I made it to the Atlantic Ocean in Portsmouth, and the ride is over! Here are some notes and photos from the eventful last day and some closing thoughts.
The first photo is me holding my bike in the air over the Atlantic surf, a little seaweed clinging to my wheels.
The Atlantic Ocean!
The last ride was exciting partly for the wrong reasons. After crossing the whole continent with just one flat tire, which flattened overnight at the hotel, I had two flat tires on the road on the last day! What’s more, the first of these was a complete blowout: we were moving at maybe 15 mph when I heard a “pop” like a gunshot, and my rear tire went instantly flat. I was able to stop quickly enough to save the wheel, but the tire looked like it had been slashed with a knife (photo below).
The blowout: the tire and inner tube both looked like they had been slashed.
I don’t know what happened, but my best guess after asking around is that the inner tube had been pinched between the tire and the wheel—ever since I installed the tire several days earlier—and it gave out explosively when I ran over a small sharp object in just the right way. After calling the mechanics to install a new tire and tube (Robin did it because he’s so much quicker than I am), I started rolling again, but only to have the new tube go flat within 5 minutes! This time the problem was a small imperfection inside the wheel that needed to be covered with tape. Problem solved, although why that imperfection didn’t cause a flat days earlier is unclear.
The rest of the ride went smoothly, and we reached the coast just a little later than expected. I rode with Matt and Scott, and we stopped to take photos when we first saw the Atlantic (two photos below).
Our first clear view of the coast.
A nice woman took our photo with the Atlantic in the background. As you can see, we were happy!
When we reached Wallis Sands State Beach, our final destination, we were greeted with cheers and applause from friends and families of several riders who had not yet arrived, including my own brother Jeff, his wife Barb, and their son Andy. Jeff had made a great poster using images from my website, and he and Andy held it up as we approached. I was so happy to be there and touched by their thoughtfulness that tears welled up in my eyes.
Andy, Barb, me, and Jeff with the poster Jeff made. The text on the left summarizes the ride (50 days; 3,695 miles) and the fundraiser ($13,700+). The total funds raised will still grow, I hope, because it doesn’t include all of the per-mile pledges or donations that came in or might come in late.
After some hugs, we carried our bikes to the water and posed for photos.
Matt, me, and Scott, sometimes called the Three Musketeers by other riders, in the Atlantic.
We then threw our bikes in cars and rode to the hotel in Portsmouth, where Ann arrived a couple hours later. We had dinner that evening with Matt at a place overlooking the Piscataqua River, literally a stone’s throw from Maine. We went home the next morning, and I’m home now as I write.
Dinner on the river at Lazy Jack’s. The river was just to our left.
The last images below you will recognize: Josh Wesner and the logo of St. Luke’s Hospice, representing my inspirations on this trip and in my life. At the closing dinner, all of the riders on the trip got a chance to say a few words to the group about the trip. I said that above all I was grateful for the love and support of the people in my life who took an interest in the ride, that is, YOU who have read this blog now and then, sent words of support, and/or supported the fundraiser. I can’t thank you enough for your kindness and generosity. It surprised me and has meant the world to me, and I will never forget it.
Thanks especially to my training partner and roommate Scott, my frequent companion Matt, the very professional staff of America by Bicycle, the Wesner/Greer family (please read or re-read the blog entry for Day 42 regarding this special group), and my own family Ann, Sam, Rachel, Sarah, Barbara, Kurt, Jeff, Barb, Ben, Andy, Laura, and the entire Priester clan.
We entered New Hampshire within the first few miles today and then traveled some of the nicest roads we’ve been on. The scenery included hills, woods, marshes, and streams. I’ve been here in southwestern NH before, as my good friend Glenn from college lived in Keene and Peterborough for some years, but I’d forgotten how beautiful it is. As on Day 1, the ride reminded me why I love cycling. If all goes well, we reach the Atlantic Ocean tomorrow morning!
Crossing the last state line of the trip
We encountered beautiful streams and marshes several times today. Other long stretches were on rolling hills through woods.
The landscape we rode through in eastern NY this morning was beautiful rolling hills with fields, woods, and an occasional stream or marsh, much like we saw yesterday. About 30 miles in, we crossed into southern Vermont at Bennington and traversed the narrowest part of the state over the Green Mountains (part of the Appalachian range) all the way to the state’s eastern edge at Brattleboro. The climbing (5190 feet) was the most we’ve done since the ride to Rapid City, SD, over three weeks ago. Descending down the mountains was fun, although the road surfaces and shoulders were among the worst we’ve seen. It’s hard to believe there’s only one more long ride (tomorrow) followed by a 50-mile spin to the beach at Portsmouth the next day!
A nice farm in eastern NY
The view from Hogback Mountain, about two-thirds of the way across Vermont, where one can see New Hampshire to the east (roughly straight ahead in the photo I think) and Massachusetts to the south.
Today was Ann’s birthday. I couldn’t be there, but Sam, she, and Rachel got together in New York for a show and dinner. I want to hug them so much the photo brought tears to my eyes.
Today we rode through east-central NY north of the Catskills and south of the Adirondacks toward Albany. It was hilly and the most beautiful countryside I can recall since the grasslands of east-central South Dakota (see Day 23 below). It included farmland mixed with mountains, trees, and the Mohawk River. We took it easy, averaging less than 16 mph despite a nice tailwind, another very pleasant ride in perfect weather. We also rode for about 20 miles on a beautiful paved bike path along the Mohawk River, from which the views of the landscape and river were often stunning. The last three photos below are all views from the bike path.
We took a nice easy ride on good roads in good weather again today, but the day started badly and got worse before it got better. The sequence of events included bad luck, good luck, a mistake, more good luck, and a save.
Bad luck: Yesterday morning in the rain, I probably ran over some debris that became embedded in my back tire.
Good luck: The tire did not flatten on the road; it flattened overnight at the hotel where it’s easier to change. So after rushing to pack this morning, I removed the back wheel from the bike, removed the old damaged tube from the tire, and checked inside the tire to see what might have punctured the tube. There I found two small wires (from retreads shed by trucks) and a small piece of glass, each embedded in a different place in the tire. Any one of them could have flattened it. Next Cindy, an ABB staffer, helped me remove the wires and glass from the tire and also checked my front tire, which was fine. Then I replaced the damaged tube and re-installed the back wheel on the bike. Ready to roll—I thought.
A mistake: When I re-installed the wheel on the bike, I unknowingly caught a wire that carries electrical signals from the shifter on the handlebars to the rear derailleur. Everything seemed fine at the time, but soon after I started pedaling, the caught wire wrapped around the rear sprockets and tore! Because these electronic shifters are much harder than old-style cable shifters to fix on the fly, I thought I was dead in the water for at least a day if not more! I said a few bad words.
More good luck: Fortunately, this all happened when the team’s two mechanics were nearby, Rob on a bike and Robin in the mechanics’ van. Rob almost immediately started suggesting possible fixes, including installing a cable shifter in the end of my handlebar and a second-hand, cable-actuated derailleur at the rear hub. This was reassuring, but it would have to be done later. For now I’d have to ride with the rear derailleur stuck, so my 20-speed bike would now be a 2-speed (as there are two gears in the front). Rob pointed out that I could adjust a low-limit screw to shift if I really needed to change gears, but luckily the gear in which the bike was stuck was a middle one, so the bike was at least rideable on flat terrain like today’s.
A save: I at least had the presence of mind to save the two seemingly useless pieces of torn wire, each of which included a connector at its un-torn end, and we gave them to Robin to carry in the van. He said he’d see what he could do with them. Scott, Kees and I then rode on for about 30 miles to the first SAG stop with my 2-speed bike. When we arrived, Robin was there with the wire spliced back together! He put my bike on the bike stand, re-installed the spliced wire, and it worked beautifully! I was ready to roll again. Thanks Robin! Phew.
Robin standing triumphantly next to my bike, now working, on the bike stand
At one point in the ride, we came across this tiny two-person chapel on a little dock in the middle of a pond. The sign says it’s the world’s smallest church and that it’s available for special occasions and meditation. I recalled seeing this little church before, during a cycling trip to Lake Oneida a few years earlier.
It finally rained on us today. We were due. We set off from the hotel at 7:30 AM and rode in a steady light rain for about 2½ hours. Fortunately, it wasn’t cold, and I was fine in my usual fair-weather clothes. It dried up after that, and the sun even broke through for a while around noon. We rode hard for most of the day, first to make good progress through the morning rain and later because the forecast called for another, stronger storm to pass through Syracuse, our destination, at about 2:30 PM. That storm arrived on schedule, but we beat it, thanks mostly to Scott’s pulling me along for most of the last 20 miles. The hard riding took a toll, though, and we are sore and exhausted this evening. Thank goodness tomorrow’s ride will be a moderate distance with (we think) favorable winds. Life is simple here: good roads, good weather, and tailwinds can totally make our day.
Toward the end of the ride, I paused to take a photo of Onondaga Lake from a nice bike path through a park on the lake. A group of four other riders Wally, Jeff, Bob, and Rob (left to right) rode by and stopped for a photo, too. Rob (next to me in the photo) is the one who lent me a wheel back in Sioux Falls after mine cracked, and it’s still working great.
Yesterday (Day 43) was a rest day in Niagara Falls, and Scott and I spent most of the day visiting Scott’s good friend and colleague Ed who lives on Grand Island just south of Niagara Falls. Ed gave us a tour of parts of Buffalo, drove us to visit Scott’s cousin Don in Tonawanda just north of Buffalo, and treated us to a wonderful home-cooked meal with his family. This was a fun and welcome break from the hotel routine.
The ride today (Day 44) was the last 100-mile ride of the tour, although the six remaining rides will be challenging enough even if a bit shorter. The route followed the Niagara River north with the flow of the water toward Lake Ontario and then turned eastward along the lake’s shore for about 50 miles before dropping south for the last 30-40 miles. Near Rochester, we rode on a paved bike path that was formerly a tow path for the Erie Canal.
We pedaled northward along the Niagara River and then eastward along the shore of Lake Ontario toward Rochester
On the shore of Lake Ontario near the first SAG stop (fork and knife symbols on the map above)
About 20 miles from Rochester, we encountered an eastward-moving storm, which we sat out in a gas station mini-mart.
The Erie Canal as seen from the bike path (formerly a canal tow path) near Rochester
In the photo, left to right, are Amanda, Ian, Reilly (in back), Grace, Betty, and Sarah on the Maid of the Mist.
This was an amazing, moving day for me. It started with another really nice, easy ride in perfect weather, mostly with Scott, Matt, and Kees. We formed a pace line to get through a few periods of mild to moderate headwinds, but mostly we just spun along. So enjoyable.
Then just after we crossed the Rainbow Bridge from Ontario into NY, passed through customs, and went to join the busy traffic, I heard my name called out and met eyes with Sarah Greer, Josh’s sister! Next to Sarah under the Welcome to NY sign were my good friend Betty Wesner (Josh’s and Sarah’s mother) and Sarah’s four beautiful, high-spirited children Riley, Grace, Amanda, and Ian. Was this really happening?? I choked back some tears, gave them all sweaty hugs, and posed for a group photo at the Welcome to NY sign. After we sketched our plans to get together later, I gave Betty and Sarah another grateful hug or two, apologizing for the sweat this time. Then Matt, who had taken our group photo, posed for his own photo at the sign, and the two of us joined a few other riders for ice cream at the famous Twist O’ The Mist stand before heading for the hotel.
After showering, I joined Scott and a few other riders for a beer at the hotel’s bar. As we finished, Betty texted me to see if I wanted to join them for a ride on the Maid of the Mist, which of course I did. The walk to the boat with the family and the boat ride itself were so much fun, the children bursting with life and energy of all kinds. It reminded me a lot of my own childhood with the four Towne kids—Sally (as we called her then), Bonny, me, and Jeff. Counting me, Sarah, Betty and the four kids, there had to be about 25 conversations going on at once, most of them among the kids. And since there’s a little of Josh obvious in each of the kids, the exuberance and joy of these moments seemed perfect. There is no way I’ll ever forget this.
The Wesner group had eaten a late lunch, but I was famished, so I returned to the hotel to have something to eat. Scott, Matt, Jim, and Bud had just finished eating, but they kindly sat with me, had a beer, and helped me eat a pizza. Just as we finished, Betty texted to say that they were coming to the bar/restaurant themselves to have some dinner, so I joined them. Dinner was a continuation of the joyful chaos we had on the boat ride, and I got to know the kids better. I just love them.
After dinner, we said our good-byes, as the Wesner/Greer group had to leave for home the next morning—about 6½ hours by car—so that Sarah could make it to work the following day. One of the other riders (I forget who) suggested to me that maybe this was the best day of the whole cross-country trip for me. I replied “No, it was one of the best days of my life.”
Left, just after Betty, Sarah, and the Greer children met me at the entrance to Niagra Falls, NY. Below are photos of the falls and the Rainbow Bridge that we crossed from Ontario.
This was a nice easy spin across southern Ontario, where the scenery was mostly corn and soybean fields surrounded by trees. Early in the ride we crossed the 3000-mile mark for the entire trip, leaving only about 640 miles to go. I’m excited that we’ll be arriving in Niagra Falls tomorrow, where we’ll have our fifth and final rest day. Get ready for the inevitable photos of the falls!
I have updated the fundraiser page to include 3000 miles worth of the per-mile pledges, which makes the total funds raised so far $13,048. Honestly, I’m stunned, and I can’t thank you enough for your generosity.
Speaking of fundraising, about half of the 30 cross-country riders on this trip are raising money for various causes, including my frequent companions Scott and Matt.
Scott is raising money for the Shriner’s Hospital for Children - Philadelphia, which took care of his sister. His website address is donate.lovetotherescue.org/keller.
Matt is raising money for Centrepoint, the UK’s leading charity for homeless young people, supporting over 10,000 16-25 year olds to find homes and jobs every year. Here’s a link to Matt’s site: Centrepoint.
We crossed 3000 miles today! That’s Matt, Scott, me, and Kees at the 3000-mile mark.
We departed the hotel on bikes before 6:30 AM this morning because they closed the entire bridge over the St. Clair River going from Port Huron, MI to Sarnia, ON for us, and they had to do that early. We went through customs smoothly, stopped at the Welcome to Ontario sign, and then pedaled through southern Ontario toward London. Once again, the weather was perfect and the roads were mostly excellent—another really nice day of riding.
John and Matt in front of the Welcome to Ontario sign
Matt from London, UK entering London, ON
We finished crossing Michigan today and are staying at the southern tip of Lake Huron in Port Huron (red star in the map below).
Here are Scott (right) and Matt (left), who I have been riding and hanging out with for most of the trip. They have been great company.
Today is Josh Wesner’s 43rd birthday. For me, that brings on a mixture of happiness, gratitude, and a little remaining anguish over such a terrible loss. I’m thinking of the Wesners, my friends Joe and Di, Scott’s parents, and our fellow rider Rich from Colorado, so sorry to anyone who has ever lost a child.
This was yet another really nice ride in beautiful weather on good roads. When the day started, 112 miles seemed like a long way, but the miles flew by, and we were in Mount Pleasant after 6.5 hours in the saddle (not including stops for food and water). The scenery was pretty, rural farmland, and our destination, Mt. Pleasant, does indeed seem to be a pleasant little town. It’s also starting to seem like the end of this cross-country ride might soon be in sight (see the map on the Home page).
Mt. Pleasant’s beautiful city hall
This was a rest day in which we rode to Lake Michigan and took a four-hour ferry ride across Lake Michigan into Michigan State.
We finished crossing Wisconsin today.
The SS Badger is a huge coal-powered ferry that carried us and many others across the lake to Michigan.
There was a crowd at the Welcome to Michigan sign when we got off the boat.
This was a nice, easy spin to the eastern edge of Wisconsin. Again the weather was perfect, the roads good, and the winds light and mostly favorable. We’ve now covered over 2,600 miles and done about 93,000 feet of climbing over the last 5 weeks. Phew. Tomorrow, we’ll ferry across Lake Michigan into Michigan and the Eastern Time Zone. That will require only 7 miles of riding to and from the ferry, so it’s basically a rest day—good because the next day will be a long one.
This evening, I was delighted to have dinner and a short walk along Lake Michigan with Sascha Mueller (photo below), who graduated from KU in 2015 with a double major in Biology and Psychology. Sascha is one of the smartest people I ever taught and writes incredibly well. She is now in the third year of a Ph.D. Program in Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and is interested in how engineered drug receptors applied to certain brain areas might be used to manipulate the brain circuitry associated with anxiety. She’s amazing, and I’m very proud to have been one of her teachers.
A selfie of Sascha and me in front of Lake Michigan. The air around the lake was misty. We saw a hummingbird, a groundhog, and some seagulls.
This photo of me is at the southern end of Lake Winnebago in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Fond du Lac is a lovely town that must be doing well economically, as most of what we saw there seemed new and clean.
This was a very nice ride on good roads and with a moderate tailwind all day. For about 25 miles, the roads reminded me very much of the roads we ride on at home: good oil-and-chip roads through rolling farmland with very little traffic and often lined with trees (see the first photo below). That makes today’s entry as good as any to include one of my favorite photos of my riding buddies from home (second photo below; missing Scott, unfortunately). We miss you guys!
Some tertiary roads in Wisconsin look exactly like the roads we ride on a lot at home. They’re perfect for riding.
The gang from back home (minus Scott).
Today’s ride included a 20-mile segment on a bike path said to be the first rails-to-trails path in the country. It was good packed clay for most (though not all) of its length. The path also included two old railroad tunnels about 1 and 0.5 miles long.
At the end of the ride, Scott, some other friends, and I went to dinner at the summer home of one of the riders, Jim, which was very nice. I might have eaten too much.
A nice stretch of the bike path
Approaching the end of the 1-mile tunnel, which we had to walk through as the surface was rough and sometimes slippery
Walking to dinner at Jim’s (second from left) summer home on Castle Rock Lake. I’m not shown, as I took the photo.
This was a fun day. The ride was long enough to be challenging and on nice roads, and the weather was perfect. The terrain was pleasing to my eye, as it reminded me of home, with rolling farmland composed of many small farms and small mountains in the distance, like South Mountain or the Blue Ridge at home. It all made me a little homesick, along with Ann’s recent reports of normal life in Kempton, PA, combined with a little news from Sam and Rachel, who are living in New York City but visiting home a little this week. I miss them a lot.
On the ride, we spent 12 miles on a beautiful, quiet bike path and then stopped at a coffee shop at the path’s end for a leisurely mug of coffee and a piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie. So good. And so was the company. Toward the end of the ride we crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin. In the evening, we had a nice dinner with very good food—almost any food is good after a ride like that—and good conversation. I miss home, but things are very good here, too.
Friends Rob, Scott, Jeff, and Matt on the way to dinner.
This was the second long (100+ mile) ride in a row. Oddly, the distance wasn’t as challenging as the roads themselves, many of which were originally made of concrete and now have bumps every 20 feet or so at the joints between slabs. We call them “ga-dunk” roads (“ga” for the front wheel and “dunk” for the rear as they hit the bump). This is hard on the bike and even more so on the rider’s “saddle area”, so many of us are feeling a little sore this evening. Nothing like good pavement for a long bike ride!
The roads today were mainly flat and lined on both sides with corn or soybeans. The road shown here is not a ga-dunk road.