Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Day 81 and Beyond - Santa Cruisin'

The train stopped at Terminal 3, my terminal. I picked up my bin, wrapped in a generous amount of duct tape, knowing it will probably raise suspicions at the airport. I looked at my traveling buddies, Kevin and Mike, who haven't moved, waiting for the Terminal 1 stop. 

"It's been fun," we said as we gave our last goodbyes. "I'll visit you and Marcus at Purdue," promised Kevin. "We'll shred."

The train doors slid shut behind me and I was alone for the first time in months. As I sit here at Gate 74, my helmet in my purse, tan lines hidden in the sleeves of my jacket, I am trying my best to figure out what exactly happened this summer. I've been off the bike for four days now and already the 81 days we spent biking and building have already started becoming foggy. People bustle past me, not knowing the journey we have just completed, a journey that has opened up so many possibilities and intimately linked  28 people together. 

Day 81 started like any other riding day. The music blared at 5:45 and people began deflating their thermarests and rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Our favorite songs from the summer were playing, songs that I will forever associate with Bike and Build: "Dead Sea" by the Lumineers, "First Generator" by Free Lance Whales, "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk, and others. Breakfast was eggs and bacon, a last meal fit for kings. 

After breakfast, we took our time getting on the road. "Five or Die," my chore group, was on clean-up and we didn't complain for how long it was taking to clean the building. We were just enjoying our time together. A group hug formed as the song from Marcus's Bike and Build video played and I looked around at all the people I loved and choked up. I walked to the bathroom to take some deep breaths and try to stay calm. Kat came in after a few minutes.

"Is anyone in here? We're taking a group picture outside."

"Jyes," I uttered from the back stall, my voice cracking. She laughed when she saw my watery eyes. "Oh mama!" she said shaking her head. We hugged and walked out together. 

We mounted our bikes and started off as a pretty large group. We were super-sweeping with Sarah and Amanda. Josh and I lead the way with Austin, Nyx Kat, and Brian. We cheered loudly as we passed cars and pedestrians. People honked and waved, gawking at the giant American flag that Brian had rigged up on his backpack. 

We were prepared for it to be a hard ride. It was only 58 miles but we had one last mountain range to climb before we could descend to the Pacific. After getting out of San Jose, it was not long before our climb began. The steep grade of the road had us all sweating and panting in no time. The mountain is a popular cycling spot and we were joined by many other riders all asking what we were up to. We explained Bike and Build to them between breaths. "Today is our last day!" we proclaimed. It seemed crazy to say it out loud.

Lunch was at the top of the pass, at mile 20. I saw most of my teammates standing around the trailer and I stood up on my pedals, cranking hard up the rest of the mountain. They cheered as they saw me come in. It was there that we saw the first sign:

Brian, me, and Laini, so close to the ocean that we could almost taste it!

We spent a lot of time at lunch eating our last peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and talking to other cyclists coming up the mountain. Austin took a whole watermelon and used the edge of a road sign to cut it up, which worked surprisingly well. "Hit-tza!" he grunted with every slice. 

We descended for a few miles before we started climbing again. Towering redwood trees enveloped us in a quiet forest as the road narrowed. Marcus, Austin, and I lost the rest of the group as we climbed, looking around in awe at the scenery. After a short descent, I saw Marcus and Austin stopped at the bottom of a small decline. I pulled up next to them and unclipped. No words were said as we listened to the silence of the woods, which overcame us like a heavy fog. We smiled at each other and breathed deep. 

It wasn't long before the the rest of the group caught up. All were impressed by the beauty of the forest. I put my helmet camera on and decided to descend behind the group so I could get some good shots of Brian's flag waving behind him as we weaved through the redwoods. 

I descended cautiously. The road was very narrow and I was nervous about being surprised by an oncoming car. The pavement curved suddenly and sharply around trees that looked like the legs of massive elephants. I craned my neck to look up but could still barely see the crown of the forest. I kept my fingers on my brakes as I navigated the turns. Ever since a near crash around a corner coming down Hard Scrabble pass in Colorado, I have been very wary about descending when there are sharp turns. 

Brian flew down the road in front of me, letting out whoops of excitement. He slowed considerably to navigate a very tight switchback. "Yeah buddy!" I exclaimed when we had come out of it. Ahead was a reverse switchback that turned us around again. Suddenly, Brian was riding in the dirt shoulder of the road. He had taken the sharp corner too wide and could not correct himself. He swung into the shoulder and rapidly unclipped as he flew over the handlebars and landed softly in the pine needles, his flag waving wildly as he rolled. He came to rest on his back in the dirt. I checked back and swung my bike around to go back for him. Luckily, he was perfectly fine and we laughed about how comical his fall looked. I realized that my helmet cam was on the whole time so we were excited to watch the video later.

When he'd collected himself and got back on the bike, we met up with the rest of our group at the state park headquarters at the bottom of the descent. There were a lot of tourists there so we stopped just briefly to take a group shot with a massive tree and buy some postcards. Everyone was starting to get pretty antsy to see the ocean. 

We had another very short 1.5 mile climb before conquering the rest of the descent. I caught up with Kat, Nyx, and Rachel and we stuck together. The wind was to our backs and we only had 10 miles to the Pacific. We would see the ocean in no time. All of us started to feel a little anxious to realize how close we were to finishing the journey. Butterflies formed in my stomach as the miles ticked down. 

However what came next worked like a bug-zapper on those butterflies. The steepest hill that we'd encountered all summer suddenly rose up in front of us. We looked at each other in disbelief. It wouldn't be a Bike and Build day without some type of struggle and the last day was no exception. Our hearts beat hard while our legs turned slowly, straining against the steep grade, as we worked to conquer our last climb of the summer. However, while the hill was steep, it was no more than a mile or so long, and it wasn't too long before we'd climbed up and over the apex. We were home-free and ocean-bound. Nyx and I sang Yellowcard's "Ocean Avenue" loudly as we cranked out the last few miles.

All of a sudden, the ocean appeared on the horizon, camouflaged with the sky. We screamed in excitement and pedaled harder. Tears blurred my vision and I just about lost it when we encountered this sign:


I cried like a baby into Kat's arms, in absolute disbelief that we were here, in our destination city, after months and months of biking. "We're here, Mama!" Kat said, hardly believing her own words. "We made it!"

We met up with the rest of the team at Little Ceaser's, the designated meeting spot. Now we just had to wait for the last few riders and sweep before traveling in a group the final mile to the ocean. As one!

The last mile together was unforgettable. People cheered for us as we paraded down the streets, a red and blue blob on wheels. We made as much noise as we could, yelling and screaming and celebrating. The loudest cry came when we first caught sight of the ocean. Sailboats were lined up in a harbor, floating in what seemed to be bluest water I had ever seen. We could not take our eyes off of it.

Suddenly, people we recognized lined the beach. Friends, family, and other loved ones were standing on a beach. That must be our destination!!!!! We turned our bikes into the sand and leapt off of them, forgetting about them, forgetting about everything, as we tore off our shoes and jerseys. Our eyes were on one thing: the sparkling ocean water separated from us by a small strip of sand. I ripped the Vel-cro open on my shoes and managed to pull my feet out. I couldn't find the zipper to my jersey and gave up quickly as my teammates sprinted to the ocean, screaming. I didn't even have time to take my socks off as I ran as fast as I could through the deep sand. All the aching muscles in our legs were forgotten. All the long hours on the bike were put out of mind. All of the obstacles and struggles were long gone. We were here and there was the ocean. 

The first splash of the Pacific ocean hit my face. It tasted like sweat and tears. I kept running until I couldn't pick my feet up anymore and then I dove under the waves. It was quiet underwater, only the sound of water and waves. When I surfaced, the shouts of my teammates filled the air. Everyone was going absolutely crazy, screaming, hugging each other, kissing, crying, splashing, and jumping. Adrenaline ran through every part of my body and my heart felt like it was going to explode. I blindly reached for anybody I could find and pulled them into my embrace. A giant group hug formed and we sang "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing," by Aerosmith. Family and stranger alike took pictures of the strange group of people celebrating in the waves. 4,250 miles and we were here. Santa Cruz. SANTA CRUZ!!!!!!!!

The "Sexy Six"

Marcus and me

28 people started a journey together in Charleston and 28 people ended a journey after 4,250 miles, buckets of sweat, some skinned knees, hundreds of peanut butter jars, countless nails driven, many tears and laughs, and more moments of happiness and awe than I can ever count. Today, my heart splits into 27 pieces as I say goodbye to 27 of the most amazing people I have ever met and fly back home. As I watch from the plane window, our beautiful country spans out as far as the eye can see in a beautiful mosaic. I am still in disbelief that we biked the whole way here. Never has my heart been so full of happiness and sadness at the same time. It will take me many months to fully reflect on what this summer has meant to me. This journey has been an adventure of a lifetime, filled with moments that I will never, ever forget. Moments that I share with 27 others. Though we are scattered across the country, our experiences will link us together and I cannot wait to reunite with my 27 dearest friends again one day. Until then, may we all keep our eyes and hearts open to the passion to serve and the spirit of adventure. 

Thank you for following this blog. I hope it has inspired you to chase your own dreams and have your own adventures. Never settle, there is so much out there waiting for you to explore. 

I love you, SC2SC 2013. 

Signing off until the next adventure,

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard!"
-A.A. Milne

Monday, August 12, 2013

Thank You!

We made it to Santa Cruz!

It is going to take me a few days before I can process everything that happened on Day 81 - San Jose to Santa Cruz. I am simply posting this entry to let you all know that the entire team made it to the beach safely and are absolutely loving every second we have left with each other. Please check back in a few days for the full description of the last day. I've been so busy trying to figure out the end-of-the-trip logistics (and partying!) to be able to write a worthy Day 81 post. Thanks for your patience and also for all the supportive text messages on the last day. I dropped my phone on the beach to run into the ocean and by the time I picked up my phone again, my inbox was flooded with messages. I love you all and I'm sure I will see some of you the few days I am back in Mount Prospect!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Day 80 - Tying it All Together

Light filters in through the windows of the church, casting intricate shadows on the ground as it shines through the spokes of our overturned bikes. A door hangs open and I can see our trailer in the parking lot. Its blackboard is chalked with some of our outdated statistics: "3,217 miles ridden! $150,000 raised! 76 days completed!" But that was almost a week ago. 

I look around the room at my teammates, some sprawled out on their thermarests, others talking quietly, their heads close together. Cindy plays a haunting melody on the piano and the music floats in the air like breath on a cold morning. We're so close to the Pacific coast that we can almost taste the ocean. The proximity has cast a strange mix of emotions over the group: elated to have almost completed our journey, heartbroken knowing that we will have to say goodbye soon. 

The ride today was very easy. We had a climb early on and the rest of the ride seemed downhill or with a tailwind. We rode in a large pace line. Unfortunately at one of the stoplights, there was a miscommunication in the line about whether we were going through a yellow light or stopping. Josh, the leader, stopped and Austin, the guy behind him, continued riding. Austin locked up his back wheel attempting to stop and fell over (on his non-deraillieur side thank goodness.) He was okay but a little scratched up. He's been wanting to crash all summer so today was his day. 

We rode easily into San Jose, stopping briefly at a farmer's market and a burger place to grab milkshakes. We told anyone who wold listen that we were on our way across the country. It's so fun to see the look of disbelief on their faces!

We saw our first road sign to Santa Cruz today. It put everything into perspective, how far we've come and how little we have left. Thank God the coast is close and we are all still here in one piece!

We're riding 60 miles into Santa Cuz tomorrow. It is supposed to be a tough ride, taking us over some passes before we descend to the beach. We will be going through the Redwoods and I can't wait I see them!

We finally finished painting our trailer. The front has all of our favorite sayings on it!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Day 79 - Pump n' Pray

One-by-one, each rider took off this morning on the way to Livermore. I watched as they disappeared down the street. It is funny how, after so many days of riding together, it is easy to identify each rider by their different styles of riding. The first riding day, the first time we all dressed in our matching cycling kits, everyone looked the same. It was nearly impossible to tell who was who. Now we know each other so intimately that they way you sit on the bike or your cadence can give you away to someone riding behind you. 

"Who is that? Kevin?"
"No, that's Josh. Look how he puts his head down."

"Is that Cassie?
"Nah, it's Rachel, see how she stops spinning?"

Each of us have our own quirks that make us identifiable. Marcus has a smooth and steady spin, his legs always moving. Austin's pink handlebar tape gives him away every time. Emma has a little teddy bear dangling from her camelback. Brian looks like a tree riding his bike. It doesn't take much to set you apart. 

I started off with Austin this morning and we eventually caught up with Cindy and Amanda who latched on to our paceline. There crop lands were mowed down and there were no hills to block the wind. It swept across the desert plains and hit us as a stiff crosswind. There is not too much you can do in a paceline to combat a crosswind. When the wind is blowing in from the side, you can form a diagonal paceline called an echelon, but due to the amount of traffic on the road, it was unreasonable to ride in an echelon because we'd have to keep falling back into a line every minute. 

Somehow the time passed quickly as we navigated sketchy California roads. We arrived at lunch near a beautiful state park and watched the waves roll in on a lake while eating goodies DMed from Whole Foods. 

Brian, Austin, Cindy, Amanda, and I took off after lunch together but our paceline soon dissolved after the shoulder of the road started splitting into giant crevices. The holes were big enough to throw a rider off their bike and most likely ruin their wheel. I swerved onto the rumble strips to avoid riding headlong into a crack the size of the Grand Canyon, and I looked up to see everyone else in the paceline going in all different directions. The road was probaby so damaged due to earthquakes. Lucikly, everybody managed to avoid the holes. After that incident, Brian and Austin took off because the road was too dangerous for a long paceline.

Once Amanda, Cindy, and I were alone, the chaos started. The debris in the shoulder of the road was atrocious. We should have known the flats were coming. Soon, Amanda's tire went flat. We pulled off to change it. Less than 10 miles later, Cindy went flat and she'd already had one today. We had 25 miles left and we were already growing short on tubes. We fixed Cindy's flag and tarted off again but in less than a few miles, her back tire was completely flat again. We reluctantly pulled over, frustrated because we still had 20 miles to ride.

When you change a flat, you need to remove the wheel from your bike and pull out the broken tube. It is important to inflate the blown tube in order to find the leak and to determine what caused the flat. Sometimes, the flat is because your tubes weren't inflated enough. Other times, it may be due to debris poking through your tires. 

I could not find the leak in Cindy's tube. I accused her of forgetting to inflate her tire when she'd changed it a few miles back. She swore to me that she had but I found it hard to believe she'd gone flat so fast without a noticeable tear in her tube. I started pumping up a patched tube that Austin had given me days ago. As I pumped, I hear the unmistakable sound of air escaping. "PSST-pssst-PSST-psst," the sound was punctuated with each stroke of the pump. The tube was leaking out the patch. "Arghhh, Austin!" I cursed, laughing even through my frustration. There are a few members of the team notorious for accidentally giving people ruined tubes and Austin is one of them. I put a second patch on the tube and stowed it in my bag for later use.

The only usable tubes we had left were the blown ones from earlier that we had patched with our patch kits. "This is sketchy," said Cindy as she fixed her third flat. "Pump n' pray!!" she said, gritting her teeth as she inflated the tube. I threatened to throw her wheel like a frisbee into the bushes if she got another flat. We all laughed nervously and, once the tube was inflated, took off again, praying our tires would stay true. 

Less than five miles later, my bike unexpectedly began fish tailing right and left and I heard the flapping of a loose tire. I looked between my legs at my back wheel to confirm my fears. Now, I was flat!!

"AHHHHH!" I yelled in frustration as we pulled over yet again. I knew there was something seriously wrong because my
tire went flat so quickly. What I though was a staple in my tire turned out to be a boomerang-shaped metal shard sticking through both sides of my tube. It looked like a toenail clipping from the Devil. 


It ripped a hole in my tire which we booted up with a dollar bill. Paper money and Clif bar wrappers work great to temporarily mend tire tears. I was forced to use Austin's doubly-patched tube. "Pump n' pray!!!" I said, really praying that this time we'd get in. 

A surprise mountain pass later, we descended into Livermore, CA. I had flat-anoia the entire time, constantly looking at my back tire to make sure it stayed inflated. But we made it in without any more flats!

We had our last mail drop and our last family meeting. I got a lot of goodies from home for my birthday. It is awesome to get some new clothes!! All of us on the trip pretty much wear the same outfit every day, so everyone knows when you get new clothes. I got many compliments for my new Califonia t-shirt. 

The last family meeting was surreal. We went around the circle and did our "highs, lows, and shoutouts," which is what we do every meeting. We laughed a lot and cried a little. Most of us are in disbelief that this trip is almost over. Maybe it will hit us in a few days, after we taste the salt of the Pacific. 

Family meeting candid

Day 78 - LAST Build Day!

"We're going to need a group to suit up and work on lead abatement at the side of the house..."

A wave of déjà vu came over me as I pulled on the lead abatement gear for the second time this summer. Looking like an oversized marshmallow in my extra large coveralls, I grabbed a paint scrapper and got to work stripping the paint off the wall. The site supervisor estimated that the job would take two and a half hours. Having scraped walls before, I estimated it would take longer. Luckily, we were working in the shade so wearing the suit was bearable. 

We scraped all morning and continued after lunch. By this time, the sun was high in the sky and our shade had evaporated. Our bodies poured sweat inside the suits and we periodically had to remove our goggles to dump out the sweat the gathered in them. 

Fittingly, as we worked, we talked about what our hells would be. Mine would definitely be sitting naked and alone in Antartica with a strong wind blowing for all eternity. Austin's was pretty much the exact opposite of mine. He would be in the heat and humidity, bundled up as if it were winter out, alone, forever. Ethan argued that scraping paint off of a never-ending wall dressed up in lead abatement gear would be his hell. 

The rest of the team worked on demolishing a few sheds and cleaning up the landscaping. The yard looked beautiful when we were done. We were working with a Habitat program called "A Brush with Kindness." It works not on building new houses but on smaller projects that help beautify the community. We were working at a center for mental health. The patients there would benefit from having a nice yard where they can sit and enjoy the weather and each other's company. I hope we could help make a difference in their lives. 

Marcus and Nyx working on mulching

This evening, we had a great potluck dinner provided by the community. It was the healthiest meal we've had in a while and the best cornbread I have ever eaten! Yum!!

Our three day home stretch begins tomorrow. Santa Cruz, here we come!!!!

Day 77 - 13 out of 13

We completed our last day of our 13 day stretch today. It was not a very physically challenging day, the road was flat and there was only a slight headwind. However, it was pretty mentally challenging. My body was tired after riding constantly for almost two weeks and I did not have much motivation to ride. I was a sweep rider today with Ethan. Due to some logistical issues this morning, we could not leave the starting point until about 11 even though most riders left by 8. 

The ride itself was fine. Ethan and I cranked it out, taking turns pulling each other for three miles. The miles went fast, we were eager to get to the host site in Davis. We stopped only once for lunch and rolled all the way through the rest of the ride. We passed lots of flooded rice fields. White cranes, startled by our approach, spread their wings and took off silently. A large flock of black birds also took off from the fields, temporarily blackening the sky. Killdeers made our presence known with a loud squawks. It was beautiful to watch them fly. 

We had a great dinner tonight and took a very pleasant hose shower. The community here is very friendly and we feel welcome. Tonight is the eve of my 21st birthday so we are probably going to go out and grab some drinks later. It should be a good time!

Cindy playing some soothing piano music while we relax inside the church

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Day 76 - Sunflower Fields Forever

California's lush valley is an oasis for a tired cyclist. On our 12th straight day of riding,we were all weary. Our butts hurt, our quads felt like anvils, our backs seemed stuck in a crooked position. Muscles that we didn't even know we had hurt just from holding onto the bike constantly, everyday. The never-ending road stretched out for miles in front of us, mercifully flat. The wind stayed calm and the sun shone gently, blessings that we are not always lucky enough to receive. 

We pedaled in a larger group. Marcus and Eliza lead the way in a double paceline that also contained Melanie, Emma, Cindy, Amanda, and me. They pulled an easy pace, a speed that I feel like I haven't gone for days. As we spun, we chatted, enjoying each other's company. Our days together are quickly dwindling. 

Suddenly, the horizon was a bright yellow, an almost unnatural color that contrasted with the brown earth. We squinted our eyes, trying to figure out what could possibly be that beautiful shade. We all seemed to realize what it was at once. Sunflowers! The tall flowers stretched on to the ends of the earth, the blossoms pointed east towards the sun, looking like attentive schoolchildren. We couldn't help but stop for an hour and take pictures in the fields. 

Mel and Eliza

Almost ever flower had a honey bee on it, busily collecting nectar and pollen to take back to the bee boxes nearby. We pranced around the fields, enjoying the beauty. 

The sunflower field gave us the boost we needed to finish our short 48 mile day. We took the miles slow, savoring the moments and taking time to talk. Simple days like this are the ones that we may miss the most. 

Tomorrow is day 13 of our 13 mile stretch. Our bodies are tired, it could not have come soon enough. Once we arrive in Davis tomorrow, after 56 flat miles, we get to stay off the bike for a day while we build in Davis. Then, it's a 3 day home stretch to Santa Cruz. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Day 75 - It's All Downhill from Here

Since yesterday, everyone was talking about how easy the 77 mile ride was going to be today. I heard rumors that the first 40 miles was downhill and the 37 remaining miles were flat. I was not about to get my hopes up. After over 40 miles of climbing yesterday, my legs were shot and false hope was not going to make them feel any better. 

We started off descending which was promising. However, a hill soon rose up and the road followed. "I thought there was no climbing today!" said Dan, exasperated. I was afraid that my worries were confirmed, that there would be more climbing today. But, soon enough, we saw the most glorious road sign that was ever made: a downhill truck sign. We wrapped our hands around the drops on our handlebars, preparing for a long descent. 

The exhilaration was unbelievable. Our last mountain descent lasted for miles. The road snaked around the mountain, with plenty of curves to keep us alert and engaged. The scenery blurred as we gained more speed. Curtis followed behind me as I pulled up beside Dan, tucked into an aerodynamic pose. We pulled off briefly to take a few pictures at a lookout. While we were stopped, Brian summed up the descent by saying, "there is nothing better than seeing a downhill truck sign after seeing a downhill truck sign," commenting on the second sign we saw when we were already flying downhill. Again, it's the little things that make us happy!

Dan, admiring the view

We cruised downhill for miles and miles, pedaling into the descent to get the most speed that we could. Using the momentum from the descent, I pulled Curtis and Dan over a hill still traveling about 22 mph. We descended from 4,000 feet to almost sea level in less than 30 miles. 

Eventually, the land leveled out and our speed decreased. After you've been going between 25 and 35 mph for so long, even going a fast pace of 18 mph feels slow. Marcus joined our line and we took turns pulling until lunch. 

Lunch was a little different today. Our van, which we affectionately call the "Honey Wagon," is currently broken and in the shop. To make up for it, we had to rent a car, but it had to be a vehicle big enough to haul our trailer. Imagine our surprise when we saw this scene:

Our temporary Honey Wagon

About 5 miles down the road from lunch, there was a little ice cream shop selling ice cream for 99 cents! It didn't matter whether you got one scoop or three! I only got two scoops because I was feeling a little woozy. Mint chocolate hip and cookies and cream really hit the spot. 

Our wonderful hosts planned a pot luck dinner for us with the hitch community. It was fun to share stories with the community members while enjoying a hearty meal. It is unbelievable how generous people are. For dessert, I had the most delicious peach cobbler I have ever had. It was to die for!!

After dinner, we got to go over to one of the community member's home theater. They had an arcade in their living room! You can imagine the boys' excitement to discover the video games. It was funny to watch them get pretty competitive. 

Playing video games 

Entrance to the theater

Elvis is still following us after all these weeks!

The movie theater was amazing. The room was filled with theater-style seating and we got to eat freshly popped popcorn and pick from an extensive collection of soda for a drink. We were definitely spoiled tonight!

Only a 48 mile day tomorrow! Thank goodness. Tomorrow is day 11 of our 13 day stretch of riding and we are really getting broken down. A low-mileage day will be good for us. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Day 74 - It Keeps Going and Going and Going...

They warned us that it was going to be a hard ride. The trip blog from last year's team said that the climb today made Independent Pass look like a speed bump. But the townspeople of Cassel assured us that the ride today would be one of the most beautiful we'd have all summer. 

Shortly into the ride, we were all climbing. I started out with Nyx, Emma, Melanie, and Eliza and eventually caught up with Kevin, Rae, Dan, and Laini. The road winded around pine trees and cold water streams rushed by down the mountains. Occasionally, the landscape would open up suddenly as we hit areas where forest fires had occurred years ago. Shrubs covered the ground where tall pines once stood, hiding the burned out stumps that were left. 

We climbed for about 15 miles when, suddenly, we could see the apex of the mountain. We looked at each other in disbelief. This could not be the mountain that we were warned of. Sure enough, it was a fake summit. The sign read "Eskimo Hill Summit: 5933 feet," much lower than our anticipated climb. If was a fake summit! We still had over 2000 feet to climb! 

We stopped for a short break at the top of the fake summit, eating some peach rings and Clif bars that we had stowed in our bags. Suddenly, about 50 motorcyclists came racing up the other side of the slope. They surrounded us like a pack of wolves. I wish I would have gotten pictures but I was so stunned that I didn't reach for my phone. Rae, Kevin, and I stood in their midst as they pulled up next to us. We held onto our bikes as they lined up, waiting anxiously for Dan to come out of the bathroom. He finally did and was shocked at what he found. He managed a "woah!" and the. We mounted up and sped down the incline. It was a steep descent for a mile and a half, a bittersweet downhill because we knew that we would have to make up the elevation we lost. We reached lunch and took a short break before starting the climb again. 

Luckily, the scenery was so beautiful that it was distracting. We stopped to swim at  a lake deceivingly called "Summit Lake." The calm blue color of the lake contrasted with the dark green of the pine trees. The water was cool but refreshing. It helped soothe our aching legs. 

You could see straight to the bottom, the water was so clear. 

We still had 10 miles to climb after Summit Lake, about 2000 more feet to climb. The grade steepened and slowed my pace to an excruciating crawl. I cranked my pedals hard, my legs were spent. The road kept winding around the mountain. Every switchback I passed, I thought the summit would be around the corner but it never was. The guys I was riding with disappeared up the mountain and I was left alone on the road. I concentrated on keeping my breathing even and my cadence steady. Finally, the peak appeared, the road rounding at the apex on the top. A mile more of pushing and I was at the top! I rejoined my group and we celebrated our biggest ascent by climbing a nearby rock mountain and taking pictures at the top. 

Check out the snow!

Da boys

After spending hours climbing on the rocks and hanging out at the top, we decided that it was time to descend. I put my camera on my helmet to capture the guys in front of me navigate the steep grades and sweeping turns. It was one of our last mountain descents so we tried to savor it. There are no mountains where I ride in Indiana! The beautiful descent was a great reward for the tough climb. The descent went fast though. Our total mileage for the day was 77 miles, at least 40 miles were uphill, and we climbed almost 7,000 feet total. That is a lot! My legs were done. 

We were absolutely amazed when we got to our host site. Our home for the night was Battle Creek Meadow Ranch, a gorgeous property that has been in our host's family for hundreds of years. We got a tour of the barn and the farm house and were excited out of our minds to learn that there were beds for us to sleep in tonight and even a hot tub to soothe our aching muscles!!! We were freaking out and the host lady thought we were kind of crazy. I apologized for our group, saying that we were pretty delirious from the ride. As the night grew shorter, we enjoyed watching the sunset from the barn loft, listening to Dan play guitar, eating s'mores by a campfire, and relaxing in the hot tub. None of us wanted to leave this beautiful and relaxing place!

Part of the 2,000 acre property

Hanging out on the porch together 

Watching the sunset

Downhill almost all day tomorrow! Our legs new a break. I hope someone can just give me a push out the driveway and I'll coast all the way to Chico!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Day 73 - Smooth Sailing

My alarm startled me this morning at 5 am. We were sleeping outside in a tent. It took me a while to come to and sit up. The temperature was freezing, a mere 39 degrees. I quickly folded up my sleeping bag and thermarest and ran for the indoors, tripping over the tent flap in the process. I pulled on my arm warmers and tights. It was going to be a cold ride out of Alturas. 

The bike ride over to where breakfast was being served was painful. My already sore muscles did not appreciate the cold wind cutting through my clothing. My eyes watered and my fingers froze. The weather was supposed to warm up to the high 80s today, a 40 degree jump. We couldn't wait for the sun to rise. We looked at Nyx disdainfully because she's from California. "Why isn't it sunny and warm? Your state is broken... Fix it!" we demanded. She shrugged and said, "I tried to warn you!"

We were feeling a lot warmer after a big breakfast of eggs, pancakes, biscuits, and other goodies. We only had one lunch planned for today halfway through the ride and, on a 87 mile day, you have to be sure you're getting enough calories.

Eventually, we took off in the cold morning air. We moved quickly, taking 3 mile pulls at the front of a 20 mph pace line. Mountains appeared in the distance and got larger as we raced across the valley. In no time, we were climbing. Beautiful forests surrounded us. Majestic Ponderosa pines stood tall, the ground beneath them littered with pine cones the size of small footballs. Lime green moss covered the low-lying branches of some trees. The whole world felt like it was holding its breath, and everything was silent. I panted softly as the earth rose beneath me. Austin pulled ahead of me and I concentrated on cranking on my pedals to stay with him. The sight of the summit gave me enough motivation to power to the top, stopping only to manually shift my chain to my big ring. My front derallieur has been giving me issues lately and I wanted to make sure I was in my biggest front gear for the descent. If I was in a smaller gear, I sold be spinning my pedals too fast while I gained speed downhill. 

The descent carried us into lunch. Lunch was located in a little mountain town called Adin. We met a new friend there. 

We named him Phillip. He really liked sausages!

We still had 46 miles to go after lunch and the weather was heating up fast. I left lunch in a fast line with Dan, Marcus, Austin, and Brian. Brian pulled hard at around 20 mph before dropping back, leaving me to lead. I pulled at 20 for a mile before a surprise climb rose steeply from the plain. I can hold my own in a fast pace line, but when it comes to climbing, those guys blow me out of the water. I dropped back with Brian, watching as the rest of the group disappeared up the pass. It was a tough climb but the view at the top was rewarding and we reached the summit to find the rest of the group waiting patiently for us. 

The descent was gorgeous. A yellow valley, separated from us by a small guard rail and a steep drop, opened up on our left. Sweeping turns helped us gain speed as we hit 45 mph. My bike felt comfortable underneath me as I rolled at high speeds. I pedaled to catch Dan who was all tucked in to reduce wind resistance. It was breath-taking! I have to be careful not to take any of these mountain descents for granted. I will miss them when I get back to flat Indiana. 

The rest of the ride was literally a blur. Marcus pulled hard at 21 mph and the Dan pulled harder at 23. We cruised for 10 miles that flashed by in no time. Eventually, we hit some hills and my legs were toast from keeping pace. I fell back again and was dropped. With 12 miles left, I struggled uphill for half of it, my legs barely turning. Luckily, the scenery was beautiful and distracting. I stopped at the small summit to snap a picture. 

The next 6 miles were relatively downhill and my legs recovered quickly. I entered Lassen National Forest and was blown away by the beauty. Ponderosa pines stood proudly in rocky soil. White thistles with flowers the color of rubies grew in bunches by the road. The winding road was so smooth that I couldn't feel it. It felt like I was soaring across the ground. Even with my weary legs, it was one of my favorite rides. That last road was the most beautiful place I have ever cycled. 

Tonight, we were treated by the wonderful people of Cassel, CA. We feasted on a taco bar and washed down dinner with door beer floats that hit the spot. Tomorrow, we have our longest climb of the summer: we gain over 5,000 feet in elevation in one single climb. It is going to be a tough day, but the townspeople reassured us that it is gorgeous so we are very much looking forward to it. I have to get some sleep to preparefor it. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day 72 - Cali, Baby!

Group hug in Wagontire on "Christmas"

"Californiaaaaa, Californiaaaa! Here we comeeeee!"

The strains of the song by Phantom Planet echoed through the gym as we rubbed sleep out of our eyes and deflated our thermarests. Today was a big day. It was the day of our last state border crossing. We have only one more state to traverse: California. Perhaps everyone was still waking up or was weary from riding for the past seven days, but the mood in the gym this morning seemed strangely solemn for a state line day. Maybe it was because California is a bittersweet border. We are so excited to finally get there but in the back of our minds, we know that this is the state that we are going to have to say goodbye in. 

After breakfast and route meeting, people seemed to perk up a little. We pumped up our tires, filled our water bottles, and headed south. I was in another six person paceline: Rae, Kevin, Dan, Marcus, and Curtis (aka "Pancho.") we stopped first at a grocery store to pick up some sparkling grape juice to pop at the state line. Marcus stuffed two large glass bottles in his jersey pockets to transport them. 

We pedaled hard once we were on route, Kevin and Rae led the charge before dropping back, handing the reigns to Dan and Marcus. We came upon Chawa (Chris and Hawa) shortly and passed them on the left. Instead of being left behind, they jumped on back of the line. "Chawa is on!" shouted Rae from the back, notifying the leaders of the added riders. We passed the message up the paceline. 

Soon, we saw Eliza and Mel riding about a mile and a half ahead of us. We caught up to them. "Join us!" we called to them as we passed. "Don't mind if we do!" said Eliza as her and Mel slipped into the streamline on back. Our paceline was growing. 

Kendra and Brian appeared on the horizon. We sped up slightly to catch them faster. The border was approaching quickly, located at about mile 15. Brian saw our line coming. "Where are you headed?" he asked, his voice thick with some sort of fake accent. "Jump on the train! We're going to California!" we answered and him and Kendra hopped on.

I looked back and was amazed at the number of smiling faces behind us. We were on our way to California. Excitement filled the air and we took on hills and headwind with ease. Everyone kept pace with the leaders to stay together. We wanted to cross the border in our massive peleton. 

The miles dwindled between us and the border. There wasn'tmuch left of Oregon for us to travel. We passed a sign that read "Thanks for Visiting Oregon!" A whoop of joy was emitted from the paceline. We were almost there!! Finally, we spotted the trailer parked at the border line and finally the blue California sign appeared and we all shouted in excitement. We cruised over the state line together. "WOOOOOOO! We made it!!!!" So many celebratory pictures were taken. Austin and Brian climbed up the sign while the rest of us took ridiculous pictures safely from the ground. 

SC2SC ladies!

Front of the sign

The back! It was reportedly "the toughest state sign to climb"

We popped the grape juice and sprayed it all over each other and the sign while blasting Califonia-themed music from the van. We can barely believe that we biked here from South Carolina! We must be nuts!

Rae and Kat drinking celebratory juice

The rest of the ride was beautiful but difficult. We were battling a vicious headwind for the rest of the day. Our distraction was a beautiful valley that opened up on the right side of the road. We had a smooth descent from the mountainside into that valley and it was a relief from the debilitating winds. We arrived in Alturas, CA after 53 miles of riding. 

We had the greatest dinner tonight. The last few nights, dinner has not been provided, so it had been up for us to scrounge around towns for food, DMing whatever we can. It was a relief tonight to not have to worry about finding food and we are so grateful for our awesome hosts who fed us so good and so healthy tonight. Our bodies needed it! I had two of the most delicious cheesecake-brownie cupcakes. I probably didn't need two but they were so good I couldn't resist. 

We set up tents outside tonight but it is supposed to get pretty cold so we'll see whether or not our sleeping bags stay warm. 80-something miles tomorrow, I should get some sleep!

Day 71 - Wicked Awesome Paceline

I was packing my bin up when Austin came up to me and asked if I wanted to ride with Kevin, Dan, Rae, Marcus, and him. I felt almost honored to be asked to be a part of such a stacked paceline. It was clear that today we were going to shred. We took off from Wagontire in the direction of Lakeview, OR at breakneck speeds, averaging 20 mph in the cool morning air. Dan and Marcus led us out, setting the pace and pulling hard. We formed a double paceline, three people in each line. The wind was calm and the traffic was nonexistent. All you could hear was the whirring of wheels on the pavement and the occasional clunk of a gear. It was a perfect paceline. All the riders held a steady, fast pace and every move they made was predictable and communicated. We were like a machine, eating up miles and spitting out pavement behind us. We descended a hill, going 30 mph with just inches between us. It is exhilarating to be so close together at such high speeds. The only thing that could stop us was a flat tire. Austin's front tube went flat for the fourth time in just a few days and we were forced I pull over while he changed it.

We continued on, speeding by the high desert lands. Each pair pulled about five miles before dropping to the back of the pack to enjoy ease of riding in the streamline. While the front riders are simply in charge of breaking the wind and calling out holes or objects in the road to avoid, the back riders have the responsibility of checking for traffic coming from behind. "Car back!" they yell when they spot a car. The paceline dissolves into a single line, with the outside riders falling into gaps in the line orchestrated by the inside riders. After the car passes, riders check back to make sure there is no more traffic before swinging out to form the second line again. It is a somewhat technical process that requires the ability to look around and over your shoulder while holding your bike in a straight line. When done correctly, the paceline is a beautiful demonstration of teamwork and trust. 

Part of our fantastic paceline

During the ride, Rae and I were pulling averaging about 21 mph. Girl power! It was awesome to be able to pull the guys while keeping such a fast pace. Rae is a great rider, even though she hasn't been road biking for very long, and it was so fun to lead the lines with her. As we lead, the road changed from being rough and bumpy to being so smooth that you couldn't even feel it running under your tires. We sighed happily. "It's the little things!" said Austin. The smoothness of the road allowed us to gain more speed and we flew as the black road winded down the side of a mountain. The right side of the road sloped down into giant lake reflecting the periwinkle sky. The left side of the road was framed by huge cliffs that rise up out of nowhere, masked by lingering smoke. We were in awe of the beauty of the scene and it was made perfect by the sound of our bikes and the ease of riding. 

Austin and Dan pulling

Stopping to admire the lake

Dan and me getting aero down a hill

Soon, we exited the high desert and entered some rocky mountains blanketed with pine. It is amazing how quickly the scenery can change. The trees and terrain helped block the headwind we had and we cruised through the forest, meeting up with a few other riders on the road. As we came around the corner, we startled a cow that was loose in the middle of the road. We watched as it leaped a fence to get back into its enclosure and join the rest of its family.

We all kept looking anxiously at our computers. Second lunch was late in the day, supposedly at mile 70. But as mile 70 came and left, people in our group started to get a little "hangry" (angry because you're hungry.) Luckily, lunch was right around the corner and any hangriness was diminished by peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

After some cold showers and dinner, we sat down as a group to finish designating funds to selected grant recipients. It was a long process, but we discussed each grant in detail and allotted the funds in the most appropriate way we saw fit. The projects that we are funding are programs that will greatly benefit the communities and people they serve. I am really excited to have the opportunity to give those projects a jump start by helping fund them!

Tonight, we are sleeping in a gym. It is great to be inside again. Sleeping outside in tents is fun but it had been chilly in the morning and its nice to be able to warm up inside before starting a bike ride. It should be a warm and restful night. 

Tomorrow we are crossing our last state line into California!!! I can't believe we biked here!

Our home for the night