Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Postscript

Wednesday July 1st, 2015, Columbia, MD

I've had a few days to reflect on my recent journey.  During that period I've received a number of questions.  I thought I'd take a moment to share some answers and a few random thoughts.

Why did you choose to do it?  The simplest answer is I wanted to see if I could do it.  In that regard the trip was a personal indulgence.   I also wanted a challenge and goal that was easily defined and measurable, and hopefully obtainable.  You leave LA on a bike and you either show up in fifty days in Boston or not.  Also, I've always been in love with the "in between" spaces of the country that are often overlooked by those of us that live in a metropolitan area on either coast.  What better way to see them?  I preliminary made the decision to attempt something like this while recovering from neck surgery in early 2014.  It was a reminder that if I postponed "going for it" there was no full-proof guarantee that I could attempt something like this in later years.  Life is full of surprises- both good and bad.

Are you glad you did it?  Absolutely.  In addition to seeing our spectacular country and meeting and spending enjoyable days and evenings with a truly interesting and fun group of people, I learned a lot about myself.  Too early to say if it was a life altering experience but it definitely was a life affirming one.

Would you do it again?  Yes and no.  I wouldn't do this specific tour again.  It was wonderful but- been there, done that, got the tee-shirt.  Also preparing for and completing a 50 day tour is exhausting, not particularly fair to my family, and expensive.  And let me make this clear- the Crossroads Cycling Adventures Tour is a cycling tour, not a sightseeing tour.  At 3,400 total miles over fifty days (with only five non-riding days), there is just not enough time (or frankly energy) to stop and smell the roses.  So I believe any future cycling tours for me will offer new itineraries, shorter duration, and possibly a more flexible pace.

What were your favorite parts?  I'd say the ride to Prescott AZ and visiting Flagstaff AZ, central and eastern New Mexico ( the rides into Santa Fe and into Tucumcari were spectacular), Abilene KS (for its small town quaintness),  eastern Kansas (the century ride to Topeka was beautiful), the hilly rollers of North Central Missouri, parts of northeast Ohio, and our quick ride thru southern Vermont.

What parts of the trip did you enjoy least?   I enjoyed every section of the country at some level.  Each seems to have its own beauty and uniqueness.  The least enjoyable sections had more to do with the road/riding conditions then geography.   I  have less desire to repeat riding days where vehicular traffic was heavy (particularly with tractor trailers)  and/or road shoulders were either non-existent or full of potholes and cracks.  For these reasons I'd probably pass on ever riding the Mojave desert on I-10 in California again.  Also certain parts of Central NY were not particularly enjoyable.  But overall there is no sector of the country I'd exclude from revisiting.

How much weight did you lose?  Between training and the actual Tour I lost about 15 pounds - a lot for a thin guy like me.  I am presently buying new dress pants for work- hopefully it will not be a "short-term" investment.  We were fed very well during the Tour but you simply can not replace all the calories burned in a typical day.

What were your greatest surprises?

How mentally tough the Tour was both on and off the bike.  I expected the physical part to be very hard but was somewhat surprised about the expenditure of mental energy.  The stress of reading a cue sheet and concentrating on what is in front of you (and behind, and beside you)  for 6-7+ hours a day is underrated.    Then the moment a ride was completed I would start preparing for the next day.  Good time management and strict routines became essential.  There was always something to do and relatively little down time.   And then there was self-motivating myself  to go out and do it all again each morning.  I think everyone had to dig down deep at some points.  My (always successful) trick was to quickly remind myself that this is what I wanted, actually begged for, and how extremely fortunate I was to have the opportunity to ride a bike across the country.

Interpreting the question a bit differently, I would say the enormous scale and diversity of our country. Yes, I intuitively already knew this but had not actually experienced it.  Travelling at the speed of a bicycle really drives it home.  Most of this country (in space) is still not inhabited or is sparsely inhabited (and for various practical reasons it will probably always be that way).  Most of the people live in urban areas but most of the land is still wide open, even in large swaths of the East.  And there are still numerous small towns- I can't say they are all thriving, but they are there, and they are quite interesting.

As to what single sight shocked me the most,  I'd have to say it was huge cattle feedlots in the Texas panhandle.

How much "climbing" did you do on the trip? Well this stat blows my mind, over 45 riding days we climbed about 133,000 feet, or the equivalent of 25 vertical miles.  To clarify, that is an aggregate uphill climbing number not a net elevation gain.  Our net elevation gain was zero, we started and ended at sea level.

Was the ride safe? The Crossroads Tour staff took all reasonable precautions to make the trip as safe as possible.  Still, riding your bike across the country carries a degree of inherent risk.  There is a randomness that one just has to accept.  We were fortunate that no one had a serious accident (one rider did have a fall resulting in an injured shoulder that contributed to his withdraw from the Tour).  No small feat when you consider that we collectively pedaled  almost 70,000 miles (the circumference of the earth being approximately 25,000 miles ).

Where did you stay at night?  Over 50 days we stayed at 45 different hotels, mainly nice, nationally branded chains.  I tallied them and we stayed at Holiday Express 11 nights, followed by Best Western 7 nights, Drury Inn 6 nights, Comfort Inn 5 nights and Courtyard Marriott 4 nights.  Save one or two places they were all more than adequate.

What were your fellow riders like?  Diverse in some ways, alike in others, but all truly good people.  In age, I was the third youngest among twenty so my stage of life differed from many.  My cycling experience was on the low end, especially in distance cycling, where a good portion of the riders had previously completed cross country rides or other long distance tours.  I learned much from them.   Four of the riders were from abroad.   All the riders seemed to be accomplished in some facet of life aside from cycling.   What we all seemed to share, regardless of ability, was discipline and commitment.  In fifty full days, under sometimes stressful circumstances, a person's true character is usually exposed.   I'm happy to say that my group was quite selfless, always quick and happy to assist and encourage one another as needed.

Below:  Manhattan Beach, CA, May 10, 2015 and Revere Beach (Boston), MA, June 26, 2015

And wrapping it up.  I want to sincerely thank all my family and friends that took an interest in my adventure.  Your calls, emails, and texts, all expressing encouragement, were greatly appreciated.  I started this endeavor with a lot of understandable self-doubt and finished with a renewed self-confidence (and I didn't have to pay anything extra!).

Cheers, Matt (July, 2015)

Sunday, June 28, 2015


Friday June 26th, Burlington, MA to Boston, MA, 17 miles

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end- Ernest Hemingway

I guess today is as close as I'll ever get to feeling like the riders on the final day of the Tour de France when they (more or less) ceremoniously ride thru the streets of Paris.  We were sent off at 7:00 am this morning, two by two, from the hotel, cheered on by our families and friends to complete the short 17 mile ride to Revere Beach in Boston.  Approximately 3 miles from the Beach we reassembled to end our Tour together in formation, in front of our families and friends who had hustled in cars to be in position to greet us.  What a magical feeling, 3400 miles completed, sea to shining sea!  What a country!

After a number of hugs we all carried our bikes across the sand to the Atlantic Ocean to get the payoff photo ops!  We then reassembled for a few group photos on the boardwalk.

After returning to the hotel, cleaning my bike and getting it ready for shipping back to Maryland, the family rode back into town.  We had a nice lunch together before taking the Fenway Park tour.  I had seen a couple of Red Sox games before at the Park but it was fun and interesting to learn more about the historic baseball stadium.

This evening we had a celebratory dinner at the hotel.  With the guests and staff we had around one hundred attendees.   Again the stories were very inspirational and it was wonderful to have my family with me to share in my experience.

A link to the my just completed fifty day 2015 Cross Country Tour Itinerary follows:

My riding buddy Jim from western Mass. and me at the start of the last day.

The very final pedal strokes to end the 3,400 mile journey

Drew and Ben after the ride with their really skinny Dad


With Maggie, an amazingly tenacious woman from Great Britain

With Peter, a most congenial and fun guy to be around

At Revere Beach:  Back row: Ted from FL, Lori from FL, Will from Great Britain, Maggie from Great Britain, Steve from IL, Mike from TX, Craig from CT, Ron from TX, Richard from CA.  Front row:  Joanne from CA, Mark from IL, Cynthia from AZ, Matt from MD, Jim from MA, Peter from CA,  Damian from New Zealand, Don from WI, Bob from AZ, and Liam from Scotland.  Missing:  Mary Jo from OH (a sectional rider) and Jim from VA.

Kari  during the Fenway Park tour (above the "Green Monster"),  she was too busy taking the photos to properly get into any at the Beach.

Final Exam (Part 2), New Hampshire and Central Mass.

Thursday June 25, Brattleboro VT to Burlington, MA, 93 miles

This morning, the next to last day of our Tour, we left Brattleboro and quickly crossed the river and entered New Hampshire, our 14th state (the only state we will complete in a day without spending the night).   Another big climbing day (about 5500 feet) with most of it front loaded in New Hampshire.   Again some steep hills, with grades in some places of 12-13%, leading up to ski resorts.  At about 40 miles we crossed the Massachusetts state line (near the town of Ashby) , our 15th and final state.  The  ride stayed rural and scenic for a few miles before reaching the outer Boston suburbs.  We then rode thru quite a few nice neighborhoods as we somehow skirted the major highways into Burlington MA.

Late this afternoon I was met at the hotel by Kari, Ben and Drew, who flew into Manchester NH, rented a car, and drove down to Burlington to share in the grand finale  tomorrow.  I had not seen Ben and Drew in 50 days! What a treat!.  My family joined me at the "Rider's Dinner, a buffet at the Hilton Garden Inn where we are staying.  Every rider had the opportunity to speak to the group about what the cross country ride has meant to them.  There were some very inspirational stories-just ask Kari!  I'm very proud and appreciative of the group of fellow riders I was fortunate enough to shared this experience with.

New Hampshire State Line- trying not to contact the poison ivy.

Above: fellow riders at the photo op

Previous page: a covered bridge, still operable, about ten miles inside NH's western border 

Above: with riders Jim and Ted

A lily pond in NH

Massachusetts State Line, 15th and final state

Goofing around in front of the Crossroads Map, with what is left of my  "guns".

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Final Exam (Part 1), Vermont

Wednesday June 24th, Albany NY to Brattleboro VT, 80 miles

The Cross Country Tour is ending with a bang.  I somehow had almost forgot how tiring and demanding certain days could be.  Fortunately today's leg, with about 6,000 feet of climbing, graciously reminded me.  Even with very good weather conditions the ride was a significant challenge.

Leaving  metro Albany we headed east and quickly crossed the Hudson River.  At the 32 mile mark we entered Vermont, which among others things is known for skiing, which typical involves steep mountains.  And so let the climbing begin.  It started for real after the handsome old town of Bennington and pretty much continued to our final destination of Brattleboro.  Road grades were around 8-9 percent for significant distances.  We also had a couple of really fast descents.  One of the staff (Rick) told me in a prior year he had exceeded 50 miles per hour.  I didn't have near the nerve, or the proper traffic conditions, to come anywhere close to that.

My riding buddy Jim and I stopped at a McDonalds in B'boro before the hotel to reload with sundaes and smoothies.  So good.

Entering Vermont

Outside Bennington VT before a mountain ascent

Mountain lake near Wilmington, VT

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Muggy Mohawk Valley

Tuesday June 23rd, Herkimer NY to Albany NY, 78 miles

Today we followed the Mohawk River East on Highway 5 thru small communities.  The weather was very humid with some rain in the morning turning to overcast with occasional pockets of sun. Most of the towns were frankly old and unattractive (post industrial) and appeared to have seen better days.  The highway and river generally paralleled the railroad tracks and Interstate 90.  Towards the end of the ride we rode thru Schenectady before finishing in the Albany suburb of Latham.  We have now pretty much completed  New York State west to east.

The riders are  all starting to get excited about Boston, the culmination of our adventure, where most will be joined by family and/or friends.  We have two hard riding days left thru New England (Wednesday and Thursday) followed by a somewhat ceremonial  17 mile procession into Boston's Revere Beach.   Kari, Ben and Drew are flying in on Thursday where I should see them in the afternoon at the hotel in Burlington, MA.  I am looking forward to seeing my family.

Horses outside a craft store near Amsterdam NY

A plant on the Mohawk River near Fonda NY.  It appears to be a former power plant that has been re-purposed as a concrete products manufacturer.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Crisscrossing Interstate 90

Monday June 22nd, Syracuse NY to Herkimer NY, 70 miles

We left the Cuse this morning heading East to the small town of Herkimer.  Our route seemed to serpentine multiple times back and forth over Interstate 90.  The weather was quite pleasant- sunny with light winds.   I had a silly fall this morning while steadying my bike as I inflated a tire resulting in a couple of bruises well treated with Tylenol.  Speaking of tires, I had to replace my back one after the ride due to a divot in the tread which was probably a little risky to continue riding with given the steep descents we have coming up in New England.   Herkimer, named for an American Revolutionary War General is roughly halfway between Syracuse and Albany, our destination tomorrow.   It has about 7000 residents.

World's smallest chapel in Oneida NY (green  algae is covering the water, evidently you take a boat out to the "chapel").

Another portion of the Erie Canal, this one near Utica NY

Sunday, June 21, 2015

3,000 miles down!

Sunday June 21st, Canandagua NY to Syracuse NY, 68 miles

Neighbor and friend Craig Stout joined me this morning for the first leg.  At the SAG stop (38 miles in the ride) he flipped around and headed back to his car at the hotel in Canadagua, where he will then drive back to Maryland.  It was fun to have Craig along and give him a taste of what the Tour is like.  At the first SAG we celebrated reaching the 3,000 mile milestone.  Wow, only 400 miles to go!  Los Angeles now seems like such a long time ago.

The ride had some nice hills, and small towns.  Towards the end we got a good look at a stretch of the Erie Canal.  I did not realize that it has been non-operational since 1917.  I had some nagging mechanical issues with my bike today.  Fortunately, after my ride was completed, our crack staff mechanic  Rick, from Texas, was able to replace a cable (complicated because it is internal ) and hopefully keep me going to Boston,  Than you Rick!.

Above:  3,000 milestone near Seneca Falls NY

Erie Canal, outside Syracuse

Above:  Staff mechanic and all around nice guy Rick, who's expertise has kept me on the road