Thursday, November 27, 2008

Paul's got a new bike

Remember Paul's incessant complaint that "bicycling sucks" while we were trekking across the country? He just bought a used Merlin titanium bike from a friend of mine who has accumulated a large stock of incredible bikes. Paul's pretty much decided that he really likes cycling. He has the bike he rode across country, a fixed-gear bike he uses for commuting, and a trick bike, besides for the Merlin.

I'm still riding a fair amount, commuting as much as 20 miles a day and going for one long ride every weekend. I went to Bourg d'Oisans, the town at the base of l'Alpe d'Huez in France, with one of the guys in my cycling club and some of his friends. I loved cycling in the Alps. We rode up three of the mountains that were on this year's tour (although we did them on three different days, while the pros did them all in one day), and many other alps and cols. The views were astonishingly beautiful. The mountains were impossibly green, decorated with soaring waterfalls and rushing brooks, with snow-peaked caps and glaciers all around. Beautiful wild flowers were in bloom everywhere (this was early June) and there was lots of wildlife and interesting farm animals. This area is a cycling mecca. On most rides, I saw more bikes than cars, and the people in cars are incredibly considerate of cyclists. On l'Alpe d'Huez, people just hand out to watch and cheer on the cyclists who are climbing up. There are 21 hair-pin turns, each named for someone who'd one a tour stage there. I had to remember to try to take a drink at each turn because they are the comparatively flat parts of the climb. A couple of beautiful French women were standing at one of the turns about halfway up, cheering the riders on. "Allez! Allez! Courage!" I thought this was one of the finest public services I'd ever seen and the 300 yards until they were out of sight was probably my fastest segment on the mountain. We rode up l'Alpe d'Huez a second time because we discovered that 500 crazy Dutch people were riding up the mountain 6 or more times in a day to raise money for cancer research. They started at 5AM. We had to see this and had planned to ride partway up, but the scene was so much fun that we did the whole climb again. There were thousands of Dutch people wearing orange wigs, floppy hats, and with all sort of noisemakers cheering their compatriots on. Sound stages were set up. It was amazing. The end was decked out like the end of the tour stage and hundreds of people cheered us as we crossed the finish line. I felt like a fraud because we'd only ridden up once, while some of the ride participants were already on their third ascent, but the crowd was cheering everyone. As I descended, I wondered how one could make oneself turn around and climb the mountain again 4, 5, or 6 times. It is 3,000+ feet of vertical over 9 miles. It took me about 1.5 hours to climb and half an hour to descend. Some of the Dutch riders were faster, but many were slower, so my guess is that the average rider spent 12 hours riding. That would be even less pleasant than riding into a headwind on a 100 degree day in South Dakota. But they seemed to be having fun.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A long walk

A Long, Long Walk

On Saturday, April 28, 2007, I along with 97 other wackos set out at 3am to walk from Georgetown to Harpers Ferry, WV. Here's the post-walk report.

I did the whole thing. It was really long—not surprising, but experiencing a 19-hour walk was surreal. I had dreaded the 3am start, and setting my alarm for 1:30am, knowing that I'd have to undertake one of the most extreme physical challenges of my life, was just terrifying. I drugged myself with antihistamines, which allowed me to get about 4 hours of sleep.

There was an astonishing number of people at the start—97 according to the website. The sign-in tables were lit by Coleman lanterns. Someone passed around a sheet with emergency phone numbers. We were asked not to bail out without telling one of the volunteers. Ideally, we were to try to drag ourselves to the nearest rest stop. Bicycle-riding volunteers also patrolled the trail looking for people in distress.

We started just as the bars closed in Georgetown. I didn't see any drunken revelers, but thought that they might think that they'd had a few too many if they had seen our troop marching down the canal tow path with our little flashlights—the hard core ones with headlights. The weather was chilly and very humid. There had been thunderstorms during the night and a possibility of more lingered. (It would drizzle off and on at times throughout the day.) Those without flashlights risked soaking their feet in giant puddles, and a few did. I was glad that I had invested in a light. Raluca, the crazy friend who'd gotten me into this absurd situation, clearly wanted to walk much faster than I did. I'd learned in my training hikes that if I walk as fast as she, my hips start to throb after about 15 miles. I decided that I would pace myself. Raluca purposefully-walked on ahead and I strolled at a measured pace. Similarly, I decided not to try to stay with David, the third of our fundraising pack who was attempting the 100K. He was determined to average 5 miles per hour, and I knew that that pace would kill me.

We walked for two and a half hours before there was any natural light. Before sunrise, I saw a light to the left of the trail and hoped that it might be an indoor restroom with plumbing. It was, it was clean, and was just what I needed. Since the vast majority of facilities on the hike are porta-potties, I took this as a very good omen.

At sunrise, I saw a tree that was covered with turkey buzzards, big ominous-looking birds that you don't expect to see in packs. There must have been 20 or more. I half expected to hear horror movie music and see Alfred Hitchcock meander across the trail. That didn't happen and the big birds seemed uninterested in doing much of anything until later in the morning.

The first rest stop was at mile 12. My feet were already hurting, despite the fact that I had taped over all the spots that had bothered me during training hikes. The problem was the sandy soil on the tow path tended to get in my shoes. Later, I noticed that the hike recidivists wore gators over their sneakers to keep dirt out. I shook out the sand and added more tape to the new hot spots, grabbed a drink, and marched on. Sometime later, I came upon David, who was walking much slower than his target pace. He had trained for the hike by walking around a track and said that walking on dirt and gravel was much harder. He said he was reconsidering his options. He was walking slow and didn't seem to want company so I left him behind. Later, I learned that he had bailed out at the halfway point. Meanwhile, Raluca was speeding on ahead, occasionally sending me text messages with her progress. The distance between us grew at each posting.

At the second rest stop, mile 23, there was fresh coffee and muffins. Both tasted great. I especially needed the caffeine. I shook out more sand, taped my feet some more and relaxed a bit. When I got going again, my feet were especially sore. I realized that long rest stops were a bad idea because my feet tightened up.

I ran into a nature photographer who'd traveled all over the world. We talked about birds in South Africa. I tried to describe an eagle that had amazed me near Kruger National Park and he mentioned the names of three or four kinds and described them. None sounded like the bird I remembered, but my memory was pretty fuzzy. (I have a special sympathy for folks who can't recollect important life events when called before a grand jury.) He impressed me by telling me the names of all the birds we were hearing by the path. That's a such-and-such. It usually doesn't arrive here for a couple more weeks. I impressed him by telling him that I was walking to Harpers Ferry, but he wasn't tempted to hang with me for the remaining 35 miles or so. He was just on his morning constitutional and would soon return home for coffee and the Sunday paper. I was so jealous.

I was listening to a book on tape—Carry by Stephen King. It was the perfect sort of mindless stuff to keep me from thinking about my feet and hips and how much farther I had to walk. Almost. Around 11am, I noticed that I had no Advil. I had carefully packed a plastic bag with enough to last me for a 200-mile hike. I had forgotten my analgesics on a 30-mile training hike and had had to rely on breathing exercises I'd learned when Missie was pregnant to get through the last miles. I took a couple of Advil before the start, but they had long worn off, and now I was worried. Fortunately, Kevin (husband of Allison, who is leading the fundraising effort) called to tell me that he had started the 30-mile hike and he had packed more than enough Advil. He promised to leave me some at the 36-mile rest stop. I said a prayer of thanksgiving, wished that I was further along than mile 28, and searched for a focal point and commenced abdominal sleep breathing.

My feet weren't feeling any better at the next rest stop at mile 31 so I decided that I would get all the sand out I could, apply tape to a particularly sore spot, and draw my laces as tight as I could stand them and not take the shoes off again. A very helpful nurse-type person helped me, but I can't remember with what. I asked her if she had ever done this hike. She looked bemused and said, "I'm not crazy." Yeah.

At the next rest stop, a nurse jumped up when she saw me and handed me a baggy with 6 Advil. Apparently, I was described as the freakishly tall guy wearing an Indiana Jones hat and number 79. Probably any one of those features would have been sufficient, but she had apparently been looking out for me for a while. (I really did wear an Indiana Jones hat, although I did not carry a whip.) I was very happy to get the drugs. There were also sandwiches. I opted for pre-packaged sliced turkey, fresh tomatoes, lettuce, mayo, salt, and pepper on nondescript whole wheat bread. It was wonderful. I also grabbed a baggy full of trail mix and some fig newtons for the road and marched on.

I was happily listening to my book on tape when a woman named Rose started talking to me. I was tempted to cut the conversation short and plow ahead, but I knew that my Ipod battery would not last to the end of the walk. Also, Rose was walking at roughly the same pace as I and kind of cute in a middle-aged sort of way. She was the perfect hike companion.

We talked about everything. I know how she met her husband. (It was on a hike, but he has no interest in walking 62 miles in a day. He's happy to provide drop-off and pick-up service.) I know that she'd done this hike three times before she had kids, and finished twice. Her teenage daughter walked with her for the first 31 miles, but found that even a teenager needed to train to survive such a long walk. Husband had picked up daughter. Her son is going to Yale in the fall. She'd worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and we compared names of reporters that we know. Now she's a freelancer and teaches a writing class at AU. She told me about her travels. She's going to Bhutan this summer. She also knows everything about me, or did by the end of the hike. We talked for about 4 hours, desperately trying to find topics interesting enough that we wouldn't think about the pain and tedium of the hike. At times during our walk together, it was also cold and rainy, although it never rained hard. We had rain jackets, which helped a little, but we didn't want to think about the weather either. Our forced companionship sort of worked.

While walking with Rose, I noticed that my hands had inflated like balloons. They looked like the hands of a very large, very fat man. I could ease the swelling a bit by holding my hands over my head. This conformed with my dark fantasy that the walk was really the Bataan Death March with rest stops.

I told Rose about how unhappy I'd been with the food on my cross-country bike ride in 2005—and how much I had craved great food when I was burning 7,000 calories a day. When we got to the 48-mile rest stop, I had a cup of Lipton's instant vegetable soup in a styrofoam cup. She asked how it was. I said, "wonderful." It was hot and salty and tasted delicious. She tasted the soup and said, "That was a bit of an overstatement." I agreed that, objectively, she was right, but in the particular circumstances, it was just perfect. She immediately doubted everything else I had told her about my past. There was also fresh coffee, which was the best tasting coffee I'd ever had. I have no idea why mediocre food tasted so good on the hike, but it did.

We marched out. The sun was getting low in the sky and we still had 14 miles to go. I was actually feeling remarkably strong, but Rose was slowing down. At around mile 50, we were about to overtake some slower hikers and Rose said that she would walk with them. At this point, I decided that I just wanted to get the hike over with. I sped up. My feet were hurting and my hips aching, but there was a zen-like quality to the pain. I skipped the last rest stop. The volunteers said, "We have hot chocolate and goodies," siren-like in the dusk, but I would not be tempted. I just wanted to get the damn walk over with.

I passed many, many people in the last 12 miles. They mostly looked bedraggled and were walking much slower than I. I greeted them with a cheery, "How are you doing?", to which they'd answer with an unconvincing "fine" or just look at me with a combination of hatred and incomprehension. It reminded me of how Paul used to fly effortlessly by the weaker riders (that is to say, almost all of them) on long climbs during our cross-country ride and say "What's up?" Of course, he was young and handsome and charming, so I think he only evoked a response of "Ah, youth!" I was significantly older than many of the people I was passing, and even the old guys didn't seem happy to see me. It was kind of fun.

Around mile 59 or 60, a designated cheerleader told me what to expect ahead and really made me think that the end was near. "Go up to the bridge and cross the river." It wasn't that near. I was hallucinating bridges in the twilight. I passed under at least one real bridge which was not the final bridge. Eventually, I came to the bridge, where a volunteer with a flashlight directed me up the stairs and told me that another helpful volunteer would direct me from the other side. I felt like I was being initiated into a fraternity, and I guess I was (a fraternity of lunatics). I passed some townspeople out for an after-dinner stroll and some cheered me on. On the other side, another volunteer directed me to walk up a hill and I'd get to the community center. He did not mention it was a really long hill. The community center was in the next town—something I'd failed to notice in my pre-walk preparations. (I'd assumed that Bolivar Community Center was named after the Latin American freedom-fighter (would we call him a terrorist now?) rather than the town beyond Harpers Ferry of the same name.) Nonetheless, I kind of liked walking up the hill. It stretched calf muscles that really needed stretching. For the first time all day, I felt hot. I took off my rain jacket and my Indy hat and marched ever upward. I passed a couple of women who were looking disoriented in the street. I promised them that we were really near the end, and hoped that I was right. Eventually, Paul called out to me. He was hanging out at the car on a side street listening to the ball game and patiently waiting. (Earlier, I had underestimated my time to completion so he had been waiting for a while.) He cheered my accomplishment, in the way we cheer on people we love doing utterly irrational things. I told him that I'd pick up Raluca and Tess (an Urban Institute RA who had done the 32-mile walk) and come back to him. When I got to the community center, the volunteers also applauded me and gave me a patch to commemorate my accomplishment. There was food. The best turkey chili I had ever tasted, which I swallowed in several gulps. Some kind of soft drink, which was very cold and delicious. The food magic was at its peak. People were sitting around with dazed expressions. Some were having their feet tended to.

I finished right at 10pm, exactly 19 hours after I'd started. Raluca had finished two hours earlier—one of the first finishers of the long trek. She had a large painful blister on her foot. I expressed sympathy, and I did feel some, having suffered foot trauma myself, but secretly, I was also a little happy. She had marched through all of our training miles and never shown any signs of mortality—or age. She is 20 years younger than I am and has periodically teased me for being old. I was glad to see her come down to earth.

This also meant that I had to walk back down to get Paul and ride up with him to the parking lot. This required some convincing on the part of the volunteer/guard. Eventually, she relented when I told her one of my companions could not walk another step.

Although it was a long drive back home, I was so glad that I wasn't sleeping in Harpers Ferry (or Bolivar) like many other walkers. I really wanted to sleep in my own bed. When I got home and took my shoes off, I noticed that I'd covered about every bit of exposed flesh on my right foot. There was one big blister on my heel, but otherwise it was not that bad. The hot shower felt great and I fell asleep in about 10 seconds.

The next day, I felt great. My feet hurt a little, but I was not a cripple. I walked Beamer (our aging dachsund) and for the first time, his geezerly pace was not holding me back. I was happy to be taking baby steps. It was a beautiful spring day and I DID NOT HAVE TO WALK 62 MILES! I've started most days since the walk with that thought, followed by "Life is Good." Having survived, it was a wonderful thing to have done.

The website says that of the 97 people who started the 100K walk, 53 finished. No indication how many died or were seriously injured. They promised stats on all the finishers sometime this month. I figure I probably was in the middle of the pack of those who finished. I'm fine with that.

The walk, by the way, was to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. My neighbor, Allison, will be raising money until June 12. If she raises enough, she’ll be Woman of the Year for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Her goal is $100,000 and she's tantalizingly close as of June 9—currently at $99,000. Your contribution could put her over the top.

To donate online, Visit and click the donate button in the upper-right hand corner. That website also has more information about the challenge.

Some links

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Post ride posting

So here's the post mortem on the ride for Haiti. Paul and I survived the ride just fine. Paul seems to like me again, which is nice, and I gather that he doesn't hate bicycling as much as he did while he was riding across country. It's clear that his friends think that the ride was quite an accomplishment, so I think that helps. After about two weeks of remedial partying with friends, Paul is now back in Toronto, preparing for the new school year. He is riding his fixed gear bike and doing it at a pretty fast clip. I think he is happy about that too. He has an interview scheduled with an on-campus bike shop. Apparently, his experience cycling across country is a plus there too.

I took a couple of days off after returning home to catch up on things that I had left undone in my preparations to cycle across country--most notably, my income taxes. I had lost my study while on the road. Missie converted it into a bedroom for the Norwegian foreign exchange student who is living with us for the year. The hunt for records and tax preparation software among the boxes that held the remnants of my study was an adventure.

Back at work, my colleagues gave me an incredible reception. My Tax Policy Center colleagues took me out to lunch, and my Urban Institute colleagues threw a surprise party for me. I missed it, of course. The plan was that I would show up in my office at the appointed time because I had an appointment with one of my senior colleagues. That plan would have worked in May, but I had not yet gotten into the habit of looking at my calendar and so completely forgot that I was supposed to be somewhere. Someone called me on my cell phone and told me that I had forgotton my meeting. The party was nice. Despite the pressures of working 6 hour days, my colleagues found time to produce a wonderfully whimsical map showing some of the high points of our trip. It is still hanging outside my office.

I've been cooking a lot, but trying not to eat too much (a seeming conflict that I have been reconciling only imperfectly). I've gone to about every farmers market in town since I returned, buying fresh sweet corn, tomatoes, peaches, berries, fresh cheeses, and everything else that looks good. Last night, I made a risotto with 7 different kinds of mushrooms that I found at the farmers market yesterday. The ride across the culinary wastelands of America has really made me appreciate food.

I got back home in great shape. Although almost everything hurt at some point during the ride, by the end, I was riding analgesic-free. For a few days, I felt like someone 25 years younger with no aches or pains of any sort. Unfortunately that didn't last. I was going to list the joints and muscles that have hurt since I returned, but that's too depressing. Suffice it to say that a more active than usual 51-year-old feels significantly worse than a 51-year-old nut who exercises for 5-8 hours a day. I also lost some weight during the ride, although it is slowly creeping back up to its pre-ride level.

I'm cyclling much faster than I did before the cross-country trek. Two weeks ago, I averaged 18.6 mph on a very hilly 71 mile club ride and was passing fairly fast riders going uphill. That was great fun. Next week, I've signed up for a hilly century, called the Civil War century. A month ago, I would say that it would be no big deal, but we'll see whether I have regressed. If I survive that, I will be doing the Potomac Pedalers century the week after. Needless to say, I still like bicycling and I enjoy being lighter and stronger.

It's been hard getting back into the swing of work. I feel like I need a vacation, but that won't happen anytime soon. I think wistfully about the days when I had no responsibility more taxing than choosing where and when to stop for lunch. I've got lots of responsibilities now (again). I want to tell people who ask me to do things that I'd love to do it, but can't because I'm biking across country in a few months. That worked great in the spring, but seems less effective now. I'll have to come up with another ruse.

This is probably the last post to this blog. It amazed me that so many people read Paul's and my posts and enjoyed them. It was fun for us knowing that we had an audience.

Thanks again for your support.


Monday, August 08, 2005

America's Best Inn

I'm sitting in the lobby of America's Best Inn in Portsmouth. I'm sitting in the lobby because that's the only place with internet access. Funny. We've stayed in some of America's not so great hotels and there was internet access in the rooms. So I'm thinking that "best" may be hyperbole.

But who cares? Tomorrow I'll be sleeping in my own bed. TOMORROW I'LL BE SLEEPING IN MY OWN BED. With my wife! Tomorrow I will not be sitting on a bike seat for 6 hours. Tomorrow I will not look in the mirror and see bugs on my face. I will not have layers and layers of sun screen and road grime on my arms and legs. Tomorrow I can sleep until 6:30! (The day after, even later.) Tomorrow I will not smear bag balm on my butt. Tomorrow I will not wear spandex. Tomorrow my bicycle will be in a bag all day long and it won't matter. Tomorrow I will not eat underseasoned lasagna or overcooked pasta or iceberg lettuce. Tomorrow I will make pesto for dinner with fresh crusty bread and tomatoes, mozarella, and basil, and eastern shore cantaloupe, and anything else I want. Tomorrow I will be an ordinary civilian, not one of the America by Bicycle endurance athletes. Tomorrow I will not have to endure anything except a one-hour plane ride to Dulles. Woo hoo!

We finished our cross-country trek today. We were escorted to Rye Junior High School by 5 PIH cyclists wearing their new PIH shirts. That was so cool. My step sisters-in-law and brother-in-law also gave us an incredibly warm welcome at the school. Then, they all headed to Rye beach while we were escorted by police to Rye Beach. When we got to the ocean, we all got giddy. We took pictures of the ocean, and pictures of each other, and pictures of each other taking pictures of the ocean. The smell of salt infused the air. We were very tangibly not in South Dakota any more. We could see and hear the waves crashing onto the beach. The sun was shining, there was a cool sea breeze, and life was just wonderful. Then we got to the beach and 15 PIH people were standing and cheering, some holding signs saying, "Thank you Len and Paul." Paul and I were just overwhelmed. Dozens of other people were cheering their friends and loved ones. Two people who were injured and had to drop out after the first day also showed up to cheer us on. It was amazing.

I got to meet people from PIH who I knew only from email and phone correspondence. They presented Paul and me with framed pictures with little thank you notes and a hand-written note from Paul Farmer. We also got our own cool PIH t-shirts. The director of PIH's Haitian operations told us how much good your contributions will do in Haiti and thanked us. Paul and I thanked all the PIH people for the amazing work that they do. I felt a little guilty that our arrival was single-handedly bringing PIH operations to a stand-still, but our new friends promised that they would make up the work tonight. (I noted that they might be good candidates to replace my Tax Policy Center colleagues who have gotten into the habit of working six hours a day and taking two hour lunches while I have been gone.) Paul took the SAG van to the bike shop to arrange to ship his bike back home. (He didn't throw it in the ocean.) On my way out of the parking lot, I called Missie, and then sort of lost it. I was pretty overwhelmed. Then I road 7 more miles to America's Best Inn (which, as it turns out, is not in the best part of Portsmouth, another paradox) and packed up my bike for my trip home tomorrow.

Downtown Portsmouth is about 1.5 miles from America's Best Inn. I walked there to look for presents to take home, but ran into a fellow cyclist, Fritz, who was looking for a drinking companion. Since I'm not cycling tomorrow, and since Fritz has this endearing habit of plopping a c-note down on the bar to pay for his and his drinking companions' drinks, I acquiesced. Sorry about those presents. (Stores in Portsmouth close early.) We talked about law (Fritz was a high-powered anti-trust lawyer in his day) and tax policy and other, more fun kinds of vacations. It was great. After a while, I left Fritz to have his dinner and shopped a bit. Then Paul came downtown with Brian, small Paul, and Brian's girlfriend and we went out for Mexican food--a place recommended by another cyclist. This guy probably liked the lasagna too. The food was okay, but not exciting, but we were sitting by the river and could smell the ocean. The weather was great. Nothing could ruin this day. After a final celebratory ice cream, I sent the pups home and went searching for more shopping options without success. Navigating my way home in the dark after 2 hefeweissens and 2 large margaritas was something of an adventure. I did have the presence of mind to know that I should restrict my weaving to the sidewalks (which are a little hard to find in Portsmouth--sidewalks on both sides of the street are costly and Portsmouth, like the rest of NH, has no tax base). Road signs are also few and far between (refer to previous parenthetical about the tax base).

PS: the last few days of cycling were wonderful. I had forgotten how much I like New England--the cute small towns, the beautiful rolling hills, the smell of lush pine forests everywhere. The woods were lovely, dark and deep. I didn't even much mind the steep hills. (Fritz said that we climbed 6,800 feet yesterday, which, if correct, would be the most climbing we had done on the trip.) Although my legs were a little tired from a week of uninterrupted cycling, I felt pretty strong. I would not have even minded the extra ten miles I inadvertently tacked onto yesterday's ride after lunch, except that it meant that I was very late to meet Norma and Rick in Manchester. (I will say that after cycling 8 or so centuries in the past 7 weeks, I had no urge at all to add four miles to yesterday's extended ride to make one more.) (By the way, if New Hampshire had an income tax, they could afford street signs and route indicators so that I could have gotten a clue in much less than five miles that I was off course.)

If you haven't already done so, now would be a good time to send your check, made out to Partners In Health, to my home address: Len Burman, 825 N. Fillmore St., Arlington, VA 22201. You can also contribute online at

Okay, given my impaired cognitive state, I have no idea whether this ramble makes any sense, so I'm going to stop. I will note that it is 10:35--way after dark--and I am still awake. How cool is that?

Thanks for your support, which meant a lot to Paul and me while we were cycling across country.



Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Paul: 1, North America: 0.

Yeah, we won. No more biking. No more biking.

Thank you to all of you that supported us on this ride. I would have quit if I didn't know that so many people wanted us to make it. Thank you to the people at Partners in Health. So many PIH people met us and rode with us today, it was amazing. They met us at the beach and really made us feel like we had accomplished something special.
Thank you. I still hate biking, but thank you all so much.

Rock it,


Saturday, August 06, 2005

Brattleboro, Vermont

It is a one and done day for the state of Vermont. I guess that it was a nice day, the weather was not terrible and the ride for the most part was more interesting than certain sections of South Dakota. I was not a big fan of climbing these Green Mountains, it really did seem to be quite a nuisance. There were times when I was thinking about how easy it will be to do all of this in a motorcycle -- I cannot wait until I can get a job and then get a motorcycle. It will be a fast motorcycle, one that could be considered a "crotch rocket." I was initially leaning towards getting something more like a Harley but after doing some research among the women that I have met on this trip I have discovered chicks dig the "crotch rockets." The rationale behind all that for these girls was that young guys ride those kinds of bikes, whereas older fatter gentlemen ride the Harleys. I will acquiesce to popular opinion on this one.
T-Rex, Brian, and I got a chance to stop at a giant obelisk that was in some town on the west side of Vermont. It was pretty cool. We got a chance to go up to the top of it (it only cost one dollar, I will do anything if it only costs a dollar) and check out the scenery. It was quite stunning from up there, the view was panoramic, and the guy that worked the elevator was quirky. He showed us an announcement in the local newspaper stating that he has just recently celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary. Good on him. I cannot even conceive 60 years, much less being married to a person for that long.
There was a rest stop shortly after a long climb in some touristy town. I didn't much enjoy the climb but the downhill was a screamer, I got up to 50 mph. Dad rolled in shortly after I did and asked me if I was having fun, then he asked the guys I was riding with if I was having fun, and then he asked me again. All of this I found to be very patronizing, so I told him to shut up. I mean, what would make this day different from any of the other 47 days on the trip? Why would this day not suck? Because the weather isn't all that bad? Because we are in Vermont? What dad seems to forget is that I am the model of consistency -- I am the Cal Ripken of surly bicycling -- rides always suck and the more that I am asked about them the more that they suck. But (and here is the trick), if I don't think about how I feel on an emotional or philosophical level, I don't mind the rides. Dad committed a cardinal sin today when he tried to elicit a positive opinion from me, he made me think about the ride. I guess that is just the way that he works, he wants me to enjoy the rides as much as him, and as much as I wish that I could be malleable and just get over it and be happy with the fact that we are biking, I can't. But who cares? We are done in two days!

Tonight we have some kind of event planned at a bike shop in Brattleboro. It should be interesting and I bet that dad will get a big kick out of it when he gets a chance to tell people about PIH. He is very articulate and as good a spokes person for PIH as they could ask for.
Tomorrow we enter New Hampshire. It will be another day of climbing, but who cares? We are basically done after that ride. I just hope dad doesn't try and cajole any normative statements out of me tomorrow.

Rock it.

Footnotes for August 6th:
  • The Washington Nationals lost again last night, they have now lost 12 straight 1 run games.
  • Opie sent me a post card from Wisconsin (when we were there) to Brattleboro. It was unsolicited and one the nicest things that anyone has done for me.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Troy, New York

Said very eloquently tonight by our ride leader Mike, “We have reached our five percent.” Today two more riders went down with injuries that will certainly prevent them from biking for the next month or more. Jim, the delightful gentleman from Memphis, crashed today while riding on the bike path. I guess his deal was that he was not paying close enough attention to the road, there was a bump and he went flying. He went down hard and broke his collar bone. Joe, who was riding directly behind him also went down, but he walked away without major injury. In a totally unrelated event, Murray (arguably the strongest rider on this trip) went down after getting pinched between a car and a curb. He said that as the car bore in on him he tried to bail out onto the sidewalk via a driveway ramp – it was not a successful bail. I do not know enough detail to try and recount his fall, but I can tell you that seeing him later on I knew that it probably wasn’t pleasant. After his fall Murray went to the hospital where he was examined and diagnosed with a contusion on his hip. He was released and sent back to the hotel in the America By Bike van – a trip that was apparently also very painful. Dad and I were among the many people needed to get him into the hotel – he was in more pain than I care to think about. The grimace on his face made me hurt just to look at, I wondered how this was just a bruise. After spending a few hours at the hotel, Murray decided that it would be best for him to return to the hospital for more tests and some stronger drugs.

At least we are all alive. Mike said at the beginning of the ride that every year we can expect five percent of those who start the ride in Oregon to not finish. I guess that Murray and Jim took those statistical bullets for the team. We wish them the best.

Other than the fact that three people were injured (two of whom won’t be finishing the ride), the ride was downright pleasant. It was a flat day and there was a tailwind that pushed us. For the first 50 miles I was in a group that was simply racing at a torrid pace. We left everyone else in the dust, including the SAG wagon that was supposed to set up the second rest stop. That was a first for me and made me feel much faster than I really am. The last thirty miles of the ride were spent on a bike trail. It was nice and shaded and helped protect us from the intermittent rain.

I got in early and had a great burger at a local diner with terribly slow service (but it seemed like the deck was stacked against the teenage waitress, she really did need more help). By two pm dad and I were getting our picture taken by a girl from the Albany Times Union and by two-thirty we were doing an interview for the local Fox station. Dad really relishes the opportunity to have attention focused on him in a positive light – I bet that he takes it as affirmation that he is doing the right thing with his summer. I don’t like doing interviews because it makes me feel like a sham – so I guess that it is good that dad loves this all so much. I work much better as a coordinator anyway.


Footnotes for August 4th:
  • I hate biking. It makes me depressed to know that I have to bike, even for three days. I think that I am going to start therapy soon after I return to Toronto.


Three riders went down today--nothing serious, but all of them are hurting. Murray, the fastest rider (Dentist from Iowa) was run off the road by a pick-up truck and suffered massive bruises and contusions. He is wondering how he will be able to get home because he's hurting so much. Linda's paceline had another mishap. They were riding on an otherwise very nice bike path and the lead rider (Jim from Maryland) went over his handlebars after hitting a massive ridge in the path while cruising downhill. The rider behind him (Joe from VA) went over his rear wheel. Jim hurt his shoulder and is probably out. Joe plans to stick it out with the help of drugs.

I feel lucky to have gotten off with only a broken wheel. I didn't crash--the wheel just came apart. Remember--that is Velomax Orion II, the leader in cost per mile for cross-country rides (leader in the sense of highest, not best). I was riding with the young folks for the first 25 miles and feeling great, averaged 20 miles per hour over rolling hills with no winds, but I wasn't able to hold on beyond that. I figured it was age, but a while later, I noticed that my wheel was badly out of true. I assumed that I had broken another spoke, but all the spokes were intact. Then I noticed that the rim had a 5 mm fissure in it at one of the spokes. I waited for Mike to bring another wheel while talking to a friendly townsperson. He had a big friendly brown lab, who was very interested in me. When I finally got fixed up and rolled into the rest stop, I learned that many riders were worried that I had been attacked by another labrador retriever.

We were interviewed by Fox news Albany and by the Albany newspaper. I also spoke to someone from the Troy paper while having lunch at a great local cafe. Meanwhile, Paul is arranging future media gigs.

We're looking forward to our bike shop event tomorrow in Brattleboro. Three days to Portsmouth, and four days to home. I hope we make it.



Thursday, August 04, 2005


My daughter worries that I have become obsessed with my digestive system, but I am not alone. I am sitting in the lobby and one of our older riders (Cliff, who has a reputation for ignoring the directions on the route sheet) said that he planned on buying surgical masks for the riders who had been complaining about his gaseous emissions. I remarked that (1) fart jokes never get old, and (2) isn't it amazing that the gas level seems to be declining in recent weeks. Our digestive systems seem to have adapted to the huge loads we have been placing on them. Linda and Greg are sitting next to me as we all try to take advantage of the very local wireless internet (not available in the rooms). Linda commented that she thought Greg's system was slow to adjust. This led to a discussion of products that relieve gas. E.g., Beano.

This is just one example of the kind of special bond that we have formed over the past 6 1/2 weeks.

Paul's right that I didn't enjoy the heat and humidity today. I got a late start and wasn't much interested in riding with the very slow people I passed so I mostly rode alone. It was incredibly humid and then very, very hot. That would have been okay, but the route was also dead boring. The above picture of the world's smallest chapel (in Oneida) was the most interesting thing I saw.

One of the drawbacks of a cross-country tour is that the route is mostly determined by expedience, rather than things you might want to see or places you might want to go. The Finger Lakes are close to our route, and they are just gorgeous. Upstate New York is full of scenic vistas. We didn't see any of that. Mike says that there will be some vistas tomorrow. Woo hoo!

On the positive side, Betty's Diner, where I stopped for lunch, was also pretty cool. The diner had moved four times in it 50-year history, but I bet the menu hadn't changed much. It reminded me of my childhood.

Yesterday was a nicer ride. We rode along the Erie Canal for a while and that was very pretty. (Paul skipped that because he doesn't like riding on gravel.) We also saw some nice little towns. And tonight we are staying in a hotel that is actually in a working downtown--Little Falls, NY. We even had a pallatable dinner in the hotel. I won't ruin this happy tone by mentioning the very busy railroad that runs a few feet from our hotel room window.

Tomorrow we start at the crack of dawn. Today we started early because it was going to be hot. Tomorrow it is going to be much cooler (yeah!) and there's supposed to be rain in the morning. One might think it advisable to sleep a little longer, but one would not be thinking like America by Bicycle. The last time we got up early on a rainy morning, we waited around for an hour or two until thunder storms passed. One might have learned from that experience. But learning is not a feature of this tour either. (Riders have several times complained about particularly bad accommodations or food and been told that there were similar complaints in years past. I do not plan to put a lot of effort into my ride comment sheet at the end of the ride.)

In five days, I get to sleep in my own bed. Past 5:30am. Yes!



Little Falls, New York

I broke my sandals three days ago and I have yet to find a place that will sell me a suitable replacement. When I look for sandals I look for something cheap and something that fits -- I don't want any Birkenstocks or Tevas or anything special, just run of the mill flip flops. So why can't I find them in any of the towns where we stay? Oddly enough, we seem to find the only hotels in all of New York that are no where near a Target or a Wal-Mart or an Old Navy and the local stores around here only carry flip-flop sandals sized for little girls. So I have been walking around barefoot a lot recently. Dad worries about disease and scrapes and stuff, but I figure that all risks are acceptable as long as I don't have to lace up a pair of shoes.
Today's ride was hot and humid. We got a nice and early start on the day and I pounded out about 40 miles before it got really hot. The rest of the ride was just ungodly. The roads were hardly rideable, the traffic was a nuisance, and it was just so darn hot. But in spite of all that, I really didn't mind it all that much. This is what I get for being so down on biking for so long -- when the conditions actually turn crappy, it can't phase me. It is always just biking for me, and it is never really all that much fun. Sort of like a job, I just get up and ride, and maybe something funny will happen along the way. Dad, on the other hand, really hates days like today. I think that biking in weather like this bothers him more than he will let on in his blogs.

So I have been seeing a lot of cool cars recently, Cameros, Monte Carlos, Firebirds, Thunderbirds, Mustangs, Berettas, and Corvettes. Yeah, one of the few things that all American rednecks have in common is a love of cars from the 1970s and 1980s. Some people calls the cars "dirt mobiles," I just call them awesome. I go to sleep at night and imagine myself in a 1983 Chevy Camero wearing a cut-up mesh shirt, blaring my 8-track version of Double Vision by Foreigner.

Anyway, it is time to consume fluids.

Rock it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Syracuse, New York

I am not sure if we are actually in Syracuse right now, or if we are simply in a crap hole inbetween farms and suburbs. Our hotel is pleasantly located in the trucking / factory district of Syracuse -- there are no resturants, bars, or any other signs of conventional civilization (like Wal-mart) anywhere near our hotel.
As you may have read in dad's blog from yesterday, I did have a little bit of a spill. I like to call it the "Burman-drainage ditch conflict of 2005." I was biking strong at about 18 to 20 mph when I lost my concentration for just a second, which is apparently all it takes for a bike to veer off the road and into a drainage ditch. While my bike went into the ditch, I went vertically down onto the pavement. My left hand hit the ground first and then my left side hit -- it was kind of like I was making a head first slide into second base -- it was at that point I realized that I should have been paying attention. I slid for a bit, came to a stop, and was suddenly amazed that I was not hurt more than I was. After spraying my wounds with a water bottle and readjusting my brakes (which had been bent 45 degrees to the left), I was on the road again. My riding partner, Sierra, thought this was all very funny.

Later that evening Dad and I were doing an interview for the local Fox television station. That whole situation went as you may imagine it would, but with one little twist. As dad was giving his interview, the other Paul (T-Rex) walked behind him to moon me. While mooning me both dad and the reporter turned around -- we all got a good laugh out of that.

Today's ride went without a hitch. There was an option to ride along side the Erie Canal for a few miles, but I decided that I didn't want to do that (dad did it and said it was wonderful). For the first time on the whole ride (3,150 miles) I was the first person to the first SAG stop. It was a small accomplishment, yet something that I needed to do. The day turned sultry very quickly, and both dad and I were very sweaty upon arriving at the hotel.

I did another interview at the hotel in Syracuse. This time T-Rex mooned me while still on his bicycle. Hilarious.

Rock it.


Footnotes for August 3rd:
  • We are in an area of America with exceptionally good Pizza. That is a huge plus.
  • Be a good citizen and please pay you taxes in a timely manner and support initiatives that will help improve local roads. Biking on roads with potholes and other obstacles sucks.
  • Only 382 miles until we hit the Ocean.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Day 44: Bates Motel

Paul's media star continues to rise.  Today he's being filmed for a TV spot in Rochester (we're in Henrietta, which is south of Rochester).  Tomorrow, Syracuse.  This will surely launch his career as a butt model.  It might also help our fundraising.
Our day off in Niagara Falls was wonderful--or at least mine was.  Don and Susan Lubick took me on the Maid of the Mist, for a hike through the lovely park on the American side of the falls, and then to their house for a wonderful langorous lunch on their patio overlooking Lake Erie.  They served up many fresh fruits and vegetables, some from Don's garden, and all of which tasted just wonderful after 6 weeks of iceberg lettuce and other vegetables specially engineered for shelf life rather than flavor or texture.  The hike amused me somewhat.  We walked a long way and I was getting tired, but there was no evidence that Don (79) was tiring at all, much less Susan.  They are both amazing.  (Don was the Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy at Treasury who hired me to be his deputy in 1998.)
Paul stayed at the hotel and worked on his independent study project for most of the day.  We wandered out and found a funky pizza restaurant in what had once been an interesting part of Niagara Falls, but is now mostly abandoned and depressing.  The pizza was surprisingly good.
Today started with Grand Slam breakfasts at Denny's followed by 80 miles on mostly pretty rural roads.  We have 13 new riders with us for the last segment.  I passed most of them this morning and sensed that they were a bit intimidated by the prospect of joining a group of hardened road warriors.  The terrain was flat to rolling hills.  After a day of rest, I felt like I had brand new legs.  That was wonderful, but after a while, the heat and humidity sapped the spurt of energy.  When the fossils passed me, I rode in their pace line for a little while, but dropped off when we caught up to Paul.  (Did I ever mention the fossils?  Paul has, at least obliquely.  This is the group of relatively fast older guys whose picture appeared on Mike's website next to the "fossils" sign in Oregon.  Matt thought that it was apt, and I agreed.)  Shortly afterward, Paul dropped me too.
I stopped for lunch with some other cyclists in the village of Bergen.  This restaurant, unlike so many we have assaulted in the past, was not daunted by the inundation by spandex-clad weirdos.  The food was great and I got as much ice tea as I could drink, which is what I crave most on a hot day.  It was wonderful.
After returning to our bikes, Susan told me most of her life story and the miles went by very fast.  I was almost disappointed to get to the hotel.  Getting inside the hotel, I was really disappointed.  Our room smells like cigars and the shower flow was anemic.  The pool had been filled in with concrete, and while there is theoretically wireless internet service, the person at the desk said that there was nothing she could do about the fact that it had obviously stopped working and no one she could call for help.  Who knows when you will see this post.  I joined the dairy queens for a post ride milkshake and Carol said how much she hated our new hotel.  She was trying to find an analogy.  I suggested the Bates Motel.  Carol's eyes went very wide.  I suggested that she'd be fine as long as she didn't take a shower.  Dianne volunteered that the Bates Motel was actually a Wisconsin attraction.  The dairy queens promised that one of them would hear and come to the rescue if Carol screamed.  (The dairy queens are Carol, Dianne, Jill, and Val.  They usually ride together and almost always seek out ice cream and milkshakes after rides.)
Speaking of Dairy Queen, Mike gave us all a lecture on how we're going to have to cut back on our food consumption if we don't want to blimp out after the ride.  Duh!  He implied that we should start now, which seems odd given that we're going to need those glycogen stores in our muscles for a few more days.  I will surely miss the unfettered consumption of ice cream, milkshakes, and french fries.  I will try to simply feast on the memory (and try to forget what I had to do to burn all of those calories).
Today's injury report:  I got to the hotel and one of the other riders told me that Paul had crashed. I had to probe to learn that it was not serious and Paul was okay.  (Hint to other riders:  Say, "Paul crashed, but he's fine," rather than "Paul crashed..." which evokes scary thoughts like, "and he was medivaced to the University of Rochester.")   Paul's fine.  He was riding with Sierra (youngest, cutest, woman in our group) and turned to see why her derailleur was making noise.  When he returned his attention to the road, he was veering off it.  He destroyed a pair of gloves and got a few scrapes, but he says his shifters now work better than ever.  Bending them appeared to be just the trick.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Niagara Falls, New York

Back in the United States of America, and I guess that is cool. I miss Canada already and have all but made up my mind that I must live there one day. I think that my revelation came when I got a chance to sit down and read the newspaper on our free time after the rides. They were full of news that Canadians find relevant -- a wonderful melange of progressive debates about health care, the feasibility of urban roof-top wind turbines, and focus pieces on the most environmentally friendly way to poop at your summer cottage. Yes, this may all sound very boring and/or mundane to most of you, but to me it is a welcome change to what one finds ad nauseum in the American media. I cannot stand to hear another editorial from Bill O'Reiley or Anne Coulter or any other disagreeable pundit -- they just piss me off and confuse me. Anyway, to recap: I am going to emigrate from America and it is all because I loathe the mainstream media -- it is a classic example of what a geographer would call a "push factor."
Anyway, I digressed right off the bat and now I hardly know what I was going to say about all this bicycling trip thing.
Yesterday's ride out of Canada was fine. The weather was good and the winds were favourable once again. We crossed the border sometime around noon without much incident. The border patrol guy was very impressed that we were biking across the country, but failed to inspect my bike for anthrax. We saw the falls, checked into our hotel, got lunch, and did all of our other normal things. I took some time to do a comparative analysis of the two sides of Niagara Falls, the American and the Canadian, and I have come to the conclusion that the American side just cannot hold a candle to the view or the attractions provided by the Canadian side. There are places on the American side that seem genuinely economically depressed -- the building next to our hotel appears to be fully condemned.
The one major attraction that I took the time to see was the Casino. I had never been to a casino as a legal adult before -- it was such a thrill. I played some slots and some video poker and some texas hold'em, and in the end I walked out of the Casino up about $6. That stat is pretty good considering that I went in there prepared to lose up to $100. At one point I was even up on the house about $120 or so, but then I ended up blowing most of that on bad hands. My casino buddy for the night was Paul (T-Rex), he didn't fare as well. T-Rex lost about $60 playing craps -- a game that he tried to explain to me that I don't think that I will ever be able to understand. But regardless of whether you won or not or whether you understood the games you were playing or not, the drinks were free. Score.
After the Casino we came back to the hotel. I found dad and after spending some time at the bar with Fritz (who always buys the drinks, I love Fritz -- his story of the night was how he represented the Wrigley family in the early 1960s; the same Wrigley family that owned the Cubs, he met/represented all the players of the time), Dad, Paul, Brian, and I went to watch the fireworks over the Falls. Brian and Paul went over to the Canadian side where as dad and I were happy to watch the fireworks from the bridge. It was a good show.
Anyway, now we have a day off and I am going to spend it working on some school stuff. It should be fun and rewarding... at least I am not biking.

Footnotes for August 1st:
  • The Washington Nationals mercifully won last night. Dad and I were going to watch the game on the MLB.TV subscription service that we got, but we could not get service. This was the millionth time this happened to us which prompted me to cancel the service. I do not recommend MLB.TV to anyone. Stupid baseball.
  • My sandal broke last night while walking to see the fireworks. Dad was worried about me stepping on glass with my bare feet -- but luckily disaster was averted and I came away unscathed.
  • According to America By Bike, we have officially rode 3,077 miles. That puts my yearly total of miles biked up to 3,100.
  • Only One week of biking left.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Oh Canada

We're in Canada. How cool is that? Now I can say that I am a world traveler by bike. I like Canada. The people are so... orderly. They don't yell at you on the road. Someone talked to us in a little town and as she was walking away, she turned and said, very earnestly, "Do you need anything?" Oh Canada!

The Canadians seem amazed at our cross-continental ride. After expressing amazement, they almost invariably tell us about other amazing treks. One person said that his son cycled from Alaska to Ontario; another told us about some friends who cycled through South America. (Apparently, the roads were not great.)

Southern Ontario is pretty flat. Despite my love of Canadian people, I'm happy we'll be here only three days. It's kind of boring. Today we did see some new crops. Besides for the corn, soybeans, and hay that are everywhere in the Midwest, we also saw tobacco fields, ginseng growing under netting, and sorghum. A gregarious tobacco farmer wanted to tell us all about his operation. One apparently has to top off the plants to prevent them from going to seed. The leaves are picked from the bottom. The pickers hands' are coated with tar and nicotine at the end of the day. (I wonder what the health implications of that are.) The farmer said that a big storm knocked over all of his plants. He had to hire 26 people to set the plants upright and tamp them down. (Crop insurance apparently pays for that.) But the fact that I'm telling you this reinforces the fact that there's not a lot to talk about.

Not much else to report. I bought a quirky cat sculpture from an offbeat steel sculptor somewhere near London. I found a great place to eat in Mt. Pleasant, Ontario. It's called the Country Store (or something like that) and is built in kind of Bavarian style with a big fake windmill turning in front. It had picnic tables shaded by giant oaks on an expansive front lawn, and had an amazing assortment of cheeses, fruits, vegetables, baked goods, and prepared foods. The owner came out to talk to us and told us that he and his 5 sons had built the huge building themselves (but for the brickwork) and they all lived in apartments upstairs. I suggested that they might want to indicate somehow that there was food to eat inside. He thought that was a good idea, but said that his sons were afraid to advertise or do anything else to attract trade because they already had as much business as they could handle. I wondered about that (there were vacant cash registers on a Saturday afternoon). Anyway, my sandwich was great and the cookies were amazing. (I'll miss being able to eat everything I want.)

We really do eat a lot. Most days, we start with an immense breakfast--eggs, pancakes, sausage or bacon, maybe toast or potatoes or cereal or muffins, with oj, coffee, and water. We'll stop (several times on a long day) for cookies, crackers, fritos, bananas, oranges, sometimes watermelon, trail mix, water, and Gatorade. Then we might stop for lunch, or an ice cream break, or coffee, or whatever. I forgot to mention that we stopped at a fruit stand today and had wonderful watermelon, which the proprietress cut up for us, and raspberries. I usually get V-8 at least once a day--more on hot days. (Bill Randolph told me a while back that V-8 can supercharge you on a hot day because it's full of salt and potassium. I shared this info with the other riders on this tour; our collective consumption should push up the price of V-8 stock.) Then we have dinner, which is usually an all-you-can-eat buffet of mediocre food. Grumbling about the quality, we down huge helpings of fried chicken, spaghetti or lasagna, salad, bread, potatoes, and other delicacies. At one such buffet, the best item was deep-fried green beans (honest). For dessert, we'll have soft-serve pseudo ice cream (topped with chocolate chips and nuts), cookies, and cakes of various sorts. We walk back to the hotel wondering how we could be so full of such bad food. Our digestive systems and the hotel toilets get a great workout.

Injury report: the dog bite is much better. It still looks bad, but is not swollen and does not hurt when I ride over bumps. My left calf has started hurting in sympathy. Paul's Achilles' tendon aches him. After small Paul's Achilles started hurting early on, there's been a rash of similar injuries. Mine hurt for a few days but got better. It's odd--that's one body part that has never bothered me or anyone I know. Our knees, hips, backs, shoulders, and necks are all doing fine now, which is something of a miracle. Dr. Theresa's theory that eschewing ibuprofen allows your soft tissues to heal--which met with a lot of skepticism among our riders--seems to have worked for Paul and me. Of course, another strategy might be to take a few days off and let our bodies heal. What a thought!



Friday, July 29, 2005

London, Ontario

It is nice to be in Canada. It is much like I remember it being -- the beer is expensive, the people are nice, the money is in coin form, and ketchup potato chips are readily available.
Today was a nice day if you were not on a bicycle. I was thinking to myself through out the entire ride how nice it would be to be sitting on a patio, drinking a beer, doing nothing. But alas, there is still riding to be done.
Port Huron, Michigan is right on lake Huron which as it turns out is right next to Canada. We crossed into Canada almost immediately after exiting the hotel. Our group was escorted/paraded across the bridge in such a way that made us feel really important. Customs police closed down our side of the bridge to allow us to cross -- a step that was necessary considering the hazards that were intellegently build into the bridge to thwart all attempts at trans-national bicycle crossings. The customs process that we went through to get into Canada was a total joke -- they didn't even check ids. I guess they figure that we can only smuggle so much drugs/WMDs on a bicycle.
Ontario is flat. There was really nothing to do but talk and pedal. But fate was on my side this morning, I managed to find a girl to chat up while bicycling. I am not sure how it happened, but while we were passing through Sarnia a young lady on a blue bike simply started biking next to me. She said that she was very excited to see other bicyclist, and I told her how excited I was to see another cute girl. Apparently she is a high school math teacher who runs and bikes in biathalons. Unfortunately I forget her name -- I was told to look her up if I am ever passing through Sarnia again -- but I do remember that she probably teaches at St. Marys High School. We biked and talked for about 15 miles before she turned off to head to her final destination. It was a shame that she didn't want to bike to London, but we were told that there is a party going on in Sarnia if we can manage to get back there tonight.
The rest of the ride was pretty boring. I was super tired for most of the ride until I drank a Mountain Dew around the 60 mile mark. Dad biked with the mother-daughter duo that are doing this strech of the ride, Susan and Sierra. Apparently he is also quite popular with the ladies. He said that he rode with them for the enitre ride except for the last few miles at which point he took a short cut. I did not know there was a short cut, but Dad put it all together quite well and found out how to cut 8 miles off the ride. Though he did make it to London I think that he owes the people that donated to PIH a little bit of a refund, because as he said weeks ago, "people are paying me by the mile."
Now we are in London, a city that by my accounts is totally without charm. I am looking forward to the short ride that we have tomorrow -- I will find somthing new to moon.

Footnotes for July 29th:
  • Opie grudginly tipped our dinner waitress $0.45 (Canadian). He said the service was sub-par and it goes against his principles to tip under those circumstances.
  • I took a nap this afternoon and upon waking up I convinced dad and Brian to go to the Beerstore with me for a six pack of Keith's. I love that beer and you cannot get it in the states.
  • 10 days to go. 9 days of biking left.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mt. Unpleasant

ABB could advertise this trip as a tour of the ugly side of small town America. At least some of the towns have charming sides. Mt. Pleasant, where we are staying tonight, is actually quite attractive. We cycled through it to its dismal fringe, where all the budget motels are situated. Tonight's lodge is called Baymont Express. It's near the Home Depot and a manufactured home seller that advertises that everyone gets employee pricing. (I wonder where they got that idea. I wonder how many mobile homes they sell to their employees.) It precipitated a discussion of why tornadoes tend to demolish trailer parks. I expressed the theory that they serve as a kind of tornado bait, which makes them desirable things to have a safe distance from your home. But that is not the point. The point is that, once again, we are lodged in a depressing outpost, far from anything attractive or interesting, not to mention any place worth eating. I won't even bother ranting about the dinner at Shoney's.

Of course, as the cliché goes, it's not the destination, but the journey. Today's journey wasn't bad, all things considered. Ferocious storms came through the area last night, but had mostly cleared out by morning. It was cool and cloudy almost all day and there was often a mist and sometimes light rain. We were scheduled to travel 116 miles on nice country roads. Paul decided that he wanted to get the day done as fast as possible. About a mile into our ride, when we were still slow-pedaling to warm up, Paul put on the jets. I sprinted to catch up with him, but it was clear that he had no interest in slowing down, so I let him speed away. I rode with the other young studs. We saw a family of running deer and a hole gaggle of turkeys. Because Tall Paul was not with us, they went unmooned. After Paul destroyed his replacement tube, the SAG wagon appeared and Brian and I rode on. For a second time, we passed almost everyone, which is kind of fun.

Brian and I parted ways when I decided to stop for lunch in Big Rapids. I had a flat just before lunch, but I found a staple stuck in my rear wheel and was able to patch it without removing the wheel, which meant that I didn't get chain grease all over my hands. Big triumph. There was a detour around mile 95, but we figured out that we could avoid adding miles by continuing off the detour onto a dirt and gravel road. The wet road was something of a challenge, but there was almost no traffic and it was pretty. I was a little worried that a dog would come after me while climbing a hill, when speedy acceleration would be hard, but that didn't happen. What did happen was that, about five miles into our shortcut, I got another slow leak in my back tire. I decided I could ride a little further, but then, ping! A spoke broke and my wheel was far, far out of true. With an unrideable bike, I called Mike, who showed up with the SAG wagon and did not comment on the fact that I was in unauthorized terrain. He lent me a spare wheel and I finished the rest of the ride pretty fast. (There was a nice tail wind for most of the day.)

The problem is that my Velomax Orion II wheels are really hard to repair. Before I could shower, Mike asked me to try to find the pipe cleaners, acetone, and cigarette lighter that are apparently needed to remove the detritus of the old spoke and install the new one. Installation requires applying lock-tite to one end of the new spoke, screwing it in, and then waiting 12 hours before applying lock-tite to the other end of the spoke and finishing truing the wheel. When I first read the instructions for spoke replacement of a Velomax Orion wheel, I prayed that none would break during the ride. I give Mike huge points for being willing to try to fix the wheel. Unfortunately, he pointed out to me that all of the drive side spokes of my Velomax Orion wheel were slightly deformed, suggesting that they are also about to go. If another one breaks, I will give up on the (very expensive) Velomax Orion wheel. I should also point out that I had to replace the very same Velomax Orion wheel just before the ride started because cracks had started appearing around the spoke holes. Velomax was very nice about the replacement, which was just before the warranty was set to expire, but I would have expected longer life from an expensive wheel like the Velomax Orion. I had bought the Velomax Orion wheel because many large men had testified on the internet that they are virtually indestructible. Safe to say that they had not tried cycling 2,600 miles on roads of questionable quality with their Velomax Orion wheels. (By the way, search engines like Google rank relevance of web pages to a particular query term, like Velomax Orion, based on the number of times the term--Velomax Orion in this case--appears on the page. So, I'm hoping that people who are trying to figure out whether Velomax Orion wheels are worth the money will find this page. It is certainly relevant to the quality of Velomax Orion wheels. (The internet can be so much fun.))

Today's real highlight was reading our top ten list of fun things to do while cycling, which several fellow cyclists and I composed whilst cruising from Wisconsin to Michigan yesterday. I won't repeat it here, because a lot of it is inside jokes, but it was very well received. Actually, maybe I'll post it on a day when I don't feel like making up anything new.

In two weeks, I'll be home again. I was escorted on my hunt for Velomax Orion repair stuff by a former ABB rider who said that the end of his ride was the best and worst day of his life. He was sad to leave his fellow riders. I'll miss these characters, but I'd rather communicate with them by email than with my family and friends at home. I miss my family desperately, but I also think about how my friends and family ponied up close to $100,000. You guys rock, and I really look forward to seeing you again. (A small, but significant, share was also contributed by generous strangers and my new friends on this bike tour, to whom I'm also extremely grateful.)

Tomorrow we don't start until 8:00. How cool is that?



Mount Pleasant, Michigan

We finally made it to eastern standard time and what do we get? Rain. Yeah, it was a wet day in Michigan for our last century, but I guess the positive spin on all this is that the rain kept everything cool temperature wise.
The ride was long and boring. We traversed our way through the woods on roads that we less than optimal, but passable none the less. The hills rolled gently and the wind was at our backs for most of the trip, allowing the faster riders to keep up a torrid pace.
At some middle point of our ride a detour was recommended by the Michigan Department of Trasportation. The sign in the road clearly read "ROAD OUT DETOUR -->"... this did not faze me. I bravely defied the sign and road on the torn up road, narrowly avoiding the dangerous obstacles of dirt, rocks, construction workers, and heavy machinery. Coming out unscathed and still relatively clean, I felt pretty smart. Dad, on the other hand, took the detour less traveled. I am not sure how exactly he did this, but apparently he ended up biking over more treacherous roads, eventually causing his spoke to snap free from his wheel. (chuckle chuckle chuckle).
This was the final ride that we had to do that was over 100 miles and I could not be happier. I am going to go out on a limb and say that the rest of the trip will be easy from a physical standpoint. I am guessing that bicycling will get harder once again when we hit mountains again... but that isn't for a long time. Yeah!
Okay, that is all. Time to mentally prepare myself for the next buffet.

Footnotes for July 26th:
  • I arrived in the hotel today two and a half hours before dad. He will cite excuses like "a broken spoke," or "I stopped for lunch," but we all know what is up.
  • Eastern standard time is great. There is something dirty about the central time zones -- they really do rub me the wrong way.
  • We will be in Canada soon and I am very excited to drink some Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale.
  • I saw a fox today, alive and with something in it's mouth.
  • There is a cute girl working the desk here at our hotel -- I am going to try to make guest of the day... again.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Incentive Compatibility Problems

On the mile hike from the Ponderosa Steak House to the Super 8, Manitowoc, I thought about the economics of cross-country bike tours. At the Ponderosa Steak House, we had access to an all-you-can-eat buffet, but no steak or baked potatoes. We could discretely watch the steak-eaters, but it was only iceberg lettuce and steam table mystery foods for us cyclists. At the Super 8, where we have lots of extra time because today is a short day and tomorrow we don't have to leave town until noon, there is no pool or any other apparent form of entertainment available within a mile. Actually, check that. There is a H.O.G. rally at the Top Hat Adult Sports Bar just a couple of blocks away. The band sounded not bad from across the street, and one senior colleague remarked approvingly on the bikini-clad waitresses (observable from a safe distance), but I have a hunch that we wouldn't fit in, even if we are, technically, fellow bikers. To add insult to injury, half of the cyclists ended up in smoking rooms, and ours stinks.

So why do the hotels and restaurants suck? The answer is that America By Bike (ABB) makes more money that way. First, there's the obvious fact that the salad/steamer bar at Ponderosa costs less than the steak (not to mention the cost of a meal at a decent restaurant), and our room at the Super 8 can't cost more than $39. But, there's a second more subtle profit margin: riders who opt out of mediocre meals and lodging save ABB money. Paul and I thought about skipping the hike to Ponderosa, although ultimately hope triumphed over experience. Other riders were more prescient--and that was pure profit for ABB.

On lodging, I learned this morning that no-shows figure directly into the bottom line. Jim from Memphis, an incredibly nice guy, is meeting his fiancée in Niagara Falls, where we have a rest day. They decided that there are more romantic options than No-Tell Motel Niagara (or whatever our Super 8 clone is called that day), so will not need Jim's single room. He offered to raffle off the room, with the proceeds benefiting Partners In Health. That would be a popular raffle among the many who share rooms--especially the "triples," which are actually double rooms with a roll-away bed. Mike said no. ABB hasn't paid for Jim's room yet and they need the money they will save to make the trip pay off. No-shows are part of ABB's formula for success.

This creates what economists call a principal-agent problem. The principals (cyclists) would like to stay in nice hotels and eat good food. The agent (ABB), which makes all the food and lodging arrangements, profits by supplying inedible food and inhospitable lodging. There are limits to how low the agent can sink, because if the food and lodging are bad enough, people would stop booking tours with them, but ABB is fairly clever in terms of how it makes the arrangements. Early in the tour, the lodging was just fine. The first hotel--a Holiday Inn Express in Astoria--was quite acceptable. Obviously, ABB did not want to start out in a hotel that would cause people to cancel on the spot. The food was also pretty good. Even when we ate at a steak house, there were several entrée options including meat, chicken, fish, and a fruit plate. The Kah-nee-ta resort and the Inn at the Mountain in Oregon were actually great, and our first two rest days were spent at reasonably nice chain hotels (with pools and things to do nearby). But by the time we'd hit South Dakota, the standards for both food and lodging had slid considerably. It could be that the organizers were counting on a kind of Stockholm syndrome--we'd become so bonded to our captors (sorry, "ride leaders") that we'd forgive all the abuses of our confinement. Also, by the end of the three weeks, we've become used to all sorts of physical privations on the road (saddle sores, aching joints, burning muscles, road rash, dog bites) so that our standards for treatment at the beginning and end of the day decline. A problem with this theory is that new riders join the tour at various stages and they are not properly indoctrinated. Their potential criticism is muted somewhat by the group-think that the core has succumbed to. The new riders must think that complaining about the hotel is akin to complaining about how grueling it is to cycle back-to-back centuries, something that the coast-to-coast riders have become accustomed to.

In any event, ABB manages to attract 50 riders a year for this tour. Is it possible that they would gain enough additional riders to offset the cost of providing better food or lodging? Lacking data, it is hard to tell. But I wish they'd do the experiment. Now.

Another datum is that Cycle America, the competing supported cross-country tour company, charges not much less than ABB even though CA's lodging is in tents rather than hotels. I assumed that ABB was a much better deal, which is why I went with this tour, but I should have thought about how ABB could be so much more efficient. As my dad used to say, you get what you pay for.

By the way, people who express any reservations are dubbed whiners by Marine Mike. No doubt, our food is better than k-rations and our lodging better than a foxhole.

Notwithstanding the preceding, all is going well. Today and yesterday, I rode analgesic free. The only thing that is hurting is the dog bite, and that hurts less every day. Lacking pain and with very pretty rolling hills and favorable winds, I have had some wonderful intervals of biker zen, simply losing myself in the motions of cycling. It is great. Also, it's supposed to get cooler tomorrow. Who cares about the food?



PS, The picture has nothing to do with this blog entry. It is the entrance to a tunnel on the Sparta-Elroy trail.

Manitowoc, Wisconsin

It will have only taken us seven days in total to cross Minnesota and Wisconsin when we officially leave the friendly dairy state tomorrow for the greener pastures of Michigan. We have had to devote much more time to cross all those other states -- most of them took us something like six or seven days -- so it take a little bit of a paradigm shift to get used to crossing these smaller states. I feel like we are making much better progress right now because we seem to be just flying across this part of America. It is predominately flat, there are landmarks everywhere, and there are people apleanty; all that really helps the time pass with as little pain as possible.
Wisconsin has been hot and I am holding some shred of hope that Michigan will be slightly better weather wise. But if not there is nothing that I can do about it... just gotta ride.
I have pretty much resigned myself to my fate as a biker. It is like going to a job that you hate every day but cannot quit -- where you don't like your co-workers and you don't find the everyday outcome of your toils to be fufilling. I know that it is necessary for me to continue on so that we can continue our fundraising, and I will, but I am counting down the days and miles until I am done.
Other than the fact that I have to bike every now and again, things are fine. Not much to report.

Footnotes for July 24th:
  • We cross into eastern standard time tomorrow on our ferry ride. After that I will not have to reset my watch again.
  • An event was set up for us in Battleboro, Vermont by Tina Blust ( on August 6th. She will set up a table for us at a local bike shop -- she is awesome.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Day 34: Fond du Lac, WI

We're kind of behind on our blogging. Not because Minnesota and Wisconsin aren't beautiful--heck, every cornfield is prettier than the one before, and there are soybeans, hay, dairy, and hogs too--but because we've been kind of tired. We've cycled 468 miles in the past five days.

Despite the seeming monotony of agriculture, it really is very pretty here. There are trees and rolling hills and winding country roads. Yesterday, we rode for 30 miles on the Elroy-Sparta bike path, which I thought was gorgeous. There are three very dark, very cool tunnels, the first of which goes 3/4 miles. An entrepreneur sells flashlights near the entrance to the first tunnel, but I borrowed a flashlight from a fellow cyclist. It illuminated about 1 foot ahead, which made the experience somewhat strange. The tunnels have giant wooden doors at each end, making them look a bit like entrances to medieval fortresses. And the coolness on a very hot day was a treat. Most of the rest of the trail is shaded by a canopy of trees. Occasionally, you get pretty views of farms or streams. Some of the other riders did not like the trail because it is unpaved. Whatever.

Paul added to his moonography by mooning the giant bicyclist sculpture at the Sparta entrance to the trail. He did this while other cyclists were distracting the very earnest representatives of Apparently, a fully clothed picture of some ABB cyclists will be on that website. (There you will learn that Sparta is the "bicycling capital of America.")

Today's thrill was visiting Ripon, the birthplace of the Republican Party. Happily, Paul resisted the advice of his friends to moon the Republican museum. My guess is that such a gesture would fall afoul of the family values that are at the core of the modern Republican party. (No word on Lincoln's view of such things.) Actually, without the mooning, Ripon wasn't all that thrilling.

Yesterday, we were in the world-famous Wisconsin Dells. The high point was a good ice cream place. The low point was the Paul Bunyan buffet, where you are served family style, assuming your family is one where overwhelmed and unhelpful people serve you chicken and potatoes and look at you incredulously if you ask for a salad or any other kind of vegetable. Tonight's meal was said to be much better--validating the ride organizers' scheme to continually reinforce and sometimes exceed really low expectations.

Happily, Paul and I escaped the group feed tonight. An old friend, Doug Rice, and his family drove up from Chicago to take us out to dinner. I worked with Doug when I was not much older than Paul and had lost touch with him over the years. Doug read Mountains Beyond Mountains, visited the PIH website, and learned that someone with the same name as his long lost friend was cycling across the country to raise money for PIH. He wrote, made a generous pledge, and we got to catch up on the last 20 years. It was another high point of the trip for me.

Paul, who hates bicycling, is now in training for a race with the fast old guys. I don't like his chances, but it's good for him to have something to think about while cycling other than "cycling sucks." Stay tuned.

Apparently the record heat is set to continue for a while longer. Ugh.



Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Dog bites man

Today was a mostly great day. We did the second of our back-to-back centuries and I felt great. For the first time on the ride, nothing was hurting. I still felt happy to be in Minnesota, and didn't mind that the ride started with a nasty climb out of Mankato. I feared that it would hurt my recently aching knee, but I just got into the granny gear, stood up, and climbed the short hill, feeling superior to my fellow riders who were either walking their bikes up the hill or complaining loudly about hills reminiscent of Vermont. (I have no experience here, but I think the Vermont hills are bigger. I guess we'll find out soon enough.)

My spirits could not be dampened by a flat tire; I was able to reinflate the leaking tire a couple of times using Paul's CO2 canister and limp into the first SAG stop and change the tire. It was hot (although nothing like SD), so I stopped for a drink at mile 50 and ended up joining a bunch of fellow cyclists for lunch at McD's. I'm embarassed to say that it tasted great, especially the three large drinks. Refueled, I zipped past many of my colleagues until I found someone going at a comfortable pace and we chatted happily until we passed a farm with an unruly golden lab. The dog reminded me of the friendly giant who lives next door in Arlington. I wasn't worried. Then chomp. What the heck was that? The dog left a 1/2 inch wide puncture wound. I turned around and told the boy who now was holding the dog that his dog had bitten me, that he had to keep the dog leashed because other cyclists were coming, and, by the way, are his rabies shots up to date. The boy was very apologetic and promised that the shots were up to date, all while his father pretended to be invisible 100 feet behind. I rinsed the wound with water, swallowed a couple of tylenol, and rode to the next SAG stop, which was only a mile or two down the road. There I cleaned the wound and dressed it, and learned that the dog had bitten another rider earlier, although had not broken the skin that time. The proprietress of the store where we were stopping called the city manager, who called the police chief. City manager worried that we would think badly of his small town--I promised that I only thought badly of one of its residents. The police officer promised to check on the dog's vaccinations and deal with the owner. No word on the consequences of that.

Having won martyr/celebrity status, I still enjoyed the last 30 miles, despite getting somewhat lost in Rochester. (At last night's rap, we were told that a better way to get to the hotel was to ride along a bike path through the park, but there was no way to explain how to do that. That turned out to be accurate. After terrorizing small children and their mothers when the path dead-ended in a play park, I decided to get back on the street, which worked just fine.)

We've gotten even more media attention. Yesterday, there was a nice front page story in the Worthington Daily Globe. Another rider and I were eating in a little town between Worthington and Mankato and the waitress called the local weekly, which sent a cub reporter to interview us about the ride. And then tonight, Paul was interviewed for the local NBC affiliate's (WTTC) evening news program. He was very upbeat about the whole experience. What a great performer.

The real highlight today was that two friends showed up for dinner, which meant that I skipped the daily buffet and got to talk to someone who wasn't a bicycle freak (not that there's anything wrong with that). Deborah Kobes, former RA extraordinaire for the Tax Policy Center, arrived with four traveling companions just as I rode into the hotel parking lot. They got to see the bloody leg (a huge thrill) and showed me their flash presentation of all the things they had seen in touring the west (by car). Nancy Johnson, our next door neighbor when we lived in Minnesota, arrived some time later in her convertible complaining of the heat. I wasn't too sympathetic. We had very good upscale pizza.

It's lights out so I gotta go.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Somewhere in Minnesota

So, as it turns out, Minnesota is a significantly better state than South Dakota. I use such a general term because I mean 'better' on almost every level. It is not as hot here, the hills are much more manageable, the scenery is nicer (though it is almost exclusively corn and soy beans), and Minnesotans are good folk with funny accents. Thinking retrospectively now, it is clear that there are very few redeeming qualities to South Dakota -- and I am not the only one that thinks that, it is basically everybody in the America By Bike group has at least a mild distaste for South Dakota... except for Opie that is. His goal in life is to one day live in Pierre (remember, that is pronounced Peer), his misguided rationale is that Pierre is one of few places where you can be in a state capital and only a few miles away from a totally rural area. We wonder what advantages being near the capital of South Dakota would provide, but then quickly remember that Opie is easily excited by mundane things.

Dad has been doing a lot of interviews with local papers as of late. He seems to have a lot to say when it comes to the subject of our ride and Partners in Health... which I guess is good. I wonder if reporters get bored listening to him rant, but then again, what happens in these small towns that is more interesting than the Len Burman. So if any of you have an option of picking up a copy of the Worthington Daily Globe, you should look for the article on Len Burman and his fantastic voyage.

Anyway, nothing of any real interest is happening. Tomorrow we bike some more in Minnesota and then the day after that we enter Wisconsin. It is supposed to rain -- maybe somebody will fall trying to take a corner too hard. Those 'raspberries' hurt, or so I am told.

I hope everyone is well.


Footnotes for July 19th:
  • We are in a hotel with a good view out of our back window of the hot tub. For the past ten minutes there has been a gentleman down there that appears to be humping a jet.
  • I was guest of the day in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I got a really good, hand made sign -- the girl working the desk really liked me.
  • Pigs smell really bad. Really bad.

Monday, July 18, 2005

We made it

to Minnesota, but that's not the main point. We have raised $100,000 in pledges and contributions! One of the America by Bicycle riders had read Kidder's book and immediately offered to contribute $1,000 when she heard that we were within $1,000 of our goal. We had marching bands and fireworks to celebrate. Okay, we actually didn't do anything to celebrate, but I was very grateful. As I am to all of you who have been incredibly generous. Riding through hot eastern South Dakota, it was really nice to know that the ride is worthwhile even if it is not always fun. Thanks!

Today, by the way, was fun. It is cool and we had a strong tailwind. I was interviewed by a reporter in Lucerne, South Dakota, and told her about our fundraiser. As soon as we got to the Minnesota border, the roads got better and the farms got prettier. (My perspective might be biased by the fact that I spent five years in MN during grad school and have happy memories of bike rides in the Minnesota countryside.) With the tailwinds, we were flying. It was fun. Even a twelve-mile detour, which was mostly in annoying cross-winds, could not ruin the day.