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.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Day 38: Racing the Rain (Barnesville, OH to Delmont, PA - 120 miles)

We looked at the weather last night for the Pittsburgh area and noticed there would be a good chance of showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon. Not wanting a repeat of yesterday, we set our alarms for 4:45, hoping to hit the road before 6. Our great Warm Showers hosts got up with us and we talked for a bit about the local coal mining in eastern Ohio while we ate and enjoyed our few moments of relaxation before the long day ahead. 

Before crossing into Pennsylvania, we crossed into the northern part of West Virginia for a handful of miles. 

We followed a flat bike path along the river, while the infamous Pennsylvania hills looked on, waiting to swallow us up when the path ended. Thankfully, the Google Maps biking option provided us with another rail trail, heading from the WV border to the outskirts of Pittsburgh. While it was about 13 miles longer than the direct route to our destination, the 40+ miles of flat riding saved us a ton of climbing.

As we were riding along the trail, I called my mom to see if she could periodically check the weather and let us know if any sever thunderstorm warnings popped up for our area. A little while later, the impromptu weather center called back and informed me that some pretty nasty storms would be heading into Pittsburgh around 1:00 or so. At that point we decided to push forward and get to our destination ASAP, hoping to outpace the storm clouds. We stocked up on energy bars and a couple sandwiches at a convenience store so we wouldn't have to make any more stops, and then cranked onward.

Pittsburgh was beautiful to ride through- they have a bike path along the river, bustling with runners, walkers, and fellow cyclists. The downtown skyline was one of the nicest we've seen, too. 

As we were riding through, we anxiously kept watching the sky, noticing the dark clouds moving in from the west. We had about 30 miles to go, so we kept up a good pace and hoped we could keep the clouds behind us. After leaving the city, the Pennsylvania hills gave us a few of its signature hills, but our legs were still feeling fine after the relatively flat morning so we kept up our rhythm. The clouds taunted us with a few dabs of sprinkles, but we left the storms in the dust, making it to Delmont dry and with high spirits. Special thanks to my mom and sister at the weather center for giving us live weather info.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Day 37: Rain Delay (Reynoldsburg, OH to Barnesville, OH - 94 miles)

Today's ride got off to a good start. We had a relatively flat morning, and despite the humidity, covered a decent amount of ground before the pre-Pennsylvania hills greeted us. The climbs weren't long, but they had steep grades that reminded our legs that the trip isn't over yet. The countryside provided a nice change in scenery from the cornfields though, so the riding was pretty enjoyable.

As we were approaching Barnesville, we heard some crashing thunder and saw a few streaks of lightning, so we ducked into a pizza shop that doubles as a video rental place. Side note: video rental places are really popular out here, it's very strange. Anyway, we ordered a pizza while we watched the storm, debating our options for the rest of the evening. We were originally hoping to make it to Wheeling, WV for the night, but we knew that wouldn't be an option even if the severe storm warning was lifted. We tried calling hotels in St. Clairsville, but there's a convention in town so the rates are over $150 for a room. As we were searching on our phones for any other options, I noticed a Warm Showers host was only about a mile away. Thankfully, she said we could stay for the night, which was clutch given the extreme short notice. We're about 25 miles short of where we wanted to be at the end of today, but we're planning to make it up over the next two or three days, depending on the weather. On the bright side, the storm is supposed to break the humidity we've been roasting in for the past week, so we're looking forward to better riding. Tomorrow, we'll be entering PA, and hopefully with the short(er) day behind us, we'll be ready to crank up the hills.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Day 36: Oh hi, O! (Richmond, IN to Reynoldsburg, OH - 113 miles)

Last night's sleep was a whole lot better than our Brazilian camping adventure. We awoke refreshed and ready for another long mileage day, and Kurt was kind enough to make some incredible pancakes. They were hearty and full of flavor, and of course, healthy. Kurt served them up with tahini butter and "yogurt cheese," which was delicious. With our healthiest breakfast on the trip fueling us, we made our way to the Ohio border.

The roads and scenery were very similar to Indiana, making for relatively smooth, easy riding. We went through Columbus on our way to Reynoldsburg, which slowed down our riding quite a bit. 

Luckily, Columbus was our last major city to ride through, so timing the traffic lights will no longer be an issue. While we were following our route to Reynoldsburg from downtown Columbus, a guy on a bike mentioned we were going through one of the worst parts of Columbus. I guess Google Maps doesn't take property values into account when mapping the shortest route. Regardless, we made it out of our last city unscathed and without any hiccups, and we made our way to Reynoldsburg in search of dinner, or even better- a buffet. As we made our way down route 40, the Golden Corral sign lassoed our bikes into the parking lot. The great people at the register were able to give us half off, which continued our good luck streak with buffets. An hour later, the chocolate fountain confirmed that we wouldn't be riding more than 5 miles to our destination for the night. We found a place a couple miles away, and Pat's Aunt Kim donated our hotel room- thanks! Here's some commentary from this morning. Sorry for the bad camera angle- the cornfields were too exciting for me to focus on filming.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 35: The Indy 500 (Brazil, IN to Richmond, IN - 123 miles)

Camping last night was, well, uncomfortable. Little did we know, our tent doubles as a hot box. In Nevada, camping was nice because the temperatures dropped into the 30s, which put our sleeping bags to good use. With the heat wave we've been experiencing since Utah, though, our sleeping bags are merely taking up valuable tent space (I'm sure you remember how spacious our tent is). We would've opened our tent screens, but we feared an unwelcome visit from the stray cat on patrol in the park. After a few restless hours of what can loosely be defined as sleep, our alarms went off and we arose to prepare for a big day through Indianapolis and toward the Ohio border. We had previously arranged for a place to stay with a Warm Showers host in Richmond, IN, so we both had some motivation to get to our destination to enjoy a welcome home.

Our riding was more of the same for the morning: riding along route 40 with lots of cornfields and farms. Once we approached Indianapolis, the traffic started to get a little hairy, but we made it through the city unscathed. Indy has a really nice, modern downtown area. Pat took our video commentary as we were riding through:

The rest of the day was hot, per usual, but we chipped away at the miles and made it to Richmond around 5:30. We stopped at a place called Lee's Famous Chicken, which actually had some really good chicken. They generously gave us a deal on our dinners- much appreciated. Their sweet tea was probably the best I've tasted, too.

Our Warm Showers hosts tonight are great. Kurt is an acupuncturist, and one of the things he talked about was how ice cold beverages are stressful for the body and can contribute to disease. I bet Lee's chicken doesn't help matters. He's also a big proponent of herbal medicine, which was really interesting to chat about. Amy, his wife, has made us feel very welcome in their home. They have two awesome dogs, too. Sorry, Bailey, but this lab is a pro at fetch.

We're planning out the rest of our route tonight, and it looks like we'll be arriving at the UConn Health Center next Thursday, July 25th. We're probably going to plan to ride in after 5:00 pm to accommodate work schedules. More details to follow as it gets closer.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Day 34: Hide and Go Camp (Vandalia,IL to Brazil, IN - 115 miles)

Before this trip I would have probably collapsed attempting to ride 115 miles in 95 degree heat. It seems Dan and I have finally gotten used to biking for long distances in the heat because today wasn't too bad. We passed into Indiana without even realizing it because there was not state line sign on the road we were on. We stopped at a Barnes and Noble in Terre Haute which doubled as the Indiana State University bookstore. There we tried to find a place to stay for the night, and after searching and searching we had nothing. Brazil has one motel that was 7 miles out of the way.  We have stayed at some bad places, but by the looks of these reviews this place may be the worst motel in America. The one that sealed the deal was, "I would have been more comfortable sleeping in my car". All the others had key words like "bugs", "disgusting", "stains", and my favorite "no office because it burned down ". That definitely did not seem too appealing. We decided to pass on the motel and head into Brazil and figure it out. We were told that Pappy's BBQ was great so we went there for dinner. Not only was the food awesome, but the manager gave us our food for free!

We then talked to some locals and found out that the town park would be the best place to camp. We're not allowed to be here, but we're planning to hide our tent between the benches of the outdoor auditorium. Hope we don't get kicked out!

This nice cat lives under the stage.  She is nicely letting us share her shelter for the night. 

It is really muggy here and the temperature will stay in the 90s until late tonight. We feel gross. We have been sweating all day and are probably going to continue to sweat throughout the night. Tomorrow we plan to ride to Richmond where we have much needed Warm Showers hosts who are letting us stay at their house. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Day 33: The Gateway to the East (Defiance, MO to Vandalia, IL - 113 miles)

After reluctantly leaving the comfort of the bed and breakfast, we ventured toward St. Louis. The Katy Trail provided a nice, relaxing start to the morning, but we said our farewells before crossing the Missouri River and into the city. We saw a cyclist in the parking lot near the bridge, and he was able to provide us with a great scenic route through Creve Couer Park, which is on the way into St. Louis. We enjoyed the flat, winding path though the woods and around a lake, before branching off into the outskirts of the city. We were warned by multiple people to avoid north St. Louis because of its crime, so we were confident that we'd have a nice ride into downtown to see the arch. Needless to say, we can't imagine how sketchy the north side must be. Rolling down what seemed to be the central path to the city, we pedaled past some pretty bad sections of town. We were relieved when the Arch made its way into our line of sight. Once we neared closer to downtown, the city got a lot nicer, and we finally felt safe. The Gateway to the West, or to the East for us, really makes the St. Louis skyline look incredible.

We had a lot of miles to go in the day so we didn't spend too much time under the arch, but it's definitely something worth checking out. Our path then took us across the Mississippi, which, unlike the Arch, was less spectacular than we were hoping.

We then entered Illinois- our 7th state so far.

The Illinois roads provided us with some great riding. The rolling hills of Missouri and eastern Kansas subsided, and the winding roads were fun to navigate. We tried our luck again with "Road Closed" signs (remember back to Kansas), and once again our risk paid off. More direct routes trump the chance of getting yelled at by police, any day. We made it into Vandalia just in time for dinner, and the China Buffet sign in the distance provided more excitement than seeing the Arch (just kidding- sort of). The fried dough bites were so good. And the egg rolls. And the hot and sour soup. And- well, I'll stop. Here's some commentary from today.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Day 32: KT Caboose (California, MO to Defiance, MO - 112 miles)

Dan and I think we will be home in 11 more riding days. Our goal is to do it without having any miserable days.  Today was a successful non-miserable day!

We had about 25 miles to ride in the morning on the road before we picked up the Katy Trail in Jefferson City. We rode the well known Route 50, which we have had an on and off relationship with for the last 4 states. Although, this time it wasn't as lonely as it was in Nevada. It was like a real highway. For the first 20 miles, there weren't too many cars and there was a really nice shoulder on the side we were riding on. Things got funky when we got into Jefferson City. We had to make a few turns, and found ourselves on ramps and bridges that definitely weren't made for bikes. Sometimes the shoulder disappeared to nothing, and we were riding on the side of the right lane of the highway. After only one wrong turn that cost us 2 miles, we made it to the Katy Trail. The unpaved road slows us down a bit, bit the canopy of trees blocks the wind.  

Our daily video from the trail: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=AAaQzXcJaZs&feature=plcp

Riding the Katy Trail is nice. We didn't go fast, but the riding is flat and our slow and steady pace let us finish the day in Defiance without being too tired. On the way we stopped at the KT Caboose, which came at a perfect time because I was running low on water. We filled up on water, Dan got a blue shaved ice (which you can tell from the color of his lips in the picture), and I got a coffee milkshake. We chatted with the worker, Teresa, for a few minutes and went on our way. 

We asked the Elysium Fields Bed and Breakfast for a discount on a room for the night, and the owner, Brian, quickly offered "the cottage" free of charge. He converted the old Defiance Bank, which ran from 1901 to 1935, into a Bed and Breakfast. The bathroom is in the old bank vault. This place is really cool!
Looks like Dan and I are gonna get cozy tonight. 

We are getting dinner at a biker bar in town. There are probably 50 to 100 motorcycles parked outside. I thought it was a motorcycle show or something but I heard this is how it is in Missouri. Joe, I don't think you would fit in here. Everyone is riding Harleys and custom chopper-like bikes.  

Tomorrow we plan to ride through St. Louis and check out the Gateway to the West and then go as far as we can into Illinois. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Day 31: Hitting the Dusty Trail (Harrisonville, MO to California, MO - 108 miles)

Today was a great day for riding, which was much needed after yesterday's test of resilience, to put it nicely. We were met with a cool morning, right as the sun was rising. The first part of the day was filled with short, steep rolling hills, but the wind stayed in bed today so we enjoyed the morning. As we made our way through the back roads of Missouri, the landscape looked a lot like that of the small towns in Connecticut- a pleasant reminder of our destination.

While looking for the most direct way to California (the town), Google Maps failed to indicate that one of our roads was unpaved. It was only 3.7 miles, and the alternative route would be at least 3x longer, so we decided to test our bikes's off-roading skills. They held up nicely, and the soft gravel was actually a nice change for 15 minutes or so. After a little while back on the pavement, we arrived at the Katy Trail, which we had been looking forward to since entering Missouri. The Katy Trail follows an old railroad bed, so it's relatively flat and goes along a route all the way to St. Louis. The limestone made for some dusty yet overall smooth riding, which was a little slower than the roads but much, much more relaxing.

We departed from the trail after about 11 miles to cut out some of its less direct sections, but we'll be riding on it for a good deal of tomorrow and Monday's trek. As our miles accumulated and our destination approached, we contemplated our lunch/dinner choice. We rode through the day with our usual peanut butter/granola/trail mix/tortilla creations, but our tired bodies craved some real food. I spotted a buffet sign in the center of town, so naturally our bikes shifted into autopilot and maneuvered their way into the parking lot. The Burgher Haus generously (or foolishly) offered us their buffet for only $5 per person. The spread was great- full salad bar, ribs, brisket, chicken, all the fixings, and my personal favorite- bread pudding! Now that we're on day #3 in a row of buffets, we're getting better at controlling our impulses to eat until we can't move. Just kidding.

We rolled our bikes to the grocery store (very, very slowly) to pick up our food for breakfast and the ride tomorrow. On the way there, we spotted a dead armadillo in the parking lot. Since neither of us has ever seen an armadillo in person, we had to stop.

With our bikes stocked with groceries, we rolled (again, very slowly) to the local motel, where the owner cut us a deal. We're now laying in our beds, watching the George Zimmerman trial commentary. Will the jury decide on a verdict tonight??

Friday, July 12, 2013

Day 30: "Leaving Kansas, Please Come Again"... NOPE (Osage City, KS to Harrisonville, MO - 85 miles)

Most of the pictures we post are of us smiling.  But the truth is, a lot of time on this trip is spent not smiling. We entered Missouri today! Yay!

My actually feelings today are shown in this picture: 

Here is a close up on my face. That is the best smile I could give at the moment. 

The riding today was very difficult and I wasn't in the best mood. 

With a wind in our face all day, the maximum speed we could reach going downhill was 15 mph. Hills are fair. It may be difficult going up, but then the hard work pays off going down. A 10 mph wind coming from the east is not fair. The faster you go, the more the force of the wind pushes you back. The hills were rolling all day. Literally. We went up and then down, over and over again. This was what it looked like all day. Dan said we we probably went up and over 30 of these. I think it was more like 50.

I tried thinking optimistically and positively, like Father Anthony talked to us about, but it didn't last too long. We stopped for lunch at a McDonalds and Dan and I were both frustrated with the riding. The crappy food made us feel a little better, and we got the energy to ride into Harrisonville.  

Price Chopper had an awesome salad bar buffet for 6.99. It was no ordinary salad bar. It had chicken, meats, all kinds of pasta salads, desserts, fruit, and all the vegetables. The free sample lady next to it was shocked at how much food we ate. Here was my first plate. 

We got another motel room donated, and it felt great getting into the air conditioned room. Harrisonville is by far the largest town we have been to since Colorado. There is a Walmart across the street from the motel so we grabbed some supplies there. 

We are both really hoping the wind dies down. If anybody wants to check in on us to see how we're doing but can't reach us, just check the wind speed and direction for the city we're in and that will tell you. It seems like our mood and overall wellness directly correlates with that.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Day 29: Small Towns and Big Hearts (Lindsborg, KS to Osage City, KS - 114 miles)

Our last full day in Kansas began with an earlier wakeup time than usual so we could avoid as much of the midday heat and wind as possible. My alarm rang at 2:00 and we then turned on zombie mode and hit the road by 3:00. It took a few miles to get into the swing of it, but the cool morning and empty roads proved to be great for riding once again. At 5:20, we had a phone interview from the road with 1080 AM WTIC. We'll post the link up here when we get it. Special thanks to Chris DeFrancesco for once again helping us out with publicity. Shortly thereafter, we were treated to another picturesque sunrise.

As the morning rolled in, we noticed some storm clouds behind us, creeping up slowly. We kept up a decent pace throughout the early morning hours, thanks to a decent tailwind, and managed to avoid the ominous sky. The clouds helped block out the sun though, so the riding was nice and casual during that stretch. We met a bit of a headwind towards the end of the ride, but we made it into Osage City for 12:30 without being too exhausted. Our first stop was Pizza Hut for their lunch buffet, which was actually pretty good. Their salad bar was stocked, complete with hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese, and fruit (some of my favorites, as many of you know). Of course, we did most of our damage with the pizza, making the buffet totally worth it. We then checked in at St. Patrick's church, where we had arranged to meet with Father Anthony Kipligat. Father Anthony brought us into his office and spoke with us about our ride, and then offered us his guest bedrooms for the night. We enjoyed a delicious chicken and mushroom dish, complete with some really tasty African tea made with local cow and goat milk. Father Anthony has incredible insight and optimism, and it was a real treat talking with him. The true sincerity we've been met with in Kansas has made the past few days a lot of fun. The towns may not have much in them, but they're some of the best we've come through.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Day 28: Wind Blows (La Crosse, KS to Lindsborg, KS - 92 miles)

We learned from the locals in Kansas that most of the time the wind blows from the south but tends to change randomly.  Yesterday we were blessed with a nice tail wind coming from the west, which seem to come infrequently on this trip.  Today, however, there was a 11 mph wind coming straight from the east into our faces.  We left got up at 3:30 and left at 4:45 to try to avoid the wind and heat, which become unbearable by noon.  For the first hour of riding, it was very dark.  There was no sunlight or moonlight.  Our small lights on the front of our bikes were the only thing lighting up the road. I probably would have felt uncomfortable doing it alone. 

The sunrises in Kansas have been amazing and since we are riding east, we get to watch every second of it. Also we don't have to worry about trees or buildings getting in our way of seeing it. Here is a picture about an hour before sunrise.  

And then the sky gradually adapts and gets more colorful.  My favorite part is right before the sunrise. 

Seeing awesome stuff like this is vital for a good day of riding.  Thinking of anything other than my aching hands and saddle sores makes the day go by much faster.  This sunrise filled my brain with an hour of thinking about the physics and chemistry of the sun, and our solar system.  We also saw some lightning in the distance which distracted Dan and I to talk about the physics of lightning for about 20 minutes. 

At a grocery store in Hoisington we stopped at for snacks, we were informed there was a road detour ahead that would add miles to our day. All they said was the detour was "a far way around" because they are completely rebuilding a bridge. That was enough for Dan and I to test our luck. We ignored the detour sign and rode 2 miles to the demolished bridge.  We thought it would be better to wade across the creek than ride all the way around.  From a distance we saw a crane and heavy machinery working on the bridge and it did not look passable.  About 200 feet to the right across a field there were railroad tracks that looked like they crossed the creek. We changed into our sneakers and pushed our bikes over the field.  Right before the railroad tracks, the field dropped down about ten feet where there was a creek, and there was another very steep 15 foot climb to the tracks. I didn't think we could make it.  With our bikes weighing 70 lbs with all the gear, lifting them over our head and getting over this creek would not be fun. I was thinking about making two trips when I looked back and  I saw a construction worker wave at me and signal to come to the bridge.  

Very excited, we went back and were shown to a dirt dam that was made up the creek to stop the water while they were building the bridge.  It was perfect.  We walked the bikes over and were on our way.  It was a lot easier than I expected and we didn't have to go around the detour.  Overall, a good decision.  Here is a picture I snapped after we crossed. 

The day got harder and harder as the sun came up.  By 9 o'clock, it was hot and the wind was blowing right in our face.  I was working harder to ride 10 mph than I was the day before when I cruised at 22 mph.  Our bags act as sails, so tail winds are awesome and head winds make the day miserable.  We got to Lindsborg around 1 o'clock exhausted and hot.  We got lunch at Scott's Grocery Store.  It seemed like everyone in the store was curious as to what we were doing.  Previously, we were riding on the ACA bike route, so cross country bikers were riding through the towns daily.  Now we are creating our own path so everyone is very interested to talk to us.  People gathered to talk to us at the deli and figure out what we were doing.  They even called the owner, Scott, to come on the intercom. Before we knew it Scott offered us free lunch and another woman donated $30 so we could get a motel room next door.  The people in Kansas have been really nice. 

Tomorrow we plan to do another tough day into the wind to Osage City. We are tapering our wake up time gradually. We plan to wake up at 2 tomorrow.  We are meeting with the pastor of St. Patrick's Catholic Church when we get there.  He said he will help us find a place to stay. 

And here is our daily video from the road. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Day 27: Kansas Kruisin' (Scott City, KS to La Crosse, KS - 93 miles)

We got on the road before 5:15 to avoid the heat wave rolling through the plains and were moving at a pretty good clip thanks to the southwest winds. A little while into our ride, the sun began to poke its way up over the horizon, making for some stunning views.

Pat also made another quick video when we started out.

The heat moved in midway through the morning, but we managed to avoid the hottest part of the day. By 11:15, we were off our bikes and on our usual hunt for lodging. We managed to find a good deal on a motel, which we determined was exponentially more appealing than camping today because of the heat. On our way through town, we saw a sign for a pizza lunch buffet, so of course we dug in. They actually had a pretty decent salad bar, so that was a win in our books. Now we're hunkered down in the room, semi-watching the Trayvon Martin trial. We're glad we're not going into law.

The people we've met along the way here in Kansas really have been great. Folks take the time to talk to us and love sharing stories. Drivers also make sure to give us plenty of room, which is always much appreciated. We came into this trip expecting Kansas to be a low point (hot, windy, monotonous), but we've been pleasantly surprised. With the exception of long stretches with waves of manure stench, the riding has been smooth. There isn't much out here, and it's not the most appealing place we've seen in terms of scenery, but the early morning riding is second to none and the small towns are as welcoming as they come. We'll be happy to be in Missouri on Friday, but the Kansas Kruisin' won't be a bitter memory.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Extra: Utah Video

The Spokes team is made up of 7 MIT students their video master, Nathan, a recent film grad from UC Berkeley. We got to know each other pretty well in the seven days we spent together.  On our rest day we took together in Telluride, Nathan surprised us with this awesome video.   Nathan was taping us riding before we even knew them.  I actually remember being followed by a sketchy van that wouldn't pass. They were great. 

Thanks Claire, Nathan, Titiaan, Ethan, Turner, Jeff, Kaitlyn and Phillip. You guys are the best. 

And here is the awesome video: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2aPZsczg2NI