About Lea's Foundation

In 1998, Lea Michele Economos, a young woman who died of leukemia at the age of 28, made a dying wish to her parents that others would not face the hardships she encountered by finding a cure for this disease. Her family started this charity to carry on that wish. Today, Lea’s Foundation takes an active role in finding a cure for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and myeloma and to better the lives of people living with these diseases. At the UCONN Health Center, the Lea’s Foundation Center for Hematologic Disorders sponsors research in this field. A new program covers the cost of bone-marrow testing to help recruit life-saving transplants for patients. Also, annual scholarships are given to children with leukemia who are planning to attend nursery school. For more information on other projects carried out by Lea’s Foundation, please visit their website at www.LeasFoundation.org.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

...to Shining Sea (Farmington, CT to Madison, CT - 40 miles)

Yesterday was our final ride down to Hammonasset State Beach to make the trip complete. We started off from the health center in the morning with a group of friends and family, which made the ride a real treat. George Economos and his friend Jeff joined us, along with my brother and his friend, and Pat's brother, sister, and two friends. We kept a comfortable pace, enjoying the company of our fellow riders. Plus, it turned out to be one of the nicest days we've had weather-wise. The 40 miles flew by and we reached the beach by early afternoon, marking the end of our adventure. As we rode through the access road to the beach entrance, nostalgia set in as I kept thinking back to the street leading up to the Pacific shore, back on our first day in San Francisco. While the SF coast may have been just a little more impressive than the CT shore, I couldn't imagine a better way to end the trip, sharing the ride with great people.

Arguably our biggest fan

 Our map

 Tan lines still holding strong

 The riders

Thanks again to everyone who's been following us this summer on our blog. We really appreciate all the support. And of course, thanks to our families for everything- you can rest easy now. In honor of Lea, we hope that through this incredible journey, we were able to do some good for the Foundation.

God is so good, indeed.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Shifting Gears

Now that the trip is over and we're starting to get back into the swing of normal life, it's been surprisingly strange being off the bike. For once, it seems like there is actually plenty of time in the day. We both hope that this thought carries over into the school year and that our work ethic from the summer applies to our studies, too. And while I've been enjoying the time off the saddle, I'm looking forward to riding again after some rest. In the meantime, one of the things I'm working on is assembling the tools and gear to make a home bike shop.

We still have a while before our final ride to the Atlantic coast, but we wanted to write up our thoughts about this trip while they're still fresh in our minds. While all of the stories and experiences could make up a novel, I think this short write-up captures the main themes. We're each working on our own to put up here. Here's mine (Dan's):

There I stood, making what I thought would be the final adjustments to my trusty Surly Long Haul Trucker in Pacific Bikes, San Francisco. I remember feeling restless to get on the road and begin seeing the city by bike, looking forward to the famed hills and gorgeous views from the bay. That first day was one of our best- we casually rode through SF, marveling at the sights and contemplating staying out there for good, but eventually ended our day in picturesque Sausalito with a warm welcome to the home of our first Warm Showers host, Winnie. I wish I could say the entirety of the trip held the enjoyment that the first day offered, but I soon began to see why cross country bike trips aren't a common vacation choice.

As we compiled miles in the first week, we realized that professional bike fittings are recommended for a reason- mere millimeters in measurements like saddle height, handlebar angle, and cleat position can make the difference between blissful riding and hell on wheels. Unfortunately, my saddle and cleat positions weren't perfect, which, combined with the huge jump in miles, led to inflammation in my iliotibial (IT) band on the outside of my left knee. I had had a similar problem two years ago on my right side due to running, and it set me back in marathon training for over a month. I began to fear a similar outcome- either that I would either have chronic, nagging pain in my knee for the duration of the trip, or that I would cause permanent damage to the IT band. This also occurred at the time when our bodies were starting to realize what we had in store for them, and they angrily fired back with overall muscle soreness, fatigue, and mental fogginess. The outlook of riding with a bum knee all day, every day, through difficult terrain for the next six weeks was defeating. I refused to throw in the towel, but there were moments when I would have welcomed a trip-ending muscle tear, just to be able to justify ending the discomfort of riding. After making adjustments to my bike and focusing on treating the IT band in our down time, my knee slowly began to improve, and the thoughts about not being able to finish thankfully worked their way out of my head. I then began to reassess why I embarked on this journey in the first place. It was not for a vacation- most cyclists who do cross country tours take months to complete the journey to fully enjoy the land, sight-see and take time along the way to soak up the surroundings. Our coast to coast ride was for Lea's Foundation: in order to raise money and spread awareness for the foundation, and to honor those who battle terrible cancers like leukemia. After coming to grips with the fact that our journey was nothing like struggling through what we were riding to cure, I started focusing on the opportunity to challenge myself, both mentally and physically, more than I ever had, and tried to appreciate all that our route had to offer. I'd like to think that after completing our journey, our encounters while on the road have led to a positive change in some of my perspectives.

The generosity of the people we met throughout our adventure has truly been one of the greatest aspects of our experience. From our Warm Showers hosts, to random people on the street, store owners, motel managers, and other riders, it has been remarkable how genuine and sincere people can be. I think we, in general, have a cynical view of people based on a pessimistic depiction of our society as a whole. And while people in certain areas are much more high-strung than in, say, Kansas, when it comes down to it, we witnessed that people will generally take the time to help or show a genuine interest in a great cause like Lea's. People in Kansas really were great, though. One Kansasian, Father Anthony Kiplagat, not surprisingly had a great outlook on life and provided us with some great food for thought (and even better food for eating).

Father Anthony is a priest who grew up in Kenya and now resides in the small town of Osage City. While, not surprisingly, Kansas wasn't his first choice of residence, he pointed out that you can enjoy yourself no matter where you live. It seems like such a simple concept, but making the most out of your living situation is the key to holding an optimistic view on life, which I think many of us can take to heart. There were many beautiful places we saw - California, southern Utah, the Rockies - and many less than intriguing - a good number of our days east of Colorado. Yet, despite the surroundings, people seemed to be generally content and proud to live in their hometowns in most of the places we rode through. Even in the most desolate of places, like Middlegate, Nevada,with a staggering population of 17 souls, the residents took pride in the quiet, unimpeded lifestyle. Every place we saw had its own unique atmosphere, and being able to witness that made our trip an adventure, day in and day out.

In the future, I hope to spend a good deal of time exploring the natural beauty that our country has to offer. I never expected such diverse, jaw-dropping sites all within the continental US. While in Telluride, Colorado, we heard on multiple occasions that people who travel to ski resorts all over the world still find Telluride to be the most beautiful. I feel privileged to have been able to visit there and stay with such a generous family as the Kramers. I also hope that now and in the future I can carry on my appreciation for life's simple pleasures, which we relished during our time on the road. A homemade meal. A warm shower. Good conversation. The cool, clear nights in the middle of the Utah canyons and Colorado Rockies. The list goes on and on. And while I'll be glad to take a break from long rides for a while, I will definitely do some more bike touring in the future. It really is a great way to see places in a way that being in a car doesn't compare to (though a motorcycle tour might be pretty sweet). With proper planning and a less demanding itinerary, I know future tours will offer some more incredible adventures.

To all of you who have followed or even checked out our blog: I hope you've enjoyed reading about our journey. To everyone on Warm Showers and those along the way who supported us and wished us well: we cannot thank you enough- the trip wouldn't have been nearly as enjoyable without your generosity. I hope that Pat and I were able to help out Lea's Foundation and inspire some people to get involved with cancer research or get active, at the very least. I still remember the first pedal stroke from Pacific Bikes in San Francisco: between then and our last one at the academic entrance of the UConn Health Center, we had quite a remarkable journey that will no doubt stay with us for the rest of our lives. Thank you for joining us, and I hope the blog depicted our travels in and honest and meaningful way.

Check back soon for Pat's version as well as our final post after the group ride on August 24th.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Day 43: Home Is Where the Health Center Is (Danbury, CT to Farmington, CT - 54 miles)

Unlike most mornings, I eagerly awoke and couldn't stop thinking about the riding ahead of us. I couldn't wait to make the final ride into Farmington, knowing we'd finally get to see our family and friends for the first time since flying out. Marti made some delicious oatmeal this morning, giving us a solid base to start off with before hitting the hills that we had to climb before earning our sweet arrival to the finish. Today was actually one of the hilliest 50 miles we've had, or so it seemed. Even so, we didn't complain one bit, as the prospect of arriving home eased the burden of the hills. We first stopped in Southbury to take an early lunch break, and Pat stopped in to say hi to a family friend at her office. We really had to kill a lot of time, seeing as we had 9 hours to ride 53 miles. After an hour or so, we decided to hit the road and Panera-hop to the next location 20 miles away in Bristol, where we got our second lunch and spent another couple hours waiting for the 6:00 arrival time. Pat's aunt, brother, and mom showed up, and it was great seeing them. Pat's mom arranged a police escort for us, too, which was a nice touch for our last 7 miles up to UCHC. As we rode, mini American flags in tow, cars honked, bikers waved, and we had smiles plastered on our faces the entire way. It was easily the best 7 mile stretch on the whole trip. I don't even remember if there were any hills- we were running on adrenaline (and plenty of Panera). We stopped at the UCHC entrance to get out our big American flag to ride up with, and after rounding the corner to the academic entrance, we were greeted by a flood of cheers, applause, and cowbell.

We still have one more short ride to go before closing the books on this trip- the celebration trip down to Hammonasset Beach on August 24th. We'll be leaving the health center at 8:30 am and will be at Malone's in Madison, CT at 2:00 pm for a reception. Everyone is welcome to come to both. Don't like pedaling? Feel free to join with your favorite motorized vehicle. It'll be a good time, we promise.

Check back soon for each of our epilogues.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Day 42: Almost There (Port Jervis, NY to Danbury, CT - 83 miles)

The beauty of doing these short days is that we can take our time in the mornings and leave when we feel like it. Even still, the early mornings we've been used to for the past 6 weeks have made us accustomed to waking up before 6:00, so we were still the first ones to the hotel's breakfast. Having the extra time was nice though, and we casually rolled out to a beautiful morning with no sense of urgency.

After a little while, our route took us through a bike trail, saving the New York drivers a few spikes in blood pressure and a little less wear on their gas pedals. The trail was unpaved, but we enjoyed the time off the road.

We crossed over the Hudson on a bike path and caught some great views of the river.

Seeing as we had a bit of extra time today, we stopped at a deli for some lunch. We both had awesome subs and think that was the best part of New York we experienced on our short ride through the state. They call grinder rolls "wedges," which doesn't really make much sense to us. Whatever you call them, they know how to make it into a killer (probably literally) steak and cheese.

We crossed into Connecticut without a welcome sign, so we took our welcome picture next to the New Fairfield sign. We pointed to the towns we live in.

From there, we made our way into Danbury, where we are staying with our last Warm Showers hosts for the trip. They're avid bike tourists themselves, and have been on some really incredible journeys. It'll be interesting to see how much time Pat and I will need before we get the itch to go on other (shorter) tours.

We're psyched to be back in CT and can't wait to arrive at the health center tomorrow at 6:00 pm. Feel free to stop by and see our sunburned faces and helmet hairdos. Also, save the tentative date: Saturday, August 24th will be our final ride down to Hammonasset Beach to make the coast to coast trip official. We will be leaving at 8:30 am from the health center and there will be a get together at Malone's in Madison, CT starting at 2:00 pm (we've used 2:00 am itineraries on this trip so we feel the need to clarify). Anyone who has access to a bike is encouraged to join us- just let one of us know so we can give Malone's a head count. If you don't want to ride, you're still welcome to meet us at Malone's. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Day 41: Pedaling Through the Poconos (Drums, PA to Port Jervis, NY - 90 miles)

With our last 100+ mile day behind us, Pat and I were looking forward to the next 3 easier days. We got off to a later start to enjoy the full breakfast at the Holiday Inn, and then said goodbye to Pat's Aunt Kim. While we were taking pictures in the parking lot, two kind women asked about what we were doing, and then each gave us a donation. Much appreciated. We then set off into the cool, cloudy morning.

The first part of the day was filled with a good amount of climbing as we made our way up to the heart of the Poconos. There was some tree cutting going on, which provided some nice scents to accompany the sights from the road. While these don't compare to the Rockies or Sierras, it was a nice change from the farmlands and plains.

Our day then took us through some fun roads, which threw us into some steep, winding streets through the Pocono foothills. The majority of the riding here was downhill, so the fast turns were a blast.

As we made our way into the afternoon, our route took us through the Delaware Water Gap, which is a beautiful national park site. It was a nice, long stretch of flat miles and made for some easy, scenic riding.

Before we knew it, we only had 10 miles to go, so we stopped for lunch in Milford, PA and squared away our plans for the night. We then crossed over into New York (no state sign, again) and were welcomed by the aggressive, impatient drivers. There were no close encounters, but you could sense their irritation by the last minute swerving and engine gunning. Why can't people drive like Kansas drivers?

Getting close (don't worry, we're not taking 84).

Overall, today was a lot of fun and we really enjoyed the break in mileage. Tomorrow we're heading to Danbury for the night, where we have a Warm Showers host lined up, and then we will be returning to the UConn Health Center on Thursday at 6:00 pm. Everyone is welcome to come meet us at the academic entrance.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Day 40: Sharing the Road (State College, PA to Drums, PA - 113 miles)

Today, we shared the road with horse drawn carriages, bad drivers, and Pat's Aunt Kim (a good driver). First for the horses:

We saw a lot of horse and buggy signs today and yesterday, and finally got to see some actual horses and Amish people.

They waved back.

Our bike tires carefully avoided the horse droppings on the side of the road. Pat even tried catching up with a buggy and managed to catch some of the chase on video.

Aside from the wooden wheeled vehicles, we did spot some Amish beards. Out of courtesy, we didn't snap any pictures. We don't think that would've gone over well. Honestly, I was expecting something more impressive- to my BU friends, Sam Chalfin (aka Beard) had all of them beat.

We rode for about 90 miles before meeting up with Pat's Aunt. She made the drive out to visit with us for the rest of today and tomorrow. We stopped to say hi, gorged on some of the snacks she brought from Costco, and let her drive ahead to our destination town 20 miles away. As soon as she left us, the skies opened up. First, the downpour came. Then, hail. We enjoyed the riding for a few minutes (this trip has desensitized us to a lot), but the lightning unleashed its fury and we were forced to pull into the nearest gas station. Kim met us there while we discussed our options, and after a few minutes the rain stopped and the skies cleared up. We decided to push on as far as we could, hoping to make it to our original destination. Little did we know, our next turn presented a nice, steady 3 mile climb to us. We're used to any hill by now, but unexpected hills at the end of the day are never met with excitement. After cresting the top, it was smooth sailing to our destination. Enter bad drivers. To our moms: you can skip the next paragraph.

The skies began to darken again, and within a few minutes, the rain found us again. Thankfully, the hail and lightning sought out some other unsuspecting victims, so we were able to ride on. As we were winding through the PA back roads, a car behind us decided he wanted to pass us, crossing over the double yellow. A car was coming around the corner from the other direction, forcing both cars to stop. Another car behind the oncoming car swerved out of the way, unable to stop, coming over to our side of the road. We both clenched our brakes, and with the wet roads slowing our stoppage time, we skirted off the road into the grass to avoid the danger zone. Luckily, the car stopped in time, and she made sure we were alright. The car that tried to pass us must have been in a real hurry and kept driving on. We were fine, despite being a little shaken, and safely made it to the hotel, which Kim treated us to. 

Re-enter moms. Our hotel has free apples in the lobby! And a hot breakfast buffet! We're pretty stoked for that. After a great dinner at a local restaurant, we're now hanging out in the room, resting up for our last 3 riding days.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Day 39: I Don't Know About You, But I'm Feelin' 22 (Delmont, PA to State College, PA - 111 miles)

No, Pat and I aren't dressed up like hipsters. The 22 I'm talking about is route 22 through PA. While it certainly still has hills, the climbs are gradual and are almost always followed by a downhill immediately. Here is a view off of 22, which is a hill we were glad to avoid.

The break in the heat and humidity was a welcome change for us, which made for a smooth day of riding. We got back on track from the rain delay a couple days ago and had our sights set on State College. My sister's good friend, Vitty, lives there, so we had arranged to stay with her parents. Knowing that we have a comfortable place to stay always gives us something to look forward to, and today it helped keep us going at a decent clip. Aside from a flat tire in the early afternoon, we had another good riding day.

We saw this little guy about 20 miles from State College.

The Dussias's greeted us as we rolled into their driveway and made us feel right at home. They served up a delicious dinner and dessert, and we really enjoyed talking with them. We talked for a bit about Penn State, so we're looking forward to riding by on our way out of town tomorrow to check it out. For now though, it feels like one of those nights...to dress up like cyclists and go to sleep early, uh huh, uh huh.