Friday, August 30 – 3273.6 miles down, 0 to go
Today we rode to the Atlantic Ocean and finished what we started 42 days ago.
Planning today had been tough because we needed to finish in New York City as the folks at Nat Sherman had a Finish Line Celebration planned for us. But first we needed to find a place on the Atlantic to dip our front wheel into the ocean and complete our arduous trek. I picked Raritan Bay Waterfront Park in New Jersey as our location for the finale of our ride. We would have loved to have ridden all the way to New York City, but there are rules about which bridges you can and cannot cross, so this made more sense.
Isaac took over driving the sag with Amy navigating as we had a complex route to follow to get to Raritan. Kathleen was once again suited up and ready to ride so we could finish as the foursome that started out from Oceanside on July 20th. We had a short 56 mile route to the park, so we weren’t in any hurry to get going. Plus, Tim and Caroline Sweitzer, two of our best friends, were delivering breakfast to us prior to riding. We’ve been riding for Tim since 2005, as Tim was diagnosed with MS in 2004 and we started riding the MS-150 two-day event that next year. They are dear friends and as luck would have it, Caroline is from Doylestown, and they were in town for a wedding. Tim, Caroline and their son Adam were there to see us off.
They showed up with tons of food from Panera Bread and we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast. After hugs all around, we got busy with our task. The route was a good one that used local streets and highways and we rolled out around 7:40am. It was good to have Kathleen back in the paceline as she brings humor and more importantly, strength. I nicknamed her Frieda Freshlegs because she was rolling up the hills so easily while I labored somewhat behind. I can’t lie, the previous 41 days have left a mark, and my knees and quads were letting me know that they weren’t happy.
We knocked off the first 20 miles doing our typical 5 mile pulls before we decided we needed a stop. Kathleen hadn’t been able to ride with us the past week so she was astounded by the beautiful countryside we were riding through. One thing about riding west to east is how you gradually penetrate into older and older dwellings and towns. We’ve been astounded by the number of church graveyards that we’ve passed and it speaks to the heavy population density of the eastern seaboard. Also, the houses the past couple of days have been really cool and old and built with stone and abut the road. You can definitely feel the history of the pioneering people who built our country as you near the coast.
We left Pennsylvania and entered New Jersey when we crossed the Delaware River on highway 202 less than an hour after we started. With population you get busier roads as well, and there was one part of the route that had me worried, which was a 5 miles stretch on Highway 1. I conferred with Amy and Isaac before we started and I asked them to find an alternative route through the neighborhoods so we could avoid that busy highway. They went to work on that, and Amy ended up mapping out a very nice alternative route over those 5 miles that kept us away from that busy road.
Unfortunately we hit yet another detour with the typical Bridge Out sign. So Rick and Kathleen rode on ahead to make a deal with the highway crew. But this time we were foiled. The only way across was to straddle a narrow concrete wall that had rebar sticking out of it. No way they’d let us cross that, and we didn’t want to. So, for the first time we had to take the actual detour. Crud. We were batting 1.000 on detours prior to that. So, Jay Mcavoy isn’t on the hook for another $100 as we couldn’t make it work. Of course the detour involved climbing some insidious hills through some wonderful neighborhood, and we took a break from our efforts in Hopewell for leftover Panera scones.
It was overcast and you could smell rain in the air as we pushed on and wove our way through towns, and eventually you could smell and sense a change in the air as we caught wafts of the ocean breeze. We entered South Amboy, went through the heart of downtown, and then made the turn to Raritan. We rode four-abreast to the end of the parking lot and the Bay and Atlantic stretched in front of us. It was an emotional moment as all the previous 41 days were lifted from our shoulders and we crossed our Finish Line. Why am I crying so much on this trip? I choked up when I saw the ocean, mostly because I didn’t think I’d make it this far. Or maybe I’m just turning into a blubbering fool in my dotage.
We took off our shoes and socks and went to the waters edge and felt the cold Atlantic against our feet as we dipped our front wheel into the sea. Several people were looking at us as if we were crazy, so the Ambassador went to talk with them and inform them of our mission. Always spreading the awareness, even at the end. That’s been our job.
Then came the fun part. We loaded the bikes into the trailer and Isaac and Amy drove us to the Staten Island Ferry so we could enter New York City without having to cross any bridges on the bikes. Tom and Amy’s friends, Tom and Fiona met us at the ferry as they live in New York and were going to lead Isaac and Amy into the city while we dawdled on the ferry boat. Yes, my son Isaac, 17 years old, drove an SUV towing a trailer into Manhattan and to the parking lot across from our hotel. I couldn’t be prouder of him. It was a fitting coda for his sag driving on this trip, as this was his third turn at the wheel and he’s done an awesome job.
And a special thanks to Tom and Fiona for meeting us and helping us get that contraption into the city so we can load our bikes and drive them back to Colorado. They’re great folks who Tom and Amy met many years ago when they were exploring Alaska, and it was great to see them again.
We loved the ferry ride as we went past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and docked near Battery Park. We unloaded the bikes and made our way through the park, but first Tom and I had to get a hot dog from a street vendor – hey, we’re in New York! Whadda ya whadda ya! We found the Hudson River Greenway ,which is an amazing bike path that runs the length of the western side of Manhattan, and we rode slowly north. This was our parade lap as our journey was over and we wanted to take in the sights and sounds of the city, and have a leisurely ride to Nat Sherman’s. We stopped for a beer at a park along the Hudson as we pedaled along and enjoyed what had become a cloudless and sunny New York Friday afternoon.
We were finishing at Nat Sherman’s due to a connection with our friends the Gallaghers in Boulder. They hooked us up with the Shermans as they do business together, and the patriarch, Joel Sherman, has Parkinson’s. Rick had been communicating with Joel’s daughter Michelle to arrange a Finish Line Celebration, and she’s been communicating it for weeks to raise some buzz. So, we were looking forward to ending our trip with our final interaction with people who had first-hand knowledge of Parkinson’s.
We rode up to their store near the corner of 42nd street and 5th Avenue, and there was a large crowd assembled and a New York City policeman waving off traffic so we could come in for a landing. They had a large “Finish Line” sign as well, and we rode under it and completed the last stage of our journey. It was an amazing feeling to be standing out on 42nd Street in New York City with people clapping and taking our pictures like we were some type of celebrities. It added to our feeling of accomplishment.
Their ultra-capable store manager, Pat, whisked us inside and led us into their awesome humidor where we stowed our bikes. Then we headed downstairs for champagne and appetizers and our event with the group. The attendees were incredibly gracious and asked all sorts of questions about our ride as we stood in our Friends For Phinney outfits and sipped champagne. Another of Rick’s sons, Dylan, appeared as he’s spending the weekend in the city with Rick. I also had my friend and co-worker Cary Peebles arrive, along with my very good friends Chuck and Amy Herrick. We also had a visit from Danny Stengel-Katabini, the son Mike Stengel, one of our supporters back home and a Sacred Heart of Jesus boy, like Tom, Rick and I.
It was a wonderful gathering, and Joel kicked it off with a toast for us. Then we gave a modified version of our presentation. We all spoke about what the trip meant to us and how it had affected us over the course of 42 days. It was another emotional moment as we recalled Carl Ames, Joe Williams, Doug Bahniak, Dave Parker and all the Parkinson’s people we’ve been privileged to meet during our ride. We chatted with people for hours, just soaking in the New York hospitality, and enjoying what may be the best victory cigar I’ve ever had in my life. Talk about smooth. Nat does cigars good, let me tell you what.
At the end of the evening I was talking with Joel. He thanked us again for what we were doing. I asked him if he exercised as he’s trim and in shape, and he said he’s in a rough patch right now due to some new meds that he’s been put on, and he’s fighting through the initial phase as his body acclimates to the treatment.
He told me that he used to be on the ski patrol at Windham Mountain here in New York, and that he enjoyed skiing very much. I asked him if he still skied, and his face fell and he said,”No, I haven’t been able to ski for 4 or 5 years now“. I told him I was very sorry to hear that, and hoped that one day in the very near future he’d get up on the mountain again.
And he looked at me and replied, “I want to ski with my grandchildren. That’s what I miss the most. I love to ski and I can’t spend that time with them“. I looked in his eyes and saw his pained expression. This damn disease is stealing memories from him every day.
We finished up and had a huge dinner at Pietro’s with our team and family. It was a fitting end to the day as we toasted our finale and what we have accomplished.
I need to collect my thoughts and post one more blog once I can organize myself. I think back to all the conversations in all the towns in all the states, and I’m overwhelmed by the number of interactions, the thirst for knowledge and information, and the wonderful wonderful people who are afflicted with Parkinson’s. I’m humbled by their strength. I’m proud to now know them. I want them to Live Well every day, with the help of the Davis Phinney Foundation.
And I hope, God I hope, that Joel is schussing down the slopes with this grand-kids in the near future. That’d be victory.