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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
It’s been a long and wondrous journey. We have cycled for 46 days, ridden 1500 miles, followed 8 rivers, slept in 50 different towns and cities, not to mention the hundreds we have ridden through. We have experienced many beautiful and amazing sights, emotions, places and people. Lissa and I have experienced all of this together. Riding a tandem bicycle gives us a profound feeling of being connected. We pedal each stroke together, stop pedaling together, feel every bump in the road, every hill, every blast of wind, every sound. We’ve gotten lost and found our way, together. We’ve been challenged, elated, tired, joyful, hot, cold, wet, amazed, and awed, together. I feel deeply connected to Lissa. She is my best friend; we are truly intertwangled.
We have lived each day in the moment, barely able to think about tomorrow. It has reinforced the importance of today, a subject that I have learned a lot about. Thank you to everyone who has followed us on this beautiful journey. It has touched our hearts to know you are with us.
We got off to a rough start on the Ems River. Our 9-1/2 hour train ride morphed into 12 hours — in the sweltering heat, with no air conditioning. Ten hours into the ride, the train made a stop, and then just sat … for nearly an hour. There were periodic announcements, none of which we could understand. After one such announcement, people cheered, then just got up and exited the train. With the help of some passengers who spoke English, we were able to figure out that the train was cancelled and we had to quickly switch to another one — which of course, meant getting the bike and trailer up and down two sets of steps.
It was complete mayhem, with throngs of people everywhere. The Germans don’t queue up politely like the British. It was a free for all. I ran to the track, frantically trying to find the train car, struggling to get close enough to see the writing on the cars. Meanwhile, Jeff was getting the bike and trailer to the track, carrying the bike up stairs, against a sea of people going down, none of whom would budge an inch to let him by. Stressful to say the least. But we did eventually get on the right train, and make it to Emden. I had a mini-meltdown after walking into our 100 degree room with no air conditioning (and its requisite down comforter), but calmed down in the hotel’s garden restaurant over a beer and dinner.
Change is always a theme, in life, for all of us. But bike touring has a way of bringing it to the forefront of our awareness. From adversity to pleasure, and back again. Sometimes we lose it (e.g., my hot room meltdown), but mostly we learn to take it in stride. We know that whatever it is, it will change — weather, wind, surface, terrain, fatigue. It all comes and goes, quickly and over and over.
The Ems river route was a pleasure, particularly after the heat wave broke. The terrain was interesting and varied; starting at the North Sea, where it was decidedly maritime, with harbors, locks and dykes, transitioning to country lanes and forested paths. It was really quite beautiful. We were both sorry to see it end. But end it did. Thursday was our last day of cycling. We are in Münster now – a lively city, with a great feel and a lovely, shaded promenade circling the center where the city fortification used to be. Today we take the train to Mainz, and pack up the bike.
This journey feels so long. We started riding May 16th. Some of the experiences feel fresh; some of them seem so long ago, it’s hard to believe it was the same trip. The season has changed; birthday and anniversary come and gone. One thing that hasn’t changed is our wardrobe. I’m still wearing the same damn black pants and gray shirt! Bike touring is not for the fashion conscious.
I don’t have many pictures for this one. We’re so engaged that we just forget to take them.
We finished our ride on the Elbe a couple days ago. It was an interesting trip, although I must confess that by the end we both found ourselves yearning for something other than the flat, open terrain and fields of wheat, barley, corn and rape seed that we’ve been cycling through for days. We were also ready for something other than the Soviet era concrete architecture that so defines parts of the former GDR. There were some interesting towns — Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, where Martin Luther first railed against the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church, and a mecca of sorts for Protestants throughout the world. Then there was Riesa, the noodle capital of Germany … I kid you not. Tours of the state-of-the-art noodle factory were offered.
On Tuesday we made it to Dresden. Now, that is a city! It’s beautiful, historic, relaxed, young, lively, cultured and artistic. It boggles the mind to think that seventy years ago, 3,900 tons of explosives were dropped on the city — an act considered by many to be a war crime. The bombs and ensuing firestorm left 25,00 dead, and the city in rubble. I still can’t wrap my head around how Dresden was able to rebuild the historic section of the city from such devastation. But they did, and it is glorious!
We took a day off the bike in Dresden, and spent it kicking around the city … just being. No museums, or attractions; just walking around, enjoying the energy and flavor of the city. We also took the time to figure out what next. We had about a week to work with before heading back to Mainz to pack up the bike. Dresden provided a perfect opportunity for planning. They have a great store called Globe Trotter. I can only describe it as an REI on steroids. Four floors of gear, gear, and more gear. There’s even a pool where prospective buyers can try out their kayaks before buying. Needless to say, they have maps of all the German bike routes. We settled in with cappuccinos and a pile of books, and got ‘er done! A half dozen rivers were on the table … the Wesar, the Neckar, the Lower Rhine, the Isar, the Danube and the Ems. We finally settled on the Ems River, in the far Northwest, by the Dutch border and the North Sea.
Our last day on the Elbe was spent cycling to Bad Schandau, the gateway to the Saxony Switzerland National Park, about 20 km from the Czech border. The river runs through a gorge, with amazing sandstone rock formations. On the top of a mountain plateau is a facility that housed WWII prisoners of war, and later was an East German re-education camp for those who strayed from the party line. Today it is a museum. We planned on doing some hiking in the national park, but it was just too hot. In less than two weeks, we’ve gone from cold, blustery, overcast days to a heat wave. Give me the cold weather any time!
From Bad Schandau, we will take a nine and a half hour train ride to Emden for the final leg of this journey. This has been a long trip. In the beginning, I rarely thought about home. Now I think about it often. I think we’ll both be ready to board that plane on July 13th.