Thursday, May 31, 2007

Two Different Experiences

I have been receiving phone calls, text messages and emails from people all asking me about Ira's condition. We really appreciate the support. Ira is fine, and feeling much better. We did have some hard days there trying to get to Philly. It was really hot 95+ degrees. We had brutal sun and then out of nowhere a blasting rain, in which I got drenched to the skin. Then the sun was out again beating down on us (so it wasn't completely miserable being wet).

Upon arriving to our friend Shelby's house in Philly after two long grueling 80 mile days up evil steep little hills, Ira collapsed on the ground proclaiming it had been the hardest day of the whole trip. I laughed off his comment, saying it had been hard, but he is just exaggerating. Later when Ira collapsed again for real in the hallway due to heat exhaustion and dehydration, I realized, he was telling the truth. That day had been the hardest day for him.

Although the days between DC and Philly had been hard and strenuous, I would by no means categorize them as the hardest. I experienced much harder days in the past. The first half of the trip was much more grueling for me. I remember a day I collapsed due to dehydration, fatigue both physical and emotional when we were in the Bad Lands.

The badlands are the first piece of rugged wilderness you come upon when heading west. Riding through Minnesota and South Dakota, you see miles and miles of rolling farmland. While I appreciated the beauty of the rolling fields, my heart and imagination was still wrapped up in the promise of the west, the untamed rugged wilderness just over the horizon of the tamed domesticated plains. Arriving in the badlands, Ira and I both felt the drunken excitement of this first taste beauty and magnificence of the west. We wanted to be explorers and chart a course which few white men had ever dared tread. Of course being surrounded by all manner of huge RVs hindered our ideas of being intrepid pioneers. So when we heard about a relatively unvisited rustic campground miles down a small dirt road which stemmed off the main 25 mile tourist loop, we felt compelled to visit. The rustic campground was only accessible by foot or bike and had no water, so we would need to pack water in. The idea of being out in this rugged landscape in a place not many people visited truly excited us. We arrived outside of the park at night, so we found a campground to pitch our tent, and planned to enter the park early the next morning.

The past week had been very hot, averaging in the upper 90's. We had been getting up at 5, to be on the road by sunrise, around 6 every morning to get as many miles done before the heat of midday when we would find a place to rest out of the sun. We were having our first rest day in a week, we slept in slightly later then usual that morning. I woke up at 6 so I could watch the sunrise over the desert landscape. I tried to get Ira up, but as with every morning, it was a hard task. I didn't actually convince him to get up until 7 so we didn't get on the road until 8, by which time it was already 92 degrees. I knew we were in for a hot day. We packed as much water as we could, and proceeded into the park. It was stunning and beautiful, but the stark landscape with the unbearable heat made me fully understand why it had been named the badlands.

There were three large climbs on the road through the park. Up until this point, the only hills we had climbed were through Wisconsin. Wisconsin hills can be steep and rolling, but they are never very long. These hills were our first experience of sustained climbing. I didn't have the confidence or the skill of climbing I have since gained through my experiences through the Rockies and Appalachians. I was still completely terrified of the idea of the Rocky mountains yet looming ahead of us, so the big hills we were trying to climb that day really had my psyched out.

While I was waiting for Ira to get out of bed that morning, I had been debating about whether it was a good idea to camp in the park that night. With the heat and the rustic campground with no water, I wasn't sure how much water we would need, or if we would be able to bring enough. I was still infatuated with the idea of camping in such a romantic location, but reality was starting to creep in. I went along with the idea because I knew Ira wanted to do it so badly and I didn't want to be the type of girl who was afraid to do something adventurous.

As we rode, it was getting hotter and hotter. We were drinking too much of our water too quickly. I realized we were not going to have enough water to spend the night if we kept drinking at that rate. Ira, being bigger needs more food and water then myself. So I started rationing my water intake on our ride. Looking back I realize how incredibly stupid that was, but I was trying to do my best to make the situation work. I knew how much Ira wanted to camp out, and I thought by my calculations he was drinking way more then I had thought. I figured I would drink less to make it up. I was listening to my ipod while riding, and I was timing it so I could take one drink of water for ever other song, each song being about 3-5 minutes. Its so ridiculous now that I look back on it, but at the time, well, I had a goal and this is how I thought I could achieve it; by assessing our resources and rationing them out in a controlled way. Stupid.

As we continued our ride, I felt myself getting weaker and weaker. Because I was so intimidated by riding hills, I chocked my fatigue up to not having much experience riding hills. I thought it was because the hills were steeper then I was used to riding. I just needed to get over the exhaustion and discomfort, because bigger hills were in our future. We would stop occasionally to look at the beautiful scenery from a nice vantage point, but all I could see was a dry wasteland who's rugged beauty was killing me. Normally I am the photographer, but I didn't have the will to take any pictures, so I had given the camera to Ira. He kept stopping to get a good shot and I just went along trying to have fun and enjoy myself but all the while feeling totally exhausted and dead.

I kept going, but soon I was past the breaking point. I fell off my bike and collapsed on the side of the road. I was gasping for breath, and intermittently crying. The sun seemed so hot and bright I felt as though I was trapped in its firm grip, unable to get off the ground. Ira knew I was feeling fatigued, but he had no idea I was in such a bad state until now. I started berating him quietly (because my voice was raspy) about how this was all his fault. He had talked me into this, he had pushed for us to camp that night. How he was drinking too much water and we weren't going to have enough. How I was trying to ration the water so we could make it... He looked at me horrified.

"I can't do this. I can't do this. This is hell." I kept repeating over and over again.
"You've only drank one bottle of water?" he asked.
"I knew we weren't going to have enough, by the way you've been gurgling it down" I replied.
He looked at me with a sad face. "Its way more important for you to be drinking enough water then for us to camp out tonight. Here, we're just going to sit here, until you drink all of this" he said as he handed me a full bottle of water. "When you feel up to getting up, we'll head into town. We don't need to stay out here tonight."

So we sat on the side of the road, until I drank enough to where I could get up and get back on my bike. Ira offered to find someone to give us a ride into town with their truck, but stubbornly I refused. We were very close to the end of the scenic loop at which point it was only 8 more miles, all down hill into town. We arrived in Wall, South Dakota, home of Wall Drug Store the biggest tourist trap in the world. We got set up in a campground and went over to the drug store for our "free water" which is their famous tag line. Being in civilization again, made me want to cry out in happiness, even if the civilization consisted of a mostly geriatric group shopping for collectible spoons.

It took me a whole week to get my strength back after being so dehydrated and demoralized. We had two more horrible days of riding after that until we got to Rapid City for a rest, including 20 miles on the interstate with 35 mph head winds and 100 degree weather, all the while, I was suffering from horrible blisters on my bum. We met up with some amazing people there who took us into their house and gave us wonderful hospitality so I could rest.

Looking back, these days were the hardest for me. I was so close to turning around and going home. Yet Ira didn't really have that hard of a time. At the time, I remember Ira writing a post about our trip through the badlands. This is the only reference to my horrible experience there. "We planned to camp in the park at a rustic campsite (no water!) but the heat and exhaustion made us alter our plans and head for town after the scenic climb." This is partly because it was the beginning of the trip, I was unsure if we were going to be able to accomplish this huge goal and I was unable at the time to admit any of the really hard elements of the trip. I didn't know how to gauge i was just being a baby or if things were really that hard. It was also due to the fact that Ira didn't really understand how hard that day was for me. He had yet to experience any days that tested his metal; tested his determination that fully.

Ira and I have been together for 7500 miles of riding, through 23 states, yet we have very different stories to tell of each days adventure. We've experienced things very differently. On days he is doing good, I may be dying and vice versa. I remember so many climbs in the Rockies, he just cranked up no problem, while it took every ounce of fiber in my body to get me to the top. I also remember a climb through the Appalachians where I was in the flow of the climb, and Ira was dying. A truck came by and asked us if we wanted a ride, and I replied, we didn't, because usually I am the one who wants one and Ira enjoyed riding the hills. He admitted later he felt so horrible and exhausted, he would have taken a ride in a minute except once I said I didn't want a ride, his pride wouldn't let him accept one either; he said he was afraid he would never hear the end of it.

Its both a good and bad thing. It is easy for us to discount the problems the other is having, if we are feeling in stride. Particularly for me, since Ira is a stronger rider then me, it is sometimes hard for me to understand he is having a hard time if I am not. So sometimes we push each other past our limitations because we aren't really communicating with each other clearly. On the flip side though having a completely different experience can be rewarding. It's wonderful at the end of the day to sit down, after having ridden the same 70 mile stretch of land and compare stories. "hey did you see that dead boar off the side of the road?" "No, where was that." or "That small waterfall was amazing wasn't it?" "What waterfall?". Although together, we both experience things totally differently. We fill each other in on what the other missed or overlooked and we get to experience the day in a whole new way.

Three states in one day!

Last sunday we started the day in Maryland.

By mid morning we were Deleware.

(there weren't any official state crossing sings for either of these states, so we took what we could get)

We crossed briefly into Pensylvania for a mile and then we were in Deleware again.

Finally by the end of the day we were in Pensylvania for real.

We're in Jersey now and soon we'll be in NY. Ahh the East Coast. So many small states, it really makes it seem like were getting much faster. I remember it took us a month to get across Montana.

Backing up. DC monuments

So, to back up briefly. Of course we would be unamerican if we took a trip to DC and didn't take a tour of the presidential monuments. Here are a couple quick pics.

Our tour begins with the famous Washington Monument.

A view of the Lincoln Monument across the reflective pool.

I spent some time people watching at the Lincoln Monument.

The Jefferson Monument. I think Thomas Jefferson was one of our most interesting presidents. He was a true renaissance man; he was a skilled statesman, inventor, agriculturalist, writter and as shown by the number of children he fathered, a very charming man as well.

Here is the Franklin Roosevelt Monument. It was really quite nice. Appart from the grandious architectural monuments, the FDR memorial combines art and nature as you walk a winding path which leads you past waterfall fountains and abstract sculptures. Interspersed are statues of FDR and Elenor as well as quotations carved into the red stone documenting his 12 years as president though the Great Depression to World War II.

As you leave the FDR memorial, you can talk a quiet walk under the cherry trees which over hang th Potomac. I was told this walk is breathtaking in the spring when the trees are all in bloom.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hey, we made it. I feel much better.

Philly was pretty great. We hung out with Carlos and wandered around town.

Today we rode to Cranford, NJ. New Jersey is much more wooded and pastoral than I expected. No sludge to be seen. When we got there I had a fancy beer and petted the kitten.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The pain, part two.

I collapsed on the lawn when we reached Shelby's house in Philly. We rode seventy-eight miles on a day when I wanted to give up at thirty. I kept telling people that yesterday was the hardest day of the entire trip. I was so dehydrated that I woke up with a headache today, and proceded to black out on my way to the bathroom. I woke up from an interesting dream and found myself in the hallway with carpet burn on my forehead. I threw up, sweated a lot, and then laid down on the tile for another nap. I thought that I was having a reaction to pain killers, but we confirmed that I hadn't taken enough to knock me out, and I laid down on the couch until I felt ok.

I have a really high pain tolerance, which my dentist will confirm. The problem is that I'll often keep going on the bike when I should probably stop. I noticed muscle spasms early in the day, but we had to keep going and I powered through them. There were many times when I should have rested and drank Gatorade, but sometimes you have to be a diesel and keep climbing because the psychology is your sole motivation. It always hurts later on.

I figured out why we saw all of the rich folks yesterday: we rode past Willmington, Delaware, the geographical location of all that is wrong with America. Sound familiar? That's where you send your credit card payments! It's also the city featured wistfully at the and of Fight Club.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

DC to Philly- the pain.

It's been a scorching two day ride through near-vertical hills. Make it stop! We have thirty miles left today. At least it's pretty. Baltimore was dirt-eating poor, but people around here are dripping money.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Today we sailed the 7 seas, flew a plane and were on TV!

We visited the National Geographic Museum in D.C. today. The current exhibit is for kids, but we had fun anyway.

I gave a weather cast on tv!

Here in DC, a clear day with no chance of rain, high in the mid 80's. Snow flurries expected in the north today. 12 inches of accumulation in Chicago. Sorry guys.

Then I sailed the seven seas. Here I am turning the rudder navigating with the North Star.

Made sure to secure my life preserver before stepping foot on my craft.

Next I took to the air in a chartered Jet airliner flying over the jungles of Malaysia to deliver supplies to our men on the ground.

I was only the copilot. Most of the responsibility of our safe flight fell on the shoulders of our 7 year old Captain Katie.

Then it was back to the sea to join an underwater shipwreck exploration of Blackbeards famed vessel, the Queen Anne's Revenge.

Our exploits made us rich with booty and we became famous explorers!

Ira's earth shattering discoveries of new royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings made him famous. Today he was photographed for the cover of the National Geographic comming out in October of 2008!

Keep an eye out.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It's nice out in DC.

And we've been walking around a lot. The museums are amazing and make me envious.I saw the work bench that the Wright Brothers had in their bike shop, plus a lot of cool airplanes and art.

This whole bike touring thing is a lifestyle. It's got a big payoff(no job, exciting locale) but in general it's not too glamourous(one outfit, few parties).

Some times I feel like this.

It's hard to be too bummed out, however, when there are so many fascinating things to look at.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Pastoral Virigina

Stonewall Jackson

We've been passing through a lot of Civil War sites. On our way through Fredericksburg, we passed the Stonewall Jackson Shrine. This is the exact bed with blanket he died in. Above is his statue found on Monument Drive in Richmond, Va.

We also rode through the Fredericksburg battle ground. As we progressed through the 5 mile stretch of road, we could read signs describing the battle as it progressed. The woods today are peaceful and quiet which contrast so greatly with the scene descibed by historians. As I rode through the woods, I listened to the Cold Mountain soundtrack. It was a perfect choice, good blue grass which was supposed to sound near to civil war era music.

Here is the Fredericksburg Cemetary. All the mounds are different levels of graves on the hills. Approximatly 1800 deaths in 24 hours.

Although I can not consider myself to be a civil war buff by any means, it was difficult not to feel the impact of the scene. The surrounding land has been left completely unaltered (in terms of developoment) and the silent woods and beautiful meadow give off a definite sense of sombre reflection honoring the thousands of americans (union and confederate) who perished 145 years ago in the horribly bloody battle of Fredericksburg.

What to do in Richmond, VA

We'll start by riding to the James River.

We go over the river and through the woods.

Then we will go swimming in the rapids.

The men will act manly with Marcus showing us his guns and Ira flashes the Dale Earnhardt gang sign (halo over the three).

I will act feminine and demure.

Then after lounging in the sun for a while we go back into the woods to jump from the rope swing.

Click here for a video of Ira jumping from the rope swing.

Then I will climb to the top of one of the trees and jump the 25 feet down into the river. Here I prove I can still scream in a realy high pitch. Watch.

Later we will go back to Marcus's house and relax on the screened in porch. Fun times. Thanks, Marcus!

The easiest way to make $60000.

Here's a piece of unsubstantiated but fascinating outer banks history. Centuries ago, some ancestor of the French Midgett family was either shipwrecked or stranded on Hatteras, and went on to sire the largest family on the Outer Banks, to the extent that "Midgett" has become the most common name in Coast Guard history.

Story has it(and I'm sure this was in the paper, though I've yet to find it) that back in the Seventies, Joseph "Mac" Midgett saw a barge overloaded with jet fuel washed up on the beach somewhere near Rodanthe, and keeping with the local tradition of piracy, he took a shotgun under each arm and walked out into the storm, climbed on top of the barge, and claimed it under the salvage law of the sea. The storm subsided and quite a crowd gathered, including police, reporters, and lawyers from the shipping company who's barge Mac had claimed. The six-six, three hundred pound armed man stood his ground, and the barge turned out to be loaded over legal capacity with volatile fuel, so eventually a deal was struck and Mac climbed down to the beach to the tune of sixty thousand dollars. Apparently Mac invested the money in a service station at the north end of Hatteras which thrives to this day. We stopped and had ice cream there, but could find no record of the story I just related. I'd be interested to hear more information from anyone who can support or refute this tale, as it was told to us by a local ferryman and I didn't take time to visit the local library.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Outer Banks

This past weekend we spent riding the outer banks. We were worried about the weahter in the days leading up to our arrival due to "Tropical Storm Andrea" but that Andrea fizzled somewhere south near Florida before it ever hit land. However, we did have couple days of on and off rain. We didn't have it too bad, as it seemed we were always able to skirt the storm. The clouds were amazing.

As we headed toward Cedar Island to get the ferry out to the Outer Banks, we passed beautiful coastal wetlands.

We took the Ferry to Ocracoke Island, which is the furthest south.

We decided to stay on Ocracoke for the night and got a campsite on the beach. We drank some beer and went swimming. Click here to watch Andrea Vs. the Atlantic.

We rode up to Nag's Head on Saturday and got to the Virigia border by Sunday evening. On the whole, I thought the Outer Banks were nice, but not as amazing as I had hoped. We recieved a lot of build up about how amazing the Outer Banks are from people all across the country. Whenever high expectations are involved, it's always easy to fall short. While it was beautiful hanging out on the beach, cycling the islands is actually sort of boring. You can't see the ocean because of the high berms which protect the road, so its mostly riding along between sand dunes and grass, which is nice, but not after 60 miles of it.

My complaint of the beach, beside it being totally littered with styrofoam debris from some shipping accident, is people are allowed to drive on the beach. Its hard to commune with nature, when you have SUVs and Trucks whizzing by you. Despite these criticisms, it really is quite pretty and we did have a good time. Here are some pics only documenting the good stuff.

a cute sand crab.

the only small stretch of road where you could see the ocean.

a great shot of my shoulder

Here, I stood up off the saddle, and raised my arm as high in the air as I could to see if I could get a shot of the ocean. I won!

This is the bridge connecting Hateras Island with Nags Head. You can see the weather is looking ify. That night we got railed with another 6 hour long coastal thunder storm. I heard a thunder crack which literally went on for 2 minutes straight. It was crazy. Again, all our stuff was wet or moist. Luckily we were headed into Richmond the next day to stay with our good friend Marcus, where we were able to dry everything out again.