Wednesday, August 6, 2008

there's no place like home

After completing our last entry in Coudersport, we promptly gathered up our stuff by the computer and headed to Erway's for lunch. It was clear that Erway's would become our gathering place for the next several meals and our day off in Coudersport. We got to know most of the waitresses by first name - Christy and Sue - who were happy to serve us our outrageous orders. Sue was always trying to get us to order the larger size, add another side, or get the whole sub instead of half. She must be a major share holder of Erway industries. We usually didn't need much convincing. After lunch, we didn't do much at all. It was truly relaxing. After the long afternoon of being unproductive, we once again headed to Erway's for dinner and ate too much dessert per usual.
With the exception of the previously mentioned climbs into Coudersport, Pennsylvania had really not challenged us too much in terms of climbing. Western Penn had, therefore, left us feeling a bit like we were home free. The ride from Coudersport to Towanda, however, changed our minds as we truly started our climb through the Appalachians. Although not always long climbs, there were many ups and downs and some steep roads into and out of towns we passed through. The good news was that Alex's parents were driving in our direction to meet us. After a relatively uneventful morning, we stopped for lunch in the town of Mansfield. Russ and Dan did make a stop at a blueberry stand (obviously a stop was required). With much excitement, they reported that the lone blueberry stand sign stressed that payment was required. As it read: "God punishes STEELERS." Obviously we had ventured quite a ways since Pittsburgh.

You probably wouldn't guess it, but we stopped at an ice cream place for lunch. As we finished up and made our ice cream purchase, Alex's parents arrived in Mansfield and were happy to see us in good spirits. We were happy to rid ourselves of our gear and continue our ride without much weight on our bikes. It definitely makes a difference, and Alex's parents were amazed at the cheetah-like pace we were moving at through the mountainous terrain. Having driven our bike route in the morning on the way to see us, the Burns gave us the scouting report and warned us of the hills ahead. On the way to our destination, we must have been passed by the van about five times since Alex's parents liked to drive ahead and then wait on us, perhaps slowing us down in the process. They were just worried about our safety, and we much appreciated their concern.

A large climb into Towanda awaited us. After conquering the hill, we rode into Towanda to find Alex's parents waiting at the one and only motel. As we checked out the motel, we learned of a Comfort Inn only a couple of miles down the road. The Comfort Inn was willing to make us a better deal so we headed a couple of more miles down the road to bring our total to nearly 100 miles for that day. We ended up in the town of Wysox. On the ride to Wysox, Russ decided to stop in at another motel we happened to come across even though we had already secured a donated room at the Comfort Inn. When we arrived at the Comfort Inn, we had discovered that the owner and manager, Greg, was also the owner of the motel that Russ had visited on the way. Greg knew our every move and caught us in the act. It was fine, however, he was a very nice guy. In part due to his generosity, we decided to go eat at his restaurant Wildfire (at the other motel Russ previously visited). Before leaving for the restaurant, we almost lost Russ to some Swedes with whom he shared the sauna. The Burn family treated us to a nice dinner, and once again, we happened to run into Greg, the owner, at his own restaurant. Making of some PB and J and bed followed.

We awoke to thunder and lightning the next morning and were unsure about what to do in this particular situation. We hadn't really been exposed to the elements until then. We decided to sleep another half hour in hopes that the weather would pass. It turns out that the rain didn't stop, but the thunderstorms seemed to have passed.
After a steady rain for a couple of hours, the sky cleared and the day was getting better. The Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania are beautiful! They are a lot different than the Rockies - no snow-packed peaks - but they have some special unique qualities: green rolling hills and low-lying clouds. Let's just say that we stopped many times to take pictures. Our route followed a river for the first half of the day, which made for some pretty riding.

The next big decision of the day was where to stop for lunch. Our choices were limited as usual. When we reached Factoryville, there was no place to stop for lunch - even more surprising was the fact that there were no factories. The Burns scouted the next five miles of our route, and found a great place for lunch - a nice picnic table with trees and shade, at the golf course of Fleetville, Pa. Alex's mother Franziska had prepared a wonderful Swiss dish birchermuesli, a chilled yogurt-like preparation with fruits and oats. By this time, we knew of her wonderful cooking, as we had been filled up by her homemade pastries earlier in the day - so we chowed down. A very nice woman at the country club brought us cold iced tea, and her niece Abby offered us chocolate chip cookies, which were delicious.

The rest of our ride that day was pretty uneventful, with more climbing of course. We arrived in the town of Honesdale. Although we are quite fast cyclists by now, the Burns beat us to our destination once again.... gosh darn cars always win. Luckily for us Alex's parents arrived at the only hotel in Honesdale just in time to treat us to the last two available rooms. We got caught in one last rain storm before arriving to the town of Honesdale, but more importantly we found ourselves at a bar that had $1.50 hamburgers and $.35 wings, which meant dinner number 1 (not for DMo of course), consisting of 5 hamburgers and 30 wings for four of us. We knew it was time to leave when Russ started eating Alex's half eaten wing that fell on the floor. We rode to the hotel for a quick shower....well all of us but Russ who stopped at a food stand for 3 pierogies and a potato pancake (dinner number 2). After rinsing off the stink of riding in the rain, we piled into the Burn-mobile and headed to dinner number 3 at a Chinese restaurant. Dinner number 3 was not finished by Russ since once again his eyes were larger than his stomach.

After a quick breakfast we headed out, naively eager to cross into New York. We should have known by the hills and lack of state sign upon entering that New York would lead to nothing but trouble, but we still had a few hours before moving NY into the "least safe biking state" category. New York did have one thing going for is a beautiful state. We rode along the Delaware River which had spectacular views and we crossed the Bear Mountain Bridge with more great views. The only downside were the windy roads with no shoulders that made us nervous. Soon after crossing into NY Russ found a cute bakery where we overindulged in many delicious baked goods for a second breakfast. Then between second breakfast and lunch the unthinkable happened. An angry 60 year old man in his pick-up truck purposely ran Russ off the road hitting him in the process. Alex was a bit confused because he saw a sign with a picture of a bike and a car that read "SHARED ROAD." Clearly, there are some drivers out there who don't adhere to the full meaning on this sign. Full of adrenaline and rage Russ sped to Port Jervis to report the incident to the police. We decided to have lunch there and then push through to Harriman, NY which lies just west of the Bear Mountain Bridge. The wonderful Burns family scouted out the only hotel in Harriman for us, and then wished us well on our final day as they returned home to CT.

The morning started with a climb over Bear Mountain, and we accidentally found ourselves on the Palisades Parkway. We turned around and quickly exited once we realized our mistake. We dragged our bikes across the median, backtracked, and then got off using the exit ramp. We were not quick enough, however, as a New York Department of Transportation (DOT) man caught us and using his megaphone, despite the fact that we were now 2 feet in front of him, warned us that we are not allowed on the parkway. Rather than phrasing his rambling in a clear way, he kept on insisting that "You can't be on the parkway." This was pretty confusing and unclear to us because we were getting off of the Palisades Parkway to get onto the Bear Mountain Parkway. Now, it was clear to us that we shouldn't have been on the busy Palisades Parkway. However, the Bear Mountain Parkway is a back road with no cars at all and was definitely a road we could cycle on. After pulling up to DOT man's vehicle, Alex tried to decipher what the man meant. Did he mean we can't be on any parkway, did he mean we can't be on Bear Mountain Parkway, or is he trying to tell us not to be on the Palisades Parkway (this we already knew, hence, the reason we turned our bikes around and immediately got off at the next available exit). His answer to every question posed was, "you can't be on the parkway." Finally, we decided to just pretend like he had been extremely helpful and proceeded on the Bear Mountain Parkway (which we ARE allowed to be on). Let's just say this delightful man didn't help with the impression we got of NY state. Dan and Alex have since also installed a megaphone on their bikes in anticipation of further DOT disputes should we ever cross into NY again.

After some more beautiful riding - not on any more New York parkways - with plentiful shade, we arrived at the Connecticut border. Wow, were we excited - we did it! We were back to our home state, the place where things had all began. It was unbelievable.

Sarah and Jen led us expertly through the Connecticut roads to our lunch destination, Georgetown, CT - we stopped at a great jazz-themed pizzeria. Dan was happy to order pizza made with whole wheat crust. After another hour or so of riding, we had arrived at the Long Island Sound at the Westport beach - the coast! We were joined by Sarah's mother, Jen's mother, and Jen's aunt and uncle, who celebrated with us on the beach. We took tons of pictures, dipped our front tires in the water, and then, the boys took a plunge in the water to make sure it was real. It was indeed.

After a small celebration, and after Dan changed his front tire (he got a flat tire from wheeling his bike along the beach - that sand is brutal!) we got back on our bikes and road the 10 miles to Easton, Connecticut, home of Sarah Steenbergen. We had a wonderful party that night at the Steenbergen residence. All of the riders were joined by family and friends for an evening of food, lots of great stories, and smiles all around. Martina and Sabrina Burn (Alex's younger sisters) brought a full sized AAA map of the United States, with pins marking all of our stopping points along the U.S., marking our route across the country - it was certainly a sight to see. There was plenty of excellent food prepared by Mrs. Steenbergen - eggplant lasagna, baked ziti, salads, a chicken dish, bread - the list goes on, and Dr. Steenbergen was busy at the grill with the hot dogs, hamburgers, and a few veggie burgers for the Morris family. We also got interviewed by Laura, a reporter for the local Easton Courier weekly paper - so be sure to check out our quotes in an upcoming Courier article.

After another dinner where the riders stuffed themselves, it was time for dessert. A special toast was made to all of the riders. Then we cut the cake, which had a map of the United States printed on it, with bikers on the map along our route across the country. Very cool.
The next morning, we awoke later than usual for a great breakfast of eggs and fresh blueberry pancakes prepared by Jen's mom and Sarah's mom. We said goodbye to Jennifer and her mom, before they left for their drive back to Baltimore. Jen had to get home to prepare for her first day of medical school at the University of Maryland on Thursday - we wish her best wishes on the start of her first year. Alex, Sarah, Dan, and Russ were joined by Dr. Keat Sanford, Dean of Admissions at the UConn medical school, for a final bike ride from Easton back to Farmington.

We had great weather for the whole day. Dr. Sanford impressed all of the riders - every uphill he was the first person to the top! When we arrived in Farmington, and first caught sight of the UConn Health Center, we let out a huge cheer - perhaps we had never been so happy to see the health center. We joined Dr. Sanford and his wife in the student affairs office for a celebration with some champagne - Dr. Koeppen, Dean of the Medical School was there to greet us as well. We also received congratulations from Dr. Ardolino, our Dean of Student Affairs. He was particularly impressed with the two and a half beards that had been grown over the course of the summer.

The riders then rode around the health center to the main entrance for a photo-op and celebration with Carla Sgro, George Economos, Ed Malley, Dr. Biree Andemariam and others from Lea's Foundation. We appreciated all who came out to wish us congrats and greet us on our final ride. The riders continued riding, on to Murphy's across the street for a few celebratory drinks before we were taken out to dinner by Russ' parents. What a great last day.

Well, if you've made it this far down in this blog entry, you are most certainly one of our most devoted blog readers, and we have appreciated your comments, your support, and your encouragement throughout the summer. We hope you will continue to show your support for Lea's Foundation for Leukemia Research and the Coast to Coast ride, which will continue for years to come.

Make sure to keep checking the blog for the next few days, as we hope to publish some more summary posts with some final thoughts and memories from the trip.
We hope you will join us for our final celebratory bike ride, on Saturday, August 23! We will be riding from the UConn Health Center in Farmington, CT to Archie Moore's restaurant in Milford, CT. We will be assembling around 9 am at the health center, and there will be a party at Milford when we arrive. More details to come...

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