of Philadelphia gave way to Amish Farm country, with the smell of freshly fertilized fields and mule drawn plows.  We watched the horse drawn buggies, bikes and scooters of the Amish, who live a simple life with little or no technology. Then the farmland gave way to the forests, streams and lakes of the highlands.

Horse & Buggy - Lancaster PA
Amish Buggy in Lancaster County, PA
Waterfall - Caledonia State Park, PA
Waterfall in Caledonia State Park, PA
Tents & Bike - Spring Garden PA
In for the night

Thursday night’s forecast was for two inches of heavy rain, along with severe thunderstorms — not much fun in a tent.  With the help of Lissa, Bill and I were able to secure a 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps cabin in Cowans Gap State Park. As the rains came, we lit a fire in the hearth and stayed warm on the front porch.

Fireplace - Burnt Cabins, PA
Warmth on a rainy night
Lake - Cowans Gap PA
Cowans Gap State Park

Bill left for home this morning.  It was nice to spend some good time together. While I will miss the comradery, I am looking forward to the unique feeling of truly being out on my own on this great adventure.

Bill on Bike - Norristown, PA
AT Crossing - Caledonia State Park, PA
Caledonia State Park

Just before the checkout time of 10, the rains stopped, and I was on my way. There were road washouts and downed trees, with work crews cleaning up the mess. It’s beautiful how life comes through when you need it most.  Bike touring really connects you to the rhythm of Mother Nature. You become acutely aware of the wind and weather. The contours of the land. You sleep when it gets dark and awake to the bird songs just before dawn. You can only focus on what’s happening today. Tomorrow is unknown and yesterday is a fading memory.

Lake - Caledonia State Park, PA
A pond in Caledonia State Park


On the Road

Ready to start riding

After all the planning, training, preparing and anticipation, I am finally on my way.  Despite my minimalist packing, the bike and bags weigh over 80 pounds – and that’s without food or water. My only luxury is a 1-1/2 pound folding chair, which I wouldn’t do without.  I plan on riding 4,500 miles, from Atlantic City to Seattle, with a few National Park detours.  Bill will be returning home after a week, probably from Pittsburgh.

Train Station
Waiting for the train to Atlantic City

Bill and I met up in Philadelphia, and spent the evening at his place. On Saturday morning, we rolled our loaded bikes onto an Atlantic City bound train, for the start of our adventure. After a brief visit to the lovely Atlantic Ocean, we left the glitz of the Atlantic City boardwalk and casinos behind, as we headed west, into the wind.  Things quieted down as we reached the Pine Barrens, a vast area of sparsely populated pine forest, crisscrossed with pristine streams.  It felt good to finally start riding.

Quiet cycling in the NJ Pine Barrens
Quiet riding in the NJ Pine Barrens

It was a hot, humid day, which made for a tough start.  Neither of us are as well trained as we had hoped.   After fifty hot miles, we reached our destination for the day, a campsite on Atsion Lake, in Wharton State Forest.  We promptly headed to the showers, where we found plenty of hot water — scalding water to be precise — with no ability to control it.  Ouch!   Before we knew it, it was getting late, and we didn’t have the heart for the five-mile round trip to the local biker bar, so it was dehydrated meals for us.  Yum.  But we were serenaded after dark by the beautiful call of a whippoorwill, and again in the morning.  And the heat broke, which was a gift.

Camden Grafetti
Camden Graffiti

The next morning, we headed out in the beautiful, cool weather for the densely-populated route to Philadelphia.  This is my old stomping ground.  Lissa and I spent most of our lives in Philadelphia.   We rode through Camden and Philadelphia, then  headed north to Norristown, to see our friend Tim, his wife, Zoe, and son, Jake, who greeted us with smiles, a cold beverage and snacks.  It was great to see them again.

Entering Philadelphia
Entering Philadelphia from the Ben Franklin Bridge
Schuylkill Bridges
An old friend, the Schuylkill River.  I bike commuted along this river path for fifteen years.
Philadelphia’s Chinatown

Cycling Across the USA

Cross Country Route - Compressed
My route:  From sea to shining sea

I’m at it again — this time riding a loaded bicycle across the country!

I’ve wanted to do this for years, but after being diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer in September of 2013, I thought it would never happen. I didn’t expect to be alive now, much less cycling across the country.  I wasn’t confident that my health and stamina were good enough for such a demanding physical effort.  Last year’s solo ride along the Pacific coast changed all that for me. I rode more than 1200 hilly miles on a heavily loaded bike, and discovered that I could do it.

While I always thought I would take this ride with friends, it turns out that I’ll be doing most of it alone. I enjoy the freedom of letting the trip unfold — without any schedules, expectations or goals, other than making it across the country, and a couple stops for chemotherapy along the way.

My friend, Bill, will be joining me for the first week of the trip.  I will be carrying a SPOT satellite tracking device, so that my wife, Lissa, and all of our friends can follow my progress.

Home Sweet Home

The bike packed up easily, which isn’t surprising. It’s always easier breaking it down than putting it together.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it makes it home safe and sound.  Travel bikes have a hard life.

We were quite the spectacle in front of the hotel with the bike in pieces.
We were quite the spectacle in front of the hotel with the bike in pieces.
All ready to go. We just hope that TSA stays out of it!
All ready to go. Let’s just hope TSA stays out of it!

After a long, but uneventful flight home, we landed in Asheville.  Bob, half of our fabulous house sitting team, picked us up at the airport and drove us home for a happy and raucous reunion with all the furry creatures, followed by a lovely home cooked meal, complete with wine and cut flowers from the garden.  It doesn’t get more perfect than that.  How sweet it is to be home — with a kitchen, a washing machine, different clothes and our very own bed with season appropriate covers! We are so very lucky.  What an incredible gift this has been.  Thank you all for your support!

Ciao! … or as they say in Germany, Tschüss!

Home with the kids ... in different clothes!!
Home with the kids … in different clothes!!
Bob and Karyn who took such good care of everyone and everything.
Bob and Karyn who took such good care of everyone and everything.
Home sweet home
Home sweet home